Inspired by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s use of questions from the public during Prime Minister’s Questions, I asked Forest Gate North residents to submit questions they wanted me to consider asking at the next full council meeting on January 30.
I received a total of seven great council related questions from a diverse range of residents (good mix of female/male names and non-British surnames). Topic questions ranged from litter, cycling, crime and supporting small businesses. Here is the question I selected and asked Councillor David Christie.
What is the future strategy on improving Newham streets for cyclists and to provide better facilities for pedestrians in the residential areas such as Forest Gate so as to encourage a healthier alternative to our increasingly congested roads?
Response from Councillor David Christie:
Newham is currently developing a strategy for increasing the levels of cycling in the borough over then next 10 years. The strategy will cover options aimed at making cycling a normal choice for a wider range of people in Newham by creating a better cycling environment. It will explore assessing existing infrastructure to see where improvements can be made to make cycling safer and more attractive; providing education and cycling proficiency support to children, families and adults; improving access to hiring and maintenance of bicycles; more long term and cheaper cycle hire schemes; solutions to reduce theft of cycles; and promotion and community engagement to spread cycling take up. Any strategy that is developed will need to consider how Newham can work with a range of partners including Transport for London and the highways agency to deliver increased cycling rates as issues such as road and junction safety will require a joint approach.
I then asked a supplementary question:
Some of the roads in the scheme are for 20 mph zone. Will you be extending this into Forest Gate and Stratford?
Response from Councillor Christie:
I think there is a very good augment in some areas. It is a good symbol in wanting to make the roads safer. I will look at the data and explore this in the coming months.
Following my visit to Emmanuel Church on Romford Road on Christmas Day I was stunned at the number of homeless and vulnerable members of Forest Gate and also with the new government grant awarded to Newham so my question was:
On 28th December I was very pleased to learn that Newham Council has been awarded nearly £400,000 of government funding to provide help for its rough sleepers. Can the Mayor please provide a copy of the strategy to help rough sleepers including a critical evaluation of our current approach and how this new funding government grant will be spent.
Here is Councillor Andrew Baikie the then Mayoral Advisor for Housing’s response:
We are all aware that there are many homeless in London and that the number is increasing.There are many reasons for this, but any of us here today are at risk of losing our job or our health and from there it is only a few short steps away from being street homeless. Nobody should have to spend even one night on the streets, which is why we responded to a DCLG funding round which focused on rough sleeping and we are pleased to have been awarded nearly £400,000 which can be used to give rough sleepers in Newham access to the much needed support they need to move off the streets. While this funding is welcome, there is still much more work to be done in central government to address rising levels of homelessness across Newham. Our bid focused on prevention and early intervention. We know this is the best way to deliver good outcomes for rough sleepers but still mindful of getting value for money for the community as a whole. In particular, our grant will fund:
- A new, joined up assessment hub which will provide a safe and supportive environment in which homeless people can be triaged and a plan developed getting them the help and treatment they need
- Analytical work to help us identify the vulnerable at risk from rough sleeping earlier so that we can intervene before they find themselves on the street.
Wider strategy on rough sleeping
This project will complement Newham’s wider approach to rough sleeping. Sadly many people living on the street have serious mental and physical illnesses and substance dependency. It is therefore vital that we strike the right balance between making sure we intervene early and support residents with complex needs but without neglecting effective enforcement to prevent illegal activity.
Operation Alabama is Newham Council’s award-winning, multi-agency response to rough sleeping. Operations include our substance misuse and enforcement teams, the Police, the UK Border Agency, and Thames Reach –our commissioned outreach service. Operation Alabama provides a holistic, balanced and practical response to rough sleeping.
As our first priority is to meet the immediate needs of vulnerable people who find themselves on the street, this is why Thames Reach provides emergency support to those who need it. This is backed up by referrals to: health, mental health, substance misuse service, and other appropriate services.
With Operation Alabama, Outreach staff and local police worked together to help rough sleepers in Newham off the streets: a total of 145 people were moved safely from the street into hostels and other accommodation, 35 were referred to drug and alcohol services, and 20 supported to return to their home countries.
We also provide access to pan London hostel accommodation provided as part of the Mayor of London’s No Second Night Out initiative and range of other accommodation. During the recent cold weather, we increased patrols, specifically to engage with those very entrenched rough sleepers who have previously refused all offers of support.
The Council currently funds 163 units of Accommodation Based Services for single homeless people. We can, and do, make a difference. We are all aware of rising homelessness – driven by factors beyond our Control and with an unsympathetic government – so it is especially important to ensure that local government is doing everything possible to help. That is why I have asked council officers to review our current offer to make sure it is suited to the needs of our homeless population, including assisting those with the most severe barriers to living independently. I will update Council on this work in the coming months.
I then asked a supplementary question
I have been out with officers on Operation Alabama. We are doing amazing work, but this has not been translated to residents. Is there anything we can do to publicise the amazing work being done.
Response from Councillor Baikie
There will be a communications programme as it develops. I hope that other members will support it.
On the whole I think #FGQs pilot was a success and I am willing to give it another go. The next Council meeting is in May 18th but this will be an Annual General Meeting if there is provision to ask questions I will trial FGQs again if not the follow Full Council meeting is Monday 10th July (deadline for submitting questions will be Monday 26th June).
You can also submit a question at my advice surgery, Saturday 1st April, 29th April, Sat 20th May 10:30am, The Gate Library, Woodgrange Road E7.