Voters quiz Bishop’s ward and Cathedrals ward candidates at Waterloo hustings
Labour, Liberal Democrat and independent candidates fielded questions from voters in Bishop's ward in Lambeth and Cathedrals ward in Southwark at a public meeting at St John's Waterloo.
Amid the excitement (or tedium) of the general election campaign it's easy to forget that elections for London's borough councils will be held on the same day. Hustings in Waterloo provided an opportunity for council candidates to be questioned on issues of local concern.
Cathedrals ward was represented on the top table by Lib Dem candidate (and incumbent councillor) Adele Morris, Labour's Rowenna Davis and independent candidate Ken Hayes.
For Bishop's ward, questions were fielded by sitting Lib Dem councillor Gavin Dodsworth and Labour challenger Jennifer Mosley.
Candidate were asked to introduce themselves, highlight one of their key priorities and talk about opportunities for cross-border cooperation between Southwark and Lambeth.
Ken Hayes said that he had lived in the area since 1984 and that the main issue of his campaign is the reopening of Lant Street which has been cut in two by the expansion of Charles Dickens Primary School.
Rowenna Davis said that her vision for Cathedrals ward centred on empowerment, and a key issue for her was the backlog of housing repairs and refurbishments in Southwark. She also said that Labour is committed to reinstating the housing department as a separate entity within Southwark Council.
According to Adele Morris planning is the issue that dominates everyone's lives in Cathedrals ward. She pledged to continue to work to make sure that Southwark policy reflects the aspirations of local people. She praised the work of Bankside Residents' Forum and highlighted the refurbishment of The Cut as a successful example of joint working between Southwark and Lambeth.
Gavin Dodsworth believes that there are too many empty homes in Bishop's ward and said that bringing these back into use is a "no-brainer" that he is committed to campaigning for. He also thinks that there is a growing problem with dangerous dogs in Bishop's ward. He called for the devolution of decision-making from the town hall, saying that "Brixton could be as far away as Athens" and described the annual area expos championed by Lambeth Labour as "a democratic farce".
Jennifer Mosley said that she had been an outreach worker at the Colombo Centre and a director of Waterloo Community Regeneration Trust and the Sport Action Zone. She highlighted the decline of Lower Marsh and said that whilst she welcomes the council's plans to privatise the market management she was nervous that local people might be priced out. She described the South Bank Forum's quarterly public meetings as a "shining example" of cross-border cooperation between the two councils.
Affordable rented housing
Candidates were asked what they would do to increase the supply of affordable homes for rent in the area.
Rowenna Davis replied that the priority for Southwark, as London's biggest landlord, should be to bring the current housing stock up to standard and to bring back the housing department which had been merged with the environment department by the current borough administration.
Adele Morris contrasted Southwark's record on housing with the unpopular creation of an arms-length management organisation (ALMO) in Lambeth. She pledged to continue to press for high percentages of affordable housing within new private housing developments in the area and backed the campaign led by Simon Hughes to allow councils to spend section 106 cash on improvements to existing council homes.
A sobering reminder of the lack of direct power held by individual backbench councillors was given by Gavin Dodsworth. He echoed his Southwark counterpart's criticism of the creation of Lambeth Living, describing the referendum held by the borough's Labour administration as "highly dubious". He explained his own opposition to the (now aborted) redevelopment of Elizabeth House in York Road because he believed that the developers could afford to pay for a greater provision of affordable housing and insisted that social housing funded by private developments in Waterloo should be provided in the immediate area rather than elsewhere in the borough.
Lambeth rent increases
The two Bishop's ward candidates were asked why Lambeth Living had increased rents by a greater degree than the corresponding increase in pensions.
Jennifer Mosley admitted that she had "no clue" why this was the case, but said that if elected she would fight the corner of all Waterloo residents whoever their landlord was.
Gavin Dodsworth claimed that Lambeth Labour had squandered £20 million by mismanaging the temporary accommodation crisis and that this was one of the factors that had led to steep rent hikes.
Tall buildings in Waterloo
Ken Hayes said that he is not generally a fan of tall buildings, adding that he is concerned that high-rise buildings could be a terrorist target. "To build tall buildings on a flight path to Heathrow Airport is lunatic," he said.
Rowenna Davis said she believed that tall buildings could sometimes be appropriate if they were supported by local people as a result of genuine consultation. She was critical of Southwark's recent consultation on the London Bridge, Borough & Bankside Supplementary Planning Dcoument.
Adele Morris said that as a Southwark councillor and resident she didn't feel that it was appropriate to comment on planning policy in Waterloo.
Gavin Dodsworth said that he didn't like tall buildings that failed to take into account local people, and expressed his frustration that tall building proposals in Waterloo often received more attention because of their impact on the Palace of Westminster or other north bank buildings than for their relationship with their immediate neighbours.
Jennifer Mosley highlighted the proposed Doon Street tower as an example of a development that offered something valuable to the local community – a much-desired swimming pool – and said that she was happy to support and champion it 100 per cent.
Protecting green spaces in Waterloo
Adele Morris said that the Liberal Democrats are committed to promoting the creation of allotments on local housing estates.
Rowenna Davis accused the Liberal Democrats of selling off green spaces in Southwark and promised to find a way of providing official designation to small but valuable patches of green on local housing estates.
Ken Hayes called for the planting of more trees on local streets, and pledged his support for a 20 mph speed limit on all non-major roads in the area.
Gavin Dodsworth cited the example of his fellow councillor and candidate Diana Braithwaite who had been motivated to stand for election after campaigning to protect a green space near her home. He also criticised Labour for attempting to de-classify the Hungerford Car Park next to Jubilee Gardens as Metropolitan Open Land when Bishop's ward already suffers from a shortfall of green space per head of population.
Jennifer Mosley described the creation of the football pitches and tennis courts on either side of Hatfields as an excellent example of cross-borough cooperation and praised the Friends of Hatfields Green for driving forward the improvements to that open space. On Jubilee Gardens she said that Kate Hoey and Steve Reed had worked hard to get progress on the planned improvements.
Affordable and accessible shopping in Waterloo
"Sainsbury's Local is great but they charge an absolute fortune," said Jennifer Mosley who added that the redevelopment of Waterloo Station should include shops that are useful, accessible and affordable to local residents.
Gavin Dodsworth highlighted an apparent contradiction between the oft-repeated desire for affordable shopping in Waterloo and a resistance to large chain stores. He questioned whether the ideal model for affordable, accessible inner-city food shopping actually exists anywhere.
Adele Morris drew attention to the recently completed improvements to the Great Suffolk Street shopping parade as an example of the sort of project that a council could carry out to support local independent traders. She also pledged to fight for improvements to Borough High Street but reminded the audience that the council's ability to influence the sort of tenants that landlords rent shops to is limited.
Rowenna Davis suggested that the regeneration of Elephant & Castle – which she said was "completely stalled and off track" thanks to the Lib Dems – might provide suitable new shopping opportunities for local residents. She added that Labour's pledge to provide free school meals for all children in Southwark would reduce the shopping burden on parents for at least one meal a day.
Ken Hayes also gave his backing to local small businesses and lamented the near disappearance of the shops that used to line Blackfriars Road.
Extension of the Borough & Bankside licensing saturation zone
Candidates voiced unanimous support for the extension of the Borough & Bankside alcohol licensing saturation zone to encompass the area between Blackfriars Road in the east and the Lambeth-Southwark boundary in the west.
How would candidates respond to inevitable cuts in Government funding?
Jennifer Mosley highlighted Labour's commitment to embrace co-operative principles in its running of Lambeth Council which she said would allow services to be tailored to local needs, recognising that one size does not fit all.
Rowenna Davis said that a Labour administration in Southwark would improve the council tax collection rate, seek joint procurement of goods and services with other authorities to drive down costs and cut spending on consultants and agency staff.
Adele Morris called on the Government to adjust its funding formula to recognise the true population figures in Southwark rather than the current inaccurate model.
Cycle storage on housing estates
Jennifer Mosley replied that cycling is fantastic and gave her support to the need for secure bicycle parking for tenants of council estates.
Rowenna Davis pointed out that the Southwark Labour manifesto contains a specific pledge to provide safe bike parking on estates.
Ken Hayes received applause for his criticism of the "small percentage of cyclists" who ride past red lights and cycle on pavements.
Disability discrimination and the poor quality of local road surfaces
Rowenna Davis called for a full audit of poor quality pavements and road surfaces so that the most urgent problems could be identified and dealt with.
Adele Morris said that a full audit had already been carried out and called on the Government to provide more funding to enable work to be completed faster.
Gavin Dodsworth said that the problem of potholes and poor pavements highlighted the lack of local decision making which hindered local residents from setting local priorities.
Personal volunteering experience
Candidates were asked to give examples of their own involvement with community organisations.
Rowenna Davis said that she had volunteered with Crisis for three years. She is also involved with the Headliners charity which trains young people with journalistic skills, is a member of her tenants' and residents' association and a trustee of the Envision youth charity.
Ken Hayes spoke about his long record as a community campaigner including a stint as chairman of the Queensborough Community Centre, a governor of St Jude's Primary School and the London Nautical School, as well as involvement with the Southwark Civic Association, Southwark Heritage Association, St George in Southwark Festival and British School of Osteopathy.
Jennifer Mosley explained that she had always worked in the charity sector, was involved with parent-teacher associations in two schools and last Sunday ran the London Marathon in support of the Cardinal Hume Centre for homeless people. She had also helped to set up the Family Links organisation.
Gavin Dodsworth said that he had volunteered overseas for 9 months during the late 1990s and had worked overnight on the Terrence Higgins Trust switchboard for a number of years.
Adele Morris said that she had been involved in a number of local charities and groups as her children have grown up, including spearheading a campaign to improve Little Dorrit Park. She had also been involved in fundraising for Charterhouse-in-Southwark and has worked for Bankside Open Spaces Trust.