Thursday, 23 February 2012

Tesco hub meeting - review promised on facilities for disabled, many questions unanswered

Judging from the £1,000 spent by Tesco on the free bar (not to mention the free food) the supermarket (supported by Lambeth Council) are as keen as ever to try and charm the local community as works continue on the Streatham Hub development.

Several hundred people attended the public meeting last night at a packed Streatham Hideaway. Given the ongoing national controversy over the last week over low pay for Tesco workers, and Lambeth Council’s admission that they hadn’t tried to get assurances from the supermarket over conditions for Tesco workers, you can understand why the meeting was focused by the organisers (as they stated themselves) on the leisure facilities, and not the new store or homes being built.

The meeting began with food and free (non alcoholic) drink whilst people browsed the plans for the development. There was then a twenty minute presentation from the platform followed by forty minutes of questions from the floor to representatives of those involved in the project including Tesco, Vinci construction and Lambeth Council. The opening of the free (alcoholic) bar followed swiftly afterwards.

From the strong opinions expressed during the Q & A it was clear that local people were not in the mood to be fobbed off. Several recurrent themes emerged, encapsulated by an ongoing feeling amongst many that Streatham is being short-changed. There were repeated references to Lambeth council’s investment in Clapham and Brixton, whilst Streatham appeared to be getting a raw deal.
A number of issues were raised both during the Questions and Answers, but also afterwards in the informal conversations that took place. (Many people clearly didn’t get time to put their questions publicly from the floor). These included:

1. The small size of the swimming pool (it is half the size of an Olympic pool)

2. The absence of solar panels on the roof. This, people were told, was “not economically viable”, which people didn’t seem to accept, particularly given the willingness of groups like RePowering Streatham to explore facilitating additional community investment.

3. The absence of a steam room and sauna which the old leisure centre had. The reason given for this was that Lambeth didn’t feel they could manage them well enough. It was pointed out that they had been maintained in the refurbishment at Brixton.

4. The detrimental impact on small businesses in the area and how this could best be mitigated. In response the offering from the platform was three hours free parking at the Hub, in the belief that people will then trek up the high road to buy other things they might not be able to purchase at one of London’s biggest Tesco stores.

5. The impact of traffic in the already congested area, with little, if any apparent moves from Transport for London to address the issue.

6. The absence in the planes of a ‘town square’, which had been promised to local people. Those on the panel claimed no knowledge of this commitment.

7. The disruption to local people, noise and vibration for those living close by to the hub during the deconstruction and building works.

8. Issues around the Zamboni in the new Ice Rink/ Arena

9. The apparent absence of a crèche facility, despite the emphasis from the platform that the leisure centre was for ‘young families’.

10. How many of the 250 new homes would be accessible to wheelchair users.

11. Whether the lift is going to be able to accommodate the demand at the development (and so whether it will satisfactorily meet the access needs of people with mobility issues/ buggies and prams). Also what alternatives are in place when the lift needs to be serviced or goes out of action.

A lot of information didn’t seem to be available to address many of these issues, and there was not enough time for questions from the floor so that they could all be publicly raised. From the response that did come it also looks as if there will be little, if any, progress on many of these things without pressure from local people. Lambeth and Tesco it seems have made up their minds on many of them, and this was clearly not a consultation of local people’s views. But as a public meeting designed to give information neither did it impart enough.

However one concession I was able to get at the meeting was a public commitment from the platform of a review of the disabled facilities. The information available last night appeared to show a significant lack of disabled changing and toilets.

Just 2 of the 50 changing rooms in the multi-purpose sports hall appear to be designated as for the specific use of people with impairments - a major issue when you consider this is the year London will host the paralympics, and that activities like wheelchair basketball are now commonplace. One out of 39 cubicles in the Village Change area (for swimming) appear to be set aside for use by those with impairments. There was no stated disabled provision in the ice arena (but this may have been an oversight in communication).

I will be in contact with Peter Muncaster, the senior project manager at Vinci Construction over the next few days, to clarify what the situation is. They have promised to revisit the planned provision and have stated that they are open to change. This is an encouraging sign, but it is crucial that disabled people themselves are also consulted. I have yet to see any evidence that this has happened, but will push to try and make sure that it does.

There were still people wanting to ask questions when the free bar was opened. The next meeting is apparently scheduled for six months time, but given the speed with which both Lambeth and Tesco want to proceed, it would seem important, indeed necessary, to have a public meeting every three months as work continues.

It was made clear from the platform that the leisure centre and ice rink were for local people, and the drive was to get people to ‘own’ it. If Lambeth Council and Tesco are really serious about this, they will need to give more time and care to listen and update to local people. A free bar - on its own - is not enough.

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