Monthly Archives: July 2010

Greenwich Time & News Shopper examined

Great piece by 853blog on the state of Greenwich & Lewisham’s local papers, including the wonderful Greenwich Time (Tractor production is up 20%! Again!), and News Shopper (who don’t own a spell checker). http://853blog.wordpress.com/2010/07/30/greenwich-time-anger-and-airbrushing/ Incidentally (see page 27), I’m sure it isn’t Prince’s strongest work yet. Try this, 24 years earlier…

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Blackheath Library move into Age Exchange?


Lewisham Council would like to move the library into the Age Exchange.

Here’s a hastily retyped synopsis of the plans that Age Exchange and the council have suggested. These are not verbatim- please read the full PDFs below (they are photocopies, so I can’t just copy and paste the text):

Four months ago informal discussions started at a senior level between Age Exchange and Lewisham about the possibility of the Borough making use in the provision of some of its services, of either or both of Age Exchange’s building in Blackheath village, namely the Reminiscence Centre and the Bakehouse.

Just under four weeks ago Lewisham asked if they could talk to us about their Blackheath Library and Information Services. At a first meeting both parties agreed to examine the possibility of this service being relocated at the Reminiscence Centre but recognised that very little further work could be undertaken until Age Exchange had a clear idea of the range of service Lewisham might want to relocate.

Lewisham council will provide a range of possible service specifications as soon as possible
Age Exchange will commission architects to assess (1) whether such services could be relocated in upgraded and adapted ground and lower ground floor space at the Reminiscence Centre, (2) what, if this looked practical, the capital costs might be and (3) how quickly the physical transformation could be achieved. There was agreement that any future service could be staffed in part by trained volunteers.
A Coordinating Oversight Group (COG) would be set up, to ensure that all involved parties were happy with what was planned (see PDF for full details).

Age Exchange aren’t trying to prevent anyone from campaigning for the survival of the existing library, but they think that the budget looks pretty grim, and that an affordable solution could be worked out in partnership with them. They will be open about any progress that is made.

Below are the documents from the Library Closure meeting with Lewisham council, kindly provided by a reader.

Graphical PDF Documents:
The Future of Blackheath Library
Age Exchange Statement to Blackheath Library Meeting
Changing Libraries

If you want to continue to receive information about the consultation into Blackheath library please send an email to the Blackheath Village Library Users Group at se3villagelibrary@yahoo.co.uk and ask to be added to their distribution list. They were collecting email addresses at the meeting for this purpose.

So, what is to be made of this? Lewisham Council do not view the Piazza option as viable, due to lack of funds and local opposition. The metrics that they use (e.g. “Issues Per Hour”) to justify the closure are weighted against our library, because of the already limited opening hours – the library isn’t open for half the week! They are looking to make a lot of library staff redundant, and blame the high cost of the building, which is rented (i.e. short sightedness in never purchasing a building in the first place).

I’m a big fan of the Age Exchange. I suspect that the offer was made in good faith, but will simply be the dying phase of the library. That’s not to say that it shouldn’t be accepted. In some respects, having a library in such a prominent place on the high street may work in its favour. I’m really torn by this proposal. What do you think?

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Library Closure Meeting on Wednesday 7pm

Lewisham Council are planning to close Blackheath Library (opposite the Post Office). There’s a meeting about the closure on Wednesday (tomorrow as I write this) 28th July at 7pm, at the Leemore Centre, Clarendon Rise, Lewisham SE13 5ES. Please go if you care about your library. I can’t make it (really bad timing), so please let me know what happens. Very conveniently, it is nowhere near the library itself (see map above).

Take the 108 bus towards Lewisham, and get off at Lockmead Road. Buses are every 3-8 minutes. Journey is less than 12 minutes. Less than 5 minutes walk from the bus stop to Leemore Centre.
108 bus to Leemore Centre for library closures.

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No Assembly Required

Speech Bubbles at the Blackheath Assembly
I attended a Blackheath Assembly for the first time yesterday. Held in the bright, airy hall of St. Matthew’s Academy (school), with a very post-modern crucifix hanging over us, it started out looking quite promising.
Introductions, agendas, the obligatory local plod telling us to lock our windows when we go outside- the usual things.

The meeting was very specific. We weren’t encouraged to ask questions about the library closures (there’s a meeting about Library Closure on 28th July at 7pm, at the Leemore Centre, Clarendon Rise, Lewisham SE13 5ES). We were told that only issues relating to Blackheath should be discussed. One person asked where he should raise Lewisham-wide issues “I don’t want any of the libraries to be cut”. No clear answer.

Then came The Presentation. It rapidly became clear that this Consultation Exercise had only one purpose- to demonstrate that Lewisham Council should be perceived by its citizens as fundamentally skint. Liz Dart, who had the unenviable task of conveying this message, through the artistic medium of Microsoft PowerPoint, did her best. “I don’t think any of us went into the public sector wanting to close services” was a memorable line.

The presentation was very clear. This is a UK-version of the shock-doctrine approach. Expect “Radical Change” to “completely revolutionise” how services are run.

Voting Machines.  Less useful than some paper and a pencil.

Voting Machines. Less useful than some paper and a pencil.

Then the Electronic Vote began. This was a disaster from start to finish. Think of it as a series of questions along the lines of:

Question: “How would you like us to kill your cat?”.

A: I like my cat, kill someone else’s cat.
B: Perhaps I could volunteer to kill other people’s cats?
C: I think people with cats should kill their own cats, without the council paying.
D: Maybe it would be OK, if you just lopped off one ear of that cat instead?
E: I have another idea.

(This is a facetious example. Lewisham council loves cats. I hope).
The full set of questions can be read here (PDF file) or very poorly OCR’d version here (sorry). The online version, which uses slightly different questions, can be found at the incredibly patronisingly titled Our Lewisham Our Say page.

It’s worth mentioning that the good people of Blackheath were having their views (un)represented by about 46 middle to old aged men and women, a sea of white middle class affability, who looked as though they might have been more at home in a daycare centre or a pub quiz.

All of the questions were framed in such a way as to make the “don’t cut anything” option appear unreasonable.

The questions often appeared to be aimed at helping Lewisham Council work out what choice of words would best convince the public for the need to cut services. For example, if the council wants to reduce spending on roads, should it try to convince you by saying:

“We need to be greener- roads are less important in this new Eco-tastic Age”.

Or should they say:

“Roads should be funded by Bad People who park in Bad Places”

When the voting began, it became obvious that whoever had set the quiz up hadn’t checked that the answers on the paper were in the same order as the answers on the screen. Bearing in mind that several members of the audience clearly had trouble with the electronic voting system, it became necessary for the “quizmaster” to read out every answer, and to try to urge the audience not to look at the paper handouts.

As one lady pointed out- “whoever set this quiz up expects their pay cheque to be correct at the end of each month. This is a schoolboy error.”

Here are the answers on the page:
Answers on the sheet
And here are the completely different order of answers on the screen:
Completely different answers on the screen
(Incidentally the quiz button machines are made by Turning Technologies – take note, they went catastrophically wrong halfway through the presentation, although that’s probably because the laptop was complaining about the Windows Profile being full).

It’s a good point. No debate was held as the vote results were displayed. There was no time to discuss them. The presenters had no answers for the few pertinent questions asked by the audience. A great one was “What proportion of the council’s budget is spent on salaries over £65,000?“. No clear answer.

The entire exercise could have been handled more efficiently using pencil and paper. The use of endless PowerPoint presentations and electronic voting systems feels as though it represents the general cruft and wastage within the council. “We do it this way, because that is how people present things”. A person standing up at the front and simply answering questions would have been far more effective than this.

The sheer number of unelected, unrepresentative bodies mentioned during the talk defied belief. For example, the policeman showed us some crime maps (below average in Blackheath and dropping). “If you want to see more accurate maps, join the Blackheath Ward Panel – anyone can join”. When someone in the audience asked “why can’t we see the accurate maps”, the answer was “they contain sensitive information”. Either they are fit for public consumption or they aren’t. Why should they be shown to a tiny unrepresentative group?

Then there is the self-nominated Coordinating Body. Anyone can nominate themselves to be on this group, and they meet four times a year, to set the agenda for the next meeting. Blackheath Village Residents Group aren’t on the list. Blackheath Society isn’t on the list. Having been to the meeting, I suspect that this is because they’ve realised that these meetings are something of a joke. A faux-democracy card-shuffling exercise, designed to give the illusion of power to a few bored individuals, who are going to either hand all of our public services over to the private sector, or just shut them.

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Mary Evans passes away

Mary Evans Picture Library

The founder of the Picture Library, which used to be a community hall, has passed away.

Meant to post this last week, but my computer will only open in Safe Mode (never buying another windows machine).

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Blackheath Assembly Meeting tonight at 7.30pm


Meeting 7.30pm tonight at St. Matthew Academy, St. Joseph’s Vale, SE3 0XX
Anyone can go. More fun news about cuts, I guess…

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Bits and pieces

Excellent post about the proposed Library Closure on the Blackheath Village Residents Group website.

A recent Blackheath Society email had some suggestions about what you can do to apply pressure, if you don’t want your library to close:

You can write to the Mayor and to councillors to express your view.

The decision is ultimately one to be made by the Mayor, so we would encourage members to contact him (his email address is steve.bullock@lewisham.gov.uk) and also your councillors (Cllr_Christopher.Maines@lewisham.gov.uk ; Cllr_Kevin.Bonavia@lewisham.gov.uk; Cllr­_Amanda.deryk@lewisham.gov.uk ) and Heidi Alexander, the Lewisham East MP (heidi.alexander.mp@parliament.uk).   Greenwich residents may wish to contact their Councillors.

As well as mentioning the next Blackheath assembly meeting, on Monday 19th July, at 1930 in St Matthews Academy, which I suspect might be slightly more heated than the previous ones…

There’s a new Blackheath Village Library Users Group newsletter too, which is difficult to track down unless you’re on the Society’s email list, and only opens in Word, so I’ve reprinted it here (hope that’s ok – email me if it isn’t).

Also:  Provender (the veggie cafe near O’Neil’s) has closed, but will be replaced by a crepe/wrap place (according to the guy who was decorating it).

Finally, if all of that is too dismal for you, there’s a nice blog post about how to pinch other people’s elderflowers in Blackheath, and what to do with them afterwards!

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Pagoda Planning Proposals – Garden Grabbing?

UPDATE: Image removed due to rights issues – originally from this PDF file.

The current owners of the awesomely beautiful, and historically fascinating Pagoda in Blackheath have put in a planning request to Lewisham Council, to turn part of their back garden into an “eco-house”. The full details are here, and the documents submitted are here.

I highly recommend a look through the plans. Whatever your opinion on the site, it is a well put together document, full of historical photos and paintings of the Pagoda, the area around, and a spectacular Tithe Map from 1762:

UPDATE: Image removed due to rights issues. Original can be found here.

It could be argued that this is an example of garden grabbing, dressed up with a fig-leaf of eco green-washing. The primary definition of an eco-house in my mind is one that reduces dependency on resources, such as fuel, electricity and water, through innovative uses of alternative technologies, such as heat pumps, solar panels, wind farms etc. From what I can understand of the plans, this appears to be a retirement flat with some turf on the roof.

From the planning documents:

Although The Pagoda was originally designed as pavilion for taking tea, entertaining and enjoying the distant views it was later extended and adapted into a house over a period. It was listed when a house and it will continue to be so. The viability of this in social and economic terms is not compromised by this application.

The planning document includes a letter from John Payne Estate Agents, confirming that in their opinion, the remaining garden attached to the Pagoda would still be “sufficient” for a house of that size. (Page 17 of 25).

The proposal also quotes Blackheath Historian Neil Rhind (who was not referring to the specific plans for the Pagoda’s garden), when justifying the addition of a new architectural style to the area (page 11 of 25):

‘…it is not just the architectural set-pieces, listed buildings or formal uniform terraces that set Blackheath’s overall character. It is the juxtaposition of these with a rich and varied mixture of buildings of different periods; unexpected corners, strange historic survivals, and stylish new additions – all these give Blackheath its distinctive and pleasing character.’

I wonder if Mr Rhind feels like a film critic misquoted on a movie poster! The Blackheath Society felt that they could not endorse the plans (page 17 of 25):

The wooden pergola running the length of the pond, erected by the present owners, combine to provide a most attractive outlook from the house and undoubtedly enhance its current setting. In our view, their loss would be detrimental to that setting. If the current plans were to be approved, the long pergola (which we accept is modern and in need of restoration) would be lost, while the 1920s pergola would be taken out of the Pagoda garden and become a prominent feature outside the main living room of the new building.

We accept that the essential character of the Pagoda’s setting is a walled garden and that your proposals seek to retain that character. Nevertheless, the proposed new building would be very close indeed to the principal garden elevation of the house and would occupy more than half the present garden area: its very high wall would result in the Pagoda finding itself in a heavily reduced setting. A slightly smaller footprint of the new structure, moved slightly further South, and retaining the pergola, would change this significantly.

Lewisham’s Conservation Area Policy specifically mentions safeguarding larger gardens of listed buildings: the planning authorities will need to be persuaded that the planting proposed in the scheme, on the boundary wall and for the roof element, will result in a permanently acceptable replacement for the lost planting and greenery.

Taking all the above into account, and with considerable sympathy for your proposals, as matters stand the consensus of the committee is that we should not support the scheme in its present form.

Following this, the plans were modified to move the boundary wall slightly to the south.

The proposals were originally submitted back in February. The planning department have not yet reached a verdict.

(The images shown above are from the planning documents, which are publicly held by Lewisham Council. I will take them down if they are subject to copyright).

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Proposal by Lewisham Council to Close Blackheath Library

book_burning Photo by flickr user altemark

As spotted by Catheeuk on Twitter. Lewisham council wants to save a mighty £830k by closing a few libraries, including Blackheath. See the proposal below, squirrelled away on page 13 of Item 4 Appendix 1, of the Public Accounts Select Committee (emphasis is mine):

An overall saving of £830k is proposed.

Around £80k will be achieved by reshaping service delivery in the Home Library Service with a proposed staff restructure and reduction in posts. The remainder of the saving will be achieved by reducing the number of libraries and associated restructure of staff. A public consultation will commence in the summer to seek views on a proposal to close 5 libraries (Sydenham, Blackheath, Crofton Park, Grove Park and New Cross). Proposals will include options as to how residents in affected neighbourhoods could access some library services. Library buildings should be considered as assets for the whole Council, the community and its partners. Service co-location, community management and asset transfer are all being considered as part of these proposals. This work is being undertaken jointly with Property Services. It should be noted that the existing lease on Blackheath Library runs until Jan 2013. We will be looking at an alternative use for the facility in the interim.

Full document is here, unhelpfully split into 11 separate chunks..

So Antonio Rizzo, what now?!

Photo by Flickr user altemark, (not in Blackheath).

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Blackheath Race For Life 2010

The Cancer Research race for life has been going on all morning on the Heath. It looked to me to be slightly smaller in scale this year- no big flat screens, but a very positive atmosphere and just as many people taking part, as far as I could see. In the two weeks I’ve been away, the Heath has been completely parched, switching from green to yellow (with many splashes of pink today). Hope the runners are more watered than the grass for their sake!

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