Candidates hoping to be a councillor in Sydenham have set out what they would do if elected.

A by-election will be held on Thursday, May 6, for the Sydenham ward after Councillor Tom Copley stepped down last year after becoming Deputy Mayor for Housing.   

Lewisham Council is made up almost entirely of Labour or Labour and Co-operative councillors, with one independent. 

There will be five candidates from five different parties on the ballot in May for residents to choose from. 

The local democracy service asked each of them some questions to see where they stand on key issues affecting the ward, democracy, and Covid-19 recovery. 

What are the key issues facing residents in Sydenham and how will you approach them if elected?  

Helena Croft, Conservative Party 

News Shopper:

This by-election is a rare opportunity for residents to give themselves another voice in the Town Hall.

In 2018 Labour won every seat on the council, so there is no opposition and no-one to ask the difficult questions.

Labour are left to mark their own homework. No matter what the outcome of this by-election Sydenham will still have at least two Labour councillors, so I am asking residents to use the opportunity and lend me their vote to give Sydenham another voice.

I will also focus on the key issues of improved road safety and cleaner streets and parks, introducing more recycling and reducing waste in our parks and Town Centres.  

Jack Lavery, Labour and Co-operative Party 

News Shopper:

Our local community has stood strong throughout the pandemic; however, our community faces many challenges that need addressing quickly. 

Lewisham Council needs to achieve this despite a massive 50 per cent real terms cut in central government funding. Local traders have faced an extremely challenging year.  

I will ensure local businesses know what support is available to them and support initiatives to ensure the high street remains vibrant and the heart of our local community.

Sydenham families want a high-quality environment and are worried about air pollution. I will fight to protect our green spaces and make Sydenham work better for pedestrians, users of public transport, and cyclists.  

Local residents are worried about crime. I will work closely with the local police and push for a more visible police presence in the area. I will also support the council’s continuing efforts in tackling the causes of crime.  

The cost of buying a home continues to rise faster than wages, leaving those without significant family support priced out of buying a home. Too many families are forced into the private sector where rents are eye-wateringly high. l will fight on for more truly affordable homes to be built in the borough. 

Nick Lee, Green Party 

The issues faced by Sydenham residents are all those which have been on The Green Party agenda for many years - employment, sustainable housing, green transport, social justice and protection of green spaces.

Just as our representatives in the London Assembly have held Sadiq Khan to account, I will do the same in Lewisham.

Mike Wayne, Lewisham People Before Profit  

News Shopper:

I need to learn the breadth and depth of the issues facing residents as I am new to local politics, although a long standing resident of Sydenham.

What I am seeing locally are the effects of a crazy de-regulated home building programme that will not benefit those most in need of housing.

I want a transparency audit on the council’s relationships with the property developers so we can have proper accountability and begin building for people in need and with due consideration to the local infrastructure that is in danger of being overwhelmed by the current expansion plans.

Margot Wilson, Liberal Democrats 

News Shopper:

The key issues for Sydenham in addition to jobs, homes, and clean air are: 

Litter with fly-tipping being a particular problem and recycling - I will campaign for a re-cycling centre in the south of the borough. 

Road safety, noticeably speeding cards in 20mph residential roads. The preservation of green spaces is a concern along with provision for safe walking and cycling, which is inadequate in the ward.  

There are a lack of services and opportunities for young people in the area with the safety of young men a particular concern. 

What is your view on how the council consults with residents on issues/developments in the borough? How do you plan to engage with residents?  

Helena Croft, Conservative Party 

Residents' voices should always be sought, especially when a decision will have a huge impact on the area, such as big developments.

Just look at the huge changes to Lewisham town centre over the last few years. If elected, I'll work with community groups to look at how we can use powers given to communities in the Localism Act to give residents a direct say over developments locally. 

If elected I’ll be a proactive part of the community, working with the ward assembly and community groups to make sure I’m a visible representative and out speaking to local people, hearing their views and making sure they’re heard in the Town Hall. 

My day job, as chief executive of a charity, is focused around helping to support vulnerable people, making the voiceless heard, and getting help for those who need it the most.

I was previously a councillor for five years and have been Deputy Leader of a council so local people can see I have the experience to be an effective voice for Sydenham in the Town Hall. 

Jack Lavery, Labour and Co-operative Party 

Local people want a voice and an opportunity to influence important decisions. The council must listen to and learn from local people before decisions are made and priorities are set. Often the council does this well.

The increasing use of online webinars with the opportunity for Q&A makes participation more accessible to busy people.

However, having talked to hundreds of residents in recent weeks, some do feel there is room for improvement with the Council.

If elected, I will push that we continue to learn and improve the consultation process each time.

Sydenham is lucky to have fantastic community groups and residents that are keen to improve their local community.

This local expertise should be used and listened to. There are many fantastic ideas in our local community to make Sydenham greener and more liveable. 

Nick Lee, Green Party 

Council consultation is patchy. As well as engaging with residents through email, phone and public surgeries and appearances, I will push for the Sydenham assembly to be held more often.

Mike Wayne, Lewisham People Before Profit  

You are not going to get real consultation until you push out the corporate sector that currently is the chief beneficiary of public expenditure.

They are already in the room when all the key decisions are made, leaving the citizens as spectators.

That’s why consultations are not really a two-way dialogue. We should have street and ward committees and representatives communicating to council and using digital technology to make it easier to have a dialogue.

Margot Wilson, Liberal Democrats 

The councillors are complacent and do not engage enough with residents. The council should make it easier to contact officers and Councillors and not rely on online, face to face meetings really are important. 

I plan to engage with residents on doorsteps and through our traditional Focus leaflets as well as any meetings as appropriate 

What would you change about how the council deals with/approaches any issues in the ward? If not, please elaborate.   

Helena Croft, Conservative Party 

In 2018 Labour won every seat on Lewisham Council - all 54 councillors elected on the same manifesto, there is no-one to challenge this in the town hall which creates complacency.

I'm asking residents not to settle for second best, to lend me their vote and give themselves another voice.   

Like all organisations there are some things Lewisham Council do really well - like the Young Mayor scheme and things that they need to improve on/ learn lessons from.

For example, last year we saw a so-called Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) introduced with no prior notice or consultation.

The consultation that followed the schemes' introduction was clunky and quit a long URL to follow, so there are certainly lessons to be learnt and improvements to be made to how such schemes are introduced across the borough. 

Jack Lavery, Labour and Co-operative Party 

An issue raised by residents on the doorstep and on the phone with me is that the council needs to continue to communicate clearly with residents and that the website is easy to use.

However, it also needs to give residents the opportunity to provide their feedback as well and have their voice heard too.

The issue of digital exclusion has also been raised, especially for some older and more vulnerable residents.

I would like to see the Council continue to learn from the pandemic that we need to ensure we are doing everything in our power to reach out to the most vulnerable and ensure that they are engaged with local issues. 

Nick Lee, Green Party 

It is well known that Lewisham is centrally run and politically complacent. As a Green councillor, I will be an independent voice to represent both Sydenham residents and all others in Lewisham.

Mike Wayne, Lewisham People Before Profit 

People Before Profit represents a different agenda.

It used to be the political common sense agenda, but in the last forty years, the political class has lost touch with common sense.

The core of that agenda is to use the public budget to benefit people, not corporate power and profits.

We need to re-purpose the budget around public benefit, equality and participation.

Stop contracting out to the private sector, reconstruct council direct works, but also encourage worker co-operatives and do more for local small businesses, especially on the high street.

Margot Wilson, Liberal Democrats 

I will listen to and work with local residents if elected, and with local organisations and Councillors from other political parties to get things done. 

How do you think the council should approach Covid recovery? 

Helena Croft, Conservative Party 

Free Parking on high streets. We need to get people back onto high streets and out supporting the local businesses across the borough.

A quick and easy way of doing this is to have at least one-hour free parking on high streets and in our town centres. 

Jack Lavery, Labour and Co-operative Party 

The council should prioritise supporting our local economy.

Unemployment is predicted to soar as the furlough scheme ends and we must do everything we can to make sure our residents have access to living wage jobs.

To do this, we need to support our many fantastic local businesses and I would be like to see a continuation of the Lewisham apprenticeship programme. The pandemic has hit young people hard. 

Lewisham I also want to see all hands on deck to support our young people in our schools.

Our primary school children need to be ready for secondary school and our secondary school pupils need to be best supported to progress to further education, higher education, or employment. 

Lewisham Council can play a role facilitating the sharing of best practice across Lewisham’s schools. 

Nick Lee, Green Party

Build back better. In fact, the council and the local NHS have handled Covid well, but now Sydenham and the whole of London need imaginative ways of recovering sustainably from Covid.

First, I would make public transport a priority. Second, I would push to make every housing development zero-energy.

Goldsmith Street in Norwich, which won the Stirling architecture prize in 2019, is a wonderful example of what can be done.

Thirdly, I would fight for the maintenance and improvement of the local green spaces that have been a lifeline for local people during the pandemic.

Mike Wayne, Lewisham People Before Profit  

The council should learn the lessons of covid. That without keyworkers things come to a standstill pretty quickly. Value them, not the consultants.

Covid has revealed the dodgy nature of ‘who you know’ networks when it comes to winning contracts. Learn the lesson: stop contracting out to the private sector.

Covid has demonstrated that the public sector is far superior to the corporate private sector: many billions for a test and trace system that never really worked compared with the public sector roll out of the vaccine which has been a success. These lessons need to learned by the council.

Margot Wilson, Liberal Democrats 

The council should approach Covid recovery with diligence and humility focussing on youth services and apprenticeships and any creative way of encouraging enterprise and service.