Astroturf on Wanstead Flats?!

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.

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Improved recycling

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)

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Helping to shape the Local Plan

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.

You can read all about it here: https://www.newham.gov.uk/planning-development-conservation/planning-policy-local-plan/2

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 abigail@new-practice.co.uk 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.

Kind regards,

Newham Planning Policy Team

Maccreanor Lavington

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.

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Affordable homes – letter to the Newham Recorder

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.’

You can read the letter on the Newham Recorder website here: (but it’s formatted around so many adverts that I reproduced it here in full for ease.)

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FGN letter to Borough Commander Richard Tucker

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.

Yours sincerely,

Sasha Das Gupta

Rachel Tripp

Anamul Islam

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Housing repairs

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.

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Street trees and greening

Pavement with newly planted tree.

I have had an increasing number of queries recently about trees, and specifically about street trees. I think there are probably a few reasons for this. The first being that in general Forest Gate residents do love greening, and trees (although see my caveat at the end of this post!). Another being an overall increased concern about the environment, and about air quality, and an interest in creating pleasant streets that are nice places to be in. I was particularly interested to read online last year some information about how important street trees are for their cooling effect on our increasingly hot city streets, and how much more tree-lined – and thereby cooler – your street is likely to be if you live in a more affluent part of London.

I think another reason for the sudden burgeoning interest is that to be honest, our street trees in Newham have been neglected for some considerable time. Now we have brought our Greenspace function back in house, we have employed specific people to look after the trees, and work on pollarding, pruning, and removing dead trees is being done. This is work that was not done at all for a long time. The visual effect of this necessary work can be a bit brutal and even a bit shocking, hence some of the enquiries I’ve had.

I didn’t want to be just reactive, sending off details one by one, so I tried to step back a bit and think about what more I could do across the ward to help. So I contacted the relevant officers, and James Asser who is the cabinet lead for this area, to flag up how keen Forest Gate North residents are for more street trees. I also, in pre-Covid times, had a coffee with the Tree Officer to understand more about his role, and how I could support it.

I then had an exploratory bike ride across the ward, specifically looking out for roads that had no street trees where there might be space for some. I should emphasise that this was rather speculative! I wasn’t placing orders for trees, more thinking that if I could identify potential places now, then it would be useful for us to have this information to hand, in case funding or the possibility of funding was identified later on.

I also did a quick call-out on twitter asking residents to send me details of empty tree pits. That is, not spaces on the pavement where a tree theoretically might go, but an empty hole or square in the pavement where a tree clearly WAS, but is no longer. I had a useful tip from officers, which is obvious when you think about it, that it’s much easier to fill empty tree pits as there will be no utilities / pipework / electrics in that space to worry about, which is a significant barrier to planting new trees.

The reason for all this rambling was to share that after collecting together a list of empty tree pits, I then got an update back from officers and James, letting me know what was happening at each of them, and I thought I’d share that here. I think some of these have actually been planted in the time between my getting this update and publishing the post. Do let me know if so, and if you’re on twitter please take a picture and tag me in it, as I’d love to have updates.

Empty tree pits

Between 86/88 Maryland Square – Added to list for planting in next 2-3 weeks

94/92 Maryland Square – Added to list for planting in next 2-3 weeks

Cnr Maryland Sq and Maryland Pk nr At Francis School – Already on this year’s list as well as 4 others in Mary. Sq.

Corner of Maryland Sq and Maryland Pk – Already on this year’s list

10 Albert Square – Already on this year’s list

40 Forest Lane – Already on this year’s list

100 Hatfield Road – Added to list for planting

102 Gurney Road – Added to list for planting.

Dimond Close, E7 (stow.dared.slurs)   This is housing land and no budget allocated yet for planting

93 Buxton Road  – Already on this year’s list

40 St James Road  – Already on this year’s list                       

Side of 75 Godwin – Added to list for planting in next 2-3 weeks

6 Barwick Road   – Added to list for planting in next 2-3 weeks

Just a couple of things to add to this. First is that not everyone likes trees. I have in the past had some casework from residents annoyed about sap or leaves falling on their cars or gardens. I’ve had much more from people wanting more trees, but this is just worth knowing. It’s not possible to please everyone.

Also that at the moment there isn’t really a good system to flag missing or damaged trees. I know that we want to create one. But in the meantime, if you see an empty tree pit that is not on this list, please email me on rachel.tripp@newham.gov.uk and include the road, the house number nearest to it, and if possible the three words that describe the location exactly on the rather brilliant what 3 words app / site.

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What helps, what gets in the way of being able to self-isolate?

A few weeks ago now in one of our councillor briefings we heard from our Public Health team about a really fascinating piece of research they’d commissioned, looking at the issue of self-isolation. I was stunned to read in the news a while back about the relatively small proportion of people who actually self-isolate when told that they should, and was interested and concerned to learn more about the reasons behind this, particularly the ones specific to Newham.

I thought I’d share the presentation we were given here, as I thought some Forest Gate North residents might also be interested, both to know about the evidence-based and thoughtful way that the Council and Public Health are approaching this issue, and also to see some of the results.

You can read the entire presentation here.

The main thing that struck me after seeing it was how uncertainty about employment is such an issue. The quotation from the participant who was told they had to self-isolate but was told by their employer that they could not perhaps should not be surprising, but I found it very shocking.

‘I said, any chance I can get 14 days leave or like self-isolation. They said no, as long as you don’t have any symptoms and said, I can’t lie to them if I don’t develop any symptoms. I can’t lie that I developed symptoms since I didn’t have anything.’

I also feel, as I know others will, that the structural barriers that prevent people from isolating (caring responsibilities, not knowing how to get food, fearing for their employment, etc) are a stark contrast with the government messages (‘look into their eyes’ etc) which are focussed on individuals and blaming them. I can’t help feeling angry, actually, reading this information, about how the inequalities in our economy have always had a terrible impact on people on low incomes, but even now – even now as they are having an impact on our inability to control Coronavirus, the messages and the approach from the government are still about blaming people rather than making society more equal.

But, as I often say: here we are. Local Labour party members are working at the moment in preparation for the London Mayoral elections. Currently the only activity we can do is calling people, which I’m not going to pretend is anything other than quite hard work! But we want to do everything we can to win elections, and to get the Tories out of government which I think is the only way we are going to make real and lasting improvements and make the UK more fair and equal.

I didn’t start typing thinking that I would be writing a short political polemic! I hope that you find the research interesting. If you have more questions about it, I can’t necessarily answer them myself, but I may be able to find out for you.

Take care all, and stay well.

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More low traffic neighbourhoods

Intro
A quick update from me on some non-Forest Gate North news: more low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) being introduced in Newham. I sent this update out to a list that I keep of people who are particularly interested in active travel and healthy streets. If you’d like to be included in this list and get occasional updates from me, please do drop me a line on rachel.tripp@newham.gov.uk. If you can include the road you live on, and anything you’re particularly interested in (eg: disabled people and accessibility, walking to school, cleaner air, greening, etc.) then so much the better, but that’s not essential.

New LTNs
Newham has begun consulting on three new areas of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. These are:

  • Area 3: Manbey
  • Area 4: Atherton and
  • Area 7: Stratford Park

The image below shows the existing and the new areas, and how they fit together. Taken together, these adjoining LTNs have the potential to make a really enormous and hugely beneficial effect on the whole of the north of the borough. Although my role is obviously a Forest Gate one, it’s my sincere hope that by demonstrating the impact of active travel and healthy streets here, we will be able to get the impetus to do some more ambitious schemes elsewhere in the borough too.

Map showing LTNs, existing and proposed, across Newham

More information
You can see the online consultation here: https://consultprojectcentre.co.uk/ournewhamstreets

And there is a press release from Newham which gives an overview here: https://www.newham.gov.uk/news/article/593/consultation-begins-on-traffic-schemes-to-create-people-friendly-newham-streets

Although all of these are outside my ward of Forest Gate North, I know that ward residents will use those areas, and I wanted to encourage you to go online and record any thoughts that you have, both before and after installation.

I am not certain of when the filters will go into these new locations but I’ll share information as and when I have it. As before, I suspect that there will be a period of some concern and questions around installation, and then as we’ve seen with other LTNs both inside and outside Newham, the initial worries subside somewhat, and we can then start seeing what the impact is. As with our first LTNs, I expect that changes will be made as comments are made, and the design may well be improved.

Like I say, I don’t have a formal role with these areas but as a kind of self-appointed active travel champion I’ll be doing my best to keep abreast of what’s happening, and will in turn keep you informed.

What about areas 5 & 6?
I am eagerly awaiting information on areas 5 and 6, and will share that as soon as I have it.

And finally
A quick note of apology also to anyone who is waiting for an email reply from me – I am finding time to work is a nightmare (as it is for many of us!) whilst the schools are closed. I’m doing my best, and am so sorry for any delays. Big thanks to all those in the Council who are working so hard to make our streets quieter, cleaner, and safer, including James Asser and Nilufa Jahan, and of course  the officers too.

Take care and stay well.

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Councillor report February 2021

Hello to all those reading this, and I hope you’re all keeping well and safe. This is my latest ward report, which as ever I’ll begin by explaining that I write as a means of accountability to those Labour members in Forest Gate North ward who chose me as one of their councillor candidates for the Labour party, to stand for election. I also publish this report on my councillor blog (which is where you are now – hello!), so all residents of Forest Gate North, or indeed anyone else interested in the minutiae of what I do, can read it.

Covid

 

I wanted to start with some Covid information. I’m signed up as a Health Champion, and would heartily recommend that anyone else interested in receiving and sharing up to date, evidence-based information in easy to digest and simple bite size pieces should also consider doing so.

The most recent information on the virus in Newham is encouraging: numbers are falling which shows that the efforts everyone is making are working. But sadly we can’t relax any of our precautions: numbers are going down, but started at an extremely high level. This means yet more staying at home, hand washing, keeping our distance, and all the other things we’re doing to help keep those around us safe.

Vaccination continues apace: all over 80s should now have been contacted and invited for a vaccine, and over 70s should have started to be invited last week, along with people who are extremely clinically vulnerable. If you are invited for a vaccination, please do take this up. There is lots of information about the vaccine available (as well as lots of misinformation, sadly). Newham is also recruiting vaccine peer supporters who can help talk to people about getting vaccinated and allay any concerns they have.

Low traffic neighbourhood

I am pleased to say that the feedback about this is increasingly good although it’s still a topic that raises strong feelings. I even got an email from someone who said they had been concerned initially, but were now feeling more positive having seen the impact at first hand.

The enforcement cameras have now been installed, which is great news – not because of issuing tickets, but because the past few months have shown that although clear signage showing a road is closed to cars does reduce the flow of vehicles substantially, actually only a physical barrier or a fine will stop cars from ignoring the restriction and ‘just nipping through’. I was particularly pleased to see the cameras installed at the Odessa Road filter, where one resident was concerned that a reduced number of vehicles was resulting in more speeding and making the road less safe, and also at Wooder Gardens, where the number of cars going through this tiny road actually went up after the restrictions went in (albeit from a very low base).

Having seen the results of the closure of Browning Road Bridge (also very controversial and passionately argued when it was first installed), which have been so beneficial that the closure has been made permanent, it is now going to be interesting to see accumulated data from the impact of the LTN when it is available. There are several sources of information from which we can assess impact: the comments left on the commonplace online platform, vehicle counts from the roads inside and bordering the LTN, air quality data from the monitors, as well as feedback from emergency services and others. I’ll be sharing and publicising any information we have – no matter what it shows! – so please do keep an eye on my social media and my blog.

LTN Extension into ‘Sidney triangle’
I was also pleased that the area bounded by Dames Road, Sidney Road and Centre Road, which had originally been left out of the LTN because of a bus stand which we needed to liaise with TFL about, was added to the Low Traffic Neighbourhood recently. I was contacted by various residents of these roads who were all keen that their roads, too, should have through traffic removed from them. There is a downside to this part of the LTN, though, which is that there is still no right hand turn if you are travelling by car south down Centre Road and want to get to Dames Road. Effectively, if you want to travel west from here you need to either go down to Forest Lane, or go up via Lakehouse Road.

The LTN team did have a look at this before the closures were put in. Although not ideal, the detour via Lakehouse Road is actually only a few minutes extra on a car journey. This junction is TFL controlled, and Highways at Newham have already been in touch with TFL to start the process of assessing whether the right hand turn can go back into this junction. I’ve also dropped a line to various contacts I have, including Unmesh Desai who is our GLA member for East London, to see if there is anything that can be done to help this process to run smoothly.

Enforcement day of action
The Enforcement team, as part of restructuring how they work, have started to do focussed ‘days of action’ in particular wards, and they were in Forest Gate North and South last week. I had hoped to accompany them for at least part of it, but sadly the demands of home schooling got on top of me, so I settled instead for emailing them a list of some of the problematic sites across the ward that might benefit from some attention, and seeing the results afterwards.

The results I’ve had back are a summary of the work done, which included visiting businesses where people weren’t wearing masks, giving Fixed Penalty Notices for fly tipping, checking licences for things like skips, carrying waste, and scaffolding, patrolling tower blocks, and much more. I’ve asked both the officer in charge and also James Beckles who is the cabinet lead for Enforcement how we can find out more about the site-specific problem-solving that the officers have done, as I know from experience that this is the longer-term action that will help to stop the problems resident report at the source.

Casework
The details of the casework I get are, as ever, for the most part confidential. But there has been a variety of different topics that I’ve been helping residents out with, including disputes with a housing association, planning queries, housing concerns, a concern about how special educational needs could be met at school, and much more.

I am often tagged on social media, or receive DMs when people are having difficulty with something and need help, and I try as much as I can to reply and to follow these up. But I always ask if people have something that they need a reply to, please email me on my Council email address to make sure I see it and can ask the right people. I don’t always see tags or DMs, and don’t have a robust system for following them up like I do with my emails. We have a new casework management system for councillors which so far seems very promising and should help me to keep more on top of what is coming in and out, and where I either need to chase or have fallen behind.

On this topic, without wanting to throw a pity party when so many people are enduring real hardship, things are very busy at home at the moment whilst my three girls are all home learning, and all the normal arrangements which allow me some time to focus on my councillor work aren’t in place. So if I take longer to reply to you than I normally would, or if I’m not able to take the time to call, then please bear with me and accept my apologies.

Parking permits
This subject has been extremely controversial, and I’m sure anyone who is active on social media or reads local news will have seen that Newham has introduced a charge for the first residential parking permit for the first time, and these charges are emissions based.
I strongly feel that charging for parking permits may be difficult, but it’s the right thing to do, and I’ve outlined my thoughts on this at length in a blog post which is here.

I personally think that the new charges may not go far enough: I think that there should be at least an administration charge for electric vehicles, and I also wonder if there should be a limit on the total number of vehicles allowed per household. But I can see that, as ever, any change or proposal around cars and parking is particularly emotive, and raises especially strong reactions.

I have in common with all councillors received a large number of emails from people protesting about the new system of charging, and have tried to respond to those that were from people in Forest Gate North, but haven’t attempted to reply to all those that were sent to every councillor. We have now agreed a 40% reduction in the charges for the first year (those who have paid already will have a proportion refunded) which will help a little with the financial pressure for those people who are on a low income, but – importantly – will still introduce the charge which cements into our processes the idea that people who don’t have a car should not subsidise those who do, that space on the public highway used to store personal property should incur a fee, and that those with the most polluting vehicles should pay more.

Grants for local small businesses
I would like to encourage anyone who owns a business in Forest Gate, or knows someone who does, to make sure that they are in touch with the recently renamed ‘Our Newham Business and Enterprise’. They send out regular updates to all the businesses they have contact details for, which include useful information about business rates, seminars and information, as well as the all-important details about the government grants for businesses affected by lockdown. Their contact details are: 020 3373 7373 or ournewhambusinessandenterprise@newham.gov.uk Various rounds of the grants available have gone out but the next phase is due to open next week.

In general from talking to local businesses, the system for assessing grant applications and distributing funds has gone extremely smoothly. I have advocated on behalf of a couple of businesses where an admin error has held things up, but these have been resolved really quickly which is good to see.

Needless to say that it’s always a good time to support local businesses which contribute so much to our area, but perhaps never a better time than now when so many of them are struggling. If you can’t make purchases, as many of us can’t right now, then it’s also helpful to like, share and comment on the social media posts of local businesses, as this helps to get them more attention, and more customers.

Eat for Free
After realising that the budget called into question the viability of Newham’s pioneering Eat For Free work, it was with mixed feelings that I greeted a request to join a working group to look at this topic. Obviously I was pleased to be asked to contribute, but also worried as I didn’t want to end up being part of dismantling something that I’ve always been so proud that Newham does. (For anyone new to Eat For Free, basically Newham Council pays for free school lunches for all primary school aged children. This means no means testing and no stigma, and an extremely high uptake of hot school lunches in all our primary schools. The benefits of this are manifold, but of course at a most basic level this ensures that every child at primary school in Newham gets at least one hot meal a day. In a borough with such high levels of poverty, this is really important.)

So I joined the group with a little trepidation. I was worried that despite the identified saving in the budget, we weren’t ready to consult on charging for school meals because we didn’t really have detailed information to hand about what the impact might be. To a certain extent this is normal – measuring impact is notoriously complicated. But we discussed some of the key groups who would be affected by some of the proposals for charging, including children who go to school in Newham but live outside Newham, and particularly families with primary school children at key stage 2 who do not qualify for government funded free school meals. I was also concerned about how the logistics would work of asking schools to charge families – the infrastructure that would be required to accept payments, and the difficulties and the ethics of pursuing bad debts all struck me as very difficult and a hard ask for schools that are already under so much pressure with online learning.

I was therefore really pleased that after some discussion in the working group about the importance of free school meals, the Mayor and cabinet made the decision to keep this scheme. I have written above about charging for residential parking permits, and of course charging for anything – particularly at a time like this – is really difficult, but I do feel more comfortable with a universal subsidy of food for school children than I would with retaining a subsidy for residents who have cars. We have held a consultation about Eat for Free and also commissioned some focus groups which have provided some really valuable insight about teachers, parents and others’ views on Eat for Free, and their experiences of it.

The working group that was examining Eat for Free is now going to look at Food Poverty more broadly across Newham, and I’m going to continue sitting on it and will report back further.

Parklets campaign
I have joined a London-wide group interested in creating more ‘parklets’. A parklet is a mini-park or space for people that uses a parking space to create some public space. We don’t currently have any in Newham but there is one outside the Wanstead Tap, which is just inside the Waltham Forest border, on Winchelsea Road. In happier times, this parklet means that people can sit outside and enjoy a drink from the Tap, using the seating and enjoying the planting there.

As with play streets, quite apart from the pleasure they can bring, the main reason that this appeals to me is because it encourages us to look critically at the amount of public space dedicated to cars, and to really think about how space is used. As with so many things, the time I can dedicate to this is rather limited, but I will do my best. Although creating parklets might not be top of anyone’s list right now, have always passionately believed that we may be a deprived borough, but we should still always be ambitious in terms of our spaces, and that the people of Newham deserve safe streets, high quality green spaces, and other improvements just as much if not more than other areas of London with a different demographic.

Anti-Semitism and anti-racism working group
I was also pleased to be asked to be part of the Labour Group Anti-Semitism and Anti-Racism working group, though saddened that such a group is necessary. I think that in many aspects of working against discrimination we have been really strong in Newham, but there is an obvious need for improvement here, and I am looking forward to being part of this.

Although I couldn’t attend what I understand was a particularly moving virtual Holocaust Memorial day service last week, I did light a candle and share it as part of the ‘lighting the darkness’ campaign, to remember those who were killed and resolve that it should never happen again.

End of recycling trial

Sign on street informing residents about the recycling trial

The recycling trial that I have written about before has now come to an end. Proposals about borough-wide changes to improve our recycling service are expected in May. This is a topic that many residents feel really passionately about, and many people contact me to ask why we can’t recycle a wider range of materials, and why our collections are only two-weekly. Despite all the additional financial pressures that have come from the pandemic, I am hopeful that we can make some changes and improvements here, and also hopeful that in a world where interaction is possible again, we might be able to harness the knowledge and enthusiasm of residents to help promote any changes, and to reduce our recycling contamination rate as well.

Meeting with We Are Possible
Before lockdown 3.0 I had an online meeting and then a socially distanced walk around the ward with Carolyn from an organisation called We Are Possible. She was keen to reach out and make contact with councillors as part of her organisation’s work to promote a medium-term vision of London free from car dependency. She wanted to understand a bit more about the ward, and the borough, and to find where there might be space to work with residents and other groups on projects that could improve public spaces. As with so much else, Covid has rather paused this, but we had a very positive discussion about some of the unused spaces in the ward, and how they could be made greener, more pleasant and better used.

After meeting with the Tree Officer at Newham (a role that was vacant for a long time) I am particularly interested in how unused green bits of housing land might be planted with trees. There is some community gardening across Forest Gate which is planted and maintained by residents, and I am always conscious that local people have finite time and resources to take on more, so the idea of planting trees which are very low maintenance is appealing!

Newham Lockdown Window Art

Finally, a mention of something that I’m essentially doing in my personal capacity, but which ward members might enjoy. Michael Nash, a Newham artist, has organised the Newham Lockdown Window Art: a socially distanced display of some of the artistic talent in our borough. From February the 4th – March 3rd we can all enjoy art up in the windows of the houses of participating artists.
You can follow Newham Lockdown Window Art on Instagram @newhamlockdownwindowart or twitter @lbnlockdownart . There are over 30 participants, with a good number of artists from Forest Gate taking part.

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Ok that’s more than enough from me. Take care all, stay at home if you can, and keep well. And if you need me, please drop me an email on Rachel.tripp@newham.gov.uk

 

 

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