Snail’s Pace Housing

Southwark Council needs to do much more to tackle the scandal of thousands of homes left empty in Southwark.

We face a local housing crisis with housing need rising all the time with the local population set to rise to 355,000 by 2025. The Council has sold or demolished 1,973 of its own homes but built just 65 since Labour took power in Southwark in May 2010. There are currently 13,000 people on the Council’s housing waiting list.

Southwark is reckoned to have around 2,050 empty private sector homes, including second homes and homes left empty as investment opportunities by overseas buyers. A large proportion have been left empty for more than six months.

Under powers brought in by Liberal Democrats in the last government, councils can now charge 150% council tax on any home empty for two years or more. The latest figures show that Southwark is charging just 611 of the empty homeowners in the borough.

At the last meeting of the council I urged the borough’s leaders to demand more powers to tackle empty homes. I am calling for Southwark to be able to charge at least 200% council tax on empty homes after a home is empty for a year. Scotland is allowed to do this so why not English councils. The aim would be to increase the private sector housing supply in Southwark for rent and sale.

The Council needs to do much more to bring these homes into use and make it less financially worthwhile to keep them empty. It is shameful that new homes are being built all the time but are then allowed to sit empty while overseas investors make a killing.

It is not enough to just rely on building new council homes given the snail’s pace so far. The Council needs to get tough on developers who say they cannot build the affordable homes they should. It also needs to fight for extra powers to charge more council tax on homeowners who leave their homes empty.

My Lib Dem colleagues and I will keep fighting residents’ corner and pushing the Council to increase the housing supply in Southwark.

Flawed Viability Statements

Southwark Council after resisting years of campaigning from the people at 35% and Lib Dem colleague Cllr Adele Morris have agreed a new policy of publishing viability reports about whether a developer can afford to provide 35% social housing in any proposed development, some reduced amount or none at all.

For years developers appeared to hood wink Southwark Council and the council appeared to collude by keeping everything secret. So it is a huge positive step forward to publish such statements in future.

These statements are produced as per Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors guidelines. But they’re flawed and the concept is flawed. They look at the viability of a proposed scheme but take no account of whether the developer is a UK or foreign investment company that won’t pay the same tax levels. So effectively it penalises any UK company and hugely encourages them to base themselves off shore.

What should happen is some kind of factoring to allow for whatever tax regime the developer is based in. It’s bad enough we have a global tax evasion industry but for our council to encourage it makes no sense.

It also means if people can prove a scheme un viable with social housing, social housing doesn’t proceed. It maximises the land value at the expense of providing social housing. IF developers HAD to provide 35% social housing then the value of land would fall enabling this. People wouldn’t buy land at a price they would make a loss on any development while providing 35% social housing.

So the whole concept of viability squeezes down the amount of social housing. And if we’re going to have such assessments then at least ensure they’re a level playing field for UK companies.

Free GP’s

We’ve had huge success getting new Free Schools to fix the lack of school places at both primary and secondary school levels. I’ve been involved in making five happen so far. Often despite downright opposition from Southwark Labour until we get huge numbers f parents signed up.

We clearly have work to get these schools fully up and running but largely supporting projects through to implimentation.

Another big issue that affects everyone is our local GP service. GP practices are private businesses. Most are run with real care and dedication from the partners. But not all. The service feels patchy with many deeply unsatisfied patients. I’ve received more casework today where a family are really unhappy but they feel they have no realistic alternative GP practice to move to. This is crazy.

What we need is the option for Free GP practice – run as with school on a not for profit basis – where we don’t have suitable GP alternatives. Where an area attracts sufficient support for a new Free GP practice that central NHS funds are provided to help a new Free GP practice set-up. I’m clear that were we to have this power we would create new a Free GP practice for East Dulwich.

Beauty of this would be real competition for customer service. The rival would be a community led not for profit Free GP practice. It would be run by trustees or governors like schools,

Do you think this is a good idea or a crazy idea?

Fighting Dodgy Local Employer

I’ve just had the third piece of casework about an alleged dodgy employer on Lordship Lane.

The employer apparently hates paying their staff wages. Suggestion they employ illegal immigrants, and other allegations. To ensure when leaving you get paid your wages staff book holidays and then have to fight for their holiday pay. One’s not taking this approach owed many hundred of pounds. Generally not rich teenagers being exploited. This is exactly the sort of dodgy business behaviour that gives free enterprise a bad name.

I’ve contacted the local “dodgy” business person about one case and been blanked. They’ve always been very vocal to me about issues that bother them but suddenly silent. No response. The silence feels damning.

If you find yourself in this position – tell me. If I get more casework I will feel obliged to go public.

You can also follow this step by step guide, amending things with your details, to try and resolve things if you have this problem:

Send the following letter to the employer by recorded delivery.

“Dear Ms xxx

Re: Letter before action for non payment of wages

As you are aware I was employed by yyyyyyyyyy from xx to xx.
My last working day was xx
Despite numerous efforts to converse with you I have yet to receive a response as to why you have failed to pay my outstanding wages and holiday pay as follows:

– detail wages owed
– detail holiday pay owed.

This may well be an oversight on your behalf.

Please can you pay the outstanding amounts within the next 7 days.

If you do not pay the outstanding amount within the seven days I will commence proceedings against you in the employment tribunal.

I look forward to your response.

Yours faithfully ”

If you get no response after seven days you need to start the employment tribunal process

Three points regarding the employment tribunals:
1. Needs to be within 3 months of the last day of employment.
2. First stage is to contact ACAS for early resolution mediation which may resolve the issue if not they will provide a certificate. Need for next stage.
3. Fees – whilst employment tribunals require a fee of £160 to lodge a claim it is possible that as a student or low wage earner you could be below the monthly income threshold and exempt from paying.

If it gets this far you may want to seek Southwark Citizens Advice Bureau help.

Either way never let a rogue business person rip you of.

Selling School Land

Southwark Council is twisting the arms of Albion Primary School to sell a significant part of its site. With that money the school will be rebuilt. The rebuild will I’m sure be lovely. But the principle is alarming. At the same time Southwark Council is spending millions on expanding schools that could be fully funded via the free school route.

The school governors and management appear positive and happy about these plans. And I wholly agree with single form entry schools becoming two form entry schools. Two form entry schools are more viable. Although already an Ofsted outstanding school with it’s extra size it will have the ability for more teacher specialisation.

But if this school was any where but inner London and Southwark the idea of halving the site would be ridiculous. The idea that a Southwark Council primary school would need to sell so much land to have decent new buildings would be anathema to the school and parents.

Which state school will be next for this treatment?


Lordship Lane Post Office – Modernisation Approved

For decades the Post Office network had been shrinking. Under Labour and Conservatives governments a number of local and many Post Offices nationally were closed. Between 1960-2010 the network plummeted from 25,000 to 11,500 Post Offices. As part of the coalition lib Dems ensured an investment fund was created to stop this rot continuing.

A key Lib Dem achievement in the Coalition was securing the future of Britain’s post office network. Business Secretary, Vince Cable, working with Postal Affairs Minister, Edward Davey, and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, secured £1.34 billion of funding for Britain’s post offices and a Government commitment that there will be no programme of post office closures under the Coalition.

So I’m chuffed to announce that some of that money is being used to completely modernise our Crown Post Office on Lordship Lane. Planning Permission for this has just been granted. It will have self-service, better counters. The next challenge is getting more modern opening hours…


Cycle Parking Limit The Cycle Revolution

Cycling in London has dramatically increased for London residents commuting into central London. In 2011 London 8.3% of such commuters cycle – it feels much higher now.

Apart from safer routes to encourage more people to cycle, and they appear to be on the way now, people cycling have to have somewhere to park their bicycles – at both ends. Without such parking the Cycling Revolution will stall.

We need a step increase in cycling to improve public heath helping the NHS cope with its financial pressures, longevity, better mental health, fitter citizens, less social exclusion. Cycling has a strategic imperative for our society.

Home Cycle Parking – Most cyclists have to parking their bikes in hallways, outside homes insecurely, blocks of flats basements – often behind many doors. We will never have a cycling revolution with such crap cycle parking. In East Dulwich we’ve been supporting new Bikehangars which are a start. We’ll need 200 for East Dulwich alone to support half of the 25% cycling levels we could reach within the next 10 years. So far we have 4 on order!

Our planning rules must change to ensure cycle parking is really accessible to all new homes – not hidden away in marginal spaces. New houses in London only have to have 1 or 2 cycle parking spaces but in Holland it would be 5 in a proper 4m2 shed. Flats 1 o2 in London, 2-5 in Holland and easily accessible.

Destination Cycle Parking – We currently rely upon ‘free’ cycle parking – locking bikes to lamp posts, railings and the like which only gets you so far. For a step increase in cycling you must have proper cycle parking and lots of it. In London secondary schools are supposed to have 1 cycle parking space for every 8 pupils or staff or 12.5%. Dutch schools have 50-100%. London offices have 1 space for every 90m2, Dutch offices 1.7/100m2. At my workplace – a modern building – the cycle parking is so obscurely placed in the basement that I ‘free’ park outside. So we must not just box tick that parking has been provided for people cycling but that it easily accessible.

If we get cycle parking fixed at both end we will see a cycling revolution.

Are you going to be part of it?

Human Capital

Energy company SSE have just published a report, the first report in the UK, where they’ve commissioned PWC to calculate the value of their ‘human capital’. They’ve calculated it to be £3.4bn.

The calculations are based on assessing the expected lifetime earning of each SSE employee based other skills and qualifications and then factored of how long each employee was likely to stay with SSE. With nearly 20,000 employees these predictions based on averages make sense. In fact they calculated the average ‘human capital’ at £173,000 per head.

A really nice finding was that each apprentices generated £4.29 for all apprentice types, £7.65 for technical apprentices, for every one pound spent.

I wonder what the human capital for the whole of Southwark would be?

New London Lorries

I’m really chuffed to see that the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) campaign for a new lorry design they started two years ago to minimise crashes with cyclists is coming good.


Construction lorries are involved in around 75% of all cyclists deaths in London each year. The cabs of these lorries are high, they have turning movements that many aren’t used to and they weigh so much that if they do run you down you are literally squished. A very dear friend had this happen over and she died.

So LCC came up with a concept from their lorry expert Charlie Lloyd ideas with a much lower cab. This gives much great vision and fewer dead zones where the lorry driver hasn’t a clue what s going on. But with a lower profile it reduces drag for the lorry saving fuel. And fuel is major expense for companies running any commercial vehicles.

Mercedes have just launched a new line incorporating these ideas. I hope it becomes the new standard that other lorry manufactures adopt and literally many lives will be saved…

actual design

Save Southwark Woods

We have the ridiculous situation where our graveyards don’t have sinking funds to pay for their upkeep. So we have to have new burials to fund their maintenance.

But new burials – and Southwark Labour are planning for 4,500 new burial plots – mean that what have become nature enclaves for residents to seek refuge from frenetic lives have to have that atmosphere destroyed. Bad for these 100 acres of woodland and residents.

An alternative would be to buy commercial burial plots for Southwark residents just 5 miles away. Kemnal Park is a no brainer. Also to make cremation cheaper to encourage more to use this service.

The Southwark Labour councillor responsible has said he wants poor relatives to be able to visit their deceased love ones. But for most Southwark residents our Southwark graveyards are several miles away tucked into the very SE corner of the borough. Not many live round the corner.

We can then concentrate on making our historic cemeteries into much more loved nature reserves.

If you agree please sign the petition – we need to make the lives of the living better in Southwark.