Archive for May, 2014

Councillor Maya de Souza has served Highgate Ward since 2006. In the last of our series of posts on what she and fellow councillors Adrian Oliver and Alex Goodman have achieved for Camden, Maya writes about protecting vital community services.


For the Greens, community centres, libraries, adult education, youth centres, services for children and those with poor mental health are critical. They are spaces for interaction that bring people of different generations and backgrounds together. This is what we need in a healthy society, and we value public provision of these services.

We know this is hard in cash constrained times. But what we need is a good distribution of Council funds, that takes into account the real value of these services. We are also for openness and discussion about these services to ensure we find a way to protect those that are needed. We’re concerned about Labour’s approach that suggests that with volunteers and private fundraising services can stay alive.

I’d like to flag up some of the important but sometimes undervalued services that we’ve worked hard to protect.

Protecting the Library – In respect of Highgate Library, the Labour administration in June 2011 decided to reduce library funding by 75%. This was to happen in April 2013. We made this a big issue in the 2011 by-election, pointing out this cut meant the library was at risk of closure. Though we lost the election we won the argument. A working group was set up, a public meeting held, and the cuts postponed to April 2015. A small amount of additional funding has since been promised, but the cuts remain around 65% of the £180k budget for 2010/11.

The future of the library remains precarious, if now a little safer. Labour councillors have given assurances, which Greens have sought in the clearest terms, that if the volunteer approach doesn’t work they will still keep it open for at least 3 days a week. Labour need to be held to this. We have asked for more: proper funding to keep it going, as we take the view that some extra staffing is needed if only to manage this number of volunteers. We don’t want to see jobs being lost either; though a community approach is welcome we need to be realistic as to what is possible!

Protecting our community centres – Both the Holly Lodge and Highgate Newtown Community Centres now have limited funding and greater dependence on fundraising and volunteers. The former has no regular funding, and limited activity. It’s luncheon club for the elderly no longer operates, and though a local church provides a service that’s not quite the same.

The Highgate Newtown Community Centre only has 20% of its funding of 5 years ago. Greens have explored whether the Highgate Newtown Community Centre can survive. The board has made it clear that they don’t think they will be able to close more than 75% of the funding gap, putting the whole centre at risk. This would be a real shame considering also the money and work spent on the centre in the last couple of years. Considering the relatively small sums needed to keep these centres going, we argue that funding can and should be found.

Good services for children – In respect of the Holly Lodge Family Centre, originally built about 50 years ago, we worked with the community and council to get a new building in place as the old one was dilapidated. The Labour councillors prior to the Greens coming in had done nothing to address this. Working with residents we got a council commitment to funding, initially cancelled by incoming Labour administration, but we finally got a further commitment from them to fund this as part of their redevelopment of the estate which would mean more families and greater need.

Just before the by-election in Sept 2011 they seemed to backtrack again. Councillor Leach referred to this as a possibly white elephant in a meeting. Once again we made this an issue in the by- election and obtained a commitment to have it built. Sadly, Councillor Gimson pushed for a modular building on the basis that this would be in use soon, which didn’t happen in the end, so this isn’t as nice as it could be. But a new building is now in place, which is better than nothing. It’s being run by the Queens Crescent Community Centre and we wish them well, but will be pushing for opening the space up for other community uses and working with the community to improve the outdoor spaces, to strengthen the sense of community ownership by the those at Holly Lodge.

We’ve also worked with local residents to understand the need for childcare services in the area and put mothers in touch with HNCC so they can work together to understand need and explore other alternatives. We’re keen on an empowering approach which brings communities and service providers together, so that services are those that are needed and provided in the way the local community wants.

Protecting centres and services for those with mental ill-health – On mental health provision, we have for a long time sought to ensure good services and clear pathways for care in what is a critical area of service, but one which often doesn’t attract the attention it should. The division of responsibilities between the Council, the Camden and Islington Foundation Trust, GPs, MIND and others causes confusion.

I led a cross-party working group looking at issues relating to mental health and women because of the higher rates of mental ill health amongst women in this borough and higher rates of suicide. This group met with service users to understand the issues and needs as well as service provider in the voluntary and state sector.

It made a series of recommendations focusing on those with less serious mental health problems. It stressed the benefits of gender specific crisis and temporary housing and women advisers, which helps ensure a sense if safety. It made recommendations as to the potential to use community centres and activities within them in a preventative capacity as many users just wanted activity with their peers or others.

It also recommended improved training for GPs and better recording of incidents in hospitals so that people got the help they needed as early as possible. In addition, recommendations were made as to clear points of contact and better training of housing and other advisers so they were equipped to deal with people with mental health problems.

In respect of day centres, in the 2006-10 council, I argued against the sale of the Jamestown Day centre. She supported those in the Highgate Centre who wanted sufficient professional staff support. More recently she supported those campaigning to ensure the Highgate Centre retained sufficient space for those with poor mental health, and that there wasn’t too much lost in terms of space and facilities.

There is much more in my view that can be done to improve mental health services, which in my view requires working closely with users and user groups. We need to move away from the distant approach of the Foundation Trust. We also need to try and address the complexity and confusion from the perspective of the user. I’ve tried to contribute to this field, but there is much more to be done here from simple things like clear well publicised pathways and lines of responsibility, to a change in culture and a more open approach to discussing these services which brings these services into centre stage. So many of us will suffer mental ill health problems or have friends and family who will. We all need to be involved in developing good services that really work”.

Services for dementia sufferers – Greens have lobbied hard to protect spaces for various vulnerable groups. These include the Netherwood Centre for dementia sufferers which was threatened with closure and incorporation of services into a single site for people with a range of problems from mental ill health to learning disabilities. We opposed this arguing that with the predicted dementia time bomb, no such centres should be closed. The centre has been protected for the time being.

Physical and learning disabilities – Greens have supported disability groups in terms of accessibility and transport, supporting the use of blue badge holders. We are also keen to ensure a good voluntary service providing advocacy support and other services. DISC that has done this for so many years has folded, but we would like to see this revived. I have also visited the Camden Centre for those with learning disabilities, offering support.

Maya de Souza
Camden, May 2014


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In the second post of our series, Green Councillor Maya de Souza writes about the work that has gone into securing better conditions for council staff:


As residents will know, a Green Party slogan is ‘Fair is worth fighting for’. Green Councillors have pursued this cause with conviction. The key issues for us have been a living wage, not only for council staff but for the contracted-out as well. We asked through scrutiny committees and full council meetings for the living wage to be paid in the 2006-10 council.

The Tory-LibDem administration made a commitment to put all Camden directly employed staff on the living wage. But the Greens said this was not enough. The big issue was, continues to be, the outsourced staff, school catering and social care workers among others. Camden should not have a two-tier workforce.

We showed in our subsequent budget amendments that a living wage across the board could be financed. During the 2010-14 period we have continued to raise concerns about the exceptions that Labour were making, despite signing up as a Living Wage borough. They claimed it was too late in the contracting process to include the living wage in catering staff contracts and too expensive to pay social care workers a living wage! The Greens led a cross-party challenge and we’re pleased to say that in the end Labour made a commitment to pay care workers a living wage within two years. That’s still not good enough but it’s better than nothing.

Employment practice – Another aspect of fairness is non-discrimination in employment. This has been a major aim for me, given my experience, as an employment lawyer, on how discrimination materialises in day-to-day life. It’s not always deliberate, but often a result of stereotyping and poor procedures that allow too much subjectivity, as when managers choose people ‘like us’.

With the support of knowledgeable residents I’ve asked questions and sought to ensure proper monitoring. This involved looking at how agency staff is recruited for well-paid temporary employment posts and whether the Council discriminated against some groups of people in recruiting. It certainly looked as if this may have been the case. Monitoring helps to flag this up. I also sought to ensure good practice for retention and promotion of staff, leading a challenge in 2013 following a finding of race discrimination against Camden in an employment tribunal case.

Here, I worked with councillors from the other parties. I led discussions at the Scrutiny committee meeting, successfully arguing that for better procedures, training that sought to challenge stereotypes and preconceptions, as well as for better figures showing numbers at different grades. Mike Cooke, the Chief Executive, was among those to respond positively to these proposals.

More equal society – Greens have successfully argued in the Council for a maximum 10-one pay ratio for senior to junior staff. This is now accepted, but we argue that we should go further, leading by example in moving towards a more equal society. And we do query bonuses and, in particular performance related pay, which allows too much subjectivity to enter decision-making.

The evidence is also that higher paid workers benefit, as it is easier for them, unlike those in more routine jobs, to show high performance. We have also supported staff on disability rights issues, persuading the Cabinet member, Pat Callaghan, to sign up to the ‘Breaking the Stigma’ campaign for mental health sufferers.

Zero hours – More recently the big issue has become the use of zero hour contracts as a means of limiting Council obligations to staff. I’ve argued that we should not use them as an employer nor through outsourced contracts. The Labour administration has not given assurances on this front. Following tenacious questioning and many attempts at fobbing us off I was told that the Council did not in fact know whether they had anyone on zero hour contracts.

In terms of those on outsourced contracts, we’re pleased that the administration recognises the problem but do not accept that we must wait for the government to change the law.

It’s perfectly possible for Camden to require fair employment terms in its contracts with service providers. We will push them to do so. So, if you’d like Councillors who believe that fair play, decent working conditions and non-discrimination are fundamental and non-negotiable, do ensure you vote Green! Our Green team has the legal skills and campaigning experience to mount an effective challenge.

Maya de Souza
Camden, May 2014

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In the first of a series of posts about her eight years as a Green Councillor in Camden, Maya de Souza writes about the influence Greens have had on planning in the borough:

Maya-AirQualitySummit21Nov11_webIn my eight years as a councillor, initially with fellow councillors Adrian Oliver and Alex Goodman, we influenced planning policy as well as actual decision-making.

Our knowledge of the law and our determination to make an impact on policy has certainly helped. Good planning and good design is something we Greens are passionate about. Shaping our local environment and protecting our heritage is so important. We are also keen to use planning policy to protect our local shops and high streets and ensure, through section 106 payments or the community infrastructure levy, that developers provide affordable housing, open spaces and community facilities.

King’s Cross – To give some examples; early on as a councillor on the Development Control committee I considered an application for a building by Christopher Hatton school in the Holborn area that raised issues about the playground being overshadowed. I felt the answer must be to have roof gardens to compensate, given the pressure to build in the very urban parts of the borough. I raised the issue in committee, including when we were considering the Kings Cross development, and in discussions on the new Camden Planning policies. Roger Madelin, the Kings Cross developer, has taken this on board, and the policy was amended to included a reference to roofs for amenity spaces and food growing.

Basements – When the issue of basements first arose the planning department felt that it wasn’t a planning matter. It was for neighbours to manage through party wall agreements or standard negligence actions. I read the policy and disputed this interpretation. I argued that the impact on water movement and possible flooding of neighbouring property made this a planning issue. This is now accepted and the Council seeks independent reports on hydrological issues, regarding it as a relevant ground for refusal. I’ve also argued that, to ensure its independence, the council should commission the report itself at the applicant’s expense. This is now virtually accepted practice.

Change of use – In council discussions on change of use of the Torriano pub in Kentish Town, I realised there wasn’t enough protection for pubs with a community function, and argued for the inclusion of a stricter ‘change of use’ test in such circumstances. This, again, has become planning policy. I understand that this was helpful in resisting the application for change of use of the White Bear pub in Hampstead. In recent council discussions I argued, persuasively, for stricter protection that takes into account not only the community functions of pubs but also their heritage value.

Construction nuisance
– Another issue we are proud of is insisting that, in special cases, construction issues are taken into account before a decision is made. This was of relevance in the Fitzroy Farm (Highgate) and Little Green Street (Kentish Town) applications. We argued that in some cases the construction nuisance was serious enough to justify the refusal of planning permission altogether. We also argued that granting planning permission and then, later, considering construction issues, always left the Council in a weakened position. This approach has been accepted, though officers need to be consistently reminded of it by vigilant councillors.

Local environment quality
– These are some examples of our work, but there are many others – for example, challenging officers in planning decisions to ensure they have fully considered efficiency standards in buildings, biodiversity, flood resilience, green and open spaces and other issues.

The developer pays – I’d like to mention one notable example of the role of section 106, in which a developer makes a payment towards a neighbourhood amenity. In this case, Camden council, as the developer in Holly Lodge Estate, was persuaded to contribute to a new family centre building. It was the idea of a local resident. I pushed for it and was pleased to see it happen. Though councillor Sally Gimson may claim credit, it had been agreed long before she arrived in the area. There remains much to be done in terms of good use of section 106 funds and the Community Infrastructure Levy. We’d like to see innovative approaches, for example using some of the funds to pilot a small network of pipes for a combined heat and power system, an investment in our infrastructure that would create jobs and improve our homes.

Taking ownership – More recently, I’ve supported the neighbourhood forums as away of communities sharing the use and feel of the area. I see the forums as a way forward on decisions relating to better transport and streets, energy efficient homes, protecting parades of shops and space for business, as well as heritage and prized sites. In Highgate Ward, this would include the Mansfield Bowling Club site amongst others. I’ve worked with residents to develop a constitution for the forum that makes it inclusive and participatory.

We Greens have done a fair amount of work but more, lots more, remains to be done. Green councillors, with their knowledge, expertise and commitment, are well equipped to play this important role.

Maya de Souza
Camden, May 2014

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Our candidate for Camden Town with Primrose Hill ward, Ben Van der Velde is organising an excellent protest against Camden’s draconian and contradictory busking rules this Sunday, with Jonny Walker, Founding Director of the Keep Streets Live Campaign, and Comedian Mark Thomas. Join in and find out more…


Ben Van der Velde, Mark Thomas and Jonny Walker found the Church of the Holy Kazoo in Camden

Sunday Service: May 4th, 1pm, Britannia Square, Camden Town, outside HSBC and Camden Town Tube
You are cordially invited to the inaugural service of the Church of the Holy Kazoo this Sunday May 4th at 1pm. This fledging religious movement was formed in the aftermath of Camden Council’s controversial decision to criminalise street music across its entire geographical area, introducing fines of up to £1000 for unlicensed busking and giving themselves the power to confiscate and sell musical instruments to pay the fines as well as banning wind and percussion instruments.
However, all is not lost. Camden’s policy exempts music that is part of a religious procession or service from the need for a license, so we are issuing a general invitation for music and culture lovers everywhere to bring their instruments of choice and join our joyful  congregation. The service will be presided over by comedian/activist, Mark Thomas, comedian/Camden Green Party Candidate, Ben Van Der Velde and the founding director of the Keep Streets Live campaign, Jonny Walker. The musical participation of the congregation is strongly welcomed and encouraged.
Our church is inclusive and non-judgmental and has few dogmas, save these two:
1.) Busking is a sacred act in our church and an expression of worship.
2.) Our songbook is every song, hymn or piece of music that has ever been written.
We want to celebrate public space as a place of community and spontaneity and stand against unjust laws that stifle creativity so join us this Sunday as we fill the streets of Camden with music, laughter and a slightly unsettling buzzing sound.
Join the event online: https://www.facebook.com/events/604776976274559

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