One of the things I was most excited about in this year’s Council budget was the idea of ‘Keep Newham Moving‘. We want to improve all of the borough’s roads, pavements and lights, and make a real and noticeable difference to the quality of our physical environment.
This is good news for all kinds of reasons. Firstly, and not insignificantly, it’s novel and great to have a positive proposal for something new. Just because everyone is sick of hearing local government talk about how much their funding has been cut doesn’t mean it’s not shocking and true that budgets have been cut, cut and cut again. (In fact, the proposal from central government that local councils should keep more of their business rates is in fact a proposal that all money in the future that local councils get should be raised by them. It effectively removes any idea of ‘need’ from how much cash you get. No matter if you have an elderly population, for example, or a largely rural area with limited prospects of raising cash through businesses, or a diverse population with high levels of poverty. But that’s probably a topic for another day.) So investing in the borough like this is unusual, and it’s nice to be the bearer of good news.
Also, I do get complaints from residents about what I have now learnt through my planning committee membership to call either ‘the streetscape’ or ‘urban realm’ but which is more commonly called ‘roads and pavements and all that’. I think it’s important to be honest that we have concentrated in Newham on people and jobs, and tried to make a difference to people by linking up with employers, by providing free school meals, by encouraging local links between people through the Community Neighbourhoods, by providing free swimming and instrument tuition to children. That has been and remains very important, but I think it’s fair to say the corollary to that is that the physical environment hasn’t been our top priority. This programme of improvements has the potential to make a real difference to that, alongside the other things we will continue to do.
Better street lighting is an obvious win: it makes our roads and pavements safer at night, helps people to feel safer, and can help to discourage some crime and anti-social behaviour. The LED lights we are putting in will save energy and save money as well.
Perhaps my next thought is a bit of post-holiday optimism speaking, but I also hope very fervently that improving the appearance of our environment will help contribute to all of us taking more care of it. I obviously don’t think we can stop litter or fly-tipping just by resurfacing a pavement, but I am often reminded by one particular resident (you know who you are!) that if something starts off clean, people are more likely to keep it clean, and I believe and / or hope that there is truth in this.
Finally, I find myself more and more interested in roads and streets, and our physical environment and how we can make them into safer, healthier places, how can we encourage walking, how can we improve the air quality, can we encourage people to interact with each other, can we design out litter and ASB – and this programme may well provide an opportunity to make some changes. There is an organisation called Living Streets which is the charity to promote walking and vibrant streets. They don’t currently have a Newham branch but would love us to set one up. If you are interested in this too, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s see if we can make it happen.
So the Keep Newham Moving work is starting. The reason I started what has turned into a bit of a rambling blog post was to let anyone interested know that various bits of work (including, depending on the road, new street lights, pavement and / or road resurfacing, and improvements to drainage) are being done this month in our ward, in Leonard Road, Norfolk Street, Suffolk Street and Macdonald Road. I thought it was a shame for only residents of those roads to know, so wanted to blog about it. I will tweet other roads as and when they come up, to try to keep you informed.