Parting gift

12 Jul

My thanks to the eagle-eyed reader who spotted that Douglas Trainer was paid £75,350.00 as “Compensation for loss of employment” when he left Newham Council in March.

In section 34 of the Draft Statement of Accounts 2017/18, relating to Officers’ Remuneration (page 79) it is stated that Mr D Trainer – Director of Customer and Strategic Services was paid the following:

  • Salary, Fees & Allowances £112,790
  • Compensation for loss of employment £75,350
  • Council’s contribution to Pension Fund £23,122

This arrives at a total Remuneration Package of £211,262.

This would make Mr Trainer the highest paid employee of the Council in 2017/18.

You will recall chief executive Kim Bromley-Derry’s email to councillors of 16 March which said:

“I would like to inform you that Douglas Trainer, Director of Customer and Strategic Services, has decided to leave us to pursue new opportunities elsewhere”

If it was his decision to leave, why was he given a £75,350 parting gift?

This happened on Sir Robin’s watch. His successor – or her cabinet member for finance – should ask Mr Bromley-Derry for an explanation. And also whether Nick Bracken and Deborah Hindson, who both resigned from senior positions after the mayoral election, have received similar payments. We shouldn’t have to wait for next year’s accounts to find out.

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Waiting for the train

25 Jun

LO Train Length

Picture from Global Rail News

Press release from the the Barking – Gospel Oak Rail User Group on the delayed introduction of new trains on the GOBLIN:

Transport for London (TfL) staged a ‘launch event’ for a new train last week, but no sooner was the event over than the train was sent back to its maker, dashing commuters’ hopes of overcrowding relief.

TfL has ordered a total of 54 new Class 710 trains from Derby train builder, Bombardier. The first of these new trains was supposed to be delivered to TfL back in January, but Bombardier has so far been unable to get the trains approved to operate on Network Rail tracks. With around 30 of the trains completed, Bombardier has had to slow production as it runs out of space to store the new trains.

One of the trains was towed from Derby to London Overground’s Willesden Depot on 13 June for a TfL ‘launch event’ which took place on 20 June. Hopes that passengers would soon benefit from the new trains were dashed when TfL could only announce that the trains would be in service “by November”. The next day, the new train was towed back to Bombardier’s Derby works.

The first Class 710 off the production line was delivered to the Network Rail test centre at Asfordby in Leicestershire last December. It had to pass Network Rail’s acceptance tests before it could be allowed onto the national network. The train is still at Asfordby and has yet to gain Network Rail approval. It is said that there are problems with the software in the train management system.

“This is a major embarrassment for TfL”, said Glenn Wallis, Secretary of the Barking – Gospel Oak Rail User Group (BGORUG). “Up until now the problems with the Class 710 have been masked by the delays to the completion of the Barking – Gospel Oak electrification.”

Network Rail’s electrification of the Barking – Gospel Oak line was finally approved for use by the Rail Regulator (ORR) in early June, a full year later than originally planned.

“BGORUG is fully aware that the existing Barking – Gospel Oak fleet of eight diesel trains has to move to West Midlands Railway by November”, said Glenn Wallis. “It is therefore deeply disappointing that TfL is unable to provide a firm schedule for the introduction of the Class 710 into passenger service. Considering that testing started last December, it is also concerning that Bombardier has yet to obtain Network Rail approval for the Class 710 to operate on the national network.”

The Chair of BGORUG, Graham Larkbey, said, “What was the point of TfL staging the Willesden event when the only new announcement turned out to be the colour of the train’s upholstery?”

Having suffered months and months of closures and replacement bus services while Network Rail installed the electric cabling, passengers are still seeing no benefit. Trains continue to be overcrowded and (to my mind) dangerous during the morning and evening peak. If TfL don’t sort themselves out there will literally be no trains at all by November.

PS: for what it’s worth, the new trains look lovely

Kuhn Way

15 Jun

FGCS site plan

Proposed site plan for Forest Gate Community School. Present location of Kuhn Way footpath highlighted

As I’ve previously blogged, Forest Gate Community School is expanding. It will add an extra 2 forms of entry (60 extra children) each school year from September 2019. 

In order to accommodate the eventual 300 extra students, new classrooms and other infrastructure needs to be built. The school has applied for planning permission for two alternative schemes. Its preferred option would see the closure of part of Kuhn Way, the footpath that currently separates the main school building from an outdoor sports area.

Kuhn Way provides a pedestrian and cycle route directly between Station Road and Forest Lane. Without it, residents in the ‘Lanes’ area north of the school will have to walk around via either Woodgrange Road or Field Rod to access Forest Gate station or the shops. 

The school claims Kuhn Way is dangerous and home to crime and antisocial behaviour. Writing in support of the application, the Head of School says that having

a public walkway though the school [is] …an unusual and inconvenient arrangement.

An inordinate amount of time and resources are spent by the school on monitoring and policing activity in the walk way

and that:

The school, particularly in recent years, has provided a sanctuary for the pupils from the pressures they face in an increasingly dangerous neighbourhood.

This is not a view of Forest Gate shared by the majority of local residents, many of whom who use the walkway on a regular basis and object strongly to the school’s attempt to take it over. One wrote:

claims that the alley is a crime hotspot are … without substance. The crime statistics for the last twelve months do not show excessive issues and due to the way that the statistics are reported, I believe that those recorded as “Around Kuhn Way” do not cover just the alley but also the sections of Kuhn Way which is a road, including those bits running behind the businesses on Forest Lane. As a member of staff at the school pointed out to me, the notion that gangs are regularly passing drugs or weapons to pupils through the fencing along the alley is laughable and completely ignores the extensive stretches of open fencing along the other perimeters of the school.

And, far from being a little-used and crime-infested alley, Kuhn Way

is still used by hundreds of people through the week and at weekends, not only for work – which lots of people use it for because its opposite the station – but for shopping and just going out generally. The people that use it are abled, disabled, young, old, mums with children and many others. This would leave some residents house bound, as the so-called ‘short cuts’ are not short and in another case long and down a very narrow alley. (Link)

This claim of a high level of use is backed up by the Transport Assessment of the proposal, which counted a total of 3,396 pedestrian journeys between 7 am and 9 pm on a typical day. That works out a roughly one every 15 seconds.

And others agree that the idea that it will take elderly residents just an extra 1-2 minutes to use the alternative routes is “ridiculous.” Also, it will cause “enormous inconvenience” to users of Forest Gate station.

A consultation meeting was held in late March, although this appears to me to have only been advertised via the school newsletter, so most residents without a child on roll were not aware of it. Some who attempted to attend say they were prevented from entering the school.

On 19th April the council sent a letter out to residents asking for comments on the version of the plans that included keeping Kuhn Way open. There was no reference to the closure proposal.

Nonetheless, residents are campaigning against the proposal. 

A local resident has collected over 1500 signatures from surrounding streets opposing the closure but this is not yet reflected on the council website despite it having been submitted to them. Flyers have been distributed locally with an update on the situation and local councillors have been lobbied.

The application was expected to come before the Strategic Development Committee on 19th June but now the agenda has been published it is not there. But, as building works are planned start this summer a dec.sion needs to be taken,

Whatever your view of the expansion of Forest Gate school (at a cost of £11.8m), removing public access to Kuhn Way looks like a bad idea. The school can build additional classrooms without doing this. That is the version of the proposal the council should accept.

You can comment on the proposal here.

Time to close the Red Door?

14 Jun

By Conor McAuley

On 18 July last year Newham Council’s Strategic Development Committee, after a long discussion, approved a major planning application (No 17/00951/FUL) to build 100 flats in buildings ranging from 2 to 23 floors at London Road E13 and a further 82 flats in buildings up to 15 floors at Valetta Grove E13.  These are two sites sitting on Plaistow Road beside and opposite Plaistow Station.

A total of 182 “residential units”, all to be let at “market rents”, intended for Newham Council’s private renting company Red Door Ventures (RDV) at two locations that would appeal to commuters.

There was considerable public interest in this application and a number of objectors addressed the committee. They were listened to but ignored.

Clearly as Newham Council owned both sites, the complete absence of affordable housing within this application, can only have been deliberate and not the product of some dodgy developer’s “viability assessment”.

Instead Red Door Ventures proposed to deliver 45 affordable units in three “linked sites” at Eve Road E15, Baxter Road/Alnwick Rd E16 and Chargeable Lane E13. These sites were covered by three separate planning applications on the same committee agenda.

This was a device to subvert the planning policy requirement to deliver 50% affordable housing that would otherwise be required. Except of course that 45 units when added to the 182 non-affordable units gives us 227. The four linked planning applications (barely) delivered 20% affordable units.

So this left an affordable housing shortfall of 30% or 68.5 units.

A further device was then employed to help bridge the gap so to speak: the “review mechanism”.

Here I quote directly from the committee report; ‘To ensure that the proposal fully complies with the Newham Core Strategy and London Plan target of 50% affordable housing, a review mechanism is proposed that shall capture any uplift in scheme viability.

Once the ‘Break Even Rental Threshold’ (BERT) has been achieved the Planning Authority will receive 50% of the net additional revenue generated, where the profit level is between 15% and 24.99%, and 70% where profit is above a 25% threshold’.

I trust you have followed the logic so far.

The only real link between the four planning applications is that the sites involved are within the same borough. They are only “linked” in this process to enable Red Door Ventures to avoid having to provide affordable housing on the more valuable site adjacent to Plaistow Station. The “review mechanism” then kicks the remaining shortfall of 65.5 units into the even longer grass.

This was a perversion of the Council’s Planning regime and it was a disgrace that the then Committee Chair, Cllr Ken Clark, allowed these applications to be pushed through in this manner. Indeed, it was Cllr Clark who moved acceptance of the recommendations.

The four planning approvals were then to be wrapped up into a series of S106 Planning Agreements. The Strategic Development Committee decreed that these legal agreements should be completed and signed by 18 January 2018.

Subsequently, in November the Committee moved the completion deadlines to 18 May 2018.

It would appear that these legal agreements have not yet been signed because a further report (item 14) has been tabled on the agenda for the Strategic Development Committee meeting (next week) on 19 June seeking a further extension of the deadlines to 9 November 2018.

The report goes further, to say that if the legal agreements have not been completed, the Head of Planning has delegated authority to refuse the planning permissions.

Surely this is the moment when our elected representatives could signal a sea change in Newham’s housing strategy. It’s the time to end the expansion of Red Door Ventures and to start building genuine affordable and social housing again.

This is not a decision to be delegated to a Council officer.

8 random facts about the 2018 election

21 May

Turnout 2018

Turnout in Newham was down for the second election in a row, although the number of registered voters was the highest ever

1. A record mayoral share

Rokhsana Fiaz won the mayoral election with 73.43% of the valid votes cast. That beats Sir Robin’s best of 68.2% in 2010.

2. A big backward step for the Tories

The Conservative mayoral candidate got 8,627 votes (an 11.9% share). That’s way down on the 13,976 (18%) Stefan Mrozinski got in 2014. In fact it’s the worst Tory result since 2002, when Graham Postles got 11.55%.

By contrast, the Liberal Democrats enjoyed their best ever result, with Gareth Evans polling over 9% and saving their deposit for the first time.

3. Highest personal vote

Mariam Dawood, a first-time candidate in Manor Park ward, got the highest individual councillor vote, with 3,112.

4. Lowest vote

Hugh Robertson of the Communist League, achieved a fairly miserable 52 votes in Plaistow South. The only other candidate to fail to hit three figures was TUSC’s James Ivens in Royal Docks with 94.

5. Lowest winning score

The lowest vote achieved by a winning candidate was Tony McAlmont’s 1,292 in Royal Docks.

Two losing candidates, Gareth Evans (Liberal Democrat, Stratford and New Town) and Andrius Kavaliauskas (Conservative, also S&NT) got more votes than that. In fact, Gareth Evans’ 1,478 was better than five winning Labour candidates. Obviously, that counts for nothing in our stupid  first-past-the-post election system.  

6. Massive majorities

Labour held all 60 council seats with ease. Across all 20 wards the average majority (the gap between the 3rd placed Labour candidate and the 4th placed candidate) was a whopping 1,636 votes. Labour biggest win was in Little Ilford, with a majority of 2,434. The smallest was 788 in Royal Docks.

7. Average votes

The aggregate votes for the parties don’t really tell you anything interesting because only Labour and the Conservatives stood a full slate. But the averages (total vote divided by the number of candidates) are revealing.

The average Labour candidate was 5 times more popular than the next nearest party, which was (slightly surprisingly) the Liberal Democrats.

Party Average vote No. of candidates
Labour 2418 60
Liberal Democrat 502 14
Conservative 499 60
Green 480 11
Independent 479 2
UKIP 256 2
Christian Peoples Alliance 208 25
Democrats and Veterans 186 2
TUSC 159 4
Communist League 52 1

8. Mind the gap

There was some speculation on social media as the results were announced about the difference in votes between Labour candidates in the same ward and whether this was significant. On my Twitter timeline this focused on the Forest Gate North result, where Rachel Tripp topped the poll with 355 more votes than fellow incumbent Anamul Islam, who came third.

Looking across all 20, wards the widest gap between first and third was in Canning Town North: Ann Easter polled 576 votes more than Delphine Touhoura. The smallest difference was 55 votes in Forest Gate South.

The average first-to-third gap was 308 votes. So while the Forest Gate North result was above average, it wasn’t by very much and the difference is probably accounted for by Cllr Tripp’s very visible local profile.

And then there were 59

11 May

Where s Rahman

Someone has learned how to use the airbrush tool in Photoshop

Well, that didn’t take long.

Barely a week since the election and already the 60-strong Labour group on Newham council is down to 59.

Mohammed Muzibur Rahman, elected in Green Street East last Thursday, has been suspended by the party.

Trouble may have been brewing even before the vote. The party’s election leaflet (PDF) doesn’t mention him at all and he was airbrushed out of the photo of the Green Street East Labour Action Team on the cover (see above).

Cllr Rahman is the husband of former councillor Rohima Rahman, who was suspended back in 2015. She was briefly re-instated in April, long enough to be selected for Plaistow South, then re-suspended before the ink was even dry on the nomination papers. 

The reason for Cllr Mohammed Muzibur Rahman’s suspension is not known.

They are us

3 May

West Ham MP Lyn Brown spoke in yesterday’s Windrush debate in parliament:

I want to talk about trust and how it has been violated, and I want to start with the cases of my constituents Gem and Jessica, both of which I raised in Monday’s debate in Westminster Hall.

Gem arrived here from Jamaica, Jessica from Dominica. Both have worked here, paying taxes and raising families, for nearly 50 years, and both have fallen victim to the Government’s hostile environment. Jessica has served our community in West Ham, working for a charity helping refugees and migrants, so what an irony that in March she was fired from that job because she could not prove her right to work. The lesson of the Windrush scandal is that the hostile environment strategy is, in and of itself, a breach of trust. The betrayal of people like Gem and Jessica will not end until that strategy changes.

The hostile environment violates the rightful, reasonable, normal expectations that the people of Britain share. We expect not to be treated with suspicion, like criminals, without very good reason. We expect not to be threatened with destitution, or to be divided from our families or communities, without very good reason. We expect that our voices and our contributions to our country will not be dismissed by our Government without extremely good reason. But those expectations were violated for our British Windrush citizens—their trust was violated. These citizens were stopped at the GP reception, the police station, the bank counter, the workplace, the jobcentre—all those places became hostile environments for Jessica, Gem and many others.

Papers are demanded—papers that many do not have—and when Windrush citizens cannot produce these papers, they are plunged into a nightmare of hostile demands and constant suspicion, and behind it all is the threat of deportation and the destruction of their lives, with jobs, housing and healthcare yanked away. We all know the consequences: homelessness, detention, depression, mental illness, suicide and bereavement. People like Jessica and Gem have been denied the decent, dignified, fair treatment that all of us have a right to expect. They have been treated like criminals without reason and denied redress without reason. Legal aid, tribunals, access to justice—all cut. Their trust in their country has been breached and cannot easily be restored.

There is massive anxiety in my community about immigration removal flights that may have British Windrush citizens on board. In particular, I am told of flight PVT070. I have asked about this in recent days, as have my colleagues, but despite ministerial assurances, anxieties remain. Can Ministers at the Home Office imagine just how badly they will have further betrayed the trust of generations if they fail to get a grip on this and British citizens are again deported?

Let me finish by echoing what my right hon. friend Mr Lammy said. The Windrush generation are British. They have always been British. Recognising their rights is justice. It is not generosity. I am tired of hearing that “they” came here to help “us”. In the community in which I grew up, there is no “us” of which Gem and Jessica are not a part. The Windrush generation did not come to help “us”; they are “us”. In serving our country all their lives, they have helped to build the communities that we share.

On Monday, in Westminster Hall, I spoke about how personal this is—and it is. Lucy and Cecil are my brother-in-law’s parents. They are good people. They are Windrush people. Lucy served for decades as an NHS nurse. They and their family, including me, are furious about the way in which the Government have treated British citizens. Sometimes when we are in this place talking about personal stuff, we struggle to find the right words and the right tone, but I hope that I have done them justice today.