Present: Anne Orange (chair), Michael Grimwood (note taker), Grahame Fearon-Wilson, James Slattery-Kavanagh, Bill Watling, Gerry Slaughter, Daphne Slaughter, Simon Berlyn, Cllr John Whelan, Cllr Tony Grayling, Jane Pickard, Joe Ward, John MacDonald, Geraldine Evans, Richard Moore, Helen O'Brien, Rod Brown.
Apologies: Gabrielle Garton Grimwood.
1. Minutes of last meeting and matters arising
1.1. Anne Orange apologised for not providing proposals about the gardens competition for circulation with the minutes, but she had not known of the undertaking given by the Chair (item 3). Cllr Tony Grayling explained that there had been an error in the report he had provided which had been circulated with the minutes. The money available was £12,000 not £312,000. Grahame Fearon-Wilson observed that the car park was now open.
2. Report from Councillor Whelan
2.1. Councillor Whelan expressed his appreciation of NAG's work. He mentioned Council proposals for introducing a new one-way traffic flow involving Chestnut Road. At a public meeting the previous week a council officer had explained that traffic on Norwood Road would be able to turn into Chatsworth Road but not into Chestnut Road. This was designed to help bus traffic, but would force supermarket deliveries for Kwik-Save round residential roads and would affect the business of Barclays Bank and the fruit stall. The implications for traffic flow from Lansdowne Hill did not seem to have been considered. The Council had put forward only this one option, but would now consult about alternatives, though not until mid-May. There would be an exhibition of plans in West Norwood library. Councillor Whelan suggested NAG should discuss the issue at its next meeting and consider making representations about the proposals. Michael Bridgeland, Lambeth's head of transport might be invited. Anne Orange agreed to invite him and suggested NAG should try to inform residents of the affected roads about the NAG meeting.
2.2. Jane Pickard said that she had heard of a proposal to install speed-humps in St Julian's Farm Road, but she was not aware of any consultation about this. Simon Berlyn mentioned that many months previously NAG had been told the speed-humps in Robson Road would be modified, but it hadn't happened. Councillor Whelan said that Council officers had confirmed this would happen this financial year as well as traffic calming for Chancellor Grove.
2.3. Councillor Whelan reported that the council had bye-law powers to restrict parking by commercial vehicles in residential streets. He understood that the council had a scheme for installing the necessary signage. This was intended to deal with the nuisance caused by Kavanagh Motors vehicles. There had been many promises and assurances from Kavanagh's about dealing with the problem but they had not been adhered to. It was a step in the right direction for the council to use its powers. The meeting recognised that the change might have implications for Kavanagh's business, but it was thought that the site from which it operated was not in a suitable place nor large enough.
2.4 John MacDonald mentioned that Kwik-Save was to be converted into a Somerfield. This was a big investment but neither they nor Barclays had been consulted about the one-way plans. He was meeting representatives of the supermarket and the bank that week to get an up-date. Richard Moore said he understood that the new Somerfield would need larger delivery vehicles, also that there was a rumour that its opening would lead to the closure of the branch at Tulse Hill. John MacDonald suggested that NAG might write to Somerfield, thanking them for investing in the area. It was agreed that Anne Orange would do this.
2.5 James Slattery-Kavanagh said there had been a posting on the NAG website that day saying that the Big Yellow planning application had been approved. Councillor Grayling said he did not know whether this was correct but that he had queried the matter.
3. St Luke's Gardens
3.1 Simon Berlyn - described the progress to date. The working group had now had two meetings with the Greenwich University students. The first had enabled the students to get an idea of the views of working group members and, while not giving them a formal brief had enabled them to come back with design ideas, into which they had put a lot of work. Simon thought these were very artistic but not clearly appropriate to the context. Simon's own view was that while the students had some nice ideas the working group should set the context and any architectural changes should come first. In a presentation to the working group, John Brush had said that work to the building porticos should be considered together with proposals for the railings, as it appeared that a scheme for the railings alone was unlikely to be favourably regarded for lottery funding. John Brush thought the siting of St Luke's should give it special consideration. As secretary to the working group Simon had not, so far, thought it right to steamroller people in a particular direction, but to present ideas.
3.2 Jane Pickard had also attended the working group meetings. While some of the students designs were certainly too elaborate, others were more suitable. All had water features, which would be a problem on this site (though it was pointed out that there were ways of overcoming the difficulties). The students had therefore been asked if they could provide revised designs. Rod Brown said that he had chased up with the council the grant, which the Norwood Board had agreed for the St Luke's project.
4. Norwood Gardens Competition
4.1 Richard Moore suggested that Lambeth Horticultural Society be asked to nominate a member to come to NAG meetings. Anne Orange said that thus far the competition had depended largely on the efforts of Gabrielle Garton Grimwood, but others would have to run it this year. John MacDonald said that he would be able to arrange sponsorship of prizes. Simon Berlyn proposed a new category of entry - most improved garden. There was some discussion about the practicalities of judging such a category, but it was agreed to include it. Helen O'Brien volunteered to undertake letter writing and other tasks that could be done during the daytime. Jane Pickard volunteered to help. Michael Grimwood agreed to ask Gabrielle to provide a list of what needed to be done [Secretary's note: details e-mailed to Helen O'Brien and Jane Pickard on 11 April]. James Slattery-Kavanagh asked how entry forms would be collected, would it be from the same places as last year? Grahame Fearon-Wilson suggested asking the Flower Market, florists and the garden centre in Knollys Road to have a box for entry forms. Richard Moore said he would provide a list of all the schools in the area. Anne Orange agreed to meet with the others who had volunteered in order to take forward the competition.
5. "Degeneration Game In Norwood", South London Press Article Of 1 March
5.1. Joe Ward, who had asked for this item to be put on the agenda, recognised that not all would have seen the article, but thought there were two or three things on which to focus. Although some good things had happened in Norwood, the article highlighted the downside. Several shops had closed and an air of dereliction was starting to develop. The cause might be high business rates or rents. There was also a suggestion that property owners were more interested in developing leasehold flats above shop premises than in the shops themselves. Joe was concerned about the development of a vicious circle of decline. The South London Press (SLP) article also highlighted some particular problem areas. Joe thought NAG should consider what it could do to move things in the right direction. John MacDonald said he had initiated the SLP article after being approached by some 20 local shopkeepers who said they could not afford rents that were being hiked up (trebled). It had not been intended to be about degeneration.
5.2. Anne Orange said that no business forum had got off the ground for the area. Jane Pickard said the Town Centre Manager's office ran a business forum. She added that everyone had sympathy with the view that some parts of the area were run down. Jane thought it a shame that the SLP article had not focused on the problem identified by John MacDonald. Instead it had given a very one-sided and run down picture of the whole area without bringing out any of the positive features. Rod Brown said that one of the ways estate agents tried to sell residential property was to focus on the amenities of the area. The only magnet to draw people to West Norwood in particular would be a new, larger, supermarket. James Slattery-Kavanagh drew attention to two points in the council report of the Norwood Shopping Survey - that Norwood was a shopping centre with a poorly defined role and that the viability of the retail centre showed signs of weakness.
5.3. Richard Moore said that, speaking as a surveyor, it was the case that residential property above shops could be more profitable than the shops. Where shops had been built to enable the shopkeepers to live above the shop there were often access problems if the residential accommodation (often on three floors) was separately let. Richard said that local estate agents were trying to buy up property. He said that games were being played, exemplified by the case of a local political organisation of which he was a committee member. The organisation had been offered three times the market value of its premises - the offer had been refused. Richard said there was a cartel of estate agents.
5.4. Grahame Fearon Wilson, who had been an estate agent until October 2001, said there was no cartel - there was no love lost between rival agents. Obviously estate agents liked to see residential property doing well. There were problems in Norwood - high rates, the area looking run down, perceived high crime rates and lots of people with very little money. Simon Berlyn agreed with Grahame. Many people could not travel out of the area to shop and needed to be able to buy decent cheap goods locally. The area would always be a secondary centre but had three particular problems: little parking, cutting down passing trade; traffic roaring through; and people driving out of the area to shop.
5.5. Richard Moore said that the discussion had been about perceptions based on survey information. He met the owners of shops and knew what they said. They were concerned that the Town Centre Management team did not take on their concerns and they were concerned about the how the business forum operated. John MacDonald said that any argument should be about how to get businesses back to West Norwood to invest in the area. He asked why NAG didn't try to find out what shopkeeper's want, NAG could do its own survey. Anne Orange said that if an approach were to be made to the SLP, it should be with an agreed NAG line. It was necessary to face the truth about the area, but important not to overstate the case or run the area down.
5.6. Gerry Slaughter said that there had been much focus on the High St, but there were many small businesses run from people's homes that would benefit from NAG's support. Simon Berlyn thought the key to the areas problems was better public transport and fewer cars to make it pleasant and safe for shopping. He thought the Partnership Board had excluded or avoided representing the views of people in Norwood. Jane Pickard said that this was tosh. The Norwood Forum had discussed the council's draft UDP (Unitary Development Plan) and had got the shopping survey done. The Town Centre office had set up a business forum, though she acknowledged the meeting times might be a problem for some businesses. Nonetheless at one of the larger meetings businesses had expressed an interest in computer training and this was being progressed. Also grants had been obtained for shop frontage improvement.
5.7 John MacDonald said that the company he worked for was not aware of the business forum. Grahame Fearon Wilson said that he had not been aware of it either. Jane Pickard said that the business forum was quite new but that she would suggest that the Board should write again to businesses about it. Richard Moore drew attention to the cost of the Town Centre Management team, which he said was £250,000 per annum, 61% of that being for salary costs, other expenditure had included £550 for a Christmas tree. He said that much of the expenditure on which the Board had an advisory role was from central government programmes. In his view, in three years, all that the Board and the Town Centre Management Team had achieved had been to provide some hanging baskets; to ignore the views of Board's planning sub-group; and to reject the proposal for a new supermarket in West Norwood. Councillor Tony Grayling said that existence of the Board and Forum had forced the council to take more interest in the area. One achievement had been the allocation of Neighbourhood renewal funding.
6. Any other business
6.1 James Slattery-Kavanagh reported back as promised on the concerns about the "Towntalk" website which he had raised at NAG's January meeting. He had recently looked again at the links on the site - still only five and no mention of NAG's role. The website says it can promote business and Norwood but it has a link to a council report which seems to bring out the negative points about the area. The site referred to expansion of the Town Centre Management team, but this appeared to be "spin" as the only detail referred to changes in the Town Centre Manager post. References to regeneration also seemed to be "spin" - consultation, but no action or delivery. In his view the "Towntalk" website was surplus to requirements.
6.2 Councillor Tony Grayling said that it as true there had been changes in the Town Centre manager post, but the team had also expanded with a new Community Development Officer post. Jane Pickard said that she accepted some of James' points about the website, it needed a clear vision, purpose and role. Ronald Holder said that the development of "Towntalk" was an example of how local groups were not consulted or had council views imposed upon them - money was spent without a proper connection to local groups, which were not being empowered - unlike the position elsewhere in the country. Anne Orange suggested that the Community Development Officer should be invited to a future NAG meeting.
6.3 Ronald Holder said that at the last Board meeting it had been announced that a funding bid to the Single Regeneration Budget in relation to the Old Library had been successful, but West Norwood Community Development (WNCD) had not been consulted about this. He said that Lambeth was endorsing the idea of developing the building as a community resource, but without a partnership in place and no clear idea of what a future partnership might look like. There were a range of important issues - who would own the premises, who would run them, how would the community be involved. WNCD felt disenfranchised, but had now been invited to get people from community groups to come to a project appraisal training day later that week.
6.4 Councillor Tony Grayling said that he had to disagree with some of what Ronald had said. He acknowledged that there were many problematic aspects, but this was an opportunity to bring the Old Library back into use. The Council had made a number of SRB bids. In relation to the Old Library WNCD had been written into the outline bid as a key partner and the Council was determined to make this work - recognising the poor features of its previous dealings. It was necessary to follow up the outline bids with detailed bids to the Government Office for London by the end of the month. The training days that week and the next were to help with this. Rod Brown agreed to attend on behalf of NAG and report back to the next meeting.
6.5 Simon Berlyn said he wished to mention the poor state of the roads at Tulse Hill.
6.6 Grahame Fearon-Wilson had received an invoice for £5,000 from the Council for NAG's contribution to Christmas lighting funding. He had negotiated that NAG would pay £2,500, any remaining balance in NAG's account to be used for future Christmas lights or other NAG purposes. Jane Pickard was not entirely sure that this was satisfactory.
6.7 John MacDonald thanked all who had contributed to donating a computer to Dunelm school.