There was a palpable sense of déja vu at the Public Meeting with the Dulwich Estate. Was the last meeting really twenty –one years ago? But the village hall looked the same; the ‘panel’ seated on the stage were framed by the same red curtains. There was a packed audience, although perhaps not as packed as ‘full to over-flowing’ as I reported back in 1988. There was a total 130 questions sent in, considerably less than the 300 posed before but still an indication of the massive interest by residents in the way Dulwich is administered by the Trustees of the Dulwich Estate. The statistics suggest that while more residents are satisfied with the way in which the Trustees manage the Estate, there is still scope for further improvement.
Nevertheless, it was laudable that the representatives of the Estate were prepared to put their heads above the parapet and face considerable hostile fire from the audience. In many aspects they acquitted themselves well; people better understood the pressure on the Scheme of Management office and tended to agree with the consultant architect that planning applications for changes to houses are, by their nature, often an area for conflict, inevitably with winners and losers. The audience appeared satisfied that planning applications received thorough and fair scrutiny over several processes.
There were however some topics of serious concern and the mood of the audience was certainly critical of the way the Estate is dealing with these. These topics, together with a full report of the public meeting are discussed elsewhere in this Journal
The following month the Dulwich Estate held another meeting, this time with its commercial tenants from the Village, Croxted Road and Herne Hill, to discuss areas of common concern and to answer questions of policy, current development projects and objectives. There was a good take up by traders of the offer of such a meeting, which was attended by over 35 tenants and was described as a “full and frank discussion”.
The announcement that Oxfam would not, after all, be opening a charity shop in Dulwich Village was well received but was tempered by suspicion that the only reason the Estate had disengaged itself from this debacle was because of pressure created by the Public Meeting.
The Estate appears to be reconsidering its present policy of letting to the highest bidder towards that of a tenant mix strategy in the light of these two meetings. If this is so, then it will be welcomed. The Estate also agreed to review its processes and procedures regarding rent reviews and lease renewals which had particularly irked some of its smaller commercial tenants. Altogether, the response from the Dulwich Estate towards its commercial tenants was conciliatory
Retail trends are notoriously fickle and change is inevitable. The seemingly inexorable march of large supermarkets may now be losing its impetus as shoppers (especially middle-class shoppers) increasing turn to ordering their weekly shop online and reserving purchases of particular items such as meat or fish to visits to local specialist shops. Small retail parades such as exist on the Dulwich Estate must be available to such tenants at affordable rents as these specialists shops help boost the trade of other neighbouring businesses by increasing footfall. Until the next retail change arrives it would be wise for landlords in all British high streets, and especially those on the Dulwich Estate, to accept what is known as a tenant mix policy to allow in such specialist shops.
The Society arranged the public meeting with the Trustees of the Dulwich Estate in late September to give Dulwich residents the opportunity to learn more about the Estate’s remit and operations. Questions were submitted in advance, in order to make sure that the meeting was focused, and in excess of 130 were received.
The questions covered a wide variety of subjects including who the Trustees were, what the charity was set up to do, and the working of the Scheme of Management. There was a widely held perception that the Estate did not respond to residents concerns/complaints appropriately and that their relationship management sometimes left much to be desired. More specific concerns were over the future viability and range of shops in Dulwich Village (the subject of an article in the previous edition of the Journal), the lack of progress in securing cycling at the Herne Hill Velodrome, and the maintenance of the post war estates.
Feedback on the meeting has been very positive and the minutes of the meeting, published on the Society’s website - www.dulwichsociety.com, will serve as a useful prompt for any future discussions.
The Estate made their position on their shops very clear and the Society is setting up a Shops Group to look more closely into the exact legal position and see whether there should be room for some flexibility.
Similarly on the Herne Hill Velodrome, the Society will be taking the lead in organising a co-ordinated approach to the Estate from all the interested parties, the cyclists, Southwark Council and the residents who overlook the track. The beneficiary schools are also an important factor here, for as cycling becomes more and more popular, the track could be a huge benefit in terms of enhancing their sporting facilities.
On the management of the Post War estates, the Society followed up the public meeting with a separate social event for residents associations. The aim was to encourage them not only to meet each other but also to set up longer term relationships to work together and exchange information. The Society has also suggested that they keep us advised over any problems so that we can bring these to the Estate’s attention at our thrice yearly formal meetings.
Meeting with The Dulwich Estate - some reflections by Michael Rich
The public meeting with representatives of the Estate, organised by the Dulwich Society on 29th September, 2009, was, judging from the attendance, very welcome to residents: and I judge from the fact that the Estate was willing to field four representatives with the relevant responsibilities to answer questions on the running of the Estate and the running of the management scheme, it was not unwelcome to the Trustees. It was certainly an admirable opportunity for both residents and the Estate to understand each other better, although at times I was doubtful how far the opportunity had been taken.
The need for such increased understanding was apparent from the repeated cries from the floor for more openness and public participation not only in the Management Scheme, but also, and rather less appropriately, in the administration of the Charity. The Estate is surely right to take the view that the administration of the property held by the Trustees (largely the commercial property) is their business under their obligation to satisfy their beneficiaries and the Charity Commission. Their primary duty is indeed the maximisation of the income for their beneficiaries ( the seven schools, the Alms Houses and the Chapel).
Nevertheless it may be that the value of the exchanges was to give the Chairman and the Chief Executive some pause for further reflection on what is most likely to achieve the aim of maximising income, not only immediately but also over future years. One useful contribution from the floor, which I hope the Trustees will consider further, was to relate the maintenance of rental value to appropriate user mix. We were told of the letting of a shop to Oxfam, because, as we were told, that was the only offer that the Estate received. The presence of such charity shops is, however, as was said, as I believe correctly, detrimental to the prosperity of competing commercial traders and so to the value of the whole shopping parade. We were not told of any thought having been given to letting on terms outside the Landlord and Tenant Act with a view to making such user, if it must be accepted at all, capable of being determined when the economy recovers.
In the administration of the Management Scheme residents do have a direct concern, which was expressed in somewhat populist terms as “no taxation without representation”. That kind of language seems to me to misconceive the nature of the Scheme, which was approved by the High Court because the Court was satisfied, after hearing evidence, that the continued application of more or less the same covenants as had been contained in the leases granted by the Estate before enfranchisement would be of benefit to the freeholders after enfranchisement. That included the management of the Scheme by the previous freeholders (the Estate). Although there was a period when the Estate Governors (as they then were) doubted whether their continued role was of benefit to their beneficiaries, their successors (the present Trustees) have been willing to undertake that responsibility. The Estate Trustees are therefore the Managers of the Scheme because the High Court thought they were the most suitable people to manage it, and for myself I think that I would prefer them (composed in the way that was usefully explained to the meeting) to some elective body which could so easily fall into self-interested hands.
But the Trustees are not unfettered in their right (and duty) to manage. I was disappointed that the representatives of the Estate made no reference to the provisions of paragraph 16 of the Scheme and left it to the Chairman of the Dulwich Society who took the chair of the meeting to refer to, and describe the Advisory Committee of representatives of residents and amenity societies with which representatives of the Managers are required by that paragraph of the Scheme to meet not less than twice a year. This is the formal provision for consultation for which the meeting was clearly asking. The Scheme makes clear that the powers are conferred on the Managers “for the purpose of enabling them to preserve the amenities of the Estate for the common benefit”. Moreover the Managers are required to “have regard to any representations made to them by members of the Advisory Committee concerning …. applications and notices or otherwise concerning the amenities of the Estate” (my underlining). Although as I understand it the Estate has reconsidered the necessity, as they once thought, to treat the proceedings of the Advisory Committee as confidential, the proceedings are not published. It may well be therefore that the cry for openness and consultation could be best achieved by giving publicity to the proceedings of the Committee and inviting concerned residents to make representations through the representative members.
I hope that the Estate will feel that this meeting has been sufficiently useful to justify its repetition, perhaps annually. If so, I would suggest that the business should include a report of the Advisory Committee for the year. Certainly I look forward to such reports in future editions of the Journal.
His Honour Michael Rich QC
President The Dulwich Society
Public Meeting with The Dulwich Estate
An estimated 175-200 people attended the meeting arranged by the Dulwich Society and the Dulwich Estate on 29 September at St Barnabas Hall, Dulwich Village. The meeting which opened at 7.30pm was chaired by Ian McInnes, chairman of the of Dulwich Society and the Estate was represented by its chairman of trustees Angela Brownbill, its chief executive John Major, its consultant architect John Senter and the administrator of the Scheme of Management Nina Rees.
The representatives were welcomed by the chairman and each made a brief presentation of the origins, purpose and limitations of the charity, an outline of the Scheme of Management and the role of the consultant architect in matters of planning applications. It was stated that the basic remit of the Scheme was conservation. This created a problem as most applications are for change, thus making dialogue important. The Dulwich Society was engaged in this dialogue through its planning committee which is largely composed of architects. The Estate also consults other bodies with schemes of management such as the Hampstead Garden Suburb and Poundbury.
The Society had invited questions in advance of the meeting and the estate was given sight of these beforehand. A total of 130 questions had been received and after elimination of those which duplicated others, they were posed under a number of headings.
DE: The Estate was not aware it had a problem with PR (laughter). It did not consider PR a proper use of charitable funds. It was the first time they had been asked to attend such a meeting.
It undertook to try to respond quicker to letters but the Scheme of Management office was staffed only by Nina Rees whose salary was paid by the residents through the annual charge.
Floor; It was not so much about the SoM more about the Estate’s policies generally. More openness was required – the DE should be required to publish Minutes. Considered that SoM demand for annual charge should be more informative.
DE Have residents read their recent letter sent with the SoM charge? Isn’t this an improvement? There is (unfortunately) much legalise in the Scheme charge circular but this was necessary to satisfy SoM rules. Minutes of meetings of Scheme are not published because of confidentiality; however, applicants are given extracts covering their particular application. The SoM Advisory Committee is made up of representatives from the Dulwich Society and two residents’ associations and meets with the DE three times a year.
DS The Dulwich Society chairman said that he would welcome questions from members and other residents to put to the DE at these meetings.
Trustees and Beneficiaries
DE: Charity is governed by the Charity Commission Scheme. Details of Trustees available from the DE website and the Charity Commission’s website. Until recently 9 out of 14 trustees lived in Dulwich and it was therefore felt resident ‘tax payers’ are well represented. 2 Trustees are appointed by each of the Dulwich schools, one by the Archbishop of Canterbury, one from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and 3 co-opted. All trustees are volunteers. Not feasible to have separate local representation.
DE: Trustees have no control over distribution of income or how this is spent and therefore have no influence over the Dulwich Schools Beneficiaries generating (nor other local schools) traffic.
Floor: Some aspects of the Foundation could/should certainly be reviewed with a view to getting a change. Some may benefit locals and others the DE.
Floor: What is the mechanism for appeal against a planning decision?
What do the Trustees look for when so-opting a new member?
Why cannot the Minutes of the Advisory Committee be published?
DE: Appeals may be made under the Scheme of Management against the Managers’ decision: See paragraph 17 of the Scheme for appeals procedure. Applicants can seek arbitration. When co-opting new Trustees the DE looks for skills not already covered by other trustees i.e. law, finance expertise.. Some co-opted trustees do sit on Scheme of Management Committee. Currently thirteen of the fifteen trustees live in Dulwich and serve in rotation on the SoM Committee.
Shops in the Village:
DE: Rumours of high rent rises unfounded. Lease rents are finally agreed after negotiation. Try to get a good mix of retailers but can only grant leases to those who apply. Until recently, no empty shops in Dulwich Village. OXFAM rumour is correct – they were the only contender for the lease for the former Gill Holland, 33 Dulwich Village.(Shame)
Floor: General dissatisfaction about type of shops. Objection from current shopowners about rent rises who also pointed out that the admission of OXFAM which relies on unpaid volunteers and receives a reduction in Business Rate as a charity presents both unfair competition. The traders were invited by the DE to supply a list of possible shops which would benefit the community – butchers, greengrocers, fishmongers etc and this had been totally ignored in favour of a charity shop which benefited few. (Applause)
Clarification needed from both sides. DE’s assertion that rents in East Dulwich are higher than Dulwich was challenged.
DE: Cannot chose who applies for leases. Obliged to accept market rents. Lessees have rights to ‘assign’ lease and the DE cannot reasonably refuse consent. Difficult to balance usefulness with maximum benefit. DE obliged to seek market level rents. Cannot subsidise specific businesses or individuals.
Floor: Thought that this was not the case and that there were legal precedents for landlords to decide what shops they had and achieve a balance of uses – assignments could be objected to. Feeling that DE’s interpretation of their shop policy was too narrow and effectively took no account of any benefit to residents. (Applause)
DE: The Estate wants the garage site tidied up and planning approval has now been granted. SG Smith’s license granted but client then changed scope of works. Work should start very shortly.
Schemes for Old Dairy site have fallen through because developer pulled out due to the economic downturn.
Floor: Why was the DE so slow to get things done – dairy site empty for 10 years and the flats left derelict? The Estate is not fulfilling its duty as Trustees.
DE The final lease ran out only 2 years ago.
Floor General feeling that things just happened too slowly.
Herne Hill Velodrome:
DE: Long difficult problem. Was leased by Southwark for 42 years who have left site and buildings in poor condition – discussion over dilapidations have stalled. Three extensions of of a one year lease have been granted to British Cycling, DE’s aim is to secure the long term future of the site. Ideally wants a building which will provide facilities for cyclists plus other sport/leisure facilities. Difficult to find development partner in the current market. On advice from traffic consultant, DE informed that two access are required, not the one as at present, in order to get a planning consent for any new building. Southwark still lease a small piece of land required for a second access and are not prepared to release it at a reasonable price. This lease does not expire until 2022. The DE has tried to use dilapidations claim as a lever but no effect as different departments of the Council deal with each aspect. Southwark Council’s Building at Risk Officer had made an application to English Heritage to have grandstand listed which will further delay things and could prevent any development. Site is designated Metropolitan Open Land – very little can be built on it.
Floor: VCdL did not require another access, considered this a red herring. Why not consider giving longer lease so that investment worthwhile? VCdL have good proposals but British Cycling cannot raise money for renovation because they cannot get a lease longer than 1 year. Preliminary suggestions had been sent to DE but no reply, why? Have they been considered? DE should try harder to reach a solution so that the facility can be improved and enjoyed.
DE: Did not consider the initial scheme from VCdL a formal proposal – three options suggested. Unaware that VCdL has obtained any planning advice for proposals and hence cannot say second access will not be required.
Scheme of Management Policy & Guidelines:
DE: Fees are a contribution towards the costs of consultants. No charge is made for tree licences. The cost of running the scheme is recovered from residents through the Scheme Charge but the Estate makes no profit. In respect of trees and solar panels etc., the Estate has tried to follow similar management schemes elsewhere. They are detailed in the design guides available on the Estate website.
Scheme of Management Enforcement
DE: Not all building works inspected on completion but John Senter may inspect some applications during construction. SOM not always informed when works are finished. Can insist on things being put right but too expensive to take legal action in every case. Where money is due to the Scheme, the Estate sometimes puts a legal charge on property which would affect future sale. Breaches are often remedied prior to a sale of a property.
DE: Wall on Red Post Hill very long and complicated saga. DE not prepared to spend £100k to repair when they will not be able to get money back. Southwark Council have finally accepted their legal responsibility – progress has been slow but SC are taking the owner to court at the moment. Have said that once they have the money work can start.
DE: London South Bank University have finally agreed to paint fence dark green next spring. Estate did not grant a licence for the fence.
Floor: again general concern about how long it takes to get things done.
Relationships with Southwark Council:
DE: Southwark is not always clear on which land is theirs and which is the Estate’s. Don’t have meetings with Southwark Council. An area where there is co-operation relates to planning, here SC will not give permission for dropped kerbs if DE guidelines on its various policies such as hard standings, loft conversions etc have not been complied with.
Floor: Suggest better liaison and meetings from time to time with SC.
DE: Only responsible for some of the post and chains, SC for the rest. Difficulty getting Southwark to maintain post and chains and certain grass areas on the Estate. Constantly asking. DE would be happy to take responsibility for the maintenance of the areas but SC unwilling to agree to pay for this.
DE: Graffiti on fence in Lowcross Wood Lane – privately owned fence, not DE responsibility.
Floor: suggest better liaison with SC
Post War Estates:
DE: The estate applies the Scheme of Management equally to all properties within the Estate - tries to maintain properties in original condition. For post war properties specific policies, Guidelines on window replacement etc. It is accepted that on certain post-war PVC windows are acceptable on some steel frames.
Floor: Some resident association were experiencing difficulty getting the DE to maintain their environments. Others spoke in defence of the DE and said their estates were well maintained. General consensus was that DE needed to be more proactive over maintenance contractors and monitoring standards.
DE: Residents associations are valued and are effective means of dealing with the wishes of a majority of residents. Maintenance and gardening is agreed with RAs. DE currently in the process of negotiating new gardening contracts for the Estate. Complaints procedure on website: write to John Major and then if no response, to Angela Brownbill.
The Meeting closed at 9.10pm
(See Letters to the Editor)
Interview with Dr Joseph Spence by Brian Green
Dr Joseph Spence, the new Master of Dulwich College has accepted The Dulwich Society’s invitation to become a vice-president. He took up his headship at Dulwich in September following seven years as Headmaster of Oakham School, Rutland, an independent co-educational boarding and day school with a roll of over 1000 pupils. Prior to that he taught history and politics at Eton College, where for ten years he was Master in College (the housemaster to the 70 King’s Scholars). He took his first degree at Reading University and gained his PhD at London with a study of 19th century Irish History. He is also a playwright and serves on the governing body of a number of schools, including St John’s College School, Cambridge and The Dragon School, Oxford. He is married to Angela, a solicitor, and they have three adult children. A new parent at the College, meeting the new Master, described him as being approachable and easy to talk to.
He arrives in Dulwich at a somewhat difficult time for independent schools. The state of the economy is making life more difficult for fee-paying parents who are already stretched financially. Low interest rates on investments make the further provision of scholarships and bursaries, to which Dulwich and Dr Spence are committed, more problematic. The public’s confidence in the A Level system is shaky. It is likely that the new Master will have to address these and other problems fairly rapidly. Dr Spence kindly agreed to be interviewed for the Journal.
Q. The College has a substantial number of overseas students and a wide variety of different faiths exist at the school. How do you reconcile having a great diversity of religious faiths in what is an Anglican foundation?
An ecumenical spirit has long prevailed at Dulwich College and I am very comfortable with that. I believe that the presence of young people of different faiths (and of no faith) in the one institution can contribute to greater social understanding, integration and mutual respect. I would hope that at Dulwich we can provide a forum for spiritual and ethical debate so that each and every pupil can feel confident that he can explain to his peers something of the essence of his religion and his value system. My understanding of the duty of the College as an Anglican foundation is that we who are in authority should provide opportunities for the Christian message to be put before all Alleynians. We will not be proselytizers but it would be wrong if anyone left Dulwich not having been introduced to the beliefs and practices of the faith on which the foundation was established.
Q. Do you propose turning the College into a coeducational school, or admitting girls into the 6th Form?
I am committed to Dulwich College as a school for boys from the age of 7, although I greatly enjoy my visits to our Kindergarten and Infant school (DUCKS) where there are girls and boys. I think that the three major independent schools of the Dulwich Estate offer the ideal choice to parents in this area: single sex education for girls at JAGS and for boys at the College, and co-education at Alleyn’s. Now I am back in a single-sex environment I am reminded that, ironically perhaps, the atmosphere of a boys-only school can play its part in breaking down gender stereotypes because boys, when taught on their own, don’t have to succumb to the temptation that can befall them in a co-ed setting of acting in a macho way. If you want to encourage boys to study Art or to sing, you have more chance of them doing so in a single-sex school than in a co-ed environment. However, I am looking forward to strengthening links with JAGs and Alleyns so that our boys and girls can do more together outside their formal lessons, in cultural and academic terms and in their service to the community. I will also welcome links between our pupils and staff and those in schools in the maintained sector, and I’m pleased to find a culture of co-operation already thriving in Southwark.
Q. Do you anticipate the College participating in the founding of more Academies in Britain and International Schools overseas?
I am enthusiastic about the existing Dulwich policy of creating Academies and International Schools, based on the Dulwich model. I see these as being able to transform lives. I am particularly proud of the recently opened Isle of Sheppey Academy. This Academy has the potential to deliver educational excellence in an area where aspirations have not been high before. I hope all the pupils and staff who study and work in Dulwich schools can be inspired towards greater international understanding as a result of the inter-action of the various schools. However, I am insistent that my role is as the Master of Dulwich College in South East London and looking after the interests of the pupils, parents and staff who have bought into Dulwich College, London, which will always be the priority for me.
Q. How do the boys at Dulwich compare with your experience of pupils at your previous schools?
Children are children everywhere but the typical Dulwich boy (if there is such a thing) is a relatively streetwise South Londoner who is down to earth and not afraid to ask questions; someone who is growing up in a challenging community. There are advantages to that given my belief that it is the duty of schools to prepare its young people for the real world into which they will have to progress after they leave us, however safe and cloistered an environment we can provide during their formative years.
Q. At your previous school the pupils took the International Baccalaureate. Given the growing dissatisfaction with A Levels, do you propose to change the examinations the College will take?
Education at Dulwich, as at any good school, goes beyond exams, but the first thing to declare is that I don’t believe that A levels are broken. The obituaries for that system have been written prematurely. My clarion call to my heads of subjects is: make the national system work for our pupils; if a syllabus is under-nourishing, then supplement it with further topics or by external competition. A good education must include such diverse ingredients as access to sport, cultural activities and adventure and an understanding of how to construct an argument. I offer no commitment to rise up the exam league tables but I guarantee to set the highest possible standards for all my pupils and I believe examination success will flow from this. Offering the choice of A levels or the IB Diploma suited Oakham School; it’s too early for me to say whether Dulwich needs to move towards such an offering. I’ll take this year to determine where we stand on the curriculum question, taking soundings from all interested parties.