SW16 Seal of Approval

Another wet South London Monday evening, another @lambeth_council cabinet meeting with leisure high up on the agenda. Actually, leisure was the *only* item on the agenda.

Blimey.

Anyone would think that there is a local election lurking around the corner…

Listen!

This specially convened cabinet meeting, the final one of the @LambethLabour administration (we think…) was scheduled for the not very voter friendly time of 5pm. All praise the power of flexible working from home.

And so after a decade of political and corporate dithering, the future of Streatham Hub all came down to one hour of complex political and economic points being condensed into a voter friendly package, and then a big red rubber stamp from our friends at @LambethLabour.

Streatham Hub is happening.

Or is it…?

The deal finally struck by the @lambeth_council cabinet with Tesco earlier this month is a genuine good news story. I had my doubts (rather major doubts) but the boys and girls of @LambethLabour did us good.

Having given the cabinet a particularly rough ride over leisure in recent months, I am positive that Streatham Hub is finally at a stage closer to being built than it has been at any time in the past decade.

But the seeds of doubt remain. Condensed into a fun packed one hour session in Room 8 at Lambeth Town Hall, we heard the Cabinet Member for Employment and Enterprise describing the deal as: “not perfect – you have the right to be sceptical given our track record.” The Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration added: “we didn’t get everything we wanted.”

Print that in your party manifesto.

Probably not, but you may read over the coming weeks how Streatham Common has been confirmed as the site for the proposed temporary ice rink. The adjective of ‘proposed’ has to remain along legal guidelines – the Council’s very own legal adviser interjected during the meeting to advise that the Secretary of State would have to be consulted ahead of plonking a 60m x 30m ice pad on a piece of Common land.

Other headline news coming out of the Hub meet was that twelve other sites in Streatham were considered for the temporary provision. Cabinet refused to name these on the public record. Ward boundaries are a sensitive matter, especially so during times of a local election.

But this *should* be a done deal. Yer man @Chukaumunna, the rather nice PPC candidate for Streatham, confirmed to me at the close of business that Mr Tesco had just told him that this is the third deal that the baked bean seller has been asked to consider. Three times lucky, once, twice, three times a South London lady, etc.

“They’re [Tesco] all about money, that outfit. If they don’t go ahead and do it, they know what is going to happen. Our community won’t give them any more planning permission.”

You can see why I rather like Mr C.

And so what of the detail of the blink and you’ll miss it rubber-stamping of the future of leisure in Streatham? Cllr Peck opened up the ‘debate’ (sort of) by declaring this as “the real deal.”

Her cabinet colleague, Cllr Heywood confessed:

“The news was not good in November. The continued closure of Streatham Leisure Centre is impacting upon leisure provision in the whole borough.”

Well said that lady. I am rather warming to the Cabinet Member for Culture and Communities. I feel that the portfolio of leisure has been dumped on her from high above, with little previous thought as to a well-planned leisure policy.

“The refurbishment of the old leisure centre is not viable,” continued Cllr Heywood. “We will guarantee that the temporary facilities on the Common will be dismantled and resorted.”

Ah yes, about those temporary facilities on Streatham Common. This is now the key issue for me, and I suspect for many local politicians putting himself or herself up for re-election on May 6th. The issue is one of credibility. How can you do the #labourdoorstep Saturday afternoon thing, when you are proposing to put a temporary ice rink on a public piece of land?

Make no mistake – this is one of the key battlegrounds as the ballot box looms. @LambethLabour has staked what remains of its reputation on leisure in Streatham. The timing of the Hub agreement could either re-elect Labour, or revert them back to the opposition benches, should the electorate not take too kindly to the temporary leisure arrangements.

Speaking of not taking too kindly to events, yer man from Tesco decided to turn up at the cabinet meeting, having declined the invitation to attend the public meeting last month. I don’t think cabinet had a bag of lard waiting to fill the empty seat, as was the case a few weeks ago.

Andrew Boyle confirmed the specifics of the deal that his company has signed up to:

“A 25m swimming pool, a 13m teaching pool, four football courts, gym space for 100 machines, a 60m x 30m ice rink, 250 new homes, a piazza [urgh] 600 jobs, and oh, a whopping great big supermarket.”

Ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?

Needs must, ‘n all that.

But will the leisure facilities open at the same time as the whopping great big supermarket? A representative from the fine Streatham Ice Skating Action Group, asked cabinet for reassurances that the rink and superstore will both open simultaneously.

The concern is that Tesco will build the superstore, and then lose interest in all local matters. Cllr Peck confirmed that the Hub project would be built as one entity.

Ah, but will the temporary leisure facilities ever open…?

The Friends of Streatham Common confirmed that they would formally object to the Common being used to site a temporary ice rink.

“This is a Grade 1 listed nature space. The Common is for public use. Our concern is that the temporary will become the permanent.”

The Friends group called for the temporary rink to be housed on the Hub site itself. Common sense, it would seem.

You can see what is happening here. The complete meltdown of @LambethLabour’s confused leisure policy is dividing locals on the ground. The Friends group rightfully wants to protect the peace on the Common, the skaters and hockey players want continuity of ice.

Meanwhile, @LambethLabour wants to get re-elected, and there’s plenty of political capital to be made out of a prestige new development in the borough.

This is a point not surprisingly made by @LambethLibDems leader, Cllr Lumsden:

“Can we rely upon your promises?”

To demonstrate his point, the good Cllr then produced a rather bizarre artefact, in the form of a Christmas card sent out by @lambeth_council leader @cllrstevereed. It was a weird moment in La La Lambeth Land, as the LibDem leader read out the seasonal greeting stating that the Hub agreement has been signed, and it will be opening in 2010.

Part comical, part rather major political point scoring, Cllr Lumsden milked the moment, remembering that the card was sent out in relation to @cllrstevereed’s election contest to be selected as the PPC candidate for Streatham. With the whole Hub project at stake, and with yer man @chukaumunna sitting in the cabinet room, this was no time for petty party politics.

Cllr Lumsden made a more valid point by asking why Lambeth Life stated that “twelve sites” are under consideration for the temporary facilities, yet Cabinet confirmed that Streatham Common was the only option.

The LibDem leader wrapped up the small amount of time that cabinet allocated for an opposition response, by asking for Tesco to place a bond with @lambeth_council, that will be returned once the Hub is complete.

The bond idea was supported by @streathamaction, as was the call to name the other sites that cabinet has considered. Sounds too sensible, and as with most events regarding the Hub over the past ten years, the bond idea was rejected, as was the suggestion of naming the other sites that were under consideration.

A bit of leeway was granted by @jkazantzis, the Cabinet Member for Employment and Enterprise:

“Placing the temporary gym in the Rookery car park is not ideal. Stockport Road Playing Fields would be better suited. The residents would welcome these new facilities.”

Seems like the good @jkazantzis’ cabinet colleagues don’t share the same view as the SW16 locals.

@cllrmarkbennett, the Cabinet Member for Community Safety, and the Cllr for the Streatham South ward, thanked the various stakeholders for their patience during the whole project:

“Residents have huge concerns over the use of the Common. We share these concerns. We have looked at them objectively, but the Common is the only viable site. To ignore this would be to the detriment of Streatham.”

The sentiments were genuine, but as @RahoulBhansali, the Conservative PPC for Streatham would later remark to me – “it sounds like some local Councillors are speaking with a loaded gun raised to their head.”

A council officer then confirmed the criteria that was set out by cabinet in selecting a temporary site:

“Suitability [vague] structure, ownership, time, traffic and re-instatement of land. The Common wins on all of these.”

Cllr Peck concluded the debate with some Nu Labour twaddle of:

“Confidence, community and delivery.”

I would argue that after four years of the Nu Labour project in Lambeth, community is perhaps the only one of these buzz phrases that the ruling administration is able to boast of.

It then came to decision time, and whaddya know – cabinet rubber-stamped the agreement for Streatham Hub. Once gain, I need to confirm: this is a good news story. Local politicians have worked incredibly hard on this project. Mistakes have been made, but we now hopefully have a way ahead for the Hub.

Having door stepped the Labour Parliamentary Candidate for the Streatham ward, @chukaumunna, as well as his LibDem counterpart, @chris4streatham at the recent hub meet last month, I completely overlooked any aspirations of political objectivity by not finding the Tory to talk to.

This wasn’t deliberate – honest. There was a huge sense of confusion on the night once the main hustings had broken up. I truly wanted to find out what the response from Conservative PPC Rahoul Bhansali would be.

With so much spinning taking place at a local level in the run up to both the general and local elections, it is all the more important to actually go out there and try and carve your own path through all of the political twaddle.

I offer an open platform for *any* political party that is putting forward candidates in Lambeth to meet up and offer their solutions as to how to put the borough back to where it should be, as a thriving, sharing and responsible place to live.

A bit of door stepping in the corridors of power in SW2, and Rahoul and his team of Tory local council candidates very kindly agreed to a brief @audioboo.

It all got slightly confused towards the end – a combination of one of the Conservative local council candidates not knowing that cabinet had just agreed to bulldoze the existing site with one fell swoop of the wrecking ball, plus some rather lovely steel drum music drifting in from the Lambeth Black Achievement Awards.

But I think we got there in the end.

Phew.

Listen!

Many thanks again to Rahoul for his time. I greatly enjoyed his company, and it was worthwhile in being able to speak directly with a candidate that I might have otherwise overlooked.

Rahoul’s (friendly) rival in Streatham is of course @chukaumunna. Yer man is fast becoming a highly visible face in the borough, listening to concerns, and offering solutions. Here is his take on the cabinet decision to confirm the Tesco deal.

Listen!

And so with cabinet having agreed the Hub deal, @audioboo’s recorded with various PPC and even time for a bit of political gossip with some rather good local sources, that was yer lot.

At least I thought it was.

I cycled back down Brixton Road in the South London rain, and then thought: hang on – they’ve not mentioned swimming.

Cripes.

I was following the debate in great detail, tweeting and even smiling at the cabinet from my vantage point of the front row. It was only on the journey home when I tried to piece together the wider picture that I realised something was missing.

I’m happy to stand corrected, but my notes make no mention of swimming. The temporary rink on the Common took up most of the time; the ‘dry facilities’ that will be dumped on the Rookery were also very much on the radar.

The location for the temporary swimming pool wasn’t even a thought in the town planner’s sketchbook. Swimming is certainly seen as a Cinderella service within Lambeth.

Streatham has a proud history of hockey, but you need somewhere to house all those “free swimming sessions for every resident,” as promised in the @LambethLabour election manifesto.

[Point of order: I asked a cabinet member for an off the record clarification to explain this astonishing election pledge. I shall report back when I receive an on the record response.]

And so in conclusion, it’s still all about location, location, location for the Hub. Hopefully the main project will take care of itself. In the interim, I’m none the wise where the temporary rink, gym and pool (?) are going to be housed.

Meanwhile, May 6th draws ever closer…

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