17 November Council Meeting

Thursday 17th November 2004 – Full Council Meeting

At this meeting Councillor McGarrigle finally announced that with today the Ladywell Leisure Centre have been provided with hairdryers.

This follows a question about where did the “refurbishment” money (£1.9M) go, as apparently nothing appreciable changed.

Another small but meaningful result of our strategy of tackling the Council on the pool issue.

The Council’s skills in elusiveness are getting every time less effective.
Here’s an example, the following is an extract form one of the answers given at to one of our questions:

“The creation of changing facilities for fathers with children would require
extensive and expensive reconfiguration of the existing changing areas. Given
budgetary constraints, the provision of such facilities was not possible during
the recent refurbishment process.”

All this for a table and a changing mat?

This particular answer is probably the saddest examples of Council’s transparency with the public that we’ve encountered so far.

And what about consultation?

“We are currently consulting all schools on how we can ensure that we reach
the national standard and will certainly ensure that current school use of
Ladywell will be re-accommodated.”

So they didn’t check before deciding. Not at least with regard to schools, and that’s the only duty that they have.

But what about the rest of the users?

“Prior to the closure of the Ladywell Leisure Centre, the Council will be
consulting and discussing with current users of the Centre on how best
they can access the many other leisure and sports facilities available
across the borough.”

Which means that they will show us the bus stop.

But what about the problems to the traffic that a school there will provoke?
“As the proposals are at a relatively early stage it is difficult to comment
in detail.”

So they decided to close without considering the consequences, let’s leave to Lewis Carroll to comment:
“‘Let the jury consider their verdict,’ the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first–verdict afterwards.’
“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!'”

And what about why they can’t build this new leisure centre before 2010.
“It is currently envisaged that the leisure centre would form part of a
mixed use scheme that would include a residential component.”

And this is new!
Is it normal to have very important details of a massive investment released after questions from the public at Council Meeting?
About a month ago there was a consultation exercise of this development in Lewisham Centre and we asked the architects what was the vision for the leisure centre. “Nothing at present. It’s too early, we’ll do the plan in a year time” was about the answer.
So we asked if this scheme wasn’t mainly designed to help the profits from investment in office space. As the Council sees the delivery of a Leisure Centre at the Sundermead development as central to attract investors in office space.
But we didn’t get any light on this point.

But what about that missing chapter of the Mayor and Cabinet Report of the 30th June 2004 that was also the object of our competition?

” The Council is committed to full transparency and all open documents to be
considered by the Mayor and Cabinet and other committees are posted on
the Council’s website in both word and pdf formats….
…The pdf version does include the financial implications.”

In reality, at the time of the Council stating this, the whole of the report was unavailable.
Only the following afternoon the full document was finally made available in its entirety for consultation as a pdf file on the web archive of Lewisham Council.
On Thursday 18th November at 3:45pm it was still missing.
On Thursday 18th November at 17:22pm: it was finally spotted.

Another achievement of the campaign.
Yesterday the hairdriers, today the Mayor and Cabinet report.

Read here all the questions

Also this Council Meeting saw our friends of the Deptford Park Campaign giving a grilling to the council with a set of questions. The Council was unable to answer to their questions.
For those that are still unaware, this campaign is bravely opposing a planning permission to build on Deptford Park.
It’s quite funny to see the big wigs of the Town Hall defending a decision like this with a straight face.
Or better, it would be funny if it wasn’t tragic.

Has Lewisham Council acted within the Code of Conduct?

What is the Code of Conduct?

Every authority is required to adopt a Code of Conduct that sets out rules governing the behaviour of its members.
The Code of Conduct covers areas of individual behaviour such as members not abusing their position or not misusing their authority’s resources.

And Lewisham Council has to behave according to the Model Code of Conduct for Local Authorities.
And one of the paragraphs of the Code of Conduct states that when reaching decisions, a member must give the reasons for those decisions in accordance with the authority’s and any statutory requirements in relation to the taking of an executive decision.

Now, in the case of Lewisham Council, the Mayor holds all the executive powers. Though the Mayor holds all the executive powers, he selects a cabinet to assist him, and shares his powers according to a scheme of delegation.
The executive meets in public to take its decisions, and takes decisions based on public reports (except where there is confidential information).


How is this relevant to our case?

We have to go back to the Council meeting of 26th February 2003.
There the Mayor and Cabinet met and decided that the preferred site for the new secondary school was the Ladywell Playtower site.
A site which includes several Victorian listed buildings almost entirely a freehold property of the Council with the exception of the Police Station.
One of the considerations included in the report was the following “This police station will close at the end of this year when the new police station in the Town Centre opens. The Metropolitan Police’s current plan is to then sell it on the open market”

Then the Council changed its mind and on the Mayor and Cabinet meeting of 30th June 2004decided to switch to the Ladywell Leisure Centre as the preferred site for the secondary school as “Delay in the marketing of the Police Station by the MPS and possible further delay in the confirmation of any sale has eroded the advantage of availability the Ladywell Playtower site had over other sites consulted upon – the Breakspear Campus of Lewisham College in Lewisham Way and the Ladywell Leisure Centre in Lewisham High Street.”

This reason differs from that one given to the press and the public, News Shopper 30th June 2004, or even more clearly from this passage signed by the Mayor himself
“I was advised that if the redundant Police Station in Ladywell could be added to the Playtower site it would be just possible to accommodate a new school. The Metropolitan Police Authority initially indicated that they were prepared to sell the site to the council directly.

Earlier this year it became clear that the Metropolitan Police Authority had changed their minds and I had to ask Council officials to look for an alternative site that would guarantee the school opening in 2006 on a temporary site with the move into the new building in 2009.  The only option they could identify is the Ladywell Leisure Centre site.”

Our campaign asked two senior Labour members to explain this incoherent approach, the answers that we received were that there had been an “informal understanding” between the Council and the Police that the Police station would have been sold to the Council as a preferred bidder.
Now, we are asking the same question in a more formal way directly to the Council and we should have an answer at this week’s Council meeting.

Will they be able to show that they acted publicly, with transparency and not secretly?

As we saw, according to the Council’s own statutory requirements, decisions should take place at public meetings.

Will they be able to show any records of a coherent decision process?

Or will they instead insist that some sort of gentlemen’s agreement is enough for the Council to change policy on very important decisions?

The answer will come soon.
It’ll be on Wednesday 26th, at 7:30pm at Catford TownHall