Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Appalling postal service – who's to blame?

Back in March 2013, Frankham resident Brigitte was alerting neighbours to the fact that letters, bank and credit card statements, cheque books, magazines on subscription were either not delivered at all or posted through the wrong letterboxes. She suggested residents visited Creek Road Sorting Office to ask them to monitor their mail, and encouraged people to make a formal complaint.

This was around the time the Royal Mail was streamlining (cutting) staff and services in readiness for the big privatisation sell-off. A Crossfields resident working temporary shifts over Christmas found himself in a shambolic organisation paying under the minimum wage. Though it's been sold in the meantime (at a loss to the taxpayer) since Brigitte complained over a year ago, things have not improved. Mail arrives as late as 3pm (an extreme exception was this morning when our post turned up at 10.30am!) and post is still 'going missing'.

Ruth in Cremer House contacted us yesterday to say her Council Tax bill, Service Charge bill, her P60, her pension forecast and hospital appointment letters have all 'not arrived' in recent weeks. She knows at least two others in her block who have also not received important mail. She says that in order to complain, you have to know what date the items were posted – the problem being that you often don't realise what it is you haven't received! 

For instance, you may not remember whether you set up paperless billing when you signed up online for a particular service, but then you'll be getting regular email notifications, right? Or are you one of those people who let the mail (especially bills and anything from Lewisham Homes or the council) pile up on the coffee table till you've got time to deal with it? This maybe a reality check.

We were just going to post up Ruth's story as a matter of public information. But this morning we got a rather officious 'Default Sum Notice' from our credit card company saying we had missed our last payment. Unfortunately, we hadn't noticed not getting the bill – it's been a busy month – but we usually get it and make a note in the diary to pay it a week before it's due (why pay immediately you get the bill, they give you two weeks, ffs).

To be sure, we looked everywhere for that bill and couldn't find it. Not paying it has resulted in charges of over £16 and the stopping of the card (and possibly a black mark on our credit rating). Needless to say, the card company would not take responsibility for us not receiving the bill, and made us set up a direct debit.

To some folk, 16 quid in charges would not be so big a deal and not worth the effort in time and call charges for getting to the bottom of it, but to us there was an unanticipated loss we couldn't afford and a matter of principle and justice...plus a worrying mystery and unnecessary stress for a neighbouring 67 year old pensioner...

So onto Royal Mail to complain and a wasted afternoon of Kafka-esque proportions...

If you ring the number given on the Royal Mail website (08457 749 740) a message sends you back to the website. If your mail was lost, delayed or damaged, it's assumed you'll want compensation, but the compensation form won't allow you to claim if you don't have full details of the amount of postage paid, a franking number, an item reference number and lots of things you won't know if you didn't even get the item. We finally found this general complaint form and submitted it.

Ruth had called a different number (08456 112446) and chosen 'complaints' from the automated menu. She asked for a reference number for her complaint and then had to ring back to check her complaint had been logged – she says that no one on the Royal Mail complaints line offers any solution and can be very rude. Armed with the reference number, she then had to fill in the online complaints form.

When we called the same number as Ruth we spoke to a (polite) Royal Mail woman who, on hearing our credit card story, asked if there was a TNT stamp on the envelope of our new bill. There was, we said, but there is also a Royal Mail stamp saying "Delivered by Royal Mail".

She explained this means that TNT collect the bills from the credit card company, sort them and then deliver them to the relevant Royal Mail sorting office, where they are then added to the local postman's load. She was certain this was the problem and gave us a number for TNT so that we could direct our complaint to them instead. She would not give us a reference number or let us make a complaint with Royal Mail!

The number she gave us for TNT put us through to TNT Express. Because our bill came through TNT Post we were then given a different number to ring. That number didn't work. Back to TNT Express for another number for TNT Post. That number answered "The mailbox is currently full and can't take any messages".

Onto Google then for another number for TNT Post. Here's what we found at the top of the search:

A one-day-old Evening Standard story about a TNT operative dumping confidential benefits information from Barnet Council as well as statements from Barclays Bank. TNT has contracts with 11 London councils. Barnet Council said, "The relationship between TNT and the Royal Mail is a complicated one and we are trying to work out exactly who is responsible." TNT said, "We have identified the person responsible for this disgraceful action..."

In the comments section of the online ES story it turns out it's not just North London having a problem, and one reader commented ruefully, "This isn't Royal Mail giving work to TNT, this is TNT stealing work from RM, cherry picking what they want, offering it to businesses at a cheaper rate, then paying peanuts and getting monkeys to deliver them."

Armed with this new information, we went back to our credit card company to see what they had to say about TNT and their lack of reliability. Apparently we were the first to make such a complaint. If they receive similar complaints about bills not being received, the charges may be retracted.

So, anyone else out there having problems with their mail?

Update 30th April 2014:

Ruth has been in touch to let us know that none of her missing mail went through TNT.  She received an email from the Royal Mail's Escalated Customer Resolution Team on Monday after contacting us. Considering she was already at 'Escalated Resolution' stage, this reply wasn't really of much help:

Regrettably, I have been unable to locate the whereabouts of your missing item as the movement of First Class and Second Class mail is not tracked in any way as it passes through the postal network.

It may also be worth mentioning that as of 1st January 2006, Royal Mail no longer has the monopoly on collecting and delivering mail. It may be worth contacting the sender to find out which postal carrier they used and whether or not if it was the Royal Mail in the first instance?
(She had already done that)

In closing, I realise that only when a reasonable amount of time has gone by without further problems arising, will your confidence in our service be restored. I sincerely hope your future dealings with us are of a more positive nature and if I may be of any further assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will be more than happy to help.

I would like to take this opportunity to inform you that if you are unhappy with my response in any way, you can ask to have your case reviewed by the Postal Review Panel. They can be contacted by writing to FREEPOST Postal Review Panel or by email to postalreview@royalmail.com.

So it seems the newly privatised Royal Mail is already in the habit of blaming its competitors. She reported to us however that her mail service has now improved as a result of her complaints. She may possibly never know what has happened to her missing mail.

But if you are experiencing problems (ie realised you haven't received bills or notices you were expecting) it may be worth paying a visit to the local sorting office first – if you have the time, it's a morning off work to get there by 1pm.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ken Loach to do Q&A at New Cross & Deptford Free Film Festival

We caught two outdoor film screenings at #NXDFFF last night – just two of the six Free film festival events available yesterday.

Passing by Honey's on the high street at around 7pm we saw high street resident Ryan preparing to show The Harder They Come. A screen was set up in the window for folk to watch from the street. There appeared to be nothing to sit on – Ryan told us we needed to bring our own seating. When we passed by again at 8.15 the screening was in full swing with the audience seated and refreshments on hand from Honey's. A heart warming scene – and a treat for the betting shop regulars who, since the pavement was full, viewed the movie leaning against the shutters on the other side of the road.

Ryan's other curatorial contributions to the festival are The Hustler at Shades Pool Hall on Tuesday (7pm), and the screening of a Vietnamese documentary Surname Viet Given Name Nam in Deptford Market on Wednesday 30th (8pm). The festival works by inviting locals to get involved and work voluntarily to put films of their choice on at their favourite venues. *

We then headed on down to Fordham Park with a blanket and refreshments to watch Attack The Block which was powered by eager peddle pushers on about ten bikes (riding the bikes was a sure way to keep warm if you didn't have a blanket). The picture started whilst it was still light, but good sound and projection ensured a smooth transition into cinematic darkness, and although it was a little nippy, there was none of the rain that plagued the festival's outdoor stagings last year. A great film and a very successful event!

Older readers may recall the free outdoor screenings that took place some time ago in Greenwich Park, sponsored by Stella Artois. With the advantage of warmer weather – and later start and end times – the plague then was the deckchair brigade who paid a premium for a comfier seat and got in the way of other viewers (as happened in Greenwich screenings of the Olympics). No such hierarchy here – unless your restricted view was from behind the voluntary cyclists powering the film projection.

So now to the news (which Twitter followers may have already picked up): we talked to festival organisers Jill and Andrew after the film and heard that Ken Loach may be attending the screening of Spirit of 45 programmed by New Cross Learning for this coming Wednesday 30th April (unfortunately the same time as the Deptford Market outdoor screening). Fans of the documentary and its politics, and those who missed this film last year in the cinema or on the telly may have the unique opportunity to talk to the film maker in a Q&A, as well as listen to the pre-screening talk by The Equality Trust already planned. Check this page for details and updates. If it happens, it's a great coup for both New Cross Learning and the festival.

* Crossfields estate has been invited to take part but no one has yet taken on the responsibility of organising an event. The arches or any of our green areas would make perfect outdoor venues. However, whilst no one may be short on ideas, the problem is ensuring residents are not overly disturbed by a screening that cannot start till dusk and might not finish till after 10pm.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Local Spring events

The New Cross & Deptford Free Film Festival opens today and runs every day till Sunday 4th May at various venues. In Deptford the extra special venues that make this festival special include Big Red Pizzeria, Old Tidemill School, The Bird's Nest, Deptford Lounge, Deptford Market and Vinyl café and record shop on Tanner's Hill. On the high street there'll be film showings at Honey's Bakery, Shades Snooker Club, Deli X and Gallop Workshop. Watching The Hustler in Shades and The Harder They Come in Honey's sounds just perfect. And that's just Deptford. There are outdoor bike-powered showings too... Download the programme here. To get a flavour, here's a short video of last year's festival...

This evening is also the last Friday in the month, so that means, as always, art galleries are open in and around Deptford and beyond. See www.southlondonartmap.com/events/last-fridays

Assembly, the group temporarily transforming the garden at Old Tidemill School (which was originally created by a Tidemill teacher living on Crossfields), are open every Saturday between 12 and 4pm for all things to do with growing food and gardening. There's a Free bike-powered film screening tomorrow, Saturday 26th April, and May Day Celebrations on Saturday 3rd May. On Sunday 4th May at 1pm, they're screening Ping Pong, a film about octogenarian ping pong players vying for a world championship title – followed by ping pong tournaments for the film goers (2-3pm).

Down on the river, a "rarely performed masterpiece" of Restoration post-Shakespearian tragedy drama (we had to look it up) can be seen at Paynes & Borthwick Wharf. Venice Preserv'd (written by Thomas Otway and brought to life by The Spectators' Guild) opened yesterday and continues till 8th June.

Tickets are expensive but concessionary tickets at £10 appear to be available from May 1st. According to the website, these tickets must be "accompanied by proof of debt in the form of a recent student loan letter, bailiff's letter, final notice or negative bank statement". Whilst this is profoundly insulting, we've got our obligatory negative bank statement and will be taking it with us when we go to see this "tale of corruption, friendship and love" next week – even though we think that the funding behind this extravaganza could have supplemented more reasonably priced tickets for local people without them having to plead and prove poverty.

Now we're onto pay-to-view rather than free shows, we'd like to give special mention to a show featuring partially sighted Crossfields resident Heather Gilmore. Extant presents The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco, with blind actors in the two main roles of an interpretation of this classic text. Tuesday 29th April - Friday 2 May, 7.30pm (£12/£10 and £5 for companions and supporters of disabled attendees).

Lastly, preparations are under way for Greenwich & Docklands International Festival in June. LIFT (the London International Festival of Theatre) will be presenting Deblozay, a "processional theatre show, with acoustic and amplified sound, choir and local participation, plus light, theatrical pyro and fire effects". And Crossfields will be part of it.

On June 20th & 21st at 9pm-ish, Deblozay will set off from St Alfege's Church in Greenwich, through Bardsley Lane and Claremont St estate to Norman Road, where it will cross the Ha'Penny Hatch and come into Crossfields estate at the railway arches at about 10.35pm. The spectacle will then move north to arrive somewhere near the Laban where there will be an outdoor bar until midnight.

Rehearsals on Crossfields will be on 19th June. We're not sure which 'locals' are participating since Crossfields residents were not asked to get involved, but nevertheless it promises to be a local event worth looking forward to – and it's free!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Pollution, Convoys Wharf, trees and Sayes Court Garden

London's high levels of pollution are in the news this week: 457 pollution-related deaths in just one year in Lewisham, Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth, says Public Health England, as this South London Press story reports.

As previously reported on this blog, we already know that air pollution on Evelyn Street/Creek Road (A200) is well above EU limits (thanks to the No to Silvertown campaign for exposing unpublished Greenwich Council results). As with the issue of tall buildings (see previous post), it comes too late for Convoys Wharf.

Now that the Convoys Wharf development has got the go-ahead, the construction – when it starts – will significantly contribute to ever worsening conditions for local people living, working or going to school on or near the A200. Proposed river use for the transportation of building materials is still being negotiated, but even if that solution was embraced by the developer (they will try to avoid it), it would mostly be waste material. There will still be an enormous amount of materials that will have to brought by road to build 3500 flats.

When complete, the development's proposed 1800 parking spaces will further raise pollution levels – unless its inhabitants and visitors are all driving electric cars by then. Those living on the waterfront in its luxury flats will benefit from very low levels of nitrogen dioxide and carbon poisoning, as do most waterfronts.

Of course, with a predictable lack of vision and adherence to their own London Plan, polluting thousands of people was not a particularly important consideration for the GLA or Boris Johnson when deciding on the Convoys application, so keen were they to pass it.

Nor did they grasp the importance of the Sayes Court Garden project in alleviating such conditions in the local environment.

One of the biggest influences for the Sayes Court Garden project is John Evelyn's radical and influential "Sylva – A Discourse of Forest Trees, and the Propagation of Timber in his Majesty's Dominions", first published in 1662. Evelyn's ideas are still relevant today, and one in particular – growing trees to purify the London air.

Last week, "The New Sylva" was published to great acclaim and press coverage. As the BBC's environment reporter, Mark Kinver, writes, "Today, trees are back in the headlines and on the political agenda. To coincide with the original book's 350th anniversary, two authors have written The New Sylva, a timely updated version for the 21st Century to highlight the strategic, economic and ecological importance of trees".

Airpocalypse now! shouted the Evening Standard on Wednesday in their inside pages and asked "how do we prevent airmageddon?".

Not much chance of that, with Boris in charge and the Evening Standard being funded by developers. Like housing targets (now extended over 20 years rather than 10), it's a moveable feast, with far, far fewer hybrid buses introduced so far than promised. An 'Ultra-Low Emission Zone' is proposed but not until 2020. Diesel powered black cabs are thought to contribute to one fifth of London's particle emissions. Oh! how long have we waited for black cabs to operate in this area, only to find they're death chariots!

In February, local campaigners from Don't Dump on Deptford's Heart took part in a Citizen's Air Quality Survey, assisted by the Network for Clean Air, together with the No to Silvertown campaign. The results will be published shortly. Unfortunately, the data took over two months to be analysed, which was all too late to provide evidence to the government Planning Inspectorate consultation on the Thames Tunnel, and too late to show Boris and the GLA what a disaster awaits north Deptford when Convoys Wharf is being built.

In Greenwich, campaigners have lost the battle to save the trees on Bardsley Green on Creek Road opposite St Alfege's School. The five mature trees they hoped to save (which they spiked with non-ferrous iron in an attempt to foil the proposed felling) have been chopped down to make way for a new development. Undaunted, the campaigners have planted new trees.

In Lewisham, a 20's Plenty For Us petition has just been handed in to the Town Hall to make every road have a 20mph speed limit. If that seems a bit extreme to you (as it does to us), check the campaign's Myth busting page and they have an answer to the pollution question too.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Watch the London Marathon at the bottom of our road...

This is the interactive map of the race provided by virginmoneylondonmarathon.com (click to go to the interactive map). It appears Virgin Money don't actually have enough MONEY to update the map to 2014. Presently, many of the captions refer to the Olympics 2012 and apparently the Cutty Sark is still undergoing reconstruction.

But the times will probably be the same. So if you're thinking of not going any further than joining your neighbours at the bottom of Creekside just after the 7-mile stage, you'll need to be there roughly between 9.45 and 10am to see the Elite Women, Wheelchair and Paralympic (IPC) athletes; followed by the Elite Men at 10.30, and the first runners in the Mass Race at 11am.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

21 years of urban change in Deptford

Has the Tide Turned? 'Regeneration' Then and Now
Friday 25th April, 3.30–8pm, Deptford Town Hall Council Chamber

It is almost 21 years since Deptford's most popular history book "Turning The Tide – A History of Everyday Deptford" was published, and this event hopes to explore what has happened in the intervening two decades.

The Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR) at Goldsmiths College would like to invite local activists, local organisations, academics, residents, and government officials to this free event where you can share stories of the “regeneration” of Deptford.

The publication coincided with the start of CUCR’s evaluation of the Deptford City Challenge programme which began the now seemingly endless initiatives to 'regenerate' our town (often with negligible benefits for the residents and increasing profits for developers).

The aim is to discuss the recent changes in Deptford, but also to think about the possible futures for the area. The programme includes a seminar on "the changing face of regeneration in London" with several speakers as well as Turning the Tide author Jess Steele (3.30-5.30pm); screenings, sound interventions & "creative responses" + refreshments (5.30-6pm); followed by workshops on subjects such as Arts & Culture, Housing, DIY Deptford and Convoys Wharf (6-8pm).

For more information and to register to take part, please click on the image below for contact details.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Armed robbery on Creekside

This afternoon Creekside was closed to through traffic as police taped off the scene of an armed robbery. We understand a taxi driver was assaulted by his two passengers, who robbed him and caused him to swerve and hit a parked vehicle outside Cockpit Arts. The armed robbers ran away, and armed police were on the estate looking for them. Inside the minicab (the black vehicle to the left in this rather poor photo), we could see a figure moving. If it was the cab driver, he was obviously not fatally injured, though Jones workers nearby claimed there was a lot of blood. 

Update: this report from Newshopper 9th April
A Deptford cab driver suffered facial injuries after two men assaulted and tried to rob him - resulting in armed police being called out.

The 51-year-old driver was attacked in his car, crashing it into a vehicle parked nearby in Creekside on Monday (April 7).

Firearms officers were called out to the scene at 3.44pm after some witnesses reported seeing a gun.

The cab driver was taken to a south east London hospital with facial injuries but has now been discharged.

Two men have been arrested and bailed until May, but police still want to speak to any potential witnesses.

The first suspect is described as white, in his 20s and around 5ft 10in tall. He was wearing blue jeans and a grey hooded top.

Police say the second man was black, in his 20s, around 5ft 11in and wearing a blue jacket. They both ran away in the direction of Deptford Church Road.

Anyone with information can call the Robbery Squad in Lewisham on 020 8284 8477 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Possibly the worst Deptford date ever?

A short film by Jim Owen featuring Deptford station and two local actors – Crossfields resident Alistair Green and high street dweller Ingrid Oliver.

Deptford Project sold to Hong Kong

So the train's gone, and work has begun on Cathedral's £48m Deptford Project – much to the annoyance of local residents who now wake up to the sound of diggers.  

What a long way this project has come. Originally the redevelopment of the site was part of Lewisham Council and Joan Ruddock's idea to revitalise both Deptford station and the area around it. Richard Roger's firm Rogers, Stirk, Harbour & Partners was brought in to come up with the design below in collaboration with Ash Sakula Architects.

Cathedral won the contract to build it in 2007. Now, after a long delay since planning permission was granted, they have raised the cash to actually build it – by selling the entire block of 121 flats to Hong Kong investor IP Global.

According to this report, this is "the second project in Deptford that IP Global has invested in. The company recently bought a block of 64 flats in a scheme at Hilton’s Wharf on Deptford Creek for £30 million".

Hilton's Wharf is not actually in Deptford (and also not built yet). It's the other side of the Creek in Greenwich. Obviously Deptford is no longer a word that scares foreign investors away, despite the feelings of some snobby residents in the Creekside Village development on Creek Road who are desperate to change their postcode from SE8 to SE10.

Update: 9th April 2014

Conran Estates are now involved in marketing the development "in trendy 'up and coming' Deptford". They say, "This development is being marketed across the world, mainly Asia, but we have secured an early opportunity to offer to local purchasers for both residential and investment purposes".

Since the site hasn't been built yet, who else but investors and buy-to-let landlords are likely to snap up these apartments? ('Yields' are forecast as "up to 4.75%", whilst "predicted prices in the City will increase approximately 19% over the next 5 years".)

Prices are: Studios £260k - £270k; 
1 Bed £320k - £350k; 
2 Bed £395k - £495k; 
Exec 2 Bed £575k - £690k; 
2 Bed Penthouse £605k - £755k
There are: 14 x Studios, 36 x 1-bed, 59 x 2-bed, 6 x exec 2-bed, and 6 x penthouses.

The "Investment Case" states:
• Located in the heart of the trendy and up and coming Deptford with a 1 minute walk to the Deptford overground station
• A very attractive location for those who work in the City of London or Canary Wharf
Deptford has been hailed as "the new Shoreditch" with farmers' markets, coffee shops and boutique retailers now occupying the area. Steeped in history, the area has been singled out by Boris Johnson as a key investment/regeneration area due to its close proximity to the City.
The area is to become a smart residential neighbourhood, with the addition of a new Waitrose only a few minutes walk away
• The Deptford Project is part of a £42 million dollar regeneration of the area which will include cafes, restaurants and boutique shops...

Oh, how we laughed!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mayor of London gives Convoys Wharf the go ahead

Well, there's no turning back now. As Mayor of Lewisham Steve Bullock said at the hearing at City Hall on Monday at which Boris approved the Convoys Wharf outline planning application, "if we get it wrong now, we won't have the opportunity again in our lifetime". He asked for a bit more time to get it right. Unfortunately, Boris called time, and it's very, very wrong.

The heritage community projects Build The Lenox and Sayes Court Garden appeared to come out well, however, with Boris imposing two conditions on his approval that would help them get a better deal. But although this signalled his enthusiasm for their proposals, much is still to be negotiated and the developer will no doubt continue to stall and obstruct.

Indeed much remains still to be decided – for instance, the design of the buildings. This will happen at a later stage. But the developer now has the green light (and his architect's glossy illustrations) with which to start selling his luxury flats overseas. It doesn't really matter to those investors parking their money in London property what the buildings look like.

Rather too late in the day for Deptford, the debate on London's rising property prices, foreign investors and skyscraper luxury developments has gathered momentum. Only the day before the Convoys application was heard at City Hall, the Observer was publishing a petition by the great and influential which opposes the addition of another 230 skyscrapers to the London skyline. This was part of a response to a report and exhibition "London's Growing Up!" by New London Architecture (NLA) whose research has found more than 230 tall towers over 20 storeys in the pipeline for London. Ironically, the petition is signed by Alan Baxter, whose firm worked on the Heritage Strategy for the Convoys Wharf application.

Last Wednesday, the Prince's Foundation for Building Community published a report on London's housing which said we are under assault from 'faceless' towers and 'poorly conceived' mega-developments, with ordinary Londoners no longer able to afford to live here (download here).

And only hours before the Convoys hearing, the developer's architect Sir Terry Farrell (also an advisor to the Mayor of London) was launching his own government backed 'Farrell Review of Architecture and the Build Environment'. Apparently planners must think about Place with a capital P, working with local people and expert advisors to draw up real, proactive plans for the future.

That'll be the same Farrell who helped the Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa to devise a masterplan that builds over Deptford's Royal Dockyard and has helped them keep local people as far away from the planning process as possible. In fact the bloated old hypocrite turned up at the hearing after his lunchtime launch.

Despite giving the Farrell document a glowing review in the Telegraph, Jonathan Glancy observed "This week, the fight over dismal plans for a pox of hundreds of new and dimly designed skyscrapers defacing London along the Thames promises to become very heated, while planning permission will be granted somwhere near you for ever more cheap-as-chips housing – cheap, that is, to build on land acquired for next to nothing, yet sold as dear as the market will bear".
See also the Deptford Dame's comments, plus a report on Deptford Is.., Build The Lenox and local press. Meanwhile, here's Hong Kong...