I’m honoured to write to you in this column for the first time as the new Liberal Democrat Leader of the opposition group on Southwark Council, writes councillor Nick Johnson…
A big thank you to Southwark News for this monthly opportunity and all the hard work they do in reporting on the goings on across our diverse and talented borough.
Covid-19 has affected us all, sometimes in tragic ways. Yet, amidst the devastation, there are also some signs of hope. Residents, businesses, community groups, key workers, council workers and of course the NHS have all come together and demonstrated the real power of community. We can never thank you all enough for what you’ve done for us.
As we all come to terms with how Covid has changed our lives, now is a time to think about how we build back better. Many of us have discovered our parks for the first time; we are cycling and walking more; looking out for our elderly neighbours and coming to terms with regular home working. Southwark Council itself has held its first ever digital council meetings and demonstrated the huge and rapid changes it can make in response to the pandemic – for example managing to house all the rough sleepers in Southwark for the first time ever.
Extraordinary change is demonstrated everywhere you look, but it is vital that this change is not imposed. As Liberal Democrats, we have always placed local communities at the heart of our politics and residents at the heart of decision-making. Representing nearly 25 per cent of Southwark wards, our fourteen Lib Dem councillors are a strong voice for residents at the council and it is a privilege to fight for you each and every day. We want to make sure that the opportunities to “rethink our normal” are not forgotten as we recover and rebuild. We will seek to work cross-party to embed the positive changes and address the big issues that this pandemic has shone a light on. This is our once in a generation opportunity to make the far-reaching changes that we all know are needed. You can count on me to be leading the voice of residents across Southwark.
As well as more housing for residents, you are telling us we need to build on the improvement in air quality and environmental change experienced during lockdown and implement a true climate change green agenda. We have a number of green initiatives that I will share over the next few months – not the least to campaign for replanting thousands of trees we have lost these past few years.
We are also focused on ensuring that transport chaos in Southwark doesn’t worsen due to TFL’s lagging finances – including campaigning for the Mayor of London to maintain the free travel for under-eighteens, establishing an all electric Rotherhithe Ferry service (following cancellation of the bridge) and the long term fight for the extension of the Bakerloo Line. Any delay in the latter will be an unmitigated disaster for the massive regeneration going on in the Old Kent Road and surrounds.
We also know that our council finance teams have navigated the impact of funding shortfalls skilfully during the pandemic chasing central government funds – but there is a gap emerging. What we will not accept, is any cuts to vital services that you rely on and need and will be fighting at all levels to keep these in place. And of course, as a small business owner, I know only too well that we have to restart our economy quickly, safely and effectively.
An immediate priority in my area of the borough is the impact of the Canada Water Masterplan development – one of the largest in Southwark’s history. As this paper has reported previously, local residents are crowd-funding a campaign to review the approved plans. We support this, not because we want the masterplan scrapped, but because we want it done in a better way, better protecting the woodland, a better mixed community and better transport infrastructure so it doesn’t collapse. To help you can donate here: http://crowdjustice.com/case/rethink-canada-water-masterplan
Please look out for all our activities over the next few months. In closing, I extend an open invitation to readers who have any concern about or wish to get involved in our borough – to please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss how we can help champion your cause.
Thank you again, stay safe and let’s continue extraordinary change together.