July has been another jam-packed month. On top of my usual councillor surgeries, lots of casework and chairing my first Regeneration, Transport and Culture Scrutiny Panel, here is a snapshot of what I have been up to.
School's out for Summer!
Sammy Backon (my co-councillor in Eltham Town and Avery Hill) had a week off work as an NHS nurse, and so we thought we would take advantage of the opportunity and visit the local primary schools in our ward before they broke up for summer (St Mary's Catholic Primary School, Wyborne Primary School, Alderwood Primary School and Eltham Church of England School).
It was really interesting to meet the headteachers and speak to the students. The highlights for me included:
Seeing a wonderful assembly put on by students at Alderwood.
Being lobbied by a school council for the changes they would like to see in the area at St Mary's.
Visiting the 'museum of things' in Wyborne.
Seeing the "Healthy Heart, Happy Heart" activities at Eltham CofE.
On a less happy note, we had discussions with all of the headteachers about the cost of living crisis. Concerns were raised about families who do not quite qualify for free school meals, the cost of energy for the schools themselves and the measures that the schools were having taking to try to provide a cushion to the students (and their families) who needed it. This is why I was particularly disappointed that the three Conservative councillors (one of whom is also a ward councillor for these four schools) abstained on our Free School Meals motion at Full Council.
Housing and Planning
This month has been a heavy one for me in terms of housing, which has included the following:
Taking on lots of casework involving housing repairs (and one case involving potential homelessness of a young Mum and her son).
Asking questions of the Director of Housing and Safer Communities regarding Greenwich's housing policies (particularly relating to our use of temporary accommodation and how that intersects with our duties to victims of domestic violence).
Attending a meeting with the Cabinet member for Housing, Neighbourhoods and Homelessness, to discuss the way services could be improved.
Attending a pop up Housing Panel at the St Mary's Centre in Eltham to hear from our residents.
Attending an online meeting with the residents of the Avery Hill Estate followed by a walkaround of the Estate with council officers to identify areas for improvement.
Chairing (and helping to organise) a meeting between the residents of Blanmerle Road and Pocket Living, a developer who has submitted plans to build on part of the Co-op carpark in New Eltham.
The Blanmerle Road Residents' meeting was a difficult one to chair. There was a lot of strong feeling in the room and I did my best to ensure that everyone was heard, and that Pocket Living had the opportunity to give their presentation and respond to questions. This likely meant that some residents may have had the mistaken impression that I was "on the side" of the developer - with many questions actually being directed at me, rather than Pocket Living! This was not the case, but I did feel that I was the only possible chair (given my legal background) who would be likely to be able to strike the balance needed - the jury is out though as to whether it was a wise political decision!
Avery Hill Park
Avery Hill Park is a stone's throw from my house, and my favourite place in the ward (I am there most days). Since being elected, Sammy and I have spent a lot of time working through a number of key issues on the Friends of Avery Hill Park's radar.
This month I had a meeting with our Head of Highways and Traffic to discuss how one of the adjacent landowners had blocked off an alleged right of way going across their land (to curb some anti-social behaviour) and, along with my ward colleagues, I will be writing to the landowner to discuss this.
This was also the month that we (Greenwich Council) were preparing our bid to the Levelling Up Fund to help us take the Winter Garden back from the University of Greenwich and restore it to its former glory for the enjoyment of the community (alongside a detailed business case as to how we can make the Winter Garden self-sustaining so it can be enjoyed by generations to come, without being a burden on the council-tax payer). Sammy and I submitted a letter of support, which you can see here:
New Eltham Empty Shops
In the run up to the election, several people on the doorstep raised the fact that two shops in New Eltham have been empty for around 25 years (Touchwood Pine and Hungry Tum's Cafe) [the apostrophe is unfortunately correct]. The owner seemed to be a big property company, which had so much money it didn't need the rent for premises in a vibrant village in Zone 4 of London, and instead has just boarded them up.
Many councillors have tried and failed in the past to do something about these shops. But that hasn't stopped me and Sammy from throwing our hat in the ring to try too! We met with the Cabinet member for Inclusive Economy, Business and Skills to show her the sites and enlist her help.
Our ward colleague also delivered a petition from residents to full council and I asked a written question on the same matter. The upshot of the question was that this is we found out company is actually in c.£16k of debt to the council and we are currently taking enforcement action against them. The cabinet member has also agreed to write to the owner to see if a resolution can be sought and we are exploring all other legal routes in respect of these properties. It does however seem likely that we have to cross our fingers and hope the Levelling Up Bill is passed soon by Parliament (due for a second reading in September), as this would give the council more powers in situations like this.
Going for Goal!
It came to my attention (via a concerned resident on Twitter) that the goal posts in Eltham Park South had been removed. Sammy and I investigated that it was because they'd had very few bookings. But who books goalposts in a park?! We therefore started a campaign for new goalposts and (spoiler alert for August's diary!) - the campaign was successful and new goalposts will be installed imminently!
Full Council Meeting
We had another full council meeting this month, and Sammy and I submitted four written questions on the following topics for our residents:
Electric charging for vehicles in our estates
The Avery Hill Winter Garden
The Avery Hill Food Bank
The New Eltham Empty Shops (see above)
We were particularly pleased that our lobbying of the leadership had paid off and we were awarded £1000 for the Avery Hill Foodbank, which we have been working closely with since our election. It is, of course, a drop in the ocean and a source of embarrassment for the country that food banks need to exist. But as long as the Conservative cost of living crisis is causing people to have to choose between eating and heating - supporting the foodbank is the least we can do.
Some of you will also know that I have a very young family (a 2 year old and a 4 month old), and we have all had a lovely time this month attending both Avery Hill Parkfest and Eltham Park Festival! Plus we also managed a cheeky week to Centre Parcs before the schools broke up
Council is in recess and my husband and I are spending some much needed family time with our children and respective families. This might mean that August's diary is a bit lighter, but rest assured I will still be on emails and picking up casework.
Hope you all have a lovely summer!