29 March 2007

Stanstead Road Community Garden

For a few months now a group of residents have been discussing plans to improve the area around 'Old Stanstead Road' (the bit that is not the south circular). With the support of the Forest Hill Society, and the active involvement of some of the committee members, local residents have been drawing up plans for a small community garden to improve the environment around Travis Perkins and a small plot of land.

What is particularly nice about this group is the way they plan to involve local people, from children to adults, and have been able to get the support of local businesses and Lewisham Council.

It is small scale projects such as this that help to create a sense of community and improve the surroundings for everybody in the area. We wish them the very best of luck in developing their plans for the community garden, and may what starts as a garden, blossom into even greater things!

27 March 2007

The walls come tumbling down

We are beginning to see some improvements in the path between Trilby Road and Sunderland Road. As previously reported plans are in progress to improve this pathway. Some of the pot holes have been filled in (not very well in my opinion, but it will do), but more importantly some of the concrete fences have been knocked down at the end of the path, assuming this work continues and the land at the end of the path is cleared, this should make a significant difference to safety on this path.

We are also discussing the possibility of straightening the route of the path on the corner of Trilby Road so that there are no surpises round the corner, although a mirror would also help to do this.

Update [15th April]: Posts have now been removed from the remains of the fence along the path. However, the area at the end of the path has been used to dump and burn household goods. This area needs to be cleaned up very soon, something which Forest Hill Society, Lewisham Council, and the neighbours are working on.

Update [8th May]: Resurfacing work has been carried out properly now and the path looks lovely. The burnt wood has been removed, but we are still waiting for the area to be cleared and for a new fence to be errected.

19 March 2007

Sydenham Society Public Meeting - Minutes from 14th March

Minutes from last week's Sydenham Society public meeting are available on the Sydenham Town website.

The presentation I made about the petition and survey conducted by Forest Hill Society can be downloaded from here. The presentation made by Peter Field from TfL can be downloaded from here but this is a big file (6Mb) so it may take a few minutes.

17 March 2007

Welcome to the second newsletter from the Forest Hill Society

All today's articles on the blog are from the March edition of the Forest Hill Society Newsletter. Paper copies are delivered to all our members - if you have not received your copy please contact me.
To view all the newsletter articles in one go click here.

Since the last edition we have been busy campaigning to keep the existing train services to London Bridge and we would like to thank you for your support. Our on-line petition has over 800 signatures from local residents in Forest Hill, Honor Oak, Sydenham, and beyond.

Due to popular demand we are planning to have our second General Meeting on 10th May, and I am delighted that local resident and Mayor of Lewisham, Steve Bullock has agreed to speak at this meeting. So if you have questions about anything related to Lewisham Council, come along and put your questions to the top man. There will also be plenty of time to discuss other issues for Forest Hill and what you think the Society should be doing. This meeting is open to members and non-members and there should be seats for everybody (we have learnt from the popularity of our last general meeting). So I look forward to seeing everybody there.

Michael, Chair, Forest Hill Society

Dates for your diary

Guided Wildlife Walk
15th April 2pm, Devonshire Road Nature Reserve. Nick Pond, who’s responsible for nature conservation in Lewisham, will reveal the flora and fauna which inhabit this secluded spot. He’ll also give tips on encouraging biodiversity in our gardens. Meet in the classroom.

Forest Hill Society General Meeting
10th May 7.30 pm (doors open 7pm) – Christian Fellowship Centre, Honor Oak Road (opposite
Fairlawn School). Guest Speaker – Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham.

Non-Forest Hill Society Events:
Forest Hill Day organised by the Forest Hill Traders Association.
10 June 2007, Horniman Gardens.

The future of our Pools

So, after a long wait we finally know the result of the structural survey into Forest Hill Pools and what Lewisham Council intends to do now. The Mayor, Steve Bullock, has decided to refurbish the facilities rather than opt for a rebuild. The intrusive survey carried out on the building last year concluded that this is feasible but warns that the investment needed will be “significant.”

The Background
Forest Hill Pools (built in 1884) are amongst the oldest but certainly not the most spectacular of the Victorian era public baths. Many of the original features have been lost over the years. As a result, in May 2006 English Heritage turned down an application to have the building listed.

The long-term future of the pools has hung in the balance for some time. They’ve been run on a management-only (that is, no investment) contract since 2001 pending a decision on their future. Not surprisingly, the condition of the pools deteriorated.

A public consultation was held in October 2005 to determine whether local people wanted to refurbish the pools or knock them down and start afresh with a new build. The two options were limited but most people who replied chose the rebuild. However, the strength of feeling at public meetings and focus groups – which strongly supported refurbishment, retaining two pools – persuaded the Mayor to chose this option pending the outcome of the intrusive survey.

The pools have been closed since March 2006 when the roof was deemed unsafe.

The Timetable
April 07 to Oct 07 - design, consult, plan
Feb 08 to Jan 09 - construction
Jan 09 to Feb 09 - commissioning
Feb/March 09 - THE POOLS REOPEN!

The Cost
According to the consultants, Capita Symonds, it will cost £5.05 million to repair the pools complex. If you include inflation to 2008, the cost is nearer £5.6 million.

Is this the end of the matter?
Probably. But many people will be unhappy that other options for the pools have been lost for the time being. For example, the building could have been redesigned with a larger, more modern fitness suite if it went down to just one pool, rather than retaining both. Or perhaps the disused public building next to the pools (Louise House) could have been incorporated into the plans to create a much bigger community centre for Forest Hill, offering not only swimming and sport but a community hall and meeting rooms (sadly lacking in Forest Hill). The Mayor says financial concerns prevented other solutions being put forward and there are certainly some advantages to having two swimming pools rather than one. So perhaps we should just be glad that swimming is set to return to Forest Hill – perhaps in time to produce an SE23 champion for the 2012 Olympics!!

The Forest Hill Society will be keeping a close watch on how things progress but do let us know your thoughts. And if you have a question for the Mayor on this issue, then make sure you come along to our General Meeting on May 10th when you can ask him directly.

Walking the streets

What drives a man to map out his home postcode area, buy a pedometer and determine to walk every street in that area within 12 months? Health? Madness? Curiosity? Boredom?
Rob McIntosh explains his personal quest.

I moved to Forest Hill about 2 years ago with my young family having bought a house here. I grew up moving from one country to another and never had time to put down roots, so buying our first house seemed to be a good reason to look into the history of the property and the area.

This search in turn led me online and thus I uncovered a wealth of community events and forums. I had rarely felt properly part of a community before. This was fun!

Around December time, I discovered blogging and photo sharing. As with millions of others, I thought, “I can do this too!” I work from home and sometimes you need an excuse to get out and stretch your legs. So I determined to get out, see, learn, take some photos, get some fresh air and tell others about what I came across. Simple really.

The result was “Walking the Streets of Forest Hill, SE23”.

The blog gets about 70 visitors a week and one or two comments. It means I now feel an obligation to keep it up to date, and it is nice to know people are interested. But mainly I do it to learn about the area and try and stay sane.

As for the future, “how many roads must a man walk to be a called a man?” Well, not as many as I first thought, so the goal should be achievable. Most importantly, I hope to pass on some of my enthusiasm for the area and attract others here.

If you want to follow my progress, please do visit the site and leave me suggestions on routes, places to visit or any other comments. And if you fancy joining me on a walk, leave me a comment and we can try and arrange something.

Transport Update

It has been a busy few months for the Transport Sub-Committee with the East London Line Extension at the top of the agenda. But road transport isn't far behind on our list of concerns.

ELL/London Overground
It has not been easy pinning down the facts! What we do know is that there will be 8 x 4-coach trains per hour in both directions, passing through Forest Hill and Honor Oak Park on their way to / from Dalston Junction and Crystal Palace / West Croydon. These trains will be similar to Suburban Rail stock but will have fewer seats so that more passengers can be carried during the Morning and Evening rush hours. The station at Canada Water will become a major interchange for passengers travelling to Canary Wharf. There is also an Interchange with Docklands Light Railway at Shadwell.

We also know that the current East London line will close on 23 December 2007 for rebuilding and upgrading.

But the big issue for us is that we believe that Southern trains to/from London Bridge station will be cut. We do not know by how many, but from conversations with Transport for London and documents available deep inside the Network Rail web site, we believe that the cuts will be by 2 or 3 trains per hour in the morning and evening rush hours as well as all day long.

A lot of lobbying has gone on. Len Duvall, London Assembly Member, Jim Dowd MP and Joan Ruddock MP are all well briefed as the result of much communication from us. At first, we were not certain they believed the facts and figures we were presenting them with. But we were able to prove that all our information came from reliable sources, using the Freedom of Information Act as well as thorough research of available public domain information.

We have also raised public awareness by distributing 2,500 leaflets at Honor Oak Park and Forest Hill stations in the run-up to Christmas, urging people to sign our online petition to Save our Train Service. More than 800 of you signed (thank you!) and we presented the petition to Transport for London at the end of January.

Local Roads

Dartmouth Road has had Speed Bumps and 2 Speed Tables built. The effect is to slow down traffic, particularly opposite the Primary and Secondary schools where the Speed Tables have been built. Parking remains a problem at the Forest Hill Station end of the road where on a Sunday cars are parked three-quarters on the pavement.

Honor Oak Road with Honor Oak Park is underway as we go to press. The first effect, while the building is taking place, is to slow the traffic down even further particularly towards the traffic lights with London Road. The next plan will be to lobby for the phasing of these traffic lights to be lengthened to prevent such a queue – at least 20 cars for most of the day. We will be monitoring these works to check if the desired effects have been achieved and that the safety measures are being enforced. Also the new parking restrictions at the London Road end of Honor Oak Road will need to be enforced, as will the new parking restrictions on Honor Oak Park near Honor Oak Station.

20 Questions for Transport for London

Below is a list of questions submitted by the Forest Hill and Sydenham Societies to Transport for London following a meeting with them on 31st January 2007. We hope that when the answers come they will clarify the situation.

1. What cuts in services to and from London Bridge does the feasibility timetable envisage?

2. Is the feasibility timetable, one that TfL broadly supports?

3. Will the London Bridge to Victoria via FH service continue to run and if so what will be the frequency of this service in each direction?

4. What will be the time of the last train from LB and the last train running on the ELL?

5. Before the East London line closes for construction, what can be done to ensure that all peak hour trains in operation to and from LB are a minimum of 8 carriages long?

6. What can be done in the future to increase the length of trains to and from London Bridge, beyond 8 carriages? What is the minimum timescale that such changes can be made if government investment is forthcoming?

7. What are your estimates of the percentage of passengers who will use the ELL as opposed to LB services in 2011?

8. Taking into account growth in passenger numbers by 2010 plus the additional commuters who will be attracted by the new service, can you be sure that the ELL and LB service will be able to operate without overcrowding?

9. What reduction in demand for London Bridge services through FH do you expect in 2010 during the morning peak period?

10. What reduction in demand for London Bridge services through FH do you expect in 2010 during the evening peak period, both in total and per train?

11. What is the capacity of each new ELL train carriage, including standing and seated?

12. What is the capacity of an 8 carriage train on the existing Southern Service, including standing and seated?

13. Based on the capacity figures above what is the total increase in capacity to services through FH during the morning peak and off-peak?

14. Will there be any through services to Charing Cross from FH (a service currently available in evenings and weekends)?

15. What is the percentage increase in customers from FH travelling to Canary Wharf and Docklands in 2011?

16. What proportion of passengers from FH will experience a faster journey in 2011?

17. What proportion of passengers from FH will experience fewer interchanges in 2011?

18. Given the introduction of zonal fares, introduction of Oyster will a ticket to London Bridge cost the same as a ticket to Paddington? Will this be more than the current cost of a single ticket to London Bridge?

19. Will any fast trains stop at New Cross Gate in 2010 to allow for interchange?

20. When do TfL expect to begin running FH station and when does TfL plan to upgrade the station to tube standards (manned when open and able to accept Oyster Cards)?

People Power & Planning

When Loromah Estates proposed building 84 flats on land behind Tyson Road, local residents mounted a campaign opposing the planning application. As a result, the council received almost 200 objection letters and petitions.

The site in question is hidden behind the Christian Fellowship Centre on Honor Oak Road. It’s a designated BROWNFIELD SITE. However, apart from some disused garages, this is a green area, full of protected trees and supporting some interesting flora and fauna.

The proposal was to demolish numbers 15 and 17a Tyson Road and the derelict garages. Seven blocks would then be built, some 4-storeys high, containing a mix of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom flats.

But local people were horrified at the thought of such a dense development on a green space. One resident, Andrew Wood, felt so strongly that he took it upon himself to knock on doors to find out if others felt as passionately as he did. Very soon, he had a full-blooded campaign on his hands using email, internet, fliers and old-fashioned face-to-face meetings.

Andrew says he was driven by a love for Forest Hill: “I don't want to see its unique character destroyed by inappropriate development. The campaign was made much easier by the fantastic help and support I have received from the local residents and the knowledge that this is a site worth saving for future generations.” In the end, the Council received 198 objections, almost all of which came from people living in SE23. The Forest Hill Society – and other local groups – submitted their own objections.

In January, the Council did decide to refuse planning permission considering the proposal to be :-
· an over-development of the site, which would lead to the loss of protected trees.
· out-of-keeping with the surrounding area.
· poorly designed.

The council also believed that more studies needed to be carried out to determine which protected species lived on the site.

So what happens next? Loromah have let it be known that they will appeal the decision and it is likely to go to a full planning inquiry in the second half of this year.

But whatever happens to the Tyson Road site, the experience shows that local people can make their voice heard. And the campaign certainly got neighbours talking to each other - and that’s never a bad thing in today’s London.

Brownfield Land

The recent experiences with Tyson Road raised a number of questions, including the definition of 'brownfield land'.

The term is a broadbrush statement and, as always, government policy, as set out in Planning Policy Statement 3 (Housing), is not necessarily definitive.

Recent guidance, however, has moved away from using the term brownfield land to an even more broadbrush term of “previously developed land.” The latest government planning documents define “previously developed land” as “that which is or was occupied by a permanent structure.” In the case of the Tyson Road development, part of the site was occupied by garages and hardstanding and for this reason this part of the site could be described as previously developed.

There is a commitment from the Government to build 60% of new homes on land that has been previously developed. This is a controversial subject and the drive to build new homes on brownfield is open to some abuse.

Gardens are classified as brownfield allowing developers to build dense housing in the midst of residential areas potentially increasing pressure on local drainage, for example.

Most people recognise that there's an obvious difference between brownfield land such as that behind Tyson Road and industrial brownfield sites. But developers are more likely to look out for the Tyson Road type of "previously developed" land because it offers greater profit.

Converting derelict, industrial buildings into new homes can involve considerable costs in decontamination and other remedial work.

Objecting to a Planning Application

Objecting to a planning application needs careful thought. It is important to remember that any objection must be based on valid planning reasons and should therefore relate to policies contained within the Unitary Development Plan (see Lewisham Council website).

The local authority is not concerned with the impact of development on property prices or the ability to sell one’s house.

Subjective matters should be avoided. Architecture and Design is always a difficult matter on which to object because there are no hard and fast rules about what constitutes good architecture. It is therefore imperative to concentrate on the objective, those things that can be valued – density, open space provision, car parking or bicycle provision.

The key to remember is that objections need to be substantive and relate to sound reasons for refusal. If you do want any advice on objecting to specific proposals, please contact the Forest Hill Society and we will be happy to discuss how best to proceed.

The Not So Common Toad

The Wildside - A regular look at the non human residents of SE23

The Common Toad used to be really common in SE23 twenty or thirty years ago. But, as so often, loss of habitat has meant a serious decline. In London as a whole, 90% of natural ponds have disappeared and this is disastrous for toads who aren’t good at colonising new areas.

Toads aren’t impressed with your average garden pond, so beloved of frogs and newts. A toad is looking for something altogether bigger and deeper. This is where the Devonshire Road Nature Reserve has been so successful. About 7 years ago, they created a large, deep pond and acquired toad spawn from Catford. Now, there is a very healthy toad colony there, which returns every March to breed.

Once established in a pond they like, toads usually do well. There aren’t many creatures that’ll attempt to eat even toad tadpoles. They’re very poisonous! Unlike frogs, toads spend most of their lives on land; they only use the water for breeding. And they have excellent homing skills, always returning to the pond in which they were born. So on warm, damp nights in Spring, Forest Hill toads will make the long, dangerous journey back to their breeding pond on Devonshire Road. Many won’t make it.

So how do you tell the difference between a toad and a frog? The most obvious difference is their skin. Frogs have moist, smooth skin. Toads have drier, bumpier skin, often brownish. Frog spawn forms large clumps, whereas toad spawn forms long ropes.

George Orwell was fascinated by the Common Toad and in 1946 wrote an essay in which he said watching them return to their breeding ponds was one of the things he loved best about spring. He felt reassured by the fact that you could still enjoy this sight in London even though "atom bombs are piling up in the factories and the police are prowling through the cities." So if you’d like to see the creatures that inspired Orwell, do visit the Devonshire Road Nature reserve at its next open day on 25th March or with the Forest Hill Society on 15th April. They may not fire up your political fervour but, if you’re lucky, they’ll give you a true sense of Springtime.

Between Sunderland Road and Trilby Road

For many residents in SE23, the path between Trilby Road and Sunderland Road is an excellent shortcut to and from the station. Following an incident in November, the Forest Hill Society requested that action be taken to improve this pathway.

Since then a number of meetings have taken place involving Councillor John Paschoud, representatives of Forest Hill Society, the police, Perrymount School, Lewisham Council and the Methodist Church. As a result we have already improved the lighting by removing branches from a tree blocking the lamppost and plans are coming together to spend some of the Perry Vale locality fund on other improvements to this path, including:

  • Removal of all old concrete fence-posts along the path
  • Fencing across the Sunderland Road end (to prevent cars entering the alley)
  • Convex mirror on lamppost at Trilby Road end
  • Planting along school edge
  • Planting to soften concrete wall bounding nature reserve
  • Hedge or similar along flats edge
  • Possible replacement of concrete wall on boundary with house on Trilby Road
  • Resurfacing of the path

We are also hopefully that the overgrown area on Shipman Rd can be improved to make a better exit from this end of the path.

See also Tree Axed

Rockbourne Youth Club Celebrates 25 years

Rockbourne Youth Club (Rockbourne Rd) has been a haven for young people in SE23 for a quarter of a century. The club is open Friday nights for under 13’s and Thursdays for seniors. Special needs and specialist clubs are run on other evenings. Many young people today don’t have access to a safe outdoor space so a club like Rockbourne is vital to the community. The club also runs holiday programmes to provide a productive, supportive and safe environment during school holidays.

On a typical night, about 22 – 30 young people attend Rockbourne. They can play sport in the gym, table tennis, pool and table football. There are also more structured, adult-led sessions. These comply with the Government’s new strategy for education – Every Child Matters – which is all about keeping safe and healthy, enjoyment and making a positive contribution to society. At the moment, Rockbourne is using Arts and Sports sessions to focus on these goals. And the club is sending young people to Millwall on the ‘Junior Sports Leader award’ scheme.

A popular room is the computer suite, donated by a local hostel resident. When he came into some money, he decided that Rockbourne was a worthy cause. The ‘John Jolly computer suite’ provides the young people with safe, monitored computer access and training in computer skills.

Lewisham Youth Service provides the grant for the running of the building and a management committee oversees the spending of funds. Any additional money has to be raised by the Club. Recently the club raised £10,000 for a new bus minibus with the Variety Club finding the balance. ‘Girls Aloud’ presented the bus to the club in a West End presentation!

The Club is regularly inspected and all volunteers have to be CRB checked by Lewisham Council. The venue can be hired and many other local organizations regularly use this space.

BUT….. running a club like this takes commitment from the staff, the volunteers and the Rockbourne Youth Club committee. Help is always needed, especially from people who can play an active role on the committee, volunteer for sessions or help with general maintenance. In particular, the Club is looking for a treasurer and fund raisers. If you think you can help the Forest Hill Society can put you in touch, please contact us by email.

Social Events

The Forest Hill Society isn't just about campaigns and petitions and planning objections. We do occasionally like to get together for a bit of fun.

On the 21st January, about 30 members enjoyed what we loosely described as a pub crawl. It was craftily designed to take in both Honor Oak Park and Forest Hill allowing people to join and leave as convenient.

The first stop was Bar Equal with its extensive choice of cocktails and the rare dark Budweis on draft. Jason kindly opened up his tapas bar, Tapastry, over the road especially for us and provided some welcome nibbles. Then it was a short trek to probably the only true backstreet boozer in the area (shamefully, many of us were unaware of this traditional hostelry) - the General Napier in Bovill Road. There were gasps of "change from a fiver for two pints!".

Finally, we finished at the Foresters (see picture below), where Richard laid on some lovely nosh to soak up the alcohol. A great evening for making new friends!

There was less drinking and more walking on the History Tour of Forest Hill on 25th February, led by local historian, Steve Grindlay. A lesser man would have been a bit intimidated addressing a sea of 70 expectant faces (we hadn't expected the Tour to be so popular!) but Steve rose to the challenge magnificently.

We started at Christ Church on South Road before we were led into ever higher altitudes, culminating on the summit of Canonbie Road. On the way we encountered militia groups, a canal, a German Girls School, a folly and Walter de la Mare! Steve is a fantastic source of information and conveys it with great enthusiasm.

We'll try and persuade him to devise another History Tour for us in the not-too-distant future.

A New Building for a New Century

Forest Hill Methodist Church has been in Stanstead Road since 1896. However, in recent years the congregation has recognised the need for a more modern, user-friendly building and a desire to move away from the busy, light industrial area. Much more importantly though, was the desire to be at the heart of the community.

Fortunately, the Church owned some land with a thriving sports club in Normanton Street. Over the years, the club premises fell into disrepair and the site became derelict. Thus the decision to move to Normanton Street was made. For more than ten years, we were hampered by a host of challenges. But our ambition to become part of community life will be realised in April 2007 with the official opening in May.

We now have a new, modern, landmark church building with fine facilities. They are for not only for Church use but also for the local community and will be available to rent. We particularly look forward to welcoming Perrymount School who will be using some of our facilities each week.

The two outdoor tennis courts can also be used for 5 a-side football and basketball. There are large garden spaces and an ecology / conservation area. The indoor spaces include two large halls, a medium-sized meeting room and a consulting room. It is wheelchair-friendly throughout and all areas are flexible in their uses.

It is truly a wonderful place with great atmosphere and many opportunities for the residents of Forest Hill. Thanks to the congregation who, in 1923, had the vision and courage to buy the land and to the 21st Century congregation who have transformed it into a modern place of worship! Now we are fulfilling our greatest ambition – to be at the heart of the community.

Forest Hill Society Survey

When we designed our membership forms we included a section in which we asked you to indicate your areas of interest so that we would know where best to focus our resources. Here’s what your answers told us.

Shops and amenities were identified by the most people, perhaps reflecting disappointment over the current state of our high street. Transport was also seen as important, against the uncertainty surrounding the East London Line extension.

Crime was identified as an issue by fewer people than almost all other issues. While we should not be complacent, we hope that we can take some satisfaction from this and continue to enjoy living in an area that is rather less affected by crime than most of London.

09 March 2007

Trains to Forest Hill Discussed in Parliament

Today the House of Commons discussed train services to Forest Hill in an Adjournment Debate: Impact on Network Rail services of the Southern extension to the East London Line (Jim Dowd).

You can view the debate on Parliament TV website, jump to approximately 90% through the broadcast to view Jim Dowd MP proposing the motion. Jim Dowd made the concerns of the Forest Hill Society and local residents very clear to The House and praised the Forest Hill Society and other local groups for their campaigning on this issue. The debate covered many of the key issues for the Forest Hill Society and made sure that the Department for Transport is very aware of the concerns of local residents in Lewisham.

We would like to thank Jim Dowd for raising this issue with the minister in parliament.

Hansard transcript of this debate currently available here.

08 March 2007

Sydenham Society Public Meeting - Wednesday 14th March


Peter Field, Director of London Rail Development (the man in charge of ELR) will explain the new line and answer your questions.

Michael Abrahams, Chair of the Forest Hill Society, will be presenting the findings of the Forest Hill Society survey and petition.

Naborhood Centre (next to the post office), Sydenham Road, Wednesday 14th March 7.30pm

Organised by the Sydenham Society & supported by the London Borough of Lewisham.