Hello and welcome to my latest ward report. There are lots of ways to keep up with the work that I’m doing as your elected councillor, but probably the easiest ones are online, by following me on twitter (um, whether twitter is still with us in the near future is another matter), or by reading my blog here on http://www.forestgatenorth.com Here I publish updates and posts about local things that are happening, as well as periodically rounding up all or most of my work in a report like this one.
Welcome back Sasha
Firstly, a big congratulations and welcome back to my ward colleague Sasha, who has taken some well-deserved time off after the happy arrival of her baby boy. She is now rejoining us for some councillor work, but will still (if I have anything to do with it) be taking it slowly and seeing how things go.
Here she is leafletting and chatting to parents and children about the proposed new LTNs (more info below) with me and a couple of officers outside Woodgrange Infants School.
Councillor surgeries have taken something of a back seat whilst everyone was limiting all physical contact because of Covid, but are now up and running again. Sasha and I are holding our surgeries on the second and third Saturdays of the month, at the Gate library on Woodgrange Road, from 10am – 11am. If you are a Forest Gate North resident and you would like to speak to us, if you have a question or a concern or a query, a complaint or a good idea for the area, then do come along at this time. There is no need for an appointment, and we’d be glad to chat with you. If you cannot make it at this time, do contact us by email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
The Elizabeth line
To be clear: I am absolutely not claiming any credit for this one! But it would seem remiss to write anything about Forest Gate without sharing the great news that starting on the 6th November, Elizabeth line trains now run straight through so that you can get on a train at Forest Gate station and travel all the way to Paddington without changing.
Of course this is all enormously delayed, and much much later than we were all promised. But after so very many years of disruption and promises, it was hugely exciting to see the new trains on Sunday and to try them out. Regular blog readers will remember the long period of time when the station had temporary stairs, not to mention the various closures, and the public realm works around the station too. Having this connection into the west end, and in the future beyond, not to mention having lifts at the platform too is hugely important for Forest Gate. There is lots more information about the new trains online here: https://tfl.gov.uk/travel-information/improvements-and-projects/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-elizabeth-line
Capel and Woodgrange Low Traffic Neighbourhoods
As per the photo above, we were outside Woodgrange Infants school having conversations with parents and carers about this work, and will be doing similar outside Godwin and also Chestnut nursery. I have already written a whole blog post about it, which you can read here. And I’ve also written something about what exactly a Low Traffic Neighbourhood is, which is here.
But in a nutshell, we’re at a really early stage. We have done some collecting of data, including vehicle counts, and an online survey. We’ve issued the first leaflet, summarising it all (you can read that here). The next stage will be in January, where we’ll be publishing a proposed design for the new LTNs, showing where filters could go. At this stage, with a draft design, it will be even more important to get lots of feedback about the design and how it could work.
In the meantime, council officers like Arun and David pictured above are working really hard with councillors and others to plan and carry out the communications we need in order to make this all work. I’ve been a part of meetings with the cemetery at the end of Sebert Road, and with Woodgrange and Godwin schools, and have linked up officers with other local groups including the market, and the Forest Gate Festival. Needless to say I’ll be talking about this a lot more in the future, as the potential to make a real difference to our roads, and to make them safer and quieter for walking and cycling is really huge and very exciting.
Whilst I was chatting to one of the parents at Woodgrange this week, she started to ask me why her area wasn’t included in the map of the Capel and Woodgrange LTNs. I was delighted to be able to tell her, “That’s because you’re in an LTN already!” The Odessa LTN stretches across the western side of Forest Gate North ward, and if and when we get the Capel one installed that means that the whole of the ward will be part of an LTN.
Meanwhile, the Odessa LTN has been made permanent (meaning that the temporary traffic orders that the modal filters were installed under are now permanent ones) and this provides the starting point for lots more potential improvement work in the future. The aim is for the filters which are currently wooden planters to become permanent fixtures like built-out pavements and pocket parks. The officers in highways are working to secure some funding to make some of this happen and I’ll share the information as soon as I can.
In other news, cameras have been installed at several filters that were routinely being damaged / vandalised, and seem to have made a huge difference.
I had a very useful catch up with colleagues from Enforcement and highlighted some areas where we would appreciate some more action. I highlighted the problems at Odessa road park (more on that later) and also talked to them about the persistent issues on the marketplace: illegal parking, rubbish dumping. I told them how this is a space that hundreds of local people walk past every day on their way to the station, to local schools, or to use local shops, and how much of an eyesore it is, and how emotionally important it is to us as a focal point.
One of the biggest problems at the marketplace is the collection of rubbish from the nearby flats above shops. These flats do not have space for wheelie bins, so are on what’s known as a Timed Waste Collection. There are two hour long slots each day when bags of rubbish can be left out by the road, and are picked up by refuse collectors. Now, in theory that means that rubbish is only left out during these two short periods, and because the collections are so frequent, the amounts left out are relatively small.
In actual fact, as we know, residents of those flats leave rubbish out at different times, and once a bag of rubbish is left out in a visible location, it quickly ‘attracts’ other rubbish, from fly tipped household furniture etc to the empty coffee cup that is carefully balanced on top of other rubbish. Then, if even one of the timed waste collections is missed, the rubbish builds up and quickly becomes really visible and obvious, both detracting from our beautiful marketplace, sometimes staining it, and also in turn attracting even more litter and fly tipping.
There are a few things we can do in order to help here. We can, and have done, letter drops to local flats to remind them about the times and the places where domestic waste can be put out. This helps a bit, although turnover in these kinds of flat is very high so the effects tends to be temporary.
Enforcement will also take action when rubbish is left out with identifying information on it. (If you saw a woman on Woodgrange Road last week photographing a piece of packaging with an address on it, well that would have been me.) We had long discussions between waste colleagues and highways and others when the marketplace was redesigned about whether we could include some form of larger bin here for rubbish to be placed into, but as above the decision in the end was that doing so would effectively ‘design in’ even more rubbish, and would consolidate rather than reduce the problem.
I think this was a hard call to make, but I do think it was the right decision. Only recently there was a trade waste bin, a large green one, left out unlocked on the marketplace which very quickly became a problem that was only really addressed when I emailed the company who provided it who quickly came and took it away. Where there are trade waste bins, in order that they don’t make things worse they need to be easily identifiable, with the name of the company using them preferably on the side, and also kept locked.
Although parking enforcement is a separate team from enforcement, I also spoke to them about the issue of cars and vans parking up on the marketplace, and the problems this creates: making the pavement unsafe, potentially cracking and breaking our granite setts, and generally adding to an air of lawlessness: the idea that drivers can drive and park wherever they want, and pedestrians should bear the responsibility for looking out for them, and keeping themselves safe.
Odessa Road green space
I have been in touch with several residents who live around this small park, who have been concerned about noise, music and unlicensed events, crime and drug use in this park. Things reached something of a crisis point with a gunshot wound one evening, and residents were understandably very upset not to mention frightened.
As well as meeting Enforcement officers and local police at the park, I met with Carleene Lee-Phakoe, cabinet member lead for Enforcement, as well as local police and some residents who were joined by the Mayor too. We discussed some possible solutions, recognising some of the restrictions in terms of resources available both to the police and the Council. There has been an increased police and Council enforcement officer presence there, particularly since the gunshot injury, and also it is always the case that as the weather gets wetter, darker and colder, some outside ASB will just disperse because being outside is less pleasant.
I’m discussing with officers whether it would be useful to install some CCTV (as ever, not a panacea, but sometimes can have a useful deterrent effect) and in particular whether there is any scope to install higher fencing and lock up the park at night. Currently this space has low, waist height railings around it, and is open 24 hours a day. Part of me is saddened at the idea of enclosing and securing spaces, but also I recognise from speaking to residents that they are significantly disturbed by out of hours, anti social use of the park.
I’d also like to add that I’m really conscious too of us all being really clear about what constitutes a disturbance here. Sometimes certain groups of people, particularly groups of BAME young men, are criminalised simply for being in an area and enjoying an outside space. I was reassured that where people are using the park as it was intended: a space to play sport, to socialise, to use the basketball court, to hang out with friends, this is of course entirely as things should be and not in any way a problem. The issues that we were concerned with were around, for example, intimidation, drug use, litter, amplified music played late into the night, etc.
The UP garden
Absolutely not my achievement, but rather that of a small band of people headed up by incredible local resident Suz, who have transformed an old, concreted, weed-filled laundry yard into a vibrant green community space. If you’ve not visited the UP garden yet then do go online to theupgarden.org , find out when their next event is, and consider donating your time, money, or materials to support this lovely local project.
I am in regular contact with colleagues in Greenspace about trees and planting as I know how important these issues are to residents of Forest Gate. In particular, I’m always very keen to hear from anyone who has spotted an empty tree pit: existing tree pits can be very easily and relatively cheaply replanted, and are a great way of increasing our tree cover in the ward, making the ward more beautiful, greener, cooler, among other benefits. If you see an empty tree pit, please do email me and let me know the address that it is closest to. If that’s tricky because, for example it’s at a junction, then please let me know the address as precisely as you can, and also add a ‘What 3 words‘ reference just to make sure officers can find it. Several tree pits that residents have sent me have already been replanted, and it gives me a lot of pleasure walking past them and seeing them grow.
As well as existing tree pits, there are also a few Council-owned areas of grass across the ward, which I’ve long hoped could be planted up in the future. Often these are bits of LBN housing land which form part of our old estates, commonly on the end of a building, and often with railings around a simple grassed area that is cut periodically. I have just heard back that one of those will be planted as part of next year’s planting schedule, and if this comes to fruition (pun not intended) then I hope to collect more green spaces across the ward where we could have more trees.
Planting more trees, and maintaining those that we already have, is a really important part of our work. (You can read a blog post I wrote about that last year, here.)
Forest Lane Park Green Flag
Talking of green space, I was really delighted to attend the ceremony to raise the Green Flag over Forest Lane Park recently. When I was doing the Environment cabinet role, we had just one Green Flag for Plashet Park , and were very proud of gaining it. So learning this year that we now have six, with plans for more, was great news.
This is the result of some really significant work and improvement at a borough level, including bringing our Greenspace services back in house. Forest Lane Park is a real asset to the ward, and although the playground which is next to Forest Lane is really well known and used, I do still meet people who aren’t aware of the green space behind it, or for example the woodland trail or the dipping pond. James raised the flag, and I also took some time to meet the officers who have done the hard work of improving and maintaining the park, letting them know how much we all appreciate them.
As I’m typing, we just had the latest Community Assembly last night, where residents came along to hear about the projects that we all voted to allocate funding towards. The leaders of those projects were there, and available to talk to us about the work they were doing. Even with yesterday’s train strike impeding attendance somewhat, it was a great event and as ever a lovely chance to see up close the energy and commitment of so many Forest Gate residents. I’m a member of the Working Group which has an advisory role in overseeing the projects’ implementation, and will be pairing up with a few of them, so I’ll be feeding back more on these.
If you couldn’t make the assembly itself, you can still read all about the successful projects and progress online here.
As part of the community assembly, we watched a video tribute to Sophie Rigg, who tragically died recently. It is very hard to know what to write here, and other people have spoken more eloquently and movingly about what her life and friendship and hard work meant to them. I knew Sophie through her contribution to Forest Gate Arts, and to the Community Garden. She was talented and brilliant but also quiet, never self-promoting, and a steadfast and enormously valued contributor to life in Newham. It was a privilege to have known her, and I know many other Forest Gate residents along with me will never forget her.
Collision at the station
There was a serious collision near Forest Gate station on the 26th October where tragically a pedestrian was hit by a vehicle and died. I met with officers from Highways the following week, and a blog post about that is available here which summarises the investigation that will now happen, and some additional work on safety that the Council will do, and which I’ll aim to be a part of. As I write this, there was another collision on Woodgrange Road this week, which fortunately did not result in a serious injury but as before, officers are aware and working with the police to establish what happened, and whether anything needs to change as a result.
Inspired by some recent training, I did some live tweeting from a Licensing hearing this week, which you can read here if you’re minded to:
It gives an account of my submission to Licensing, and the hearing itself. I share it not so much to share details about this individual case (although it is important as it’s at a currently problematic location where other businesses are the subject of various complaints), but more to show an aspect of the Councillor role that I do, and take very seriously as part of my responsibility to residents.
As I said in the thread above, I was very reassured in this case by meeting the applicants from the business, who were very friendly, knowledgeable and collaborative. This makes an enormous difference, and makes me feel much more hopeful that whatever the Licensing result, we can work together to make sure that the business and local residents can peacefully co-exist.
Parking on the marketplace
Anyone who follows me on social media will know that I am perpetually angry about the near-constant pavement parking on our lovely pavement at the marketplace at the junction of Woodgrange and Sebert Roads. My camera roll on my phone is full of pictures like the one above, and I have the number for Newham Parking Enforcement saved into my phone, regularly ringing them up to ask them to attend. If you pass by the marketplace too, then I’d urge you to do the same. As well as sending out officers, the data on where reports are made helps to show where problem areas are.
(Phone the Parking Enforcement Line on 020 3373 0660 or email Parking.EnforcementRequests@newham.gov.uk
Parking Enforcement Service’s operational times are Monday to Saturday: 07:00 – 22.00 and Sunday and bank holidays: 08:00 – 21:00.)
I had a very helpful introductory meeting with the head of Parking Enforcement, who manages a very difficult and controversial role with considerable knowledge and tact. She is as accustomed to people saying that there is too much parking enforcement, as she is to people telling her that there is none / not enough. As ever, it’s probably helpful to write a reminder here that parking offences in all but a handful of quite specific cases are not allowed to be enforced by camera. In order to issue a PCN, an officer must physically visit, thanks to legislation that was introduced some time ago by Eric Pickles, specifically with the aim of limiting Council’s powers here as far as I can tell.
We have a few issues on the marketplace. There are vans that drive onto it every day in order to take deliveries, there are cars that park on the access way that leads down besides what used to be Fred’s / CoffeE7, and there are cars that drive onto it at night (or sometimes during the day) and use it as a free parking space. Of course one thing that can help is additional enforcement, which I’m constantly advocating for, and which calling the number above will help with.
One thing that sadly contributes towards parking here is the wide dropped-kerb at the corner, which some drivers claim they think is an access point. I’m in touch with Highways about installing some additional barriers here (perhaps a bollard, combined with a planter).The important thing is to still leave enough space for wheelchair users, people with buggies, etc, to use the dropped kerb, but to physically prevent cars from using it. I’m hopeful that this will cut down on some of the parking, but also feel quite strongly that I don’t think we should have to physically barricade in all of our public spaces in order to keep them free of vehicles! Needless to say, I’ll share more on this as soon as I have it.
Romford Road scheme
Although it’s outside the ward, there is a piece of working starting on Romford Road that I know many residents will be pleased to hear about, and may want to contribute their thoughts and ideas towards.
We all know that Romford Road is a key route across the borough, and is also quite notably unsafe not to say unpleasant to use as a pedestrian or cyclist. This piece of work aims to change that by improving the pavements, improving access for the many bus services that use the road, and adding a proper cycling route.
If you are interested in this project then do log onto Newham CoCreate and leave your comments. There is an interactive map where you can leave comments and ideas, and the more input we have there, the better.
I don’t share details about individual casework, for reasons of confidentiality, but suffice to say that things have been busy, particularly with being a lone councillor for the ward for a while. As always, if you need me to get back to you, please do email me. I do try to reply to DMs on social media, or to being tagged on Facebook or twitter, but these do go astray sometimes, whereas a request in my Inbox means that I will get back to you.
Looking at my casework recently, it has been, let’s say ‘rich and varied’. A steady stream of people who need homes, who are being evicted from their private rental accommodation, who have been bidding on the Council waiting list for some time and not been successful. I have enormous sympathy for these residents, often long term Forest Gaters who are being forced out of the area or who are remaining in overcrowded or inappropriate accommodation because they can’t afford anything else. I speak (again, without giving details) about these cases in almost every interaction I have with housing developers as part of my planning role, and tell them that what Newham needs is family sized accommodation, at social rent. I should add that of course going to a councillor does not give you any advantage in bidding for a Council home – the criteria for that are published and cannot be circumvented. But sometimes if something is going wrong or not working, or paperwork has been lost, or a resident is otherwise not able to get a response, I can intervene and try to get things moving again.
I’ve noticed a real increase in casework concerning repairs by Housing Associations. One particular Housing Association is taking up so much of my time in chasing up that I’ve started to become quite despairing. Of course I do also get casework from residents who are complaining, rightfully, that repairs that Newham should be carrying out are not being done. So I’m reluctant to immediately condemn anyone. But it’s also obvious to me that something is going really seriously wrong, and I’m advocating for residents as strongly as I can for repairs, timely updates on progress, realistic deadlines, and recompense where appropriate.
Thank you for reading all the way through this ridiculously long report. I am not sure whether I should apologise for the length… as an apology would suggest that I’ll do it differently next time. Perhaps I’m just inherently someone who writes long ward updates, and I should embrace that part of me and not deny it!
For shorter updates, you can follow me on twitter whilst it still exists. Also do subscribe to this blog or check back periodically to read my occasional shorter pieces as they come out. But in the meantime, full on ward reports are always there for those nights when insomnia threatens and you need something to help you drop off….
Take care, all.