It’s now May the 17th and I feel like I am only now emerging properly from the post-election haze and back into something like normal life again. The last few weeks before an election are always busy with campaigning but this year’s campaign was particularly short for various reasons.
Campaigning for an election is surprisingly fun. But it’s also very physical work, with lots of walking around, carrying bags of leaflets, and a fair bit of tramping up and down stairs.
So Sasha das Gupta and I were tired but happy by the time it came to the count, the results were announced, and we were re-elected as Labour & Co operative councillors for Forest Gate North.
I’d like to thank everyone who voted for us. Being re-elected is a privilege, and not one that either of us takes for granted. We have knocked on almost every single door in the ward over the past few months and spoken to many people, and we’ll keep on doing so during our term of four years. Big thanks also to those local Labour members who helped with campaigning, to our opponents, to the Council officers who worked hard to make the election work, including counting all those votes, and especially to all the residents who offered support and encouragement.
In the meantime, there is plenty to do. The problems with recycling collections seem to have abated for the moment, but the situation with so many missed collections was really not up to scratch at all, and is being taken extremely serious by everyone. Turn out was low across Newham (and elsewhere) and we need to keep on working hard to show how important local government is, and to encourage people to have their voices heard.
It is a smaller ward this time, with part of the old Forest Gate North having been carved off to create the new ward of Maryland. So we are now a two councillor ward, shortly to briefly be a one councillor ward when Sasha takes some time away from the role to adjust to another new role, of being a mother! During this time I’ll post online about who is available and when, and will draw on support from colleagues as needed to make sure residents aren’t left without representation.
This map shows the new ward and its boundaries. Some of you reading this may see that you were previously part of Forest Gate North but now you are not. If that’s the case then it’s been a pleasure representing you (and you can naturally carry on reading the blog!).
For those still within the reduced ward, I’ll carry on working as hard as I can to promote everything about Forest Gate North that is so brilliant, to improve those things that aren’t, and to help those who need it.
I got this message from the organisers of the Forest Gate Festival. Read on to find out how to get involved, to secure the future of our much loved community festival.
Are you… an organisational talent, a social media whiz, a keen market-goer, a creative mind, entrepreneurial, good with words, or simply someone who loves Forest Gate’s diversity?
We are excited to announce that after a Covid hiatus, the FGF will be back this summer. We are a diverse group of Gaters looking for local volunteers to join in the preparations for Forest Gate’s iconic street festival on Osborne Road. The one thing we have in common: a passion to put on a truly special community day!
To find out more, please join us on the FGF OPEN DAY:
Date: Saturday 12 March Time: 11.00-12.00 Venue: The Gate (FG Library)
As with so many other issues, street cleaning can feel a bit incendiary, so part of me hesitates to post this. But here goes…
I had a couple of weeks where I had a small flurry of emails from residents concerned about the appearance of our streets. Not a huge quantity, admittedly. And emails about this, and all kinds of other issues aren’t exactly uncommon. But getting emails from different people (who I don’t think know each other) with a set of overlapping concerns but primarily about street sweeping, raised a bit of a red flag for me.
When I get an email request from a resident, the ‘standard’ way to deal with it is to send it in to a Council service called Members’ Enquiries. This lucky team acts as a central conduit for all the questions, queries, complaints and ideas that come via Councillors and via our MPs, they maintain a central system where they are logged, sent on to departments, and actioned or replied to as needed. The usual turnaround time is about 10 working days. I will then send a holding message to the resident, letting them know I’ve sent it, on, and encouraging them to get back to me if I’ve not replied after two weeks so that I can chase it up.
But I had myself also noted more litter on the streets, on the school run, and when out running errands. And this seemed to point to a wider problem, not just a one-off location where something had gone amiss. So rather than just send the queries off separately and wait for a replies, I decided to try to understand a bit more about what might be going wrong.
I got in touch with the Cabinet Member for Environment and Highways, and Director of Highways, as well as various other officers particularly those who work in street cleansing, or road sweeping / litter picking as we might call it.
I went for a ‘walk about’ the ward with an officer whose role is a kind of trouble shooting one, and we visited various roads including those that had been flagged up to me as particularly problematic (in this case, Cranmer Road, Station Road, Sebert Road, Kuhn Way and others), checking on the presence of litter, on fly tips, seeing where weeds had or had not been removed, and generally doing a kind of quality check.
I also found out that, as I had suspected, at the time staff sickness levels were very high, largely due to Covid and the Omicron variant, and the then requirements for isolation. There was some ad hoc agency cover being arranged (which in itself is not ideal, and can result in a lower standard of work as the agency cover employees do not know our streets and routes and systems as well), but also some shifts were left without cover temporarily, which resulted in the litter and inconsistency that we all noticed.
I also got in contact with the Officer who is leading on street cleaning (who I was actually on the interview panel for, who arrived from another borough very experienced and also ambitious to make some improvements) to find out more about some of the additional resource that I had been told was going into street cleaning.
He told me about the following:
The current ‘rounds’ (the routes taken by each member of staff) are not fit for purpose, and we do not have sickness or absence cover which leads to inconsistency. Having brought the three separate companies for street cleaning back in-house, we now have a new Head of Street Scene who is leading a borough wide project to transform the service. This includes using software for the first time to plan the best and most efficient routes. This is going to take around 6 months to implement, and in the meantime we have taken on nearly 50 agency staff on a permanent basis to give more consistency, and also created 3 ‘Newham Tidy Teams’ to do proactive cleansing and enforcement of fly-tips on major roads.
We are currently in the process of finding an external enforcement contractor. This process has been agreed, and the tender will be out in March, and I’m told that we should see a ‘hugely increased litter and fly tipping pro-active service’.
Previously, inspection of streets to see the effectiveness of our cleaning and litter picking was done by a small team of Newham employees. This is quite standard, but also could be described as ‘marking our own homework’. Now we have been using Keep Britain Tidy to inspect and rate our streets and give us a baseline for our current standards, and a robust way of measuring improvement.
I went out around the ward again last week with an officer, to the same locations, and although we did pick up some litter and reported various fly tips, there was a definite and marked improvement in the appearance of the roads.
The officer also told me that she had advised the street cleaners to be particularly assiduous around schools, knowing how high the pedestrian footfall is here, and that the condition of these streets has a particular impact on everyone. I know myself how much more aware I am of litter when I have a small person next to me, and my attention is right down at her level, or when I used to push a buggy, trying to avoid dog mess etc. We also specifically went to and walked along the border between Forest Gate North and Waltham Forest, to pick up some comments one resident made about a perceptible difference when you cross into Newham.
I then (although belatedly) got back to each of the people who’d messaged me, letting them know what I’d done and what is planned.And once I’d done that, I thought I’d write a blog post too, to share the information more generally. So here we are.
Now, I’m not claiming to have solved litter. Absolutely far from it. But I have seen some noticeable improvement. I’ve also become better attuned to whether litter is new or old. Brightly coloured litter, dry and holding its shape, has probably been dropped recently by someone who walked along after the road had been swept. Discoloured, squashed litter, that has been ground into the road, or leaves which are breaking down into mush, or plastic that is cloudy or faded, suggests that the litter has been there for longer, which can point to a road being missed out.
(A quick reminder, which I know is tedious, but it does help: please do report litter on the Love Clean Streets app. Under the ‘street cleansing’ option you can report a wide variety of unpleasant things, including fly posting, litter, blocked gullies, damaged litter bins and more. This all helps to give a picture of the ward, and where problems are occurring, so that officers can try to improve systems to prevent them, as well as physically sending out a team to clean up.
Take care all, especially those with friends and relatives in Ukraine x
Dreamed up, hosted and promoted by the ever-creative Aiden at Tracks E7, his newest creation is an online magazine which includes articles by local people, recipes, profiles, interviews, events information, and even an online forum.
I had a chat with Aiden, pictured above, and asked him to tell me and readers of the blog a few things about this new project.
First of all, I wanted to know what was behind his decision to set up the Forest?
“As Forest Gate is such a unique ecosystem with many artists, creatives and entrepreneurs, we wanted to create an easily digestible platform to showcase this with content that has a more personal touch that appeals to people from all walks of life – ‘a paper for people, by the people’.
Additionally, small businesses especially in the arts, hospitality and retail sector have been adversely affected by the pandemic. The Forest can be a medium to increase awareness of local business in Newham and the surrounding area plus drive footfall to aid their recovery and reorientation in navigating the post-lockdown landscape.”
He says the biggest challenge in getting it out there was, “Getting the look and feel of the platform right. For us this was a delicate balancing act as naturally we want it to be aspirational and have universal appeal but at the same time not too glossy that it comes across pretentious.”
In terms of what the publication can contribute to Forest Gate, he said, “The pandemic has been a catalyst in many of our local residents reevaluating their careers and lifestyle. Our vision is to nurture an inclusive and cooperative economy that supports local creatives and encourages entrepreneurship regardless of age, background or experience.
“A collaborative platform that champions community, we will shine a light on small business and grassroots projects all through the lens of budding writers and local authors.
We hope The Forest will help the local area evolve further into a destination and drive local economic growth so we’re retaining an emergent wealth locally and building a green, circular economy. We’ve been overwhelmed by the amazing reaction we’ve had to the launch of The Forest and we hope it enriches local life in the borough.”
Aiden doesn’t sound like a man with much free time, but he still has plenty of new stuff coming up, “We will expand on our editorial with video content in the pipeline plus we’re exploring launching a print edition in the near future and a radio station so we can shows and podcasts.
“With Tracks, though the emergence of Omicron wiped out our Christmas trade, it’s a more positive outlook on the horizon with an exciting events programme planned with live bands, supper clubs and workshops plus we’re planning a spring/summer schedule of festivals down the Avenue Arches station strip.
“We’ve also got some amazing news on a regeneration project that we’ve been working hard on behind the scenes and can reveal very soon so stay tuned…”
Can’t wait to hear more. Big thanks to Aiden and his team for all their work.
I have to admit that when I first heard someone say there was a plan to put astro-turf on Wanstead Flats, I assumed that it was a rumour that was unfounded.
Quite apart from anything else, I remember vividly meeting with the Corporation of London with Ellie Robinson and Seyi Akiwowo, and learning more about how the Flats are managed and maintained. One point that was made, quite firmly, was that the trustees who oversee the Flats were of the view that Wanstead Flats primary role is a ‘wild space’ and unspoilt, and hence the residents’ requests that we were bringing for additional litter bins, and for signage about litter and dog waste, were impossible to accede to, because even the erection of a bin would be an unnecessary and therefore unwanted intrusion of person-made structure onto an untouched space for wildlife.
So I dropped a line to my contact at Wanstead Flats, tentatively asking whether there was any substance to this idea, and was fully prepared to be told that this was a scurrilous falsehood, and would never be allowed.
I was surprised, therefore, to get an email back* confirming that this is an idea that the Corporation are looking at. I thought in the interests of clarity, I might post it here so that all the information I have is shared, verbatim, in one place:
Thank you for your email regarding artificial grass pitches. This possible project has been in discussion since 2016 and has been referenced in a number of public papers but is being looked at again in more detail this autumn. I have just posted the below on our website by way of an update and hope this answers your query for now – more detailed information will be presented when we consult, as much of this is still to be looked in to. Planning permission, flood risk and environmental studies will all be required before the project could be approved.
Over the past 130 years Wanstead Flats has provided a key facility for sport in East London, alongside widespread provision for informal public access and nature conservation.
In July 2016, the City Corporation approved the submission of an ‘expression of interest’ for the Football Foundation funded ‘Parklife’ Football Hubs Programme – a national initiative designed to improve access to grassroots football. This submission was of interest to the Football Foundation, who would like to see more frequent access to inclusive grassroots football training and competitive matches in East London.
The Football Foundation granted £34,000 to commission early scoping and feasibility work which commenced in late 2017, with no commitment to progress the project. Following initial desk-based feasibility work the Football Foundation consented, in principle, to fund an ambitious project on Wanstead Flats. The City Corporation granted the same ‘in principle’ match funding in October 2020. The project seeks to provide additional facilities at the Harrow Road football site on Wanstead Flats, including the installation of three Artificial Grass Pitches (AGPs).
The project partners are still at the very early stages of project development, which has only just recommenced after a lengthy hiatus due to the pandemic. It is important to the partners to gather public opinion about any potential project and a programme of consultation will be an important part of any project development. However, the partners still have initial viability studies to complete, including outline planning advice to ascertain how feasible proposals are and to fully understand any constraints before the partners are in a position to consult the wider public.
The proposed project aims to sustain current levels of grassroots football provision on Wanstead Flats, which supports several health, wellbeing and diversionary activity targets for the local community. It also aims to reduce the overall footprint on the Flats taken up by sport by replacing 17 of the grass pitches with the three artificial grass pitches. This means that around 34 acres of Wanstead Flats can be recreated for ecological benefit such as wildflower meadow or species-rich grassland. At the same time the durability of AGPs will increase football pitch availability for use by local clubs, soccer schools, schools, afterschool clubs and the wider community.
As soon as public consultation is launched, expected to be later this winter, the partners will announce this on social media and the website.
So that was surprising, and potentially alarming, to say the least. Although the consultation isn’t open yet, I did reply almost immediately and said:
I’m aware that the Harrow Road pitches aren’t adjacent to Newham, but the whole of Wanstead Flats is nevertheless a much-treasured local space, and so I’d be really grateful if you could pass on to your colleagues who run the consultation that I’d really like to be kept informed about any progress with the project.
I can’t speak directly for all of my residents, of course, but I feel reasonably sure that their responses would be similar to my initial thoughts: welcoming the ecological impact of more areas being wilded, concern that the pitches should still be available to community teams who may have small budgets, and concern also about the environmental impact of astroturf on local wildlife, and micro-plastic pollution.
I’m going to share your response on some local social media, where people have been asking with some concern about AstroTurf on the flats, as I know this is something that people are worried about – indeed it’s come up in my emails and on the doorstep already.
I haven’t yet heard anything else, so can only assume that the consultation has not yet started, but will chase this up again if no more information is forthcoming. I do try to be open-minded about proposals, but I have to say that my instinctive reaction to the idea of any artificial covering on any part of the Flats is a firm ‘no way’. The potential impact on wildlife, not to mention flooding, is quite alarming. As soon as I know any more, I will share it, here and also on social media in places like twitter.
I hope this post is useful – I’m aware it doesn’t say much but thought this issue was sufficiently important that it was helpful to publish it as a stand-alone piece.
*Actually, having checked, the email I got with all this info wasn’t in reply to my initial email, but was in response to an email to the Corporation that a resident kindly copied me into. Big thanks to Jan for copying me into her query.
We had such good news at Council last night that I had to log on quickly and share it.
I know that James Asser, Nilufa Jahan, and a dedicated bunch of officers have been working hard behind the scenes for a considerable time now to make long overdue improvements to our recycling service, so many thanks to them for taking this forward. Like many other people in Newham, when we first moved here 17 years ago, I sent an incredulous email to the Council thinking that surely – SURELY – there was some mistake and Newham offered kerbside glass recycling?!! But, no.
Some Forest Gaters might remember the recycling trial that took place, which I wrote about here: https://forestgatenorth.com/2020/12/15/recycling-trial/ which gave officers some of the data and feedback they needed. I was, and still am, impressed to see a trial like this being run properly rather than us rushing into a new area and making mistakes. I was also very struck that even though there were some elements of the trial that could have been more difficult (warning people for putting non-recyclable waste in their bins, and in some cases even not collecting them is really necessary, but obviously hard to do), I didn’t get any complaints or confusion from residents.
And now here we are. More materials can be put in our bins soon. The date we have is ‘Mid November’ but needless to say as soon as I have anything more detailed I’ll share it.
(I should probably slightly tediously add here that recycling is vital, but reducing the amount of waste we produce is even better in terms of reducing our environmental impact. There is tonnes of information online about how to do that, but I can personally recommend composting as an easy first step. Get a subsidised bin from Newham here: https://www.newham.gov.uk/rubbish-recycling-waste/composting)
I wanted to share an email that I received about the process to review Newham’s Local Plan. There is lots of information online about what a deceptively boringly titled ‘Local Plan’ is, but in essence it sets out a vision for the borough, and is the starting point on which planning applications are made.
The email I received was sent directly to me because I am signed up on the ‘Newham Co-create’ website, which is a space where you can participate in various activities across Newham, including the Community Assemblies, the work being done on High Streets, and more. It said:
Dear Rachel Tripp,
Newham Council and a multidisciplinary team led by architects Maccreanor Lavington are inviting local residents, businesses, community groups and other stakeholders to share their knowledge, experiences and ideas for their neighbourhoods as part of the Newham Characterisation Study. The Characterisation Study is a key piece of evidence that will inform the Local Plan Refresh and the Council’s approach to delivering 15 minute neighbourhoods.
This engagement, running through October and November, will help to shape future decisions as part of the Local Plan Refresh. Look out for further updates on the Local Plan Refresh later this month.
How can I get involved?
There are digital engagement opportunities on the Newham Co-create platform, including a survey and a mapping exercise to help us learn about the places and spaces that make your neighbourhood feel like home.
There are a wide range of ways you can tell us about your neighbourhood and contribute to the vision for its future between now and the 28th November 2021.
More digital events will follow. There are also a number of in-person workshops and events taking place across October and November, including pop-up activities across Newham’s high streets and public places. These will be advertised on the platform in the coming weeks.
If you are unable to take part via the online tools, we are able to send you a printed back with a prepaid return envelope. If you would like a printed pack, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and address you would like the pack posted to (your personal data will be recorded and used in line with the Council’s data protection policies).
We are looking forward hear your thoughts and see your pictures and videos about your neighbourhood.
Newham Planning Policy Team
This seemed important enough to share in its entirety. I am pretty passionate about planning in any case, being now Chair of the Strategic Development Committee which considers larger planning applications.
I’m especially passionate and positive about the ‘fifteen minute neighbourhood’ approach to planning, which I think becomes even more important after the experience we have had with the pandemic and lockdowns. Local shops and local facilities were not only the providers of milk and bread flour, but became the backbone of our communities at a time when we were all so isolated. Creating a borough where we can all walk easily to the things we need, and having that in mind when determining planning decisions, feels like a very positive way of making a better place to live that is more environmentally friendly, and more conducive to making friends and connections.
If you aren’t already signed up to Newham Co-Create, I would urge you to do so. Please do go online and participate in the various activities. The more input we have, the better the Local Plan will be, and the better a borough we can create.
I wanted to share with Forest Gate North residents, but also with anyone else concerned about the housing crisis, a letter that my colleague Councillor Daniel Blaney and I wrote to the Newham Recorder this week.
‘Genuine affordable homes plans
Cllr Rachel Tripp, chair, Newham Council’s strategic development committee and Cllr Daniel Blaney, former chair, Newham Council’s strategic development committee, write:
We note you have described Newham Council’s plans for new council homes for the over-55s on the former Hartley Centre site as “affordable” with quotation marks, implying to readers that this scheme may be similar to many approved across London in recent years that have made the label affordable next to meaningless. It is understandable if readers and residents are sceptical.However, 100 per cent of the new homes are anticipated to go to existing Newham council tenants, downsizing from larger or more inaccessible properties from our council housing stock.Those vacated homes can then go to people who are on our housing waiting list and desperately waiting for a council home.The new dwellings at the former Hartley Centre site will be rented at the rate of a fairly new rental scheme called London Affordable Rent.This scheme, introduced by Sadiq Khan as mayor of London, is to ensure new affordable housing funded by the GLA was genuinely low cost rent.As your article rightly points out, 100 per cent of the new dwellings on the former Hartley Centre site will be at this low-cost rent.’
Sasha das Gupta, Anam Islam and I put together a letter to Newham Borough Commander Richard Tucker. We sent this to him, but also wanted to give residents a chance to read it and to be transparent about how we are representing local people. Our letter is in full below:
To Borough Commander Richard Tucker,
We write to you in our roles as councillors for Forest Gate North ward, in the London Borough of Newham, asking you to condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the actions of PC Charlie Harrison and to encourage you to take firm, actionable steps in pursuing justice for the victim and his family, and ensuring that such acts of racial violence enacted by the police force are a thing of the past in Newham.
According to Judge Gregory Perrins, Harrison stopped Mr Abrahams ‘because he was black’ and having racially targeted the victim, instigated a vicious attack causing serious injury. However, the role of all of us as public officials is not just to condemn the actions of Harrison but to identify a history of inequality in public bodies in Newham, and beyond, to understand the distress and distrust that this creates, and to do something about it.
The BAME community of Newham need assurance that their councillors and their Borough Commander are proactively working to make racist policing and the subsequent violence part of our history not our future.
The steps forward in racial equality over the last few years in this country is a source of pride for all of us. As someone listed in the New Years’ Honours, we know that you would wish to command a borough which represents the very best of Britain’s diversity, antiracism and progress. As such, we implore you to publicly respond to this correspondence with clear, achievable steps that you and your team will take to initiate and maintain stringent standards in Metropolitan Police officers working in Newham, alongside a constructive plan to build much-needed bridges with the black community here who tragically feel the full weight of racialised police violence in their communities.
As we are well aware, central government cuts to local services and community resources has made the challenge of community cohesion and these kinds of constructive initiatives much harder. But we hope that you will agree with us that making this right is a priority, and you will find a way to do this vital work.
Though scandalous and harrowing, Carl Abrahams will walk away from this incident and continue his life. Without change, other black men may not be so lucky. In the memory of Edson Da Costa, Jean Charles De Menezes, Mark Duggan, George Floyd and countless others, please use your significant influence and public platform to enact real change now.
I receive a large amount of casework relating to repairs to Newham-owned and managed Council homes, as well as repairs and maintenance by Newham-owned but Housing Association managed properties. When I got the following update from the Cabinet lead for Housing, Shaban Mohammed, I thought it was worth posting here to share the details for reporting.
I know that repairs is something that we need to do better at, and also that this is something Shabs and his team are working hard at improving. This ongoing work wasn’t helped by the need to stop non-essential work at various points because of Covid restrictions.
Reintroducing online reporting seems like a good step in the right direction. If you are a Council tenant, and you have reported your repairs online but things get stuck, or you need some help, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.
Shaban said, ‘I’m pleased to inform you that the Council has resumed our full housing repairs and maintenance service. This means we are now carrying out general repairs, as well as continuing with emergency and essential repairs.
We’re also reintroducing an online reporting form, which will make it a lot easier for people to report routine repairs at a time that’s more convenient to them. The form, which is available on the Council’s website means that tenants can report repairs at any time of the day 365 days of the year. The housing team will be promoting it widely over the coming weeks and months.
Emergency repairs should continue to be reported to the Repairs Call Centre on 0800 952 5555, which will be operating extended hours until Saturday 22 May 2022.
We have also set up a dedicated specialist team to arrange and complete all non-emergency covid-19 legacy repairs reported to us between July 2020 and March 2021 that were placed on hold due to the pandemic restrictions.
Starting this week, the Covid-19 Legacy Repairs Team, began contacting tenants with outstanding repairs from that time. We expect to be able to complete all outstanding jobs over the coming months, and tenants will be offered an appointment date at first contact. The legacy work will be managed separately to the general and emergency repairs programme.’
I hope that this information is helpful – do pass on to friends or neighbours whether they are in Forest Gate North or elsewhere in Newham.
This is the blog of Rachel Tripp, a Labour councillor for Forest Gate North in the London Borough of Newham.
First created as a joint blog with colleagues Ellie Robinson and Seyi Akiwowo, Rachel has now taken it over to post updates and information including ward reports, events, meetings, and anything else that might be interesting.
I hope that you find it useful; please get in touch and let me know what you think.