Saturday, 25 February 2012

Success: Better access outside Wellfield Centre - Streatham Youth and Community Trust

The Green Party is pushing to make Lambeth an inclusive borough, and issues of the built environment are a big part of this.

Problems with accessibility are not something that many people notice unless they themselves are directly affected - for example having a buggy or pram, being older, having a mobility impairment or using a wheelchair. It is therefore important to have councillors who know their local communities, but also know the needs of their local communities and can identify with them.

Lambeth is an inhospitable environment with regards to accessibility and this needs changing. Lambeth councillors don't often seem to notice, or if they do, don't appear to see it as a priority. Here is an example in a prominent place in the local community which councillors had failed to address, so we have sorted it out.

The issue was the pavement outside the Wellfield Centre (Streatham Youth and Community Trust) and the Well Centre in Wellfield Road (Streatham Wells Ward) which was inaccessible to wheelchair users and those with mobility impairments.

This is what it looked like. As you can see the vehicle crossover had a step each side which anyone in a wheelchair was unable to get up. It was also a significant hazard to anyone who had difficulty walking.

To compound the problem there was also a old drain that had sunk into the road in the middle of the crossover creating an additional hazard. Taken together this was a major barrier to many people - not just those using the Centre but other passers-by too. It meant that wheelchair users had no choice but to go into the road if they wanted to get to the community centre, which was not just inconvenient but dangerous. Neither was there anywhere obvious to get down into the road, so it meant going back around twenty or thirty yards to find a place to get down to the road between parked cars, then going along the road for forty yards (in a narrow street where cars would be unable to easily pass) and finding a place to get back up on to the pavement again.

I asked for the vehicle crossover to be made accessible, and this has now been done.

Not only have we got the sides ramped, but the drain has also been sorted out so there is no longer a hazardous dip in the middle.

This is something that local councillors should be on top of, but they clearly aren't. There is no excuse in the 21st Century for areas of public space to be inaccessible to large parts of the local community in this way.

We will keep pushing for the many other parts of the local area which impede access to be sorted out.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Tesco hub meeting - review promised on facilities for disabled, many questions unanswered

Judging from the £1,000 spent by Tesco on the free bar (not to mention the free food) the supermarket (supported by Lambeth Council) are as keen as ever to try and charm the local community as works continue on the Streatham Hub development.

Several hundred people attended the public meeting last night at a packed Streatham Hideaway. Given the ongoing national controversy over the last week over low pay for Tesco workers, and Lambeth Council’s admission that they hadn’t tried to get assurances from the supermarket over conditions for Tesco workers, you can understand why the meeting was focused by the organisers (as they stated themselves) on the leisure facilities, and not the new store or homes being built.

The meeting began with food and free (non alcoholic) drink whilst people browsed the plans for the development. There was then a twenty minute presentation from the platform followed by forty minutes of questions from the floor to representatives of those involved in the project including Tesco, Vinci construction and Lambeth Council. The opening of the free (alcoholic) bar followed swiftly afterwards.

From the strong opinions expressed during the Q & A it was clear that local people were not in the mood to be fobbed off. Several recurrent themes emerged, encapsulated by an ongoing feeling amongst many that Streatham is being short-changed. There were repeated references to Lambeth council’s investment in Clapham and Brixton, whilst Streatham appeared to be getting a raw deal.
A number of issues were raised both during the Questions and Answers, but also afterwards in the informal conversations that took place. (Many people clearly didn’t get time to put their questions publicly from the floor). These included:

1. The small size of the swimming pool (it is half the size of an Olympic pool)

2. The absence of solar panels on the roof. This, people were told, was “not economically viable”, which people didn’t seem to accept, particularly given the willingness of groups like RePowering Streatham to explore facilitating additional community investment.

3. The absence of a steam room and sauna which the old leisure centre had. The reason given for this was that Lambeth didn’t feel they could manage them well enough. It was pointed out that they had been maintained in the refurbishment at Brixton.

4. The detrimental impact on small businesses in the area and how this could best be mitigated. In response the offering from the platform was three hours free parking at the Hub, in the belief that people will then trek up the high road to buy other things they might not be able to purchase at one of London’s biggest Tesco stores.

5. The impact of traffic in the already congested area, with little, if any apparent moves from Transport for London to address the issue.

6. The absence in the planes of a ‘town square’, which had been promised to local people. Those on the panel claimed no knowledge of this commitment.

7. The disruption to local people, noise and vibration for those living close by to the hub during the deconstruction and building works.

8. Issues around the Zamboni in the new Ice Rink/ Arena

9. The apparent absence of a crèche facility, despite the emphasis from the platform that the leisure centre was for ‘young families’.

10. How many of the 250 new homes would be accessible to wheelchair users.

11. Whether the lift is going to be able to accommodate the demand at the development (and so whether it will satisfactorily meet the access needs of people with mobility issues/ buggies and prams). Also what alternatives are in place when the lift needs to be serviced or goes out of action.

A lot of information didn’t seem to be available to address many of these issues, and there was not enough time for questions from the floor so that they could all be publicly raised. From the response that did come it also looks as if there will be little, if any, progress on many of these things without pressure from local people. Lambeth and Tesco it seems have made up their minds on many of them, and this was clearly not a consultation of local people’s views. But as a public meeting designed to give information neither did it impart enough.

However one concession I was able to get at the meeting was a public commitment from the platform of a review of the disabled facilities. The information available last night appeared to show a significant lack of disabled changing and toilets.

Just 2 of the 50 changing rooms in the multi-purpose sports hall appear to be designated as for the specific use of people with impairments - a major issue when you consider this is the year London will host the paralympics, and that activities like wheelchair basketball are now commonplace. One out of 39 cubicles in the Village Change area (for swimming) appear to be set aside for use by those with impairments. There was no stated disabled provision in the ice arena (but this may have been an oversight in communication).

I will be in contact with Peter Muncaster, the senior project manager at Vinci Construction over the next few days, to clarify what the situation is. They have promised to revisit the planned provision and have stated that they are open to change. This is an encouraging sign, but it is crucial that disabled people themselves are also consulted. I have yet to see any evidence that this has happened, but will push to try and make sure that it does.

There were still people wanting to ask questions when the free bar was opened. The next meeting is apparently scheduled for six months time, but given the speed with which both Lambeth and Tesco want to proceed, it would seem important, indeed necessary, to have a public meeting every three months as work continues.

It was made clear from the platform that the leisure centre and ice rink were for local people, and the drive was to get people to ‘own’ it. If Lambeth Council and Tesco are really serious about this, they will need to give more time and care to listen and update to local people. A free bar - on its own - is not enough.