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

A by-election will be held on Thursday, May 6, for the Bellingham ward following the death of  Labour Councillor Sue Hordijenko this year. 

Cllr Hordijenko, who was elected in 2016 after a by-election, was described by her friends and colleagues as “warm”, “friendly” and a “true advocate for her constituents”.  

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

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

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

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

Alex Feakes, Liberal Democrats 

News Shopper:

Affordable, high quality and 'green' homes, better employment and training opportunities, and support for children and those with young families.   

As Bellingham's councillor, I would advocate for housing developments to maximise the affordable proportion and environmental quality of new and refurbished provision. 

I would campaign for businesses to recruit locally and provide more training and apprenticeship entry points. 

I would examine the ‘blockages’ preventing families and children accessing the support and services they need from schools, health centres and leisure facilities. 

John Hamilton, Lewisham People Before Profit

News Shopper:

If I am elected for Bellingham I will take on the responsibility of representing ALL residents of Lewisham who are unhappy that the current councillors are all from the Labour party. This is a very unhealthy state of affairs as there is no-one willing to challenge the power of the executive mayor.

Bellingham's issues are similar to those throughout the borough - lack of affordable rented housing, shortage of jobs and training for young and old and a lack of adequate facilities such as the under 5's club and youth clubs.

The council is short of money because of the Labour party's obsession with the disastrous Private Finance Initiative projects such as new street lighting and new schools which end up costing far more in payments to greedy bankers than if they had been built with normal funding methods.

Of course having a Conservative government has also been a problem but it's just too easy to blame the government and still pay exorbitant salaries to some senior town hall staff.

Katherine Hortense, Christian Peoples Alliance - awaiting response

Nick Humberstone, Green Party

News Shopper:

Bellingham is fortunate to have some amazing green spaces, and it's really important that these remain accessible.

Like the rest of Lewisham, and the rest of London, we've been putting cars before people for too long.

We need clean air, and we need walking and cycling to be the most available and enjoyable ways of getting around where possible.

I'll make sure I'm regularly speaking to members of the community, including those that may disagree with me, to ensure that I can represent the area best.

Rachel Onikosi, Labour and Co-operative Party 

News Shopper:

The key issues facing Bellingham (in no particular order) are:  

Economic recovery: As a result of the pandemic businesses have suffered financial loss. As a Bellingham councillor I would engage with every business in Bellingham to find out what support they need post-pandemic. I would also ensure that eligible businesses are aware of the financial and business support offered by the Council. 

Protecting green spaces: Whilst we require more housing, we need to protect our green spaces. As a Bellingham councillor I will work to ensure that green spaces are protected. 

Housing supply: Bellingham has a growing population, and we know that many residents in Bellingham live in overcrowded housing. As a Bellingham councillor, I will be at the forefront of conversations to build more genuine affordable housing. 

Isolated older people: This has been a long-standing issue particularly during the pandemic. As a Bellingham councillor I will work closely with Bellingham Age UK and Blackheath’s Age Exchange to identify the latest strategy to empower and support these residents.  

Disenfranchised young people: If elected, I intend to launch a youth conversation in Bellingham working with the Young Mayor’s team.

Dickon Prior, Conservative Party

News Shopper:

Labour won every seat in the Town Hall in 2018: all 54 councillors and a mayor elected on the same manifesto and the same priorities.

Without a real opposition and real accountability, the difficult questions go unasked and local taxpayers get a second-rate service.

No matter the outcome of this by-election, there will still be at least two Labour councillors in Bellingham and Labour will still run the council, so residents have nothing to lose, but an alternative voice to gain in this by-election. 

Like everyone, Bellingham's residents are looking to the future and our recovery from Covid.

Given how much misery people have been through, I want to help local people prosper and have more money in their pockets.

I will campaign to re-zone Beckenham Hill and Lower Sydenham stations from Zone 4 to 3 - this would save commuters almost £400 on an annual season ticket to Central London.

I also want to tackle the issue of fly-tipping in the area, working with the council to ensure that practical solutions are found for bulky waste disposal - as well as punishing those who come in from outside the area to desecrate Bellingham. 

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? 

Alex Feakes, Liberal Democrats 

Lewisham borough council is notorious for its lack of meaningful consultation. Sticking up a few posters around the place inviting views, usually after the decision has essentially been made, does not mean that residents have been properly consulted.  

As a councillor, I would be active in the ward, engaging with the residents in multiple ways - face-to-face, online and at public meetings - and not just relying on the views of Labour Party members like the current councillors.  

John Hamilton, Lewisham People Before Profit

Lewisham People Before Profit was set up over 10 years ago precisely because the council only pretends to consult residents on important issues.

We came together from the New School Campaign, the Save Ladywell Pool campaign and the Loampit Vale action group because when the council runs a consultation it ignores voices which don't agree with its plans.

Just look at the disastrous Low Traffic Neighbourhood scheme in Lee Green – hundreds of people challenged the council in questions but they just think they know best.

My involvement with Extinction Rebellion has introduced me to the idea of Citizens' Assemblies as a way of deciding a policy in a non-confrontational way.

Ireland used this when framing their referendum questions on abortion and same-sex-marriage because no political party wanted to bring up those issues, but the people were involved and decided to approve these measures.

Citizens Assemblies with binding recommendations on the council could be used to make decisions at a ward level, a borough level, London level and even national level for important issues such as how to save the planet from climate change.

Katherine Hortense, Christian Peoples Alliance – awaiting response

Nick Humberstone, Green Party 

A council needs to be proactive in consulting with residents.

It's not enough to have a contact page where people can reach out if somethings a problem.

As a councillor representing those living in Bellingham, I would be actively reaching out to members of the community to feed into my decision making.

Peoples' assemblies are a great way to hear a wide range of experiences and perspectives on issues, and make sure you can truly represent the community.

Rachel Onikosi, Labour and Co-operative Party 

The council has a good consulting and engaging strategy, for example the local ward assembly is a great communication channel enabling residents to attend and make their voices known and shape Council policy.  

The council are also very good at using digital platforms to run consultation events such as using Common place.

However, we need to ensure that we are reaching all people in our community, when consulting especially those who may not usually engage with traditional consultations.  

I would encourage the council’s communication strategy uses the most innovative communications solutions and continue to revise our approach, as necessary. 

As an elected councillor I would engage with residents in a number of ways.  

Face to face engagement through councillor surgeries, at local assemblies and during ward walkabouts.

I’d work to ensure local assembly meetings are well attended and representative of our community.

I’ll also use social media to promote the work I am doing as a local councillor enabling residents to get involved in activities that they have an interest in.  

I will also utilise the current community events such as the Bellingham festival and Phoenix Festival to engage residents on issues that impact the ward welcoming their views.

I will also consider the appetite for Bellingham resident street parties in order to build community relations and also the introduction of play streets. 

Dickon Prior, Conservative Party

Through the Localism Act, the Conservative Government have given local communities across the country more powers to shape the communities they live, know and love.

I will work with the ward assembly and community groups to explore how we can use these powers, such as establishing a Neighbourhood Planning Forum to develop a Neighbourhood Plan.

This will put the needs of Bellingham, and local people, at the heart of the planning process. 

As a new councillor, I would make myself a very obvious presence around Bellingham.

Once elected, I would speak to as many residents, business owners and local workers as possible - and, Covid permitting, I hope to do so in the run-up to the election.

Via regular councillor surgeries and direct engagement, as well as attending community meetings, I look forward to understanding people's individual concerns.

I will be following up on issues they raise, including discussing them at council meetings, to ensure that I can change lives for the better. 

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

Alex Feakes, Liberal Democrats 

The story of Lewisham under Labour Party control over the past fifty years is missed chances and poor services - for example, for many years our schools have produced some of the worst results in London, and we have lagged behind on recycling, employment and other key issues.  

As a new voice for Bellingham, providing fresh ideas and some constructive criticism, I would challenge the council leadership and senior officers to get to grips with the issues facing the ward - where is the affordable housing, where are the jobs for young people and those affected by the Covid, how can we use schools, public health and other services to improve our lives? 

John Hamilton, Lewisham People Before Profit

I want local accountability. So, for example, I want council work to be done by council employees – not contracted out to big firms like Conways or Glendale.

I want the housing to be returned to direct council control and repairs carried out by the council's direct works team.

The people employed for those jobs should be local people, in touch with their area, who can take responsibility for doing a job well and be proud of serving their community.

At the moment if a pavement needs repairing someone sends a job sheet to Conways and the job is only done on the cheapest basis and often needs to be redone later.

The pavement by my house is a 15 foot lake after heavy rain, after three visits by Conways and my Labour councillors seem powerless to get it sorted properly.

Take schools as another issue. Many of Lewisham's schools are now run as part of a chain of academies, formed to make money out of education.

The buildings at Sedgehill, Brent Knoll and Watergate are all owned by bankers and the teachers are restricted in what they can do in case the 'owners' charge the school for damage to the building.

Katherine Hortense, Christian Peoples Alliance – awaiting response

Nick Humberstone, Green Party

With a Labour only council, there's no one to hold them to account. It's important to have a Green in the room who can challenge and scrutinise proposals.

As a councillor, I will ensure that people are more informed of potential changes in their area, and actively seek out a wide range of perspectives on any issue, so that I can make informed arguments, be it for or against a proposal.

Rachel Onikosi, Labour and Co-operative Party 

I would like to see the council improve its communication about all the good work that they are doing in Bellingham and across Lewisham.  

I would like a conversation to be started with residents to start gathering views on what Bellingham should look like in the next 10 years.  

I would also like to see a stronger communications package with all housing providers so that the council is completely aware of residents housing issues but also gain the necessary intelligence around residents’ employment and financial issues.  

The council should then communicate how they engage with housing providers and community organisations and how they use the information to improve the lives of residents. 

Dickon Prior, Conservative Party 

The election of a Conservative councillor will make Labour re-think its approach to community engagement. This by-election is an opportunity to send Labour a message they can’t ignore: the council needs to listen more! 

Labour have failed to address the issues of fly-tipping. I would actively campaign for better provision of bulky household waste/recycling facilities.

It is simply untenable that this Labour-run council are expecting residents to transport their waste to the New Cross tip, a minimum 10-mile round trip into the proposed expanded ULEZ. 

I would also put pressure on the council to campaign more resolutely for railway station rezoning, and the extension of the Bakerloo Line through Bellingham.

Additionally, I would encourage the council to reverse their cuts to essential local services in mental health, housing support and libraries.

All the while, I will challenge the council’s management of key projects, such as the Catford Regeneration – here it was reported earlier this year the council are paying consultants twice as much as they expected.

That’s taxpayers’ money being wasted by the same council which has just hiked its council tax bill. 

How do you think the council should approach Covid recovery? 

Alex Feakes, Liberal Democrats 

Although some families and housholds have, thankfully, not been too affected by the pandemic, there are many for whom life has become much more fragile.

The council should be working with health services to identify those with 'long-COVID', and developing a targeted package of help for them.  

The council should be reaching out to families badly affected by lost or reduced employment, and helping them find the benefits, re-traning and employment opportunities that will help them get back on their feet.  

Lastly, there are at least two successive years' school leavers whose education has been disrupted by the pandemic - they need help and guidance if our community is not to suffer a long-term deterioration in income, opportunities and poor mental health. 

John Hamilton, Lewisham People Before Profit

My view is that the Government has handled this 'pandemic' very badly when we consider that this is an illness from which over 99 per cent of people who catch it recover after a few days in bed, as I did in March 2020.

The fear that many people feel is not good for their mental health and there needs to be a conscious effort made by Lewisham Council and the medical profession to help people get the risks into perspective.

Those people who are very old and suffering from serious medical conditions are, of course, at a high risk of dying and this is made worse if they catch Covid – but the rest of us would have been far better off in the long run if we had carried on with normal life.

I don't trust politicians, particularly when they try to restrict our freedom to protest or just meet our friends and family.

Join me any Sunday from 10 – 11 at Beckenham Place Park for A Stand in the Park and meet others who want to take our freedom back.

Katherine Hortense, Christian Peoples Alliance – awaiting response

Nick Humberstone, Green Party 

We need to build our communities with people in mind first. We need safe streets with clean air, and accessible routes to local shops which focus on walking and cycling.

Covid has been exceptionally difficult and created more inequality.

The recovery has to focus on the hardest hit, to make sure that no one is left behind.

The best way we can make sure that happens is by actively reaching out and getting those people directly involved in decision making. They know best what we can do to improve their situation.

Rachel Onikosi, Labour and Co-operative Party 

The council have done an excellent job during the pandemic by providing support directly to residents and to community and voluntary groups who have been the covid ambassadors.  

The council have also supported businesses by providing covid grants and business advice.  

In terms of covid recovery, the council should continue with supporting the strong community /voluntary sectors and continue to engage the community through online methods and circulars.  

The council should also continue to think about how they can engage people who are digitally excluded post-pandemic. 

Dickon Prior, Conservative Party 

The past year has been really tough on people’s physical and mental health, relationships, livelihoods and personal freedoms.

Labour are using funds to boost walking and cycling as an excuse to wage war on cars and cause traffic chaos – this shows they have the wrong priorities.

We need to get people back to the high street to support local shops and traders, not put people off with more congestion and more pollution. 

The council needs to focus on helping local businesses grow to create new jobs and opportunities.

This is what the council needs to be doing instead, of using taxpayer’s money on a political adviser whose focus is drug law reform – something the council has no power over. 

As we emerge from this pandemic, we need the council to focus on the issues that matter – and cut the vanity projects.