Peabody speak at the Thamesmead Community Voice meeting

I went along to the Thamesmead Community Voice meeting last Wednesday, and was surprised to find that it was entirely presented by Peabody. I took notes, which I’ll try to make some sense of below (it was the end of a long day and the meeting ended up being quite wearing), and a number of photographs.

Our hosts were Ken Baikie and Ellen Halstead from Peabody, with Alex from Trust Thamesmead assisting. Why was the meeting wearing? Well, the basis of the conversation was a set of slides, but rather than go through the slides and then field questions, the microphone was offered to people after each slide. The upshot of many of the questions amounted to “good question, but we’ll cover that in a while” and on a number of occasions that comment alone prompted further clarification of the questions.

On top of this, which would have been bearable, there were some very vocal and disruptive people in the audience. One man wanted to drive home to everybody that Gallions, in his opinion, employ contractors with a poor safety record. Having made this point he repeated it far too often despite the hosts saying that they were dealing with his direct complaints and this wasn’t the forum for them to be aired again. It was a slow and arduous process to move on each time he started to talk on the subject. I’m none the wiser as to what concerns he actually has around safety, only that he is very concerned and thinks something should be done.

Likewise, the Crossways Gym group were in attendance. I will state here and now that I do not know the details of the Crossways Gym case, only that a group of people in Thamesmead had set up a gym that was faring very well. They had kids from the local area being trained to Olympic level, and to use their words, they were bullied out of it and now all that exists is provision for kids to learn noddy gym work, like forward rolls, Peabody and Gallions bullied them out of it and took it all away.

There’s something to this story that doesn’t get aired because each time the point is raised it’s shut down with “we can’t talk about that because there is a legal process going on right now”, and yet the irate parents and club supporters continue to complain, saying that they are bullied and pushed aside, that nobody listens to them, that it’s a travesty and that something should be done but all they get is false promise and nobody does anything. I’m not entirely sure what they hope to achieve, beyond voicing their dissatisfaction but it came to the point where they were being insulting and angry and other members of the audience had to step in to point out that there were people in the room who did want to hear more of what Peabody wanted to present. Even members of the Thamesmead Youth Voice stood up to say that their claims that there is “nothing” for kids to do in the area are wrong, and yet the gym crowd shouted them down as well, telling them how some of their members used to be part of the same group, but nothing ever changes, Gallions are just take-take-take.

It might have been funny if it had not been so disruptive or drawn out…

So, onto my notes. Peabody say that their initial plans were interrupted by Boris announcing housing zones after the Gallions/Peabody merger. Their original plans were for 700 homes in the Southmere Village area but a successful bid sees them now getting £82m and able to scale up from 700 to 3000 homes with provision for new jobs and employment space, especially near Harrow Manor Way.

Residents should get a leaflet in the next 2 weeks describing, plans short and long term. Plans are not set in stone. They realise it is also important to look after existing homes – investment in windows and bathrooms is ongoing – it costs as much as £1800 p/a to heat some homes.

Peabody will talk to all affected by each planning permission application. Lifetime homes and accessible homes will be a challenge but Peabody has examples of previous work and will meet all legal requirements.

Marshland makes the build costs higher in this region but on the other hand, homes are cheaper in this area at the moment and after the investment it should easy to convince people to move here.

Audience says – huge demand on local resource due to Crossrail, especially around parking provision.

Answer: parking issues from people driving in need to be controlled. Parking zones likely, the technical term is railheading and there will be work to avoid it. Audience member repeats worries about parking control and already have problems parking near own home. – council need to answer that, Peabody don’t have that remit.

Criticism of Parkway hub. Too much concrete – think more of green space, don’t remove one concrete jungle to replace it with another. – consultation will happen, talk to us then. Ken Baikie replies that the Parkway Hub was started before he joined, and has been disasterous as a project. They have learned from mistakes and there will be shops retailing from there by the summer. This was repeated later – Park view hub has been a disaster – finally handed over 1 year late. Shops due in May, leases signed for the flats above. The final standard of the interiors of these flats is said to be very high, and the hub was an experimental piece of work that should see the whole block being exceptionally energy efficient.

Cross quarter – 2 bedroom flats are being marketed for near 400k (interesting figure, I’ve seen a property listed on Right Move which is 1 bedroom only and that’s priced at £360k). The new flats in the Cross Quarter were offered to Peabody but unaffordable at the asking price. The contractors were not signed to London build for Londoners agreements and the flats were largely marketed, to much press furore, in Asia. Prices of local stock going up is a challenge for Peabody – they are aware that they can’t sell their own properties at that price across Thamesmead. Peabody is a charity which funds its social housing and own homes by building properties to sell. It’s a balancing act with unique challenges in the Thamesmead region. They need to build attractive properties that are well joined up with all the supporting facilities in the region.

Southmere Village :- one audience member asked that they set a date for when things will start, people are tired of consultation. Too much process, they want a timeline. Ken could offer only that they will try to keep people more in the loop as they have plans and dates. The current rough timeline is: Consultation in summer, plans submitted by year end. Various delays have meant they have only just been able to appoint architects. Building not until next year. Generally speaking, from the start of build to handover is approx 18 months. These timelines tie up with what I’ve heard regarding Coralline Walk – the preferred option here is demolition, but consultation will run into July, with a decision following.

Will there still be green spaces? – no plans to remove green spaces yet, but needs examination. Later slides asked the audience whether they would prefer areas to be allowed to grow wild in exchange for some other areas being highly manicured and looked after. There is a deficit in funds for the green spaces – they have a third of the money it requires available and need to work out how to manage the mismatch.

Suggestions were made for a new high street on Harrow manor way and work around Plumstead high street. Peabody are considering matching the likes of Bexleyheath or Woolwich with either the formation of a new town centre, or investment into the existing one. This conversation was largely derailed when the audience voted a preference for small local shops and Ken Baikie started to talk about how the town centre could be improved, potentially bringing in entertainment facilities or restaurants, but this was where things started to derail and descend into chaos. Understandably, the audience was concerned by the conversation about the town centre when that had been voted a lower concern, and Ken tried to explain that this was at odds with consultation and questions asked last year. But from here derisory shouts began
– you don’t know what we want,
– why fix what isn’t broken,
– all you do is take, take, take,
– we don’t need anything doing to the town centre,
– we need stuff for kids to do instead
– why don’t you take a small project and make it work and then you might get people on board but you don’t listen (Ken cited examples of canal clean up and the work improving the route from Lesnes Abbey through to Crossness but this was shouted down)
– there’s hardly anybody at this meeting anyway why don’t you ask more people about these things

And so on and so forth…

Eventually things moved on, but the audience was full of disgruntled people on both sides of the Crossways Gym concerns. There were more complaints about the green areas, how the grass is dirty and full of horse and dog mess. Ken said that the Equine Officer they appointed has helped and the traveller community were quite compliant, saying they’d never actually been asked to move the horses before.

Another valid complaint, came from the audience regarding how Tump 53 is closing – community was brought together but now it is closing. Peabody explained that the money raised only funded 1 year. They are looking to open it again but need more funds. Meanwhile someone will be there fortnightly in a caretake capacity and they saw over 1000 unique visitors to the centre in the year it was open, so it’s being seen as a success story. I’m afraid I side with the complainant on this – a year isn’t much for a community that is seen as failing and struggling. Offering piecemeal solutions to problems that expire after a year seems somewhat pointless – having something nice that is gone before it’s really taken off is probably worse than spending the money on maintenance where it will go further. How can this be turned around, what solutions will be found in order to re-open the nature reserve? Watch this space…

Back to the “what are kids meant to do around here”questions, and Peabody revealed that all play equipment in the area is being examined and assessed for age groups. Audience asked for better facilities for disabled. Child asked for football or rugby posts in Birchmere park. There was a suggestion of a lido.

Back on the safety side of things, people urged Peaboy to build a fire and ambulance station, saying the area is woefully covered at the moment and won’t cope with an influx of new residents. Peabody responded saying they are not able to provision such things but will work with the authorities – they know that they cannot build successfully without the infrastructure and facilities in place.

Tilfen land now has Peabody people on its board. They have long claimed to bring employment opportunities in the area but it is almost exclusively warehouse work. They are being steered away from warehouse work and looking for more skilled work opportunities. Some of the new build should address part of this.

Transport remains an ongoing issue. There is some consideration being given to trams and extensions to the DLR, with Thamesmead’s current town centre potentially to see a new station of some sort in the future. Details are far from clear, but many ideas are being tabled – this may come to nothing but there are talks in progress about how to join up the separate parts of Thamesmead to take advantage of the Crossrail effect.

There now follow rather a lot of pictures, mostly because they are a view of the presentation for those who weren’t there. You’ll note that those present were able to vote on a number of questions, and that the vote tallies didn’t quite make sense at times…

And that, in a nutshell (assuming a rather large nut), was the Community Voice meeting.

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