LBWF ‘communication’ with local residents: the yawning gap between rhetoric and reality

As this blog has previously reported, though LBWF stridently declares that it wants to ‘communicate’ with residents, even help them become ‘active citizens’, able to drive policy, what transpires on the ground is often very different.

Communication turns out to be a one-way street, while those who raise issues that are at odds with LBWF’s rosy self-image find themselves studiously ignored.

To further underline the prevailing malaise, a correspondent supplies the following vivid account of dealing with the Town Hall, which is particularly shocking because it involves several senior councillors:

‘In the autumn of 2019, I sent representations to LBWF protesting against the plan by its development arm, Sixty Bricks, to build two four-storey blocks of flats at Essex Close in High Street ward, Walthamstow.

I live near Essex Close, and my apprehension was that the blocks would overshadow friends’ houses on adjacent Pretoria Avenue and impinge on their right to light.

LBWF and Sixty Bricks had already acknowledged that a right of light issue existed, their surveyors contacting several residents in Pretoria Ave and Essex Close to make a compensation offer.

Meanwhile, LBWF had scheduled a Planning Committee (PC) meeting for 3 December 2019, so I and a number of local residents sent in written complaints and representations.

At the PC meeting, none of the councillors from High Street ward – Liaquat Ali, Raja Anwar, and Clare Coghill – were present. However, the initial omens were still good. The agenda item before Essex Close was a development that appeared very similar. It was passed, but what seemed promising was that senior Labour councillor and party whip, Steve Terry – who was a ‘substitute’ on the PC that day, and in whose ward the development was to occur – spoke against it.

However, when the PC turned to Essex Close itself, things rapidly went downhill. It was announced that no ‘representations’ had been received. I was allowed to make a verbal statement, but was rushed and harassed into winding up. Despite what had happened previously, Cllr. Terry spoke in favour and pointedly ignored me as he addressed his colleagues. When a vote was taken, and the Essex Close application was passed, the rep for Sixty Bricks looked over at me, turned to the person beside him, smirked, and looked back at me.

I subsequently complained to LBWF about my treatment, and it carried out an investigation of Cllr. Terry under the Councillors’ Code of Conduct (which I had neither requested nor even cited) but found he was not in breach. As to my complaint about the Sixty Bricks rep, that was ignored completely on the grounds that Sixty Bricks was separate to LBWF.

On 28 May 2020, tree surgeons started felling and uprooting trees in Essex Close next to Pretoria Ave. I emailed the High Street ward councillors but got no response. However, my email must have been forwarded to LBWF because shortly afterwards I received a reply stating that there had been no felling and uprooting, merely ‘minor’ preparation work involving ‘the removal, crowning and pruning of trees’. The rest of the email was a series of evasions around the development.

I emailed Cllrs Ali, Anwar, and Coghill again on 3 June 2020 and again got no reply. In the meantime, friends in Pretoria Ave and Essex Close told me that they had also emailed the Council and councillors a number of times. Seven days later, I attended an online Labour Party branch meeting and asked Cllrs. Ali and Coghill to their faces whether they replied to emails or not. They confirmed that they did and that all councillors should do so as soon as possible given that they had LBWF-supplied iPads.

I emailed the three councillors again on 11 June asking whether in light of their statements at the meeting the night before they could respond to my emails, but still there was no reply. At that point, I resorted to social media and started posting photos of the works at Essex Close and the builders’ apparent breaches of planning and parking regulations, tagging in Cllrs Ali, Anwar and Coghill.

I eventually got an email from Cllr. Coghill’s office on 17 June offering a meeting with her and the site manager. I responded to say that a number of neighbours would also like to attend. Silence once more.

On 22 June I emailed Cllr. Coghill yet again to ask for a response and to report further disturbance and regulation breaches by the builders. Her office replied that ‘Cllr Coghill is having a short break’. On 24 June, I asked why another councillor could not take the matter up – Ali and Anwar’s silence was deafening – and added that Essex Close neighbours were concerned about what appeared to be construction staff engaged in the purchasing of drugs. This time, LBWF replied that officers had been asked to look into the latter, but subsequently nothing has been said about their findings, and the works have ploughed ahead with the staff concerned still on site at the time of writing.

According to correspondents within Essex Close, right now one of the biggest issues is car parking. Essex Close originally had a dedicated car park, though this gradually began to be used by Blackhorse Road tube commuters, while also in the evening attracting drug dealers. In response, residents appealed to LBWF for help, and there were a series of consultations, though the results were never clearly articulated. More recently, LBWF has installed double yellow lines throughout, purportedly to allow emergency vehicle access, but in most residents’ eyes probably more likely because of the need to facilitate heavy vehicle access to the new building site. Parking spaces are now about half the number previously existent, meaning that those living in Essex Close find parking a nightmare, and this has inevitably produced a knock-on effect in the surrounding area.

Many Essex Close residents feel that no matter how they raise their concerns – and at various times they’ve dealt with numerous LBWF officers as well as their three ward councillors – they are either palmed off or ignored’.

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