London’s (abandoned) Garden Bridge – lessons for EDDC?

” … Launched as a privately sponsored gift to the city, Joanna Lumley’s “tiara for the Thames” had soon gobbled up £60m of public cash and the promise of an extra £3.5m a year for evermore. It was quickly revealed to be more a corporate events space than public crossing, a planted branding opportunity just 200 metres from an existing bridge, where groups would have to register and visitors would be tracked via their mobile phones. It was relentlessly exposed to be the product of the “chumocracy”, flouting all the usual rules of procurement. The miracle is that it ever got so far, and that so much public money has already been flushed into the Thames.

The blame lies firmly with former mayor Boris Johnson, the one actor in this sorry saga who refused to comply with Margaret Hodge’s recent inquiry into the project. Her investigation found multiple failings from the start, from the Garden Bridge Trust’s shaky business case (which put a lot of faith in the lucrative potential of selling T-shirts and pens), to a tendering process that was “not open, fair or competitive”, to confusion as to what the project was even for, concluding that the bridge should be scrapped before it burned through any more cash. And it all comes back to Boris. …

It was Johnson who took up his childhood chum Lumley’s idea for the sylvan crossing (which was initially conceived as a memorial to Princess Diana and pitched to Ken Livingstone, who had the good sense to say no) and had it bulldozed through the system with flagrant disregard for due process. Hodge’s report found that his deputy mayor for transport, Isabel Dedring, and Transport for London’s director of planning, Richard de Cani, saw to it that the choice of Lumley’s team of Thomas Heatherwick and engineering giant Arup was a foregone conclusion. The team was allowed to revise their bid while their competitors were not, the scoring was found to be irregular, while de Cani admitted that he alone judged the bids.

In a move that raised concerns over conflict of interest, both Dedring and de Cani now enjoy senior positions at Arup, where most of the £37.4m of public funding spent to date has been funnelled; TfL and the department for transport have both denied any such conflict and Arup gave assurances to Hodge which she accepted.

Hodge also raised concerns over the private interests of the garden bridge trustees, who appeared to have business interests on both sides of the river where the bridge was due to land. The project’s business case spoke of a 5% increase in the value of property and a 30% increase in revenues for retail units, revealing the green tiara as a cynical garnish for raising land values in these central London areas – which the trust preposterously described as being “in need of regeneration”.

As the champion of novelty infrastructure projects, Johnson saw in the garden bridge his chance for another trinket to furnish his mantelpiece of ill-conceived urban ornaments. It would be a fitting addition to the empty Emirates Air Line cable car, his fleet of overheating Heatherwick-designed buses and the lunatic tangle of the ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture in the Olympic Park. They are all projects characterised by the promise of private sponsorship that have ended up draining the public purse, standing as costly monuments to Johnson’s self-promotion.

By refusing the guarantee of further public funding for the garden bridge, Khan has effectively pulled the plug: since major private donors have pulled out, the project has a £70m funding gap and its planning permission expires in December. But he must go further and hold those responsible to account; we must insist that the lake of public cash already drained into consultants’ fees and building full-scale prototypes is repaid.

“It has the potential to be the slowest way to cross the river, with intimate moments and a lingering scale,” rhapsodised Thomas Heatherwick when I first met him to see his garden bridge plans in June 2014. He added with a twinkle in his eye: “It feels like we’re trying to pull off a big crime.” The conclusion of this long drawn-out public heist should be that crime doesn’t pay.”

EDDC leaves elderly tenants marooned – again

No money for better facilities for elderly tenants, olenty of money for luxurious new offices for themselves?

“Fearful residents at a block of sheltered housing flats in Exmouth have spoken of their frustration after being left without a means of getting up or down the stairs – again.

A newly-installed lift at Morgan Court, in Rolle Road, has been broken for the last fortnight and a stairlift has now been removed.

The Journal previously reported in July how ‘trapped’ residents had waited three months for the lifts to be installed.

Elderly and vulnerable tenants with mobility problems living in upstairs flats say they have been unable to leave their homes to go shopping or attend vital doctors’ appointments.

Building owner East Devon District Council (EDDC) has blamed its contractor. A council spokeswoman said: “It would be an understatement to say that we are deeply disappointed in the service provided [by the contractor]. By leaving the flats without a lift and by removing the stairlifts, they have let us down badly by potentially putting our tenants, some of whom are extremely frail and vulnerable, at risk.”

Mary Snell, 84, who lives on the top floor of Morgan Court, needs to take 33 tablets a day and says she frequently needs to get to the doctors.

“It’s very frustrating – I can’t get out or do anything,” she told the Journal.

“They took away the stairlift and I think there were some people who had gone out and couldn’t get back in.”

Another top floor resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “We’ve now been without a lift for 14 days and now they’ve taken the stairlift away, so we’re totally trapped in.”

Another resident, who lives on the first floor, has threatened to write a letter to the Government over the matter, which she fears could result in someone dying.

The woman added: “If there’s a fire it will cause a death. This has been six months now and we still can’t get out of these flats. Morgan Court residents have had enough – this is cruelty, and it has got to stop.

“We just want to get back to normality.”

An EDDC spokeswoman said: “We have been in constant contact with our contractor at all levels to ensure that they immediately rectify the fault with the new lift, which had only just been installed. We anticipate that the lift will be fully operational later today (Wednesday, August 2) as an engineer is replacing a faulty part.

“In the meantime, a team of our officers are continuing to work on site at Morgan Court, as we have been doing so over the last few days, to support residents through this immensely inconvenient situation with any access requirements, temporary housing, support issues and to keep them fully briefed on the situation. We will continue to monitor the lift closely over the next few days, in case any further problems arise.

“For our tenants to be without a lift, or even a stairlift, is simply not acceptable and we are looking into taking further action [against the contractor] for their unsatisfactory installation and poor project management. In the meantime, we apologise to our customers for the inconvenience and distress that the lack of a lift at Morgan Court may have caused them. Our priority is keeping tenants safe and we are working hard to ensure that this situation is not allowed to happen again.”

Expensive new HQ and luxury apartments for rich elderly people or good-quality social housing? Tough choice for EDDC

Sidmouth resident Mike Temple has the lead letter in today’s Guardian on social housing. Our council is MUCH more interested in moving into its very expensive new offices (£10 million and counting) than building, or encouraging the building of, social and truly affordable housing. As shown when it agreed to sell its Knowle site to PegasusLife for super-luxury housing for only rich, elderly people, with PegasusLife attempting to exploit a loophole via a planning appeal to avoid any on-site or off-site affordable properties.

“The fire at Grenfell Tower has highlighted a number of issues relating to government housing policy in recent years, not only the failure to apply proper safety measures but also its whole approach to social housing.

The 2012 national planning policy framework, often described as a “developers’ charter”, has given precedence to expensive private development while discouraging social housing. The result is that through land-banking, slow build-out rates and using the housing market as an investment, house prices have risen way beyond the reach of most average-wage earners. At the same time, an increasing proportion of the incomes of the lower paid is spent on rented accommodation, which is often of poor quality.

Among the 72 Conservative MP landlords who voted against the 2016 housing bill to make “rented properties fit for human habitation” were the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, housing minister Brandon Lewis (who has also said installing fire-sprinklers could discourage house-building), fire minister Nick Hurd, and David Cameron.

Official Statistics on social housing show that since 2010 the number of government-funded houses for social rent has plummeted by 97%.

Gavin Barwell, until recently housing minister and author of a white paper that offered proposals to ease development while doing little to promote social housing, has – like the government he serves – failed to act on the recommendations in the report on the fire at Lakanal House in 2009. Like previous Conservative minsters he preferred light-touch regulation so that warnings have been ignored at national and local government level.

The result is a system that has failed to protect our citizens – cost-cutting and reckless decisions were made with little fear of anyone being held responsible.
Mike Temple
Sidmouth, Devon”

This is no time for council vanity projects

“Public service leaders have expressed dismay over the Queen’s Speech failure to address public sector issues including pay, social care and local government funding.

Today’s address laid out prime minster Theresa May’s legislative agenda for the next parliament but is far removed from the Conservative manifesto pledges she hoped to introduce.

She has been unable to push through all of her policy plans after she failed to win a majority in the bruising general election vote. The government’s weakness has been hampered further by the inability to finalise a confidence and supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party.

There was no mention of May’s proposal to change the way social care was funded, pledges on grammar schools, retention of businesses rates for local councils or removal of the triple lock on state pensions.

CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman said “pressing issues” were missing from the speech, highlighting social care, devolution and the NHS.

He added: “Without urgent action, both health and social care budgets will be stretched to breaking point. More realistic medium and long term financial planning, and investment in prevention, is needed to stabilise the financial position of the NHS.”

This view was shared by Jo Miller, chief executive of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, who said: “I am disappointed that key legislation – absolutely fundamental to ensuring the future sustainability of local government – has now been dropped.

“Local government urgently needs clarity around our future funding – at present we simply face a cliff edge from 2020. This must urgently be resolved.”

Claire Kober, chair of London Councils, also expressed disappointment at the lack of detail on council funding, adding she was “deeply concerned” by the absence of discussion regarding 100% business rates retention.

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the civil service Prospect union, said this “was a missed opportunity” for the government to listen to the public over the election result.

“This was an ideal time for ministers to acknowledge that the 1% pay cap is no longer working and that public servants deserve a pay rise,” he said, adding that hard-pressed public servants would struggle to deliver a good Brexit because of bad pay and increasing world loads.

Alison Michalska, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, welcomed the measures on mental health and domestic abuse but criticised the government for not tackling funding concerns for schools and local authorities.

She said: “The government must recognise that there is not enough money in the education system rather than focusing on the way in which existing funding is distributed to schools.”

She said it was “a matter of urgency” that great clarity was provided on local government funding as children’s services face funding shortages.

Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, claimed the government was ignoring the nation’s concerns while “ministers are living in a parallel universe”.

He said: “People have had enough of austerity, and want proper investment in schools, hospitals, police forces and local services. Yet there was none of this in the Queen’s Speech.

“Nor was there anything about pay. Nurses, teaching assistants, council workers, police support staff and other public sector employees should be rewarded for their hard work with a long overdue wage rise.”

“Developer submits appeal to £7.5m Knowle plan refusals”

PegasusLife submitted its challenge to East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) ruling to the Planning Inspectorate on Wednesday before today’s deadline.

Councillors defied officer advice to refuse the scheme in December – arguing it would overdevelop Knowle and represent a departure from the site’s 50-home allocation in the Local Plan. They also had concerns about the lack of ‘affordable’ housing provision.

An EDDC spokeswoman confirmed that PegasusLife has lodged an appeal with the Planning Inspectorate, but said it can take weeks for the process to begin.

The developer has agreed to pay EDDC £7.505million for the site of its current HQ if the application is approved. The proceeds would go towards the authority’s £10million relocation to Exmouth and Honiton, but councillors have since voted to press ahead with the project before a buyer is guaranteed.

This means construction work, funded by a loan, will begin at Heathpark in Honiton before Knowle is sold. Work on Exmouth Town Hall is already under way.”

Baby boomers spurning luxury retirement by the coast in favour of cities

“… Baby boomers are not moving to the country or coast, but staying close to their network of family and friends, shops and the theatre. The urban model is very important and fast-growing …”

Sunday Telegraph Business News (firewall)