Launch of the Forest

Am SO delighted that this cold and grey January has been brightened up by the launch of the Forest: an online magazine for Forest Gate.

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.

Don’t forget to check out the Forest, which is adding new articles all the time, if you’d like to contribute to it in any way, you can use the contact form on the website here.

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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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