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April 02, 2009

A grumpy exchange with a green politician

Grumpy on my part, that is - Becca is never less than diplomatic.
An introduction: in 2008 Lambeth Council steamrollered through a proposal for the resolution of traffic problems at an awkward junction that entailed destruction of over 1000 sq m of one of the most loved and well-used parks in the Borough. The Friends of Brockwell Park resisted it, and I supported them, but all seemed lost. Until I got a message concerning Lambeth's refusal properly to consider an alternative scheme, that not only saved 400 plus sq m of park, but claimed to improve several road safety issues. I got a little heated, and sent the following message, with others. This one, though, was to a Green Party councillor (the only 'green' in the council chamber). I've posted it here because the exchange of emails (each of which is entered as a 'comment' below) broadens out the debate:

Becca,
I was at the planning meeting which considered Lambeth's disastrous scheme to re-configure the road junction at Herne Hill (necessary), by tarmacing a great swathe of Brockwell Park (verging on criminal).

I was at the time utterly disgusted to discover that your party supported this proposal, and embarrassed by their political ineptitude in seeking to put conditions on that support - at a planning committee meeting, on a politically contentious issue, with the heavyweight [later correction: former] leader of the council fully engaged! (this is politics, not a right-on co-op meeting - get real, or do something else)

If you had continued your policy of asking me for comment on design issues before setting this bizarre course of action, perhaps we could have come up with a more measured approach.

You have a chance to redeem your party's image somewhat. Friends of Brockwell Park have at some expense - and with the help of pro-bono work from transport engineers who were appalled at the ugliness, ineptitude and laziness of Lambeth's in-house scheme (I mean, did you even look at the drawings?) - come up with a proposal which satisfies the traffic issue, uses significantly less of Brockwell Park, and will therefore COST LESS!

But of course, Lambeth have taken their usual 'f**k you' approach, and tried to kill the idea by having it reviewed by their in-house team - who surprisingly prefer their own ideas! Well who'd have thought it?

All FoBP are asking is for an independent review, one which takes into account the costs and benefits of the proposals properly, and for Lambeth to wait until that has been completed, before moving in to rip up the Park.

Could you meet with them, and make up your own mind about the relative benefits of the proposals?

I have no illusions about your ability to actually DO anything about this, but you do have a chance to be SEEN to be in the right place at the right time, saying the right things - for instance in the SLP - 'Why I have changed my mind about the Brockwell Park scheme". Or do you want Steve Reed - and many 'green' types - to continue to find the Green Party's ability to be effective political players laughable?

4 comments:

dilgreen said...

Becca's reply (slightly edited):

Dil,

It would have been extremely helpful to have had the insight of a professional like yourself over the last three years. Having not heard from you over issues of school buildings, I have not expected you to be available as a consultant and am delighted that you are, if you are still prepared to be in the light of your disgust.

In addition to any impact I have been able to make on Herne Hill Project Board meetings, public statements and discussions with Friends of Brockwell Park, George Graham as former convenor of Lambeth Green Party spoke at the first Planning Meeting against the loss of park. Achieving minimum park loss and a course of action with measured approach was one we were taking but from your point of view it seemed otherwise. I have more respect for the In-house team than you do but I have repeatedly questioned and scrutinised their judgments albeit having no role as an expert in Transport or Planning.

The plans from the transport engineers hired by Friends of Brockwell Park using funds raised from members such as local residents like myself, revealed potential which was explored with great hope that a lesser amount of park might be sacrificed. Ultimately, as you know, the site lines and delay to buses to be the main obstacles that meant the criteria of safety and flow of buses were compromised. It was

The Green Party has had two letters on Brockwell Park in SLP stating our position. I am sorry you feel the handling of the issue has been inept. I'd be pleased to discuss both with you at a Green Party meeting. If you can give some of your time to this, do contact the Convenors on lgpconvenor@yahoo.co.uk and we'll schedule a slot for this as it would be a worthwhile debate to have and might address a good many frustrations. The Green Party's ability to be an effective political player is dependent upon active engagement of members and political understanding. the Green Party would be foolish to ignore the input of Green actions on potential allies and voters.

Yours

Becca

dilgreen said...

I replied (again, slightly edited):

Becca,

No fun being a councillor - spleen vented from every direction - and you have to try and be constructive! You do very well, and thanks for that. I will attempt to match you.

I remain willing to offer comment to you/local green party on architectural/planning/design matters.

As to the matter at hand, you write:
Ultimately, as you know, the site lines and delay to buses to be the main obstacles that meant the criteria of safety and flow of buses were compromised.


- I wonder where you got this from? I have been carefully reading through the proposals and looking at the plans, and they are professionally and seriously presented, with carefully considered responses to comments that have been made; no adverse comment has been made, that I can find reference to, regarding buses (in fact, FoBP's consultants suggest that the Council's scheme will almost certainly result in future - negative - alterations to bus lanes on safety grounds). Sight lines are shown to be the same or improved. Additionally, just under half of the land take of Brockwell Park has been avoided, and two mature trees can be retained which will be destroyed.

Other criticisms of the FoBP scheme were made, have been comprehensively answered and, in my view, demolished. If you want to see for yourself, I'm sure a message to Laura Morland - laura@lmgardens.com - FoBP chair will get results.

Even if the negative comments can be substantiated, I would hold that these would need to be weighed in the balance against 400 plus square metres of park and two trees, and I would have expected the green party to be asking for that evaluation to be explicitly made.

(BTW: It is increasingly common, in circumstances where one land-owner requests felling of a neighbour's tree, in order to mitigate against subsidence, etc., for the tree to be valued, and that value balanced against the possible future cost of underpinning. It may surprise you, and I know it will please you, that mature trees in good condition have been valued at hundreds of thousands of pounds. What sort of value could you put on a square metre of Brockwell Park - irrecoverable this side of an apocalypse?)

Lastly, as a member of no party (although often a green party voter), and a profound sceptic of the possibilities afforded by our sad version of 'democracy', I am not, perhaps, a good person to get involved in your meetings - it takes every kind of people, but when I get too close to Lambeth council, I become less and less reasonable, and more and more seduced by the idea of getting a machine gun out - and that's not healthy!

I am meeting Cllr Toren Smith next week (unarmed) to discuss this issue - perhaps I can let you know the outcome of that meeting.

regards

Dil

dilgreen said...

becca's reply (slight edits again):

Dil

Thanks for your comments.
Sometimes it feels as if I am trying to deliver the impossible to the ungrateful, but though I may not be able to achieve a massive amount as a single green councillor, you might be surprised at how much I can tweak at the edges and the unheadline-grabbing improvements I can initiate.

Partly because my style and my lone status makes me seek consensus politics and partly out of self-preservation since residents from all over Lambeth beat a path to my door over any remotely 'green' issue, I put my energy into the areas I know something about and where I can hope to make a difference. I do this at the expense of being 'seen to be in the right place at the right time, saying the right things'.
That makes me less of a politician in your eyes but Herne Hill Ward will have the opportunity to vote for another kind of councillor in 13 months time.

The site lines and bus flow issues, pedestrian crossing (from park to island) were discussed when Laura Morland presented the plans and again amongst on the Herne Hill Project Board. I would love to be convinced of the alternative plan but if it sacrifices safety, and in a year's time a child is knocked down because a motorist did not have a clear straight view of that corner, I would have it heavily on my conscience.

Yours

Becca

dilgreen said...

Dil's reply:

Becca

I suppose that's a diplomatic email that nevertheless says - 'the issue is closed for me/Green Party".

If so, that is a shame. I will make one more attempt.

On 1 Apr 2009, at 23:33, becca wrote:
but if it sacrifices safety, and in a year's time a child is knocked down because a motorist did not have a clear straight view of that corner, I would have it heavily on my conscience.

In point of fact, there are NO SAFETY ISSUES with the FoBP proposal (a concern was raised over sightlines from a pedestrian crossing point, which have been resolved). In several parts of the scheme, SAFETY HAS BEEN IMPROVED over Lambeth's own scheme.

This comment from you suggests that you are not cut out to be a politician - a good thing, as far as I am concerned, but hardly encouraging given your position - you would appear to have been sandbagged by a very simple political trick - wheel out an 'expert', to raise a question over 'safety', and close down all debate (or are you trying to sandbag me? I have a harder head than that).

Such "safety issues" are never set into a holistic view of the context. If safety were to override everything, then (for instance) all motorised transport ought to be banned - it kills thousands and maims ten times more, every single year, regular as clockwork.

Consider your own party's policy on drugs - you are for legalisation and management. Yet the drugs you would legalise can and do kill. I agree with the policy, but it depends on an ability to make hard-headed arguments balancing different costs and benefits to society. What would your answer be to a parent who has lost a child to a heroin overdose on this policy, if they said to you - 'the first person that dies of a heroin overdose after you legalise it will be a burden on your conscience forever' ?

Nevertheless, if you hold to your point, then your conscience would be more at risk from supporting Lambeth's scheme, as it is (in traffic engineer's terms) marginally less 'safe' than FoBP's. And that is beyond the certain burden on your conscience of not having fought as hard as you could for a solution which is THE BEST ON ALL FRONTS - in other words a holistic approach - a term I would not expect a member of any other party necessarily to recognise, let alone aspire to, but one which I would judge should be central to any truly 'green' approach.

I urge you, once again, to meet with Laura Morland, or myself, and review the scheme that you admit you have not seen - I am not expecting you to accept my assessment, or the claims of FoBP's consultants, but perhaps to call for an independent assessment from someone with no axe to grind. When what is at stake is 400 plus square metres of precious, irreplaceable parkland, than it is surely important that due consideration be given to an alternative scheme.

A couple of extra points: FoBP's scheme will be cheaper - there are 400 plus fewer square metres of hard surfacing. I estimate this cost at more than £20,000. Put this against the cost of installing a zebra crossing at around £10,000, and calculate your safety/conscience balance then.

If your (Lambeth's) concern is the cost of an assessment, then why not consider this - FoBP have been told that Lambeth will make them pay for a new planning application themselves - they are fund-raising to that end. If Lambeth guaranteed to accept the recommendation of an independent assessor, acceptable to all, and to put FoBP's scheme through planning themselves, then FoBP could put their planning application money toward the assessment costs.

At the end of the argument, I wonder what 'green' can mean, if it doesn't mean using every bit of influence you have to make sure than any scheme to destroy 'green', and implement 'grey' has been tested to the limit?

regards,

Dil Green