This is my councillor report for January and February 2017. It’s primarily written as a means of being accountable to the Forest Gate North Labour members who selected me, but I also publish it (here!) on our councillors’ blog which is available to all Forest Gate North residents – and indeed anyone else at all who is interested. When the ward’s membership grew so much after Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader, we decided to start reporting more formally to the ward, as this seemed more appropriate than informal catch ups. Previous ward reports from me and Seyi are published online here as well. If you read our blog regularly, there might be some overlap with blog posts, for which my apologies!
Casework continues steadily, with a regular stream of questions, complaints, and contacts via surgery, email, twitter, Facebook and blog comments. Housing continues to be a very difficult issue for many residents affected by rising rents, with some heartbreaking stories, and I’ve also seen another small spike in planning casework recently, I think due to the rash of loft conversions! I’ve been dealing with casework about litter and fly tipping – liaising with officers to make sure streets aren’t missed, and trying to pick up on small errors that are understandable but preventable which can be frustrating. Casework takes up so much time, but is so important to the residents it affects, and I probably do at least some casework every single day (and some days it’s all I do!). I try here to give a quick flavour of any trends, but obviously I don’t give any identifying information about the individuals involved.
It can be frustrating, but can also be surprisingly satisfying or even moving when you find a solution, or when persistence suddenly opens up a new option, when you link someone up with someone else, or point someone in the right direction. I was touched and moved by a resident who came to my surgery one Saturday with a box of chocolates and a card for me, to thank me for ending the stalemate she’d been in regarding the extension for her disabled son.
The RPZ for Forest Gate North began on December the 5th, and with some caveats I would say that it is going well. We have certainly received lots of direct positive feedback, both formally via emails and informally through the school gate and social contact. There has been a noticeable decrease in the number of cars parked, no more long-term abandoned vehicles, and the introduction of double yellow lines around junctions has been very beneficial, especially on our narrower streets which were previously often unsafe.
That said, we are in discussion with some residents about the specifics of the design around them. Many changes were made at the consultation stage, but there are always residents who aren’t able to contribute at that point, and make their suggestions after the lines have gone in. I have a petition about parking on Forest Street, and ongoing casework regarding parking around Capel Point. In response to some strong feelings about the introduction of footway parking (where bays are marked so that cars can park partly on the pavement and partly on the road) we are organising some canvassing around Cemetery Road to specifically ask local residents about the parking there, and to ask what their thoughts are on removing at least one bay.
We are in touch with Redbridge asking them to introduce some form of parking restriction on Centre Road, which has become increasingly unsafe as drivers who wish to avoid the parking restrictions in Forest Gate leave their vehicles there. We did in fact contact Redbridge during the initial consultation, and I’ve been in touch with councillors and with officers in parking design there. I’m going to have one final go, then discuss with Seyi and Anam whether we might get together a petition or similar to ask them to take action.
Enforcement and Fly Tipping
We had an update from Enforcement at a Community Neighbourhood meeting last month which I blogged about in detail here: https://forestgatenorth.com/2017/02/20/an-enforcement-update/
There is lots of great work going on, including cracking down on the misuse of disabled badges, working with police to stop the sex trade that is the root cause of the stickers that blight our lamp posts, an example of stopping fly posting, issuing the new PCNs to fly tippers. I was most interested though, in the proactive work that took place to visit every commercial premises on a primary route to check they had a trade waste agreement. After the work Seyi and I did with Enforcement on the marketplace in Forest Gate, I was really struck by how one of the sources of fly tipping is commercial premises who either don’t have arrangements for their waste, or who are over producing, or not managing their commercial bins. This huge piece of work should help to stop an enormous source of fly tipping before it even reaches our streets.
The alleyway opposite Forest Gate station has also been the subject of work by Enforcement, who are working with the landlord to improve the appearance of it. It’s privately owned, and also the access point to some flats and businesses, which makes it problematic. I understand the landlord is investigating getting a gate (notwithstanding the access issues) and I am also asking if Newham street cleaners could clean just inside the alleyway, which is technically not Newham land, just because litter blows in there, and it’s so unsightly.
Speaking of litter, my girls and I attended the Manor Park litter pick on Sunday. If you have never been, I would heartily recommend it – a blustery morning out in the fresh air making Wanstead Flats look nicer, and a free hot drink and some lovely chat in the Golden Fleece afterwards. Wanstead Flats was much clearer of litter than it has been in the past, no doubt partly due to the extra resources the Corporation of London has put in. This did lead to a strange dynamic where my girls were a bit disappointed not to find more, “Where’s all the litter, Mummy?” There was a record number of people out, and (after some determined searching) we filled many bags that the Corporation took away. This is just one example of the community activity we are so lucky to have here.
Improving our streets
We have all been receiving feedback on the condition of our roads and pavements, and as the programme to resurface and repair all our roads continues, we will keep seeing improvements here. Leonard Road, Essex Street, Suffolk Street and Norfolk Street amongst others have all now been done, with Sebert Road expected in the next couple of months. We also have a schedule of roads planned for the next year or two, which I will publish on the blog.
I’m also excited to find out more about some smaller-scale regeneration work that is planned by officers in Forest Gate, which I don’t yet know anything more about but will keep everyone in the loop about. The ‘Linear Gateway’ work (https://forestgatenorth.com/2016/07/11/smartening-up-woodgrange-road-and-upton-lane/ ) to ask shops to comply with byelaws and smarten up their shop fronts has been a great success, with some buildings almost unrecognisable once repainted and repaired, and more sympathetic and appealing shop fronts appearing everywhere. Enforcement notices for those shops that haven’t complied are going out as I type.
Pop up surgeries
Seyi, Anam and I are planning or hoping to hold pop-up surgeries over the next few months in Maryland, Woodgrange Road Mosque, and at the Saturday school in the Lodge in Forest Lane Park. We want to use these as a way of being ‘where people are’, meeting people who cannot come to or aren’t aware of our Saturday morning surgeries. If you are running or aware of a community event where one or more of us could come along, and hold a pop-up surgery where people can speak to us about the Council then please let any of us know. I’m also organising a drop-in session on Upton Lane along with Mas Patel and the Forest Gate South councillors. This is to respond to some ideas from the Newham Faith conference where some business owners wondered if an Upton Lane Food Festival could happen. We are going to see if we can encourage a community event in that area, a Let’s Get the Party Started street party or similar, and whether following that residents might want to get together to think about a food festival or indeed anything else to celebrate the diverse businesses there.
Issues with the trains continue, with Forest Gaters being hit by temporary stairs, weekend closures, poor service at rush hour, delays to the ‘Goblin line’ improvements, and delays to the work at Forest Gate too. I’m in touch with National Rail and TfL advocating for us – essentially saying that I want them to take account of the cumulative impact of the work going on, on two separate lines, with delays and overlapping closures. There is something of a bun fight currently happening between TfL and National Rail about the Goblin line, and my response to that is that I don’t really care whose fault it is, I just need to know that the needs of residents to use trains are being considered in the round. I’m meeting with a representative from Crossrail on Friday, and will report back.
The consultation on the landscaping aspects of the improvements around the station has ended. We should have final plans soon, which I anticipate will include more planting, ‘planter’ style bicycle parking, as well as really high quality pavement and road surfaces, traffic calming, additional public realm, electrical points for the market, and more. We’ll have to go through some pain with roadworks to make all of these changes, but I’ll ask to be kept abreast of these, and will publicise them and push back to reduce the impact as much as I can.
Strategic Development Committee
Strategic Development Committee has been increasingly busy, with three hour meetings no longer uncommon, meeting papers of over 300 pages (and more) and extra meetings being scheduled to deal with the number of major development applications received. After something of a baptism of fire into the world of planning, I can feel myself becoming increasingly familiar with the terms and the legal restrictions, and also with the dynamic between officers, developers and members, and the (I hope) useful ways that as members we can help to express the priorities of our residents and shape the borough. At a pre-application forum where applications are discussed I have spoken very strongly to developers about the importance of engaging with officers and with our Design Review Panel, about the need for affordable family accommodation, of creating streets that are lively and enjoyable and safe, and creating green spaces that are not ‘curated’ and formal but are instead open to residents to enjoy. Doing so gives officers more strength to go back and continue their robust negotiations in the pre-application stage, getting the maximum amount of value for Newham out of the developments proposed.
At the last meeting, the application for 39 – 49 Woodgrange Road was presented, and then deferred. The reason for the deferral was concerns about parking, but I and other members expressed a number of other concerns based on the design we saw on that night, including the design of the building, the density, the lack of family accommodation, and the lack of affordable accommodation on site. I am not opposed to new developments, I’m not opposed to sympathetic modern design on a Victorian high street, and I think this space on Woodgrange Road is a prime site for something that offers some retail and residential, but I was glad that this iteration of the application was deferred and hope that the developer will go away and do some more work on it before it comes back.
Forest Gate Community Neighbourhood
Although I am no longer Lead Councillor for Forest Gate, this change has only happened recently so I have spent much of the last two months doing work with the staff at the Gate to help shape and direct their work. I am hoping to hold a networking meeting on Homelessness, a chance for interested and concerned residents to link up with local groups who are doing great work here, and similarly to hold an event about Play Streets, to encourage more to be set up to provide street space for children to play. We are also putting together the Community Plan for next year.
There are huge numbers of activities happening at the Gate, including life drawing, drop-in IT support, a lego club, a Science club, film screenings, and more. If you’re on twitter, I often tweet flyers of what is happening, and information about all of these things is available from staff at the Gate.
Temporary housing project
I’ve been in regular touch with an ex-Forest Gate resident who is now working with the North Newham Learning Partnership, and especially with Kay Row, looking at whether they can set something up to help support families in Forest Gate who are in temporary accommodation. She is proposing providing a space for families who have been placed in Newham by other boroughs, often who are in very poor quality accommodation. This space would give the parents and children a spae to play, access to cooking and laundry facilities, and the dedicated support which would help them to be able to access universal services such as the children’s centres offer. This is a potentially really exciting project, with some of the families in our area who are in the greatest need. I’ve been putting Jane in touch with various people, including local community and faith groups who are doing work with homeless people, and linking her up with people in the Council who can consider whether they commission the work.
With Thom Sanders, another Labour member, I am jointly setting up a Newham branch of Living Streets, which is the national organisation that campaigns for pedestrians. I’m doing this in my personal capacity but I mention it because my interest in Living Streets has been borne partly out of my councillor contact with the brilliant Newham Cyclists, but also from my work on the Strategic Development Committee where I have become increasingly interested in how good planning can help to create really vibrant and safe public spaces and streets. After attending some training on creating streets, I thought that it would be useful to bring together voices in Newham to help amplify this view, and I’m hoping Newham Living Streets will do this. If you are interested, please come to our first meeting, on March the 8th at the Gate at 6.30pm . Or you can join our email list by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
I was contacted by a resident of Dames Road, concerning the Forest Glen pub, and the disturbances that local people had been suffering. After contacting Licensing, I realised that because of the volume of complaints to the Noise and Nuisance team, they had requested a licensing review, which was underway. Frankly, as a representative, this was totally brilliant news, as it meant that residents had been consistently reporting, and the number of reports meant that the officers had a robust evidence base to take action. I often speak to residents all over the ward who are suffering from disturbances, who have suffered in silence for a long time, and only begin to approach the Council or others once they have reached the end of their tether, and are then frustrated by the processes necessary to collect evidence. (In fact, I blogged about this here: https://forestgatenorth.com/2017/01/23/report-it/ )
In this case, I encouraged the resident in question to speak to his neighbours, and he did so, and collected signatures on a petition. I spoke to officers in Licensing, read through the evidence from Noise and Nuisance (which made dismal reading, as it outlined a long litany of disturbances and flouting of the existing licence conditions). Having done this, Seyi and I submitted a joint response to the review, in which we strongly argued that the evidence suggested the licence should be revoked.
As I write this, the licensing hearing was last night, and although it took some time, it was a very diligent process with evidence from officers, information from the licence holder, a submission from me, some very persistent and insightful questioning from the chair of the panel and others, and around 7 residents in attendance which is extremely rare at these hearings. Licensing takes place under a specific legal framework, which requires reasoned and proportionate decisions, and giving the licence holder a chance to make the situation better, but I was thrilled that at the end the result was the licence was revoked. A real result for residents.
Cllrs’ development training
I attended a weekend’s training for female Labour councillors that was put on by the LGA. (Interestingly it was facilitated by Paul Wheeler, who facilitated the ‘do you want to be a councillor?’ training that I attended in late 2012 in a bit of a blur when my youngest Seffie was only weeks old.) My thoughts leading up to the weekend were mixed, as weekends are precious family time, but the training was absolutely brilliant, really high quality and so interesting and useful. I especially enjoyed a session from the Campaign Company about how to understand people’s values by segmenting them into ‘Settlers’, ‘Pioneers’ and ‘Prospectors’ which gave me a different lens to think about some of the values and interests of Forest Gate residents which I’d be happy to discuss with any member who is interested. We had an entire day on public speaking on the Sunday with an amazing woman who is a trained actor and whom I would heartily recommend.
I’ve also been helping Seyi out with her drive as CLP Women’s Officer to encourage more women to stand for election in 2018. I feel especially passionate about this, as when I stood for selection in 2013 my children were 4, 2 and 10 months old, and I was entirely intimidated by the process, nonplussed by how I would combine my caring responsibilities with anything else, and worried about whether I should stand. This is Seyi’s project and she’s doing all the work, but it’s been a pleasure to try to lend her a hand: bouncing together ideas for her great ’10 things to do’ list for women considering standing (https://forestgatenorth.com/2017/01/31/2018-council-election-training-for-labour-women/ ), and giving feedback and help with the format of the training.
I am always happy to speak to anyone who is thinking about standing to be a councillor, either in 2018 or in the future. If you’d like to contact me, please just drop me a line. I’m happy to keep your interest quiet if you’re feeling cautious and worried about appearing big-headed (I was!). I’m happy to talk no matter where you are – whether you’re determined to stand or whether you’re not even sure whether you might possibly be interested or not. My contact details are at the bottom of this, or on the councillors’ blog. And if you want more information about what it’s like being a councillor and what’s involved, Seyi’s and my blog www.forestgatenorth.com is a great place to start.
Although this report focusses on my ward responsibilities rather than my Mayoral advisor role, I wanted to briefly mention an event I attended, ‘Rainbow London’ at the end of January which was a thought-provoking introduction to some of the LGBT voluntary organisations across London, and particularly those working intersectionally. There was a beautifully done exhibition ‘Twilight People’ about the stories of trans people of faith that I am arranging to come to Newham and am hoping will be in the Gate Library. If and when it arrives I’ll publicise it as it’s well worth a look.
Last week the Mayor announced a reshuffle of responsibilities for his Mayoral Advisors. As Cabinet member I am now responsible for Council Services to Small Businesses, Transformation, and Equalities. I have two priorities in these two new areas: firstly to meet with all the key councillors and officers, get up to speed, and do my best to fill David Christie’s shoes who last did this role. I then want to also work on how we communicate and involve people in these two areas of work, to other councillors, to Labour members, and to residents more widely. ‘Council services to small businesses’ rather confusingly, is not about the services that we offer to local entrepreneurs, but is instead the means by which Council services are ‘spun out’ into small, employee-owned, businesses that can provide Council services but also gain business from elsewhere. Transformation is the overarching way we’re changing the Council’s processes to make them better for residents. I’m right at the beginning of learning more about both these areas, but as always happy to chat about them with anyone who is interested. Email me and let’s have coffee.
Obviously not everyone is on social media, or reads our blog, and so we are putting together a ward newsletter, a short overview of some of our achievements and local work, and will be asking members if they can help deliver it, any assistance will be very much appreciated.
Thank you if you have made it through the whole of this report! It’s difficult to decide how much detail to include, and I’m aware everyone’s time (and interest, let’s be honest) is limited. I always finish by saying this is just some of the work I’m doing, but that it’s rarely just me, and is a combination of colleagues and officers. If you have any thoughts or ideas or questions I’d love to hear from you. The best way to contact me is by email but all my details are below.