WHAT WALTHAM FOREST LABOUR PARTY DOES WHEN IT GETS FULL CONTROL OF THE COUNCIL

Illustration by Eva Bee
Illustration by Eva Bee

What is powerlessness? Try this for a definition: you stand to lose the home where you’ve lived for more than 20 years and raised two boys. And all your neighbours stand to lose theirs. None of you have any say in the matter. Play whatever card you like – loud protest, sound reason, an artillery of facts – you can’t change what will happen to your own lives.

Imagine that, and you have some idea of what Sonia Mckenzie is going through. In one of the most powerful societies in human history – armed to the teeth and richer than ever before – she apparently counts for nothing. No one will listen to her, or the 230-odd neighbouring households who face being wrenched from their families and friends. All their arguments are swallowed up by silence. And the only reason I can come up with for why that might be is that they’ve committed the cardinal sin of being poor in a rich city.

Sonia lives in one of the most famous landmarks in east London. The Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers are the first things you see getting off the train at Leytonstone High Road station; they hulk over every conversation on the surrounding streets and the football matches on Wanstead Flats. Since completion in the 1960s, they’ve provided affordable council homes with secure tenancies to thousands of families. Named after two local councillors, they are a testament in bricks and mortar to a time when the public sector felt more of a responsibility to the people it was meant to protect, and exercised it too.

And so they must go. Last month, Waltham Forest council agreed on a plan to strip back the two high-rises to their concrete shells, rebuild the flats, and in effect flog off one of the towers to the private sector. In between Fred and John, it will put up a third block.

What’s this long and costly job (£44m is the starting estimate) in aid of? Not to build more council homes. Amid London’s worst housing crisis since the aftermath of the second world war, local politicians plan to cut the number of council flats on the site from 225 to 160. You can guess what the rest will be: luxury flats sold as investments to foreign investors and buy-to-letters for half a million pounds a pop, and some “affordable” units to serve as PR mitigation. This is in a borough where 20,000 households are waiting for a council property.

Nor is this a choice being forced on the Labour-run council because of spending cuts and tough choices, and all that blah. By its own estimates, the project will blow about £14m of public money. Councillors admit it would be far easier and cheaper to repair and refurbish the blocks. It would also leave the borough with more social housing, and Sonia and her neighbours in peace.

Here, then, is a scheme that is expensive, illogical and unpopular. How does a local government push it through? By cheating. A strong term, but I challenge you to follow the sequence and not use it too.

First, council staff outlined the options to a few handfuls of households, without giving any detailed written explanations. Sonia remembers how one of the meetings was combined with a mini-funfair, where children from the estate were given candy floss. Then last summer officials produced a scientific-looking survey of residents, to capture how they felt about the proposed “improvements”, though there were still no details.

When residents finally found out what the council’s proposals would mean for them, they kicked off. A petition went round the estate, rejecting the grand scheme and calling for cheaper and less intrusive rebuilding: 60% of the residents signed up. Then came a November public meeting attended by more than a hundred angry people, at which council representatives were shouted down, and residents organised an impromptu vote against the council proposals. They begged for assistance from their Labour MP and their Labour councillors. No one helped.

So: a council decides to play at speculative property development (and local council taxpayers should pray that London’s housing bubble doesn’t pop over the next five years). It keeps residents in the dark over what its plans mean. And in the face of the eventual and inevitable protest, it pretends they aren’t happening, referring to “a handful” of malcontents. The easiest way to prove that is by offering residents a vote, as Westminster council did recently with one of its schemes. Fat chance of that happening here.

Just underneath the municipal formalities runs a thick vein of contempt from the representatives for the people they are meant to represent – and from a Labour party machine to what was once its core vote.

“The council is treating us worse than something stuck on their shoe,” says Sonia. And although she’s lived in the area her entire life, she knows that she and her son – now finishing off his A-levels – have become second-class citizens. They are reminders of Waltham Forest’s past as one of the most deprived boroughs in all of England.

Thanks to the inflation in the capital’s house prices, the area has recently become home to a new group of the relatively well-to-do. Having tasted gentrification, local politicians want more. “The Council wants to make the borough a place where high- and middle-income people choose to live and can afford,” reads Waltham Forest’s core strategy.

What they want to do with low-income people doesn’t need mission statements. Earlier this year the council tried to shift a soup kitchen run by a Christian charity out of the town centre, where it had been for 25 years, to an industrial estate in a layby off a dual carriageway. The soup kitchen and the poor people it attracted got in the way of the council’s “growth strategy”. Only the intervention of a judge forced a retreat.

In the run-up to what’s likely to be the tightest general election in years, both politicians and commentators are already bemoaning British voters: they don’t know what they want, they’re incoherent, they’re apathetic. But Sonia in Waltham Forest can tell you what a nonsense those charges are. If politicians can strip a part of the electorate of its voice, pretend to consult when really they mean boss about, and then ignore the comeback, they really mustn’t be surprised when voters forgo the ballot box for simmering resentment.

RUCKHOLT ROAD – goes Dutch!

Waltham Forest Council is one of the few Councils, successful in their bid to Transport for London for ‘Mini Holland’ funds to radically improve cycling in the borough. One of the areas for improvement is Ruckholt Road.

At a consultation meeting in Leyton Library, Lib Dem Focus Team member, Bob Sullivan had a chance to discuss the plans with officers and residents. Overall the scheme looks innovative and will assist safer cycling in the area. Bob outlined many small changes that would improve the scheme for cyclists and residents. The main one was allowing a left turn from Oliver Road into Ruckholt Road. Blocking the left turn would only encourage vehicle rat running.

He also said that the present bus stop in Ruckholt Road by the library should not be moved to Warren Road. The area in Warren Road is constantly used by motorists to park and shop locally in the High Road.

He also felt that the two current CPZs need to be combined and the times of operation extended.

Bob says: My full list of comments and suggestions has been sent to the Council. Focus will keep you informed of developments.

LION AND KEY TO BECOME A HOTEL

Former Lion and Key public house

The Council’s planning officer has approved the change of use of Lion and Key House, in Leyton High Road, from a care home into a hotel.

Further details should be available on the Council’s website by quoting application number 2014/0380 in the Planning Explorer.

Leyton Conservation Area

The Council is proposing to designate part of Leyton Town Centre as a Conservation Area. The area stretches from Buckingham Road (Coronation Gardens) along the High Road as far as Leyton Underground Station

What is a Conservation Area?

It is an area of special architectural or historic interest. The special character can include buildings, parks and open spaces, trees and landscaping, paving and street furniture etc.

This part of Leyton is of particular historical interest and includes two grade 2 statutorily listed buildings (Leyton Library and the old Leyton Torn Hall), the locally listed building at 267 High Road (formerly Barclays Bank) and the Victorian Coronation Gardens.

Extra Planning Protection

Conservation area designation gives broad protection to an area, and all features within the area are recognised as part of its character. The Council, as the local planning authority, would have extra powers to control works to protect, or improve, the character or appearance of the area.

Exhibition at Leyton Library

There will be a public exhibition in the foyer of Leyton Library from 18 February until 18 March. Council officers will be present on the following days to answer any questions:

Tuesday 19 February – between 4 and 7pm

Wednesday 28 February – between 11am and 2pm

Comments

Any comments should be received by Friday 15 March, and should be sent to:

MAIL: Jacinta Fisher, Conservation Officer, London Borough of Waltham Forest, Room GO8, Sycamore House, Town Hall, Walthamstow, E17 4JF

E-MAIL: urbandesign@walthamforest.gov.uk

TELEPHONE: for any questions call Jacinta Fisher on 020 8496 6737

Old Leyton Town Hall – public house licence approved

Application Numbers: 2012/1444 & 2012/1445/LB

Location: former Leyton Municipal Offices

Description: Change of use of ground floor and basement on the High Road frontage from restaurant (use class A3) to drinking establishment (use class A4) and formation of bin store on the Adelaide Road frontage.

Public House application approved with many conditions relating to the building’s listed building status. Full details can be seen on the council’s website, by quoting the application numbers on the Planning Explorer.

Planning change ‘recipe for disaster’

Waltham Forest Lib Dems warn government that planning change ‘recipe for disaster’

Waltham Forest Liberal Democrats have criticised Government proposals to relax planning laws for a three-year period and labelled them a ‘recipe for disaster’. The Lib Dems successfully passed a motion at full council receiving cross-party support to oppose the changes proposed by the government.

The Government announced in the summer plans to kick start the building industry.  A public consultation was launched to extend the exemption for planning permission for home extensions of up to 6 metres.  Legislation currently allows for extensions up to 3 metres to avoid the planning process.  If the proposals became law, owners of street properties could find their rear windows flanked by six-metre extensions on both sides, plunging them into darkness for most of the day.

Developers could be allowed to by-pass planning controls to fast-track commercial and housing applications. Business premises would be able to expand by 100sq metres and industrial units by 200sq metres. Offices would be permitted to convert to residential use all without planning permission, irrespective of the impact they would have on a neighbourhood.

Waltham Forest Liberal Democrats fear the plans will potentially block out light, split communities, damage conservation policies and do nothing to encourage economic growth locally that is not achieved already.

The Government’s proposals are currently out for consultation.  Liberal Democrats at their annual conference also rejected the move overwhelmingly.

 

Liberal Democrat Planning Spokesperson, Councillor Liz Phillips, said:

“These proposals are a recipe for disaster. They have not been properly thought through.  If this is allowed to happen it could set neighbour against neighbour and split communities in Waltham Forest for years to come.

“On top of the resentment and loss of quality of life, some people’s houses will also plummet in value if they’ve got no light or a noisy factory is within a few metres of their front door.

“There is no evidence that this will do anything to promote economic growth in Waltham Forest.  The Government needs to ditch these divisive and unnecessary plans.”

WHAT LOCAL BUSINESSES WANT FOR CHRISTMAS!

LIB DEMS CALL FOR COUNCIL RETHINK OVER PARKING IN THE BOROUGHWith problems over the CPZ consultation and plans by Waltham Forest Council to sell off the Stanley Road Car Park in Bakers Arms shopping area, parking is fast becoming a big issue in the Borough.

Lib Dems are opposing plans by the council to sell off the car park at Bakers Arms. And have gone further by asking the council to extend free parking times over the Christmas period to help local businesses.

Cllr Mahmood Hussain, Lib Dem Environment spokesperson said:

“With Christmas coming up, now would be the perfect time to help local businesses by extending the 15 minutes free parking time up to 30 minutes for the remaining few weeks. This would help our local shops compete with supermarkets and the big shopping centres nearby.

“And selling off the Bakers’ Arms car park is clearly the wrong decision. The car park is badly signposted at the moment but if we could bring it back into proper use it could be a great asset for local businesses.

“Cabinet members need to rethink parking in the Borough and focus on how it can help local businesses.”

Chair of the Bakers’ Arms Business Forum, Suleman Ahmed said:

“We should be taking advantage of the resource that we have in this car park at Bakers’ Arms. If the car park was better managed and better signposted by the council then it would not need to be sold off.

“Extending free parking would also be a great boost to local businesses in the run up to the Christmas period.”

Planning Decisions

295 Leyton High Road

The plans to change the use of the retail shops to an instant loan office have been refused by the Planning Officers.

20 Rosedene Terrace

Also refused were plans for one and two storey side extensions at this address.

Primrose Road/Vicarage Road junction

St. Joseph's Hall

Residents are concerned about what is going to happen to the old St. Joseph’s Hall on the corner of Primrose Road and Vicarage Road.

It has been boarded up for years and has become an unsightly blot on the corner.

FOCUS understands that previous plans to build a nursery and plans for flats and community hall have been turned down by the Council.

I am investigating what the problem is with this building, and will report back with any developments.

Planning Update – 590/594 Leyton High Road

 

Vacant plot at the junction of Leyton High Road and Hainault Road

Planning Application 2011/0870

This application covered the erection of a 3-5 storey building, with office use on the ground floor and 23 residential units with three disabled parking spaces.  This latest planning application for this landmark site at the junction of Leyton High Road and Hainault Road was considered by the Planning Committee last night.    

I am pleased to confirm that it was, once again, rejected.