This is a report on my Forest Gate North councillor work. I’ve recently taken the difficult decision to step away from my Newham cabinet position, but am still here and once again focussing on the ward and local issues. This report is a shorter one than usual as I have recently been unwell with bronchitis. I don’t know what I previously thought bronchitis was (a bit of a cough, maybe?) but can exclusively reveal that it’s hugely unpleasant and laid me low for the best part of two months. Am as ever so grateful to the local NHS. It feels more important now than ever to speak up for the importance of an NHS that is freely available at the point of need.
Members who live around Forest Street will have noticed that Kuhn Way has been blocked up in order for works to take place. If you read this blog regularly you might remember my earlier post about Kuhn Way:
In a nutshell, there were originally two parallel planning applications made by the school as part of their expansion, one which involved permanently closing Kuhn Way (which would have been of significant benefit to a really excellent local school. However I opposed this, after some thought, as I thought maintaining pedestrian access was vital) and one which did not close Kuhn Way. The first of these applications was withdrawn, and the second got permission.
The school then subsequently looked again at this second application. I suspect but cannot confirm, that they previously had not worked too hard on this, hoping that the first would be successful! This is entirely my conjecture though. And they then submitted an updated application. If you are interested, you can look at the planning application, including the designs and drawings, online here:
I am really sorry that I wasn’t able to attend Strategic Development Committee when this most recent application was considered (I was, in slightly dramatic fashion, in A and E with difficulty breathing so my conscience is pretty clear!). I know that there were residents who opposed it, who attended the meeting, and opposed the temporary closure of Kuhn Way. I was however reassured to see the following in the minutes of the meeting:
‘The Chair invited Neil Deely, Chair of the Design Review panel to comment on the application. Mr Deely, commenting on the concerns raised regarding the underpass, said that the design team had given that much thought. They considered that better lighting would create a brighter environment than present; with the CCTV, new paving and wall, it should feel safer.’
The Design Review Panel are an expert panel who advise the committee on design. As a Strategic Development Committee member, I value their advice and expertise very highly, and know that they would not have made the comments above unless they’d scrutinised the designs very carefully, and that their design opinion will be genuine and not influenced by other factors.
It’s therefore, on balance my opinion that whilst closure of Kuhn Way for 9 months while the work takes place is not at all ideal, and whilst I understand the concern about wider footbridges over it, I think on balance this does represent an acceptable compromise. I think it recognises the need for a brilliant local school to use the constrained space available to it most effectively, but also balances this with the needs of the local community too. An unpopular compromise might not be the most exciting solution (and indeed there is an argument that now no one is happy!) but I do think we’ve reached the best, or even the ‘least worst’ outcome and a positive way forward.
Talking of schools, we have just launched a consultation to pilot the first ‘school street closures’ in Newham, and I am enormously pleased and excited about this. Two of the schools that are part of this pilot are our very own Woodgrange and Godwin schools.
I will write a separate blog post just about this, but in essence you may have seen school streets on the news, in Camden, Hackney, Redbridge or even further afield. The basic idea is that the street or streets outside a school are closed to traffic at dropping off and picking up time. This improves the air quality for our schoolchildren, also reduces the number of car accidents. There are a number of other, less immediately tangible benefits too. Children report that their trip to school feels more peaceful and happy, and they begin school in a less stressful way. Also, parents and carers begin to change their behaviour and to walk or cycle to school instead of driving.
There are exceptions to the closure: residents of the closed roads can still move their cars if they need to, also cars with disabled blue badges are exempt. But all other traffic is forbidden from passing through, meaning that the street is quiet, and everyone can peacefully and safely walk into school, congregate outside, and indeed play in the street if they wish.
As a parent at the above schools, I obviously have a personal as well as policy interest in this. I can confirm that the pavements outside the schools are crammed in the mornings and afternoons with buggies, scooters, small children on bikes, and the roads are often also rammed both with drivers who are ‘rat running’ through these small streets, but also I am sorry to say with parents who every single day ignore the teachers and the zigzag markings, and pull up outside the schools ‘just for a minute’ to drop their children off, or park a few metres up the road with their engines running, pumping out exhaust fumes at toddler head height. It is not fair to ask our teachers to intervene in traffic altercations (though they do!) and this proposed closure would make a difference to their working day as well as to our children’s health.
Consultation letters have gone out to homes around the schools, and I am working with a small group of parents who are very committed and want to help make this happen. Any kind of road closure is always controversial. But I hope that we can make this work in Forest Gate, and that if we can make a success of it, we can provide a kind of ‘blue print’ that will encourage other schools across the borough to follow suit. I am organising some specific door knocking and flyering about this scheme, and any local Labour members (or indeed parents, or residents) who are interested in joining us are more than welcome. Just drop me a line.
The Healthy School Streets consultation, and more information about the pilots, is available online here:
Long-time blog readers might remember a post I wrote about guerrilla gardening some time ago:
Since then I have seen various other small bits of gardening springing up: a roundabout in the conservation area, a tree pit here and there. And then, suddenly, an explosion of life and a riot of flowers, seemingly everywhere.
The reason for this is no more or less than brilliant and dedicated residents who wanted to make it happen. ‘Greening’ was one of the pieces of work that came out of our local Citizens Assembly, and one particular resident has been unstoppable in marshalling troops of volunteers, applying for small grants from the Council, and planting up any spaces she can find, supported by other residents and the Community Garden.
The map that local resident Lia Rees produced shows where you can see the work done… so far! Pleasingly, it is already out of date. Even just now I was admiring the lemon balm in the new planter outside Fred’s on the market place, and there are vegetables and other edibles free for taking in the planters outside the Wild Goose Bakery on Field Road. If you want to see more of this kind of thing, then please do get involved. The easiest way to do this is to water and look after the planting we have. But if you have more time and energy and would like to be involved making planters/ sourcing plants / digging etc then drop me a line and I can put you in touch with ‘the flower starter’.
Forest Gate meeting
Recently our beloved Number8 Forest Gate organised some crowd funding, to help them through some difficult times. The crowdfunder is now closed (though you can go online and feel good about what a great and supportive community we have, by looking at how we exceeded the fundraising target: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/save-2?fbclid=IwAR1ZrLV-sj25i9e0c1L1b4EMC2ZuATPYp3drncqvXwwZcOG0AWNlqFN97Qo )
I know that there are a lot of strong feelings about the various things happening to our high street, some of which are local and down to the Council, some of which, to be frank, are not.
I am very sorry that I wasn’t able to come to a public meeting that the Mayor organised for local people to have their say, ask questions, and be involved in putting together some ideas for improvement. I will certainly be involved in the follow-up. I know there is particular concern about the empty shops on Woodgrange Road, and also about the impact of the over-running public realm works around the station.
But I also need to help amplify the fact that we all, and I include myself in this, need to use our local shops and market. If you love having a market, if you love having local independent shops, then please do support them in any way you can. Even making a small purchase regularly can help. The more people buy from our market, the easier it is for them to attract more stall holders. The more people purchase from number 8, the more likely they are to be able to stay. In the days of Amazon, of out of town retail, of rising business rates (set nationally, I should add) and economic uncertainty, things are hard for our treasured small businesses. There are things that the Council can and must do, but a responsibility for all of us to make sure our spending, or at least part of our spending, supports the kind of place where we want to live.
I have blogged about the MSG sphere and local opinion about the application separately here:
The London Legacy Development Corporation planning meeting that will determine the application is due to meet in the next couple of months I believe. I am still ensuring that I keep an open mind about the application because I am a ‘reserve’ member of the planning committee, so if either Daniel Blaney or James Beckles cannot attend that night, I will need to attend, hear the evidence, and ensure that Newham has its say. If I were to take a position, either for or against, then I would not be eligible to vote.
Forest Gayte Pride
I can’t write this report on this sunny Monday without referring to the explosion of love, diversity, acceptance and rainbows that was Saturday’s third Forest Gayte Pride. If there is a better representation of the spirit of Forest Gate: joyful, celebratory, proudly diverse, politically progressive, faintly anarchic, friendly, community driven, excellently decorated and abundantly catered, then I don’t know what it is.
This year was bigger and better than ever, with the addition of a play street road closure on Earlham Grove, a bigger parade, and even more events happening over the course of the weekend. I was so proud to be part of the play street, and it was lovely to meet so many parents, children and other residents who joined me in my ‘Pride rocks’ set up, where we decorated stones to spread the love and the Pride message. (If you like the idea of decorated stones, hidden around Forest Gate for children and the young at heart to find, and hide again, then please do join my Facebook group, ‘Forest Gate Rocks’!)
I am so very, very grateful to the Forest Gayte Pride committee for all their work in making this happen. Friends from all over Newham came to Forest Gayte today to enjoy the very best of our hard working community, and our local businesses, and I could not be more proud to live here.
I was particularly reflective this year, thinking about LGBTQ rights, and how recent political events show us how hard won equality can be so quickly taken away. I am especially pleased to be bringing up my family in a place where all kinds of families, and all kinds of love are not just tolerated, but actively represented, championed and celebrated. I was angry and confused as a teenager when I realised that my sex and relationships education had lingered for hours on AIDS but had never mentioned homosexuality. It would be years before I realised that this was not an accidental omission, but a decided political stance that was only fairly recently changed.
Now it is legally required to have inclusive SRE, and what a joy it is as a parent to know that my girls will know not only that different types of families exist, but that they can love who they love, and their local community will embrace them, and whoever they bring home. I know that this topic is one that raises strong feelings, but nevertheless I will, along with Sasha and Anam, unapologetically stand up for this, and represent the right of all our residents to know that their lives and their families are part of our education system.
As ever, I always keep the details of my individual bits of casework confidential, but can report back on some general themes. Lots of people contacting me, Sasha and Anam about housing, which is always difficult to deal with. We are of course committed to building housing at social rent levels, which will help in the medium term to ameliorate the problem, but is no good right now to people in turmoil who are looking for somewhere to live and cannot afford to stay near their family, friends and community. I try to be as helpful as I can be, and signpost people to other services (the Shelter housing advice line, the Magpie Project, etc.) but am often dispirited about their overall chances of finding somewhere affordable where they can live with dignity.
I have had a gradually increasing number of complaints from residents about repairs and maintenance on their properties, both from Newham residents but also increasingly from the residents of housing associations. That’s partly why I was delighted to hear from John Gray that we now have local housing resident engagement officers, whose job is to deal with exactly the kind of issues that are raised with me in my surgery and via email.
I hope that was a useful insight into some of the work involved in representing you locally. I would like to apologise to anyone who has been waiting for a response from me; my emails got entirely out of control whilst I had bronchitis, and I am only slowly catching up.