Peter John, the leader of Southwark Council outlined the Council’s commitment to a fairer future for all its residents at a breakfast event in mid-July. As most people know, the Labour Party increased their representation in the Dulwich area and now hold all three seats in College Ward as well as one each in Village and East Dulwich.
On funding, he reminded us that there were further substantial cuts to come in Southwark, £33.5m in 2014-15 – and in the region of £100m over the next four years. He confirmed that the Council will need to work even harder to deliver its services but it’s not obvious in Dulwich where existing cuts have been made. We still have fully staffed libraries, the one in Lordship Lane recently refurbished, and our rubbish collection remains as good as ever as, in general, do our road and pavement repairs. There are still flower displays in the Village and we have the Cleaner Greener Safer funding programme - which none of our neighbouring boroughs do.
His main priorities were to build more affordable housing while maintaining a good housing mix to suit everyone, and providing additional school places and affordable child care. He was positive on the prospective use of the former Dulwich Community Hospital site as a new secondary school where two providers are currently bidding, Haberdashers Askes and the Charter School – although there was some work to be done at the department of education who seemed to think the site would be best used as a Harris Primary School for Nunhead.
However the main innovation in the new term was to make access to council swimming pools and gyms free for Southwark residents. This is a product of changes in government funding for public health services - devolving budget control to local authorities, and the Council have widened the remit of the former leisure cabinet post to include Public Health, Parks and Leisure.
From a Dulwich perspective, what do we want over the next four years? No one can object to more affordable housing or more school places - though we do need to think about the impact of any increased traffic. Free access to sports facilities must be a good thing but, regrettably, in Dulwich, child care will remain subject to market forces.
One important thing we want to expand is the remit of the Dulwich Community Council. This encourages a certain amount of local councillor accountability but its most important aspect, responsibility for local planning, has been removed. Centralising decision making in Tooley Street may appear to save money (though that is debatable), but it seems the real reason is that the Council does not want locals to participate in the planning process – probably because they may not give the answer that they want.