An open letter to the Leader of Southwark Council from the Dulwich Alliance

Dear Councillor Williams,

At the end of the session of the Cabinet Meeting on 2 February that was devoted to the 700+ signature petition (to end the 24/7 closures around Dulwich and implement an area-wide, camera-controlled permit scheme), you highlighted that views are strongly held in Dulwich on both sides, and that there was a “need to find a way of coming to a consensus view” through a review process that “brings people together”. We agree. We suggest that there is, in fact, a lot more common ground than people realise, but it is not being allowed to surface at the moment because of the rancour this issue is causing.

The need to reach a consensus has always been the position of the Dulwich Alliance and One Dulwich. However, with opposing views so strongly held, the only way this can realistically be achieved is through an impartial and transparent resolution process. Unfortunately, the proposed ‘Dulwich Area Community Forum’ chaired by a Council-appointed ‘Area Champion’, mentioned by Cllr Rose at the Cabinet meeting as being under consideration, would obviously not be impartial and so simply cannot achieve that. It would be extremely unhelpful both for the community and for the Council if another consultation simply repeated and further entrenched existing polarised positions.

Instead we propose that either the Council establishes a public inquiry, or that an independent, professionally qualified arbitration specialist, such as a chartered arbitrator or an accredited resolution specialist, be appointed to carry this out. For this to work, the arbitrator would obviously have to be subject neutral as well as impartial, and have the broad support of the community.

This would ensure that those affected (be that negatively or positively) by the Orders are allowed to make their representations and have their views heard. It would also provide the Council with impartial direction on how to proceed in a way that meets the Council’s objectives of reducing through traffic and pollution and encouraging walking and cycling (which everyone supports), but which also balances the different needs of the wider community. In fact, we believe that it is only by following an independent and transparent process that the Council can ensure acceptance of the outcome by all interested parties.

There appears to have been little by way of timely studies into traffic levels or air quality within the locality before the Orders were introduced. Added to this, the experiment is being undertaken during a time in which traffic conditions and pollution levels are not representative of what they were before the COVID-19 pandemic, or indeed are likely to be after the pandemic. This further underlines the need for an independent investigation, as clearly any evidence gleaned from this experiment will not be sufficient to underpin any future permanent measures.

We know that, as Leader of the Council, you put equality and fairness at the heart of all you do, and that you want to build a better future for everyone in the borough. We urge you to consider seriously this route of independent investigation. It provides a way forward that builds on common ground among people in Dulwich with different views, and a way out of the current community relations quagmire that we all find ourselves in.

Yours sincerely,

The Dulwich Alliance


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