Hello and welcome to my ward report. I write these specifically in order to report back to the Labour members of Forest Gate North, who selected me to be one of their councillor candidates. But in the interests of transparency I also publish them on my councillor blog, where anyone from the ward or even beyond can have a read. I hope it’s a useful and informative insight into some of the work involved in being a ward councillor, and as ever if you read this and have any questions please do contact me.
Healthy school street
This is the biggest piece of work I’ve been involved in recently: the timed closures of streets around Woodgrange Infants and Godwin Junior schools in order to encourage active travel, improve road safety, improve air quality, and make the journey to school more pleasant. I have been really moved by the huge support that this scheme has attracted, with good responses from local residents, parents, teachers, groups like Newham Cyclists, and more.
The implementation of this scheme I would say has been broadly ok but not perfect, and you can read my thoughts after the first day here: https://forestgatenorth.com/2019/11/11/healthy-school-streets-first-thoughts/
My main source of frustration, in common with the schools and with other supporters, is that installing the cameras has taken much longer than any of us wanted. However, as I write this on the 6th February, the cameras have been installed and are working, and warning letters are being prepared and will be sent out this week. After an initial warning period, fines will be issued, and I am hopeful that fines will be very successful in changing behaviour as we have seen thus far that road signs, bollards, and even people physically speaking to motorists is no guarantee that they won’t ignore it and just drive through anyway!
I am aware that there may be some feedback about the scheme once fines start to be issued, and wanted to be clear that I plan to stand firm if this happens because of the importance of the scheme, and the results we are already achieving.
There are a few niggling issues to iron out: I have a detailed question about residents of one of the roads and visitors’ permits, and we also have some persistently fast driving from vehicles including Newham rubbish lorries, and various cars with disabled badges. But overall, the situation outside the schools, especially outside Woodgrange in the mornings, has already changed enormously for the better.
What I really hoped by working so hard on this scheme, was not just to get a better school run for me and my daughters (though I’ll be honest, that’s a lovely side benefit!) but was to make a big impact that would help more of these types of schemes happen across the borough. So I’m particularly delighted to have been contacted by a few people who are interested in how something similar can happen in their local schools. Newham already has a programme planned of other school streets going forwards, and I’m hoping to complement this by being a kind of unofficial advocate for the schemes. If you’re reading this and are interested, this article is a great place to start:
Liveable Neighbourhood bid and Odessa Rd traffic calming
I’ve blogged recently about a traffic calming scheme that we are working on for Odessa Road in conjunction with Waltham Forest: https://forestgatenorth.com/2020/01/14/working-with-waltham-forest-on-odessa-road/
I know that some respondents to the consultation, like Newham Cyclists, would like us to be more ambitious and to ‘filter’ the road (which means having no through traffic except bicycles and pedestrians – the simplest way of doing this is to have a bollard, say, half-way down so that people can access Odessa Road homes and shops by car if they absolutely need to, but they can’t use it as a cut-through). I am very much in favour of modal filters, and would like eventually to see many many more of them across Forest Gate to stop through traffic on our residential streets.
Regarding this scheme specifically, I’ve had a chat with Highways, and the intention is to use the responses to the various consultations we’ve already done as part of our funding bid, to get some work done on this important road within the bid area, and also to show TfL that we can work with Waltham Forest, and I think it’s also about ‘showing willing’ too. I have my fingers very tightly crossed that if we resubmit our bid for this Liveable Neighbourhood, we might be successful, and if so that would be a really very exciting project that could make a huge difference to the ward, and you’ll certainly be hearing a lot more about it from me.
The story of how exactly I became tangentially involved in ‘food’ at Newham is a long one, but had a delightful outcome this week as I was invited to the launch of the new canteen at Newham’s Dockside office. For years the food there has been outsourced and provided by a large company whose offer was broadly fine, but uninspiring and quite depressing if you were eating there most days as I was for a while. On Monday the place was taken over by Juniper Ventures, the Council’s catering and cleaning service. Bringing this in-house means the staff are now all on the London Living Wage, and our commitment to community wealth building and the environment has led to a whole host of really lovely improvements: a great range of vegan and vegetarian food, sugar smart snacks, the provision of tap water to drink, and much more. I felt for the first time that this canteen, which serves hundreds of Newham employees every day, was telling a very coherent story about the kind of organisation we want to be, and the kind of borough we want to create, and seeing that come to fruition was great, not to mention delicious.
I’ve had some ongoing casework for the past few months about railway arches on Bignold and Strode Roads. These arches have been occupied by squatters, which as one resident pointed out, is not necessarily problematic in itself. What is a problem is that the arches seem to be used at the weekend for informal ‘club nights’ with music and even security, which is causing a significant disturbance to local residents. These are local people who have previously been disturbed by tenants of the arches who ran various car businesses that were best described as ‘somewhat unneighbourly’, so I am especially struck by their having to endure even more disruption.
The arches are owned by Network Rail, so I have been co-ordinating and sharing information between the various people involved to see whether we can support each other to take any necessary action. Our Council enforcement officers have paid a visit, and Licensing are planning to attend. I have been in touch with our great Safer Neighbourhoods Police team, as residents are concerned that some recent crimes may be linked to night time activity there, and I’ve also been in touch with our noise nuisance service. As with many of these kinds of issues, the way to approach them is to think about what the possible legal ways ‘in’ are by which we might be able to, want to, or indeed just be able to justify the use of public money in taking action. In this case I’ve also been in regular touch with the Arches Company who are collating evidence in order to take some legal action to evict the people there. I’ll also liaise with our homelessness officers if and when eviction does happen, to see that we are offering support if the people there need it.
Maryland community group
Last week saw the most recent meeting of the Maryland Community Group, which has now been going strong for several years. We had a very well-attended and helpful meeting, with a wide-ranging agenda including Maryland shop fronts maintenance, fly tipping in Council car parks, and more.
As a result of this, together with Nareser Osei who is one of the councillors from Stratford and Newtown, we are looking into several issues including the car parks, pedestrians at Water Lane, parking and the pavements outside St. Francis School, and more.
The Maryland group are currently fund raising and will split the money raised between Lola’s Homeless, and use the rest for a community planter that will form part of the new public realm outside the station. If you would like to get involved in this, do join the Facebook group ‘Maryland Community Group’ or you can donate to the fundraiser here: www.paypal.me/pools/c/8m5bkqtLom
I particularly wanted to highlight a recent success of the group, who got organised to oppose the ‘downgrading’ of a local development. In a nutshell, a small development got planning permission, but was not built to the same standards as were agreed. They then applied for retrospective planning permit, seeking to get the cheaper changes they’d made signed off. The Maryland group are particularly interested in planning, and high quality building on the main road, and drafted a template response objecting to this application. We just heard that this application has been rejected, so the developer will have to do what they should have done to begin with: to build the development to the specifications agreed when they applied. (I’ll write a bit more about residents’ participation in planning decisions and how I’m hoping to encourage more of it below but this kind of thing is so important, where residents can make a real difference.)
Speaking of Maryland, the Boundary Review Commission consultation on their proposed new wards, including a new ‘Maryland’ ward is closing later this month. Anyone who wants to respond to the proposed new ward boundaries can do so here: https://consultation.lgbce.org.uk/
The consultation closes on the 17th February.
Bloomin’ Forest Gate
I’ve always been really passionate about greening and planting as a way to improve our local area, promote wildlife including bees, and to bring people together, so I’m really pleased to be helping with a project called ‘Bloomin’ Forest Gate’ which has grown out of the Forest Gate Citizens’ Assemblies. It will take place in March and will be a celebration of the planting and green we already have, a chance to learn more about what we can all do to increase the flowers and trees here, and should create more planting for us all to enjoy in the future. Daffodil bulbs were available from the library last year, and have been planted all over Forest Gate (I have spotted some of them starting to come up) so keep an eye out for those, and for the programme of events which will be published soon.
Forest Gate Community School
Our local outstanding secondary school is nearing the end of the works to expand it, which should mean that Kuhn Way is re-opened soon (I need to check exactly when!). As local councillors, Sasha Anam and I were contacted about some potential improvements to the road and pavement outside the school. I have had contact with several residents about this area, and how it could be improved, and have suggested to highways that it would be great to have: a ‘heritage’ style sign showing ‘Kuhn Way, previously known as Parliament Place’, bollards and planters to physically prevent pavement parking, some enforcement work to check that the commercial bins are properly maintained and locked, dropped kerbs for bicycle and cargo bike access, as well as good lighting and CCTV in Kuhn Way now that it will be partially ‘under cover’ (you can read about the final planning decision at the top of a previous ward report here: https://forestgatenorth.com/2019/07/01/rachels-ward-report-july-2019/)
I don’t know how much of the above we’ll be able to get, but am quite optimistic about the bollards and planters, as I know that pavement parking is a real problem here. I’d love to see us install some visitor cycle parking for the school too. So watch this space!
I enjoyed going to the Gate for the launch of a project called ‘Little Shops’ which local artist Rayna Nadeem created, supported by funds through Newham and Crossrail. This is a look at some of the small businesses that make up our high street, including audio files and 360 degree photos. I was particularly pleased to go as Rayna had experienced a problem with getting the project online, and I was able to unblock this for her so that it could eventually be published. To see the project, take a look here: www.dekkoproductions.co.uk and click on ‘Little Shops’.
I don’t report here on detailed casework for reasons of confidentiality, but I have been really pleased recently to have some success in some casework. Sometimes success feels few and far between, not just because of the impact of austerity which severely limits what we’re able to do as an authority, but also because sometimes when things get better the people who have complained to me (understandably) go away and carry on with their lives. So I’m always particularly appreciative when people get back to me and let me know that a solution has been found after I’ve intervened.
I had a very troubling housing case resolved (as I said on twitter, if not ‘ideally’ then certainly ‘satisfactorily’). I’m also told that an ongoing problem of ASB, crime and litter is due to be solved after some joint work which I helped with the housing association, residents and the local police. Some work on the wall, gates and a change to the layout are anticipated to be really helpful here, which is also great to hear. Also you might have noticed the ongoing issue of water pouring out of a flat on Sebert Road, across the pavement and into the road where the market storage is. After some really prompt and helpful work by the private sector licensing team, this leak has stopped (a small pause in typing here to hope that it doesn’t now start again!!), and action has been taken to make sure that the landlord is not renting out accommodation that is substandard. Elsewhere, I contacted the same team about safety concerns in a flat that have now been rectified.
There is always more to do! And I’m constantly plagued by guilt about the amount of ongoing casework I have, which often feels and perhaps is unmanageable. But I always do my best to do whatever I can, fairly, so that residents are treated properly, and it’s very rewarding on the occasions when I know I’ve made a difference.
Forest Gate high street
Although the main part of Woodgrange Road is in Forest Gate South, I do take an active interest in the whole high street, as these are our shops too, and I know the whole of the high street is important to residents.
I am assured that work on the empty run of shops from 39 – 49 Woodgrange Road should begin soon. I have been so disappointed to see these shops empty for so long, and I know residents have too. The developer who originally got planning permission for this site spoke about their commitment to the local area and wanting to contribute to Forest Gate, but since these fine words have sold it on, one presumes at a profit with the planning permission existing. I remain hopeful that when this work is done, the flats are occupied and the shops have tenants, that it will be a positive contribution to our high street. But I have also emailed planning letting them know that in light of other developments in the pipeline (like the Methodist church, and perhaps in future Durning Hall) this one will ‘set a standard’ and that I hope we can keep a close eye on the construction, build quality, and materials to make sure that the conditions we placed on the original permission aren’t deviated from.
I have been temporarily thwarted in my desire to hold a residents’ planning meeting, first by the pre-election period and then by some initial preparation within planning for a larger piece of work on resident engagement. I can only say that I am still hoping to hold a meeting, open to any interested residents, at the library, where you can come along, meet some planners, hear a presentation about the process and the legislation, and ask questions. I will keep trying to make this happen!
As a quick sign-off I wanted to particularly flag the work of the Democracy Commission, which is looking at democracy in Newham and will be making recommendations about how we should work to involve and represent residents. Labour members will know that our directly elected Executive Mayoral model has been the subject of some debate, and Rokhsana Fiaz was elected on a promise of holding a referendum to determine whether this model should continue. The Democracy Commission is working as a preparation to this, looking at different models both of governance and participation, and will be making recommendations that should lead to the referendum. There have been a series of public meetings, and you can still contribute your thoughts and ideas to their work online. Their website is here: https://www.newhamdemocracycommission.org/
I won’t make the obvious parallel, but will say that recent years have shown us that any question asked in a referendum should be very carefully considered and researched before rather than after the vote! I would be disappointed to see us leaping straight to a question like ‘should we have an Executive Mayor? Yes/ no’ and am glad to see an independent commission looking at evidence to consider what might be useful ways forward, and doing proper research so that whatever the answer from the referendum is, we all know we’ve been kept fully informed, and that there is proper planning, consideration and resourcing for the option we choose.
I traditionally end my reports by apologising for the length of them, so perhaps I should stop doing that and just ‘fess up that I do write long councillor reports, that’s just what I do! But I hope that despite being long, they are at least a good way of remaining accountable, and that some parts of them are even quite interesting to people who wonder what on earth councillors get up to.
I am contactable via email : Rachel.firstname.lastname@example.org and although I’m not nearly as fast at getting back to people as I’d like, I will respond to you if you email me. I’m here for any complaints and difficulties, of course, but also always particularly happy to hear from people who have ideas, who want to help do something, and to make a difference.