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Bishop’s Ward candidates grilled at Waterloo hustings

Lower Marsh market, the Leake Street tunnel, Jubilee Gardens and the Mayor's framework for Waterloo were among the subjects raised at Tuesday's meeting.

The pre-election event was jointly organised by the Association of Waterloo Groups< and Lower Marsh People.

Since 2002 Bishop's Ward – which covers most of the Lambeth portion of SE1, including the South Bank Centre and Waterloo Station – has been represented by three Liberal Democrat councillors: Peter Truesdale, Clive Parry and Charlotte Parry. Only Cllr Truesdale, who is also leader of the council, is seeking re-election.

Candidates addressed a small audience of community activists and local residents at the Waterloo Action Centre in Baylis Road.

Three of the five parties contesting the election in Bishop's Ward were represented at the meeting. Each party was given five minutes to introduce its candidates and outline its policies on local issues before a question and answer session.

Conservatives

Stuart Barr, chair of Vauxhall Conservatives, spoke on behalf of the party. He was joined by Carl Gibson, one of the three Bishop's Ward candidates.

Barr reminded the audience that the Conservatives have been part of the ruling coalition in Lambeth since 2002, and pointed to the council's environmental record, a portfolio held by Tory councillor Clare Whelan.

He outlined Conservative pledges to increase the rate of recycling in Lambeth from 22 per cent to 50 per cent, which he said was more ambitious than any other party. The Tories also plan to plant 1,000 new street trees in the next four years.

On education, he said that Conservatives would require developers to contribute to improvement and expansion of schools where new homes are built.

Council tax would be pegged at the same level in real terms under a Conservative administration in Lambeth, said Barr.

Labour

Richard Bridge introduced the three Labour candidates and explained that he has lived on the Tanswell Estate since 1997. With a background in theatre as a director/producer, he now works for a college in Merton delivering a Prince's Trust programme.

He said that it was his work as an elected member of the Waterloo Community Regeneration Trust for the last three years that had inspired him to stand for election as a councillor.

Bridge added that being part of the WCRT had brought him into contact with more than 70 local organisations: "I want to be part of making that community agenda come true," he said.

"North Lambeth fails to get the attention it deserves," said Bridge, pledging that Labour councillors in Bishop's Ward would work to change that.

Kevin Craig, a Lambeth councillor for nine years in Larkhall ward who has given up a safe Labour seat to contest Bishop's Ward, said that the question facing voters is "who is going to put in the work on the ground?"

Craig paid tribute to his Lib Dem opponent, saying: "Peter Truesdale is a very decent and hardworking councillor, but that doesn't mean that I think that the Lib Dems winning again would be good for the borough".

Liberal Democrats

Incumbent Bishop's Ward councillor Peter Truesdale said that at a Town Hall level the Lib Dems, if reelected, would be "broadly offering more of the same". He described Cllr Craig's decision to give up a safe seat to stand for election in Waterloo as "very brave and honourable".

He introduced his fellow Lib Dem candidate Diana Braithwaite, who explained that she had been born in Lambeth and has lived in the ward for 12 years.

Braithwaite talked about her involvement in community affairs over the years, especially her leading role in the campaign to protect Lambeth Walk Open Space.

She added that as someone who works in the public services, she understood the need for "decent standards and best value".

Parking in Waterloo

A question was asked about a Labour pledge to improve Lambeth's parking service. Cllr Truesdale conceded that the service wasn't up to scratch: "I don't think anyone's saying that Lambeth is going to get a Golden Globe for parking," he said.
"The borough would be better off running the service itself," rather than using an outside contractor.

The Mayor of London's plan for Waterloo

Waterloo station


Robin Pembrooke, secretary of Lower Marsh People, asked the candidates about the draft Waterloo Development Framework published by the Mayor of London, and asked what they would do, if elected, to get the momentum going on infrastructure projects in the short term.

Conservative spokesman Stuart Barr admitted that he had not read the document, but stressed the importance of empowering groups like Lower Marsh People and the Association of Waterloo Groups to influence the planning process.

For Labour, Richard Bridge said that the framework had the potential to develop into a positive and fine document, but raised concerns that section 106 funding from developments around the station should benefit the wider Waterloo community.

He added that plans for a Waterloo town centre stretching from the IMAX cinema to Lower Marsh had "nice bits", but also bits that "made people nervous"; in his view the town centre should be focused on Lower Marsh and the Millennium Green.

Lib Dem Peter Truesdale said that he took personal credit for improving Lambeth's previously "hopeless record" of securing good section 106 deals during his four years in power.

Truesdale added that Network Rail's plans for Waterloo station called for "pretty heavy community input" given the scale of the changes proposed.

He also said that the consultation on the Mayor's framework was "asking the wrong question" by putting forward proposals to banish private cars from Waterloo Road, and that instead the Mayor should ask "What changes can we make to improve Waterloo Road?"

Education in North Lambeth

Coin Street Community Builders director Iain Tuckett asked the candidates how they saw the potential for improvements to primary and secondary schools in North Lambeth, given that a large percentage of children attend schools outside the borough.

Stuart Barr for the Conservatives conceded that North Lambeth residents hadn't benefitted from the increases in the number of school places in the south of the borough.

Labour candidate Rodney Reid said that his party's priority was to improve the quality of teaching in the borough's schools by focusing on the recruitment and retention of good teachers.

"If a parent wants to send their child [out of the borough] to Charles Dickens, Cathedral or St Clement Danes, fine by me," said Lib Dem Peter Truesdale.

He added that the best hope to increase provision in the area was through a parent-promoted school. If parents wanted to form a group to campaign for a school, it would be a "long struggle" but he would be "very happy to support it".

Richard Bridge (Labour) added that the work of local youth projects such as SE1 United is "crucial" in giving local young people a chance to do things in their local community despite travelling long distances to schools outside the borough.

Jubilee Gardens: cross-party consensus

hungerford coach park
The contested section of Jubilee Gardens

A member of the audience asked the candidates whether they would support the campaign to include the section of Jubilee Gardens currently occupied by the Hungerford Bridge car park in the green space.

All three parties agreed that the strip of land, owned by the South Bank Board and not part of the current relandscaping plans, should be included in Jubilee Gardens.

For Labour, Kevin Craig said that "the land is precious and needs to be protected ... we are very committed to the protection of that open space". He added that Jubilee Gardens is a "wonderful asset".

Conservative candidate Carl Gibson added that he particularly liked the plans for the South Bank Beach due to operate this summer on the car park site.

"Leake by name, leak by nature"

Another questioner asked the candidates about the "Dickensian" state of the Leake Street underpass which links York Road with Lower Marsh.

Carl Gibson said that as a resident of Westminster Bridge Road he used the underpass regularly, but never at night: "I fear for my life". He branded the state of the subway a "disgrace".

Labour's Richard Bridge agreed that "Leake Street is a problem", and expressed a hope that the issue would be dealt with by the Waterloo Development Framework, which talks about opening up Waterloo Station at ground level.

Peter Truesdale condemed Network Rail's "ghastly track record" on the maintenance of the local bridges and subways it is responsible for.

Lower Marsh Market

Lower Marsh People chair Kevin Phillips spoke with passion about the need to reverse the decline of Lower Marsh Market. He said that for as long as he could remember local politicians had stressed the "importance" of Lower Marsh Market. He challenged the candidates: "If it's that important, please prove it!"

He said that footfall in Lower Marsh is "abysmal", and that on Tuesday just 14 stalls had been trading in a market with 84 pitches.

It was suggested that administration of the market pitches should be devolved to Waterloo to prevent prospective traders from having to travel to the Town Hall in Brixton before doing business in Lower Marsh.

Conservative Carl Gibson pointed to initiatives such as the visiting French market as good examples of what could be done to encourage new shoppers into Lower Marsh, but said that the most recent French market had been let down by poor publicity and lack of advance notice.



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