LBWF’s plan for a mural in Cann Hall ward threatens to descend into farce – for the second time running UPDATED

In late 2017, Cann Hall Labour councillor Sally Littlejohn led a LBWF initiative to install a £40,000 ‘artwork’ on the dilapidated side-wall of a shop in the centre of the ward – a shop that coincidentally happened to be owned by a prominent family of Labour supporters, the most eminent of whom is Dawn Butler MP, best known in the area for her belief that the public should fund her second home’s jacuzzi.

Cllr. Littlejohn no doubt hoped to reap the grateful thanks of locals, but it didn’t turn out that way at all. Many resented the lack of consultation, disliked the fact that the artists foisted on them had no connection to Cann Hall, and were critical of the latter’s hackneyed design. A petition was launched and leaflets distributed door-to-door, and in the end Cllr. Littlejohn and LBWF beat a hasty retreat, with the many thousands of pounds in the budget that already had been spent now lost forever (the links, below, tell the full story).

Clearly, Cllr. Littlejohn has a thick skin, because alongside a small retinue of officers, she recently has popped-up with a new scheme, this time a mural to be painted on to the rather grubby side-wall of number 168 High Rd. Leytonstone, which currently encompasses a tattoo shop and several flats, as per Google maps:

The work is to be carried out by the Bulgarian-based artist Mr. Nasimo, who ‘mixes street and graffiti techniques with traditional fine art methods’ (see https://nasimo.org), and has proposed three draft designs, as yet lacking colourisation, around a ‘Mother Nature’ theme, so: 

Regarding the cost of the project, it is said to be about £12,000, with the money coming from LBWF’s share of the New Homes Bonus Fund. 

Will Cllr. Littlejohn succeed second time around? Currently, the odds in favour are not propitious.

The first concern that has arisen is about exactly who has had the major say in decision-making.

When LBWF first started planning the mural during 2019, it appointed Waltham Forest community interest company Wood Street Walls to be the design and delivery agent, which given the latter’s considerable experience in the borough seemed a logical choice.

At this stage, there also was some explicit commitment to involving local people, so that, for instance, a workshop in early 2020, publicised via ‘council social media, newsletters and local community representatives’, and attended by ‘around 25 individuals’, aimed ‘to determine the direction of travel’.

Subsequently, the pandemic has understandably caused LBWF to scale back all activity, but some discussion of the mural nevertheless has continued, involving both the tattoo shop owner and what are described variously as ‘voices in the community’ and a ‘selected…handful of community representatives’, the major upshot being Mr. Nasimo and ‘Mother Nature’ replacing Wall Street Walls.

One moot point is how LBWF has chosen which ‘voices in the community’ to engage with, because based on previous experience there is reasonable apprehension that the selection process may have been biased towards Cann Hall councillors’ camp followers. 

In addition, it remains debatable whether LBWF has got the balance right in terms of protecting the public interest. According to the officers involved, the tattoo shop owner did not favour Wood Street Walls’ designs, and subsequently promoted Mr. Nasimo as ‘preferred artist’, and in this scenario, the danger is of a fait accompli, with popular input, such as it exists, now confined to quibbling around the edges. 

However, recent revelations potentially add a much bigger fly to the ointment.

Paying a £3 fee to the Land Registry reveals that the freehold of 168 High Rd. Leytonstone belongs to a Mr. Muhammad Afzal Khan:

Needless to say, there are several people with that name in Waltham Forest, but given the context one sticks out.

For in recent years, and on multiple occasions, this Mr. Muhammad Afzal Khan has come to the notice of both LBWF’s planning enforcement team and senior councillors, indeed facing them at tribunals, engaging in protracted appeals, and then having to pay substantial fines. 

Thus, to take a particularly unsavoury episode, in 2013 the periodical Letting Agent Today carried a report under the headline ‘Bed in shed landlord loses planning appeal’ which reads as follows:

Now, of course, whether this Mr. Muhammad Afzal Khan is in fact the Mr. Muhammad Afzal Khan who owns 168 High Rd. Leytonstone remains to be established.

But if they are the same person, then LBWF has a problem on its hands. After all, why should a landlord who seems to show so little respect for the planning system then be rewarded from the public purse by having one of his properties spruced up?

As to the hapless Cllr. Littlejohn, it may be that at this very moment her cheeks are reddening…

UPDATE

On 16 February 2021, a meeting of the grandiosely titled ‘Cann Hall Wall Mural Stakeholder’ group (three ward councils, two LBWF staff, and four residents) decided as follows:

‘Freeholder of 168 Leytonstone High Road has multiple properties across the borough and is known to the council as having previously flouted planning regulations.

Agreed that a wall mural should not be progressed in this location’.

It remains to be established what this idiotic episode – largely fuelled by Cllr. Littlejohn’s hubris – has ended up costing.

Related Posts

The £40,000 Cann Hall side-wall ‘artwork’ is cancelled, artists Mathew Raw and Abigail Holsborough depart the scene, and LBWF scrambles for excuses – its a big victory for local residents

LBWF’s Making Places programme and the Cann Hall side-wall fiasco: good news and bad

LBWF’s Making Places programme and the strange case of the Cann Hall side-wall: four residents speak and £40,000 of public money goes west UPDATED

‘Public realm and shop front improvements’ in South Leytonstone: dogs get their dinner, while the area’s real problems are forgotten

Redeveloping Waltham Forest: some experiences from the periphery

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