As I mentioned last time, I plan to carry on sharing my councillor reports on this blog. Although written specifically to feed back to Labour members in Forest Gate North, it contains lots of information that is relevant to anyone who lives in the ward.
After the steep spike in casework I described in my last report, the numbers of people’s cases I am taking forward has, if not actually decreased, certainly levelled off a little. Looking at my current open cases shows no particular trends, but the topics that other councillors are also used to: homelessness, overcrowding, fly tipping, parking, planning, etc.
As ever, if you speak to residents that have any issues that they might need help with, please encourage them to email us, or to come along to the Gate library at 10.30am where Seyi, Anam and I hold our surgeries.
I am hopeful that this might be nearing the end of parking taking up so much of my time, but that may be optimistic. All the formal processes have completed, the signs are in or going up and the markings have largely been completed on the roads, meaning that on the 5th December all of the ward will be in a Residents’ Parking Zone or RPZ.
Right from the beginning of the process, we have been determined to be as open as we can about a topic that can be controversial. Most recently, after a spate of some queries and discussion about the rolling out of the project (particularly concerning the decision on the hours of restrictions), Seyi and I worked together to do some blogging: publishing the full results of the consultation and also publishing more explanatory information about next steps. This seemed really helpful, and some of the background ‘noise’ about parking calmed down very quickly. For me it was also a good example of what we originally hoped that the blog would be: a chance to communicate more detailed, lengthy information to an audience who want more of the ‘nitty gritty’ on an issue than, for example, a letter to all residents can supply.
The only thing remaining on my radar is to respond to individual comments and queries as they come in about specific road markings, and also to pursue the question of the cost of permits. Because our restriction is from 8am – 6.30pm, this is 10.5 hours in length. Visitors permits are available to purchase and the cost depends on the length of time required. Permits are available for 10 hours, or for 24 hours, meaning that a FGN resident who had someone staying with them for a few days would need the 24 hour permits. Along with Seyi, who first flagged this issue up, I have asked if it’s possible to increase the period of time of a slightly cheaper permit from 10 hours to 10.5 hours.
After a couple of queries from representatives from places of worship, and some comments at meetings, and some casework, I organised a meeting of ‘Faithful Friends’ (religious leaders from across Forest Gate) to specifically discuss parking and religious organisations. This was really helpful. I had the chance to ‘set the scene’ generally about parking, to talk about demand and competing demands and the difficulty of pleasing everyone. I also heard from a wide range of religions and faiths in different places about the particular issues they were facing. Some of those can be solved (for example the new parking arrangements will include free permits for funerals, which was a common request from all those attending). Some are more difficult. I also encouraged, gently, the people there to think about what it was they wanted and what their solutions would be (one person wanted free permits but did concede that probably everyone would want them. Another was effectively asking for a free car park) and also challenged them about people using public transport, which was well received.
- Remind residents to apply online for their permits (or to go to the Gate library on a Friday in termtime, from 2 – 3.30pm when volunteers are available to help people with online applications)
- Monitor feedback about how it functions
- Discuss with officers when, how and whether it might be useful to revisit the hours of restriction (disclaimer – I am personally in favour of shorter hours, but the results of the consultation were clearly for longer hours)
- Deal with casework regarding tickets, etc.
In my last report I described how I attended the public meeting arranged by @sitesofnewham, a twitter account dedicated to chronicling Newham fly tipping. As a result of that, I met with the officer responsible for LoveNewham and for bulky waste collection. I wanted to follow up some feedback about times when the app has reported items as cleared when they are not, and some casework on incomplete (and in at least one case just plain shoddy) bulky waste collection.
I was told about a design fault meaning often people were not clicking ‘add’ for additional bulky waste items, which accounts for most incomplete collections (though interestingly not the particular case I was chasing up!). An improvement to this should already have gone live. I also checked that the free Christmas tree collections will still go ahead – which they will.
I also arranged for us to have an ‘Environment’ themed networking event at the Gate, on which I’ll write more below, under my lead councillor section.
As Seyi reported last month, she and I did some detailed work with officers on fly tipping on the junction of Sebert Road and Woodgrange Road. The detail of what was done can be read in the two blog posts we wrote which are linked below. But in essence, this site is particularly important as large numbers of people walk past it to get to the station, and because of it being the site of the market.
We found that there were several contributing factors:
– local residents on timed waste collections not leaving their rubbish out correctly;
– local businesses not managing their commercial waste bins well
– local businesses with inadequate waste arrangements fly tipping their rubbish
– very local residents with ‘normal’ bin collections leaving their bulky waste there, alongside existing rubbish.
Through some hard work by Enforcement, and help from Street Cleansing and from Waste Management, we all managed to make a visible difference at this site. It was both encouraging but also a little depressing to see how much co ordination was required just to make a change (not even to find a solution) in one place!
I began to wonder after this about ‘place based’ problem solving for fly tipping, and spoke to the Mayor specifically about this, worried that our approach of Enforcement, plus the Visiting Team, would perhaps miss out this process: looking at one place in detail and figuring out where the waste comes from and how it could be stopped. I was reassured that the dedicated fly tipping team (who I believe are now in role) will have this brief, and will consider any and all solutions to the hot spots identified by Community Neighbourhoods, which could include covert cameras, signage, community skips, or any other kind of ‘designing out’ that can be done. I’ll keep asking about this, and will report back further.
Keep Newham Moving
It has been so encouraging to see the roads residents have complained about now being resurfaced and mended. Leonard Road, Norfolk Street, Essex Street, Suffolk Street and more have now been resurfaced and look much better than they did when we did a walkabout there with officers last year and were all frankly a bit appalled. Interestingly, one resident told me that she felt litter and fly tipping on her road had improved since the resurfacing, which was great to hear. Sebert Road is also going to be improved once the gas works are completed.
I am very keen to make sure that Keep Newham Moving is not just about roads and yellow box junctions, but instead lives up to the promise of making the borough an overall nicer and pleasanter place to be. I am therefore making myself a nuisance asking what the process is for collecting resident ideas about, for example, traffic calming, tree planting and greening. I don’t think that there is an established process yet, but there is definitely political buy-in for making this happen, so I plan to continue making myself a nuisance until I’m clear how it’s done! In the meantime, if Labour members have ideas for physical improvements to their roads, now is a great time to talk to a few neighbours about your ideas, and to email us.
One of my longer-term aspirations for Forest Gate is to support more ‘greening’, so I wrote specifically about guerrilla gardening on the blog here, which was picked up by the Newham Recorder:
I wrote it hoping to encourage people to do more ‘guerilla gardening’, knowing that there is already some around, and perhaps more than people realise. I am going to meet with Greenspace to try to improve the way that we as a Council interact with informal planting, hoping we can set up an agreement that where there is planting we at least won’t cut it down.
I also met with the Forest Gate Community Garden and the Womens Institute who are interested in setting up a Forest Gate Garden Trail. I specifically hope that doing this might encourage more people to do gardening, for various reasons which include the health benefits, and the visual appearance of maintained front gardens, but also because of the positive impacts on flooding risks, and the importance of plants for wildlife and especially bees.
I have been supporting Seyi in her desire to make some improvements to Thorogood Gardens, an area that has been on our radar for a while, and especially since we collected so much casework the last time we canvassed there.
Since we have a small pot of money available for ‘winter works’ to do planting on housing land, Seyi’s idea was that we should make the most of this by engaging residents, and amplifying the effects. We held a pop-up surgery in the car park (the picture above is us warming up in Seyi’s car, where a resident brought us out a thermos of tea!). I am reluctant to give more detail as this is something Seyi is running, but so far repairs to bin sheds have been started, and highway resurfacing has been agreed, and there is some interest from residents in augmenting the planting with some planting of their own, which is brilliant news.
Interestingly, given my comments above about gardening, one of the specific complaints of longer term residents there was that the private front gardens, which they remembered being well maintained and attractive, are now largely unkempt and, they feel, making the whole place look unloved.
Crime and group offending
There has been some concern from residents about shootings and violence in Forest Gate over the past months. As a result of this, Seyi and I arranged for a couple of meetings (this is in addition to liaising with the police and attending the Safer Neighbourhood Panel which Seyi has done lots of work on over the past two years). Firstly we asked the Council Enforcement to come to our Community Neighbourhood meeting so we could all understand more about current hotspots and issues. Then we met with two key representatives from the police, who specifically deal with gangs or ‘group offending’.
The overall message from these meetings was that due to an increase in violent crime, there had been a significant input of London-wide resources into Newham, and that residents should see more police officers and should be reassured that this is happening to keep them safe. Also that this has been effective, and that there has been a decrease in gun-related activity in particular, and incidents have been stopped due to the additional presence. Forest Gate remains a safe place to be, with most violent crime being linked to group offending and to drugs, so residents not involved are unlikely to be harmed.
That said, the corollary to this was a message that was not at all reassuring: an insight into how organised and damaging gang culture is, and how powerful and entrenched this world is, and what a risk it poses to our young residents. We had a really sobering and useful discussion about prevention and diversion, and shared some initial ideas that Seyi and I are going to work up together and look at with officers. As with so much else, there are no quick or easy answers, but there is definitely the opportunity to target some existing resources and initiatives, and to try to make a difference to our residents’ lives.
Engaging with Eastern European residents
I have been thinking for a while about our engagement with Eastern Europeans in Forest Gate, both in the Labour party and also from within the Council. I met with Ayesha Chowdhury who is the lead councillor from Beckton, who told me about some of the community activity going on in her Commuity Neighbourhood. Based on that, I’m going to visit St. Mark’s community centre, and also hope to hold a pop-up surgery at the gymnastics school run at Forest Gate Community School, and at the Saturday art club run at the Lodge. I hope that by going where people are, we’ll have a chance to meet people, hear about their concerns, and chat about what their aspirations are for their families and the area.
Forest Gate lead councillor
It’s sometimes hard to untangle what work is done in my role as lead councillor and what is done as ward councillor! But for clarity, I’ve separated out the following projects.
I described in my last report how I’d tried to take the required, and I felt slightly tired, ‘coffee morning’ format and to turn it into a themed event based on particular outcomes. We have held two networking meetings over the past three months. The first was a Business Networking meeting, the first time we specifically invited local small businesses in to meet with us and to discuss their concerns and their aspirations for their businesses and the area.
We had a presentation from Gianluca who runs ‘Stratford Original’, the Business Improvement District or ‘BID’ in Stratford. It remains a medium-term aspiration of mine that we might have one in Forest Gate, but based on the feedback that evening I feel that setting up a trade association, as Seyi described in her report, is probably a more realistic aim for now. We also used the evening as a chance to talk to businesses about our plans for Small Business Saturday (on which more to follow). We had some robust conversations about the Linear Gateway Project (https://forestgatenorth.com/2016/07/11/smartening-up-woodgrange-road-and-upton-lane/) at the end but overall it was a really successful evening, and felt like the beginning of a new piece of work to think about how we support businesses.
After the fly tipping meeting in the summer I was thinking about a comment from one attendee that the Council has an important role in providing community leadership to encourage and support residents who want to set up their own litter picks and groups to help take care of Newham. Partly based on that, our next networking meeting was themed around the Environment, aiming to provide a space where people interested in improving Newham could come along and find out about existing initiatives (both community and Council) and think about whether they wanted to set up their own. The event was only I think a measured success, if I am honest. There was some foot fall, and some interesting conversations. People signed up for a West Ham Park project, and the Community Garden got new members (and there was some enthusiastic bulb planting). But I think I wanted it to be something more, and am discussing with officers and others how we could do this.
Small Business Saturday
Last year, Seyi, Ellie and I ran a small but successful social media campaign on Small Business Saturday which you can read about here: https://forestgatenorth.com/2015/12/03/forestgateshoplocal/
In essence we asked people to share their local purchases on social media using our hashtag, and created a bit of a buzz about supporting small businesses locally.
This year we are going a few steps further, with a rewards scheme, stamps, and freebies for people who make purchases. This is supported by the Regeneration department at the Council, who are working with our Community Neighbourhood to support our local small retail businesses on Woodgrange Road.
The purpose is to encourage people to make purchases in a variety of shops, to venture up and down Upton Lane and Woodgrange Road, to discover new places and to support their old favourites. We have been signing up shops by visiting them individually, which has been time-consuming but worthwhile in terms of making contacts and communicating about the project.
At the time of writing this has not taken place, but I hope it will be a success. Please do collect your card from a participating shop (around 90 are signed up), collect your stamps and collect your free coffee and / or free canvas bag from the Gate.
Meeting the Minhaj mosque
I also had a really positive and useful meeting with the Minhaj mosque at their Islamic Centre, which they aspire to build on their existing work and create a buzzing community centre. I saw the medical facilities they have made there, and had some really interesting conversations about people and organisations we can link up with to help publicise their work.
Crossrail improvement works
Planning continues on the work that will take place around Forest Gate and Maryland stations as part of Crossrail. The initial ideas that we have been looking at look so positive that it’s hard to describe them without sounding breathlessly over-enthusiastic. That notwithstanding, some of the ideas that I’m especially keen on include:
- Painting the Wanstead park bridge, perhaps to include the lettering ‘Forest Gate’
- Signage directing people to the Flats, to the market, and other local places
- Very attractive and high quality granite pavement and road surfacing
- Traffic calming measures
- An increase in the number of car parking spaces available to support shoppers
- Additional planting
- Bike racks to spell out ‘Forest Gate’
Perhaps the most exciting bit of the project is the public art that will be included. This is being run as a separate project entitled ‘Mural Land’. You can sign up to receive updates on this, which will include the opportunity to apply to be part of a steering group, and to participate in workshops and events that will determine what kind of art we have. We’ve already had some really good conversations with the Maryland community group about how art there could contribute to a sense of place, and reflect some of Maryland’s history.
(I’ve concentrated this report on my work in Forest Gate, as it’s a ward report, but if you have any questions about my cabinet role on Equalities I am very happy to discuss that with you either as a group or individually.)
I will finish by saying, as I hope I always do, that this is an overview of what I do and I apologise for anything I’ve left out. And of course almost none of it is just me, but a combined effort of councillor colleagues and officers. As ever if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me, Anam or Seyi.