Archive | July, 2014

Buzz off

30 Jul


Last week I got an email from location-based social network Foursquare:

About five years ago, we launched a little app called Foursquare. As one of the first million people to sign up for Foursquare, you’ve been with us pretty much since the beginning. You’ve seen us grow from a tiny project to a 50,000,000-strong community. And, we’re about to embark on our biggest change yet. We are rolling out two apps – Swarm and Foursquare – one focused on keeping up and meeting up with your friends, the other focused on finding great places.

It went on to explain that all check-ins would be moving to the new Swarm app, while social recommendations would remain in the revamped Foursquare app.

So now I’d have to use two apps to do the things I could previously do in just one. 

That’s not an improvement, that’s stupid. Is that putting users first? No, it isn’t. It’s being a dick.

Why can’t I check-in using the perfectly functional Foursquare app I already use? I tried to do that on Monday and got a pop-up message telling me to go to the App store to download Swarm.

But I don’t want to download Swarm. And judging by the reviews a lot of other people don’t want to either:

  • Game over
  • What’ve you done?
  • Why make it complicated?
  • Total disaster
  • Stupidest app ever
  • RIP Foursquare

So I cancelled my Foursquare account. And I told them exactly why: they are clueless idiots who have taken a perfectly good, usable, useful, fun service and ruined it.

Newham aggro

28 Jul

Newham aggro

The phantom leafleter of Forest Gate has struck again!

This came through my door late on Friday night and I gather several other residents on my road got a copy too.

I have no idea who’s behind them, but this is the best of the bunch so far (the others are here and here).

Fast and furious

23 Jul

The Evening Standard reports that 

A furious row has broken out over Boris Johnson’s plans for a “floating village” of 50 luxury homes in the Docklands.

Boris Johnson has selected an Anglo-Dutch consortium to build a “thriving community” of homes, restaurants and offices on the waters of the Royal Victoria Dock. The proposed housing in the scheme will be entirely private.

Sir Robin is up in arms:

”We have always been clear that any new development must provide affordable housing and an acceptable mix of uses along with much needed long-term jobs for local people.

“The current plans for the floating village do not meet our vision… Newham Council cannot, and will not, accept a development consisting purely of luxury apartments which will be out of reach of the majority of our residents.”

Fine words, Mr Mayor.

So then why did you give planning permission for this ‘fully private development’ in Stratford? 

And why did Newham grant consent in February to HUB Residential for its Hoola scheme for “a plush new development in London’s Royal Docks that will deliver 360 luxury homes in two glass-clad towers”? There’s not a single affordable unit – much less any social housing – anywhere to be seen.

Beckton by-election

23 Jul

Following the death of Councillor Alec Kellaway in June there will have to be a by-election in Beckton to replace him.

No date has yet been set, but the Notice of Vacancy has very quietly been published on the council website. 

The notice is dated 21st July and the election will have to be held within 35 working days of 2 local electors writing to the returning office to request it. Assuming this has been carefully choreographed and they do that this week, Thursday 4th September is the most likely date.

Labour’s candidate selection process is already well advanced. The final meeting will be tomorrow.

Local members are not being trusted to make their choice unaided, so two of Sir Robin’s close lieutenants, councillors Unmesh Desai and Ken Clark, have been placed on the panel. We can therefore be confident that whoever wins will have the mayoral seal of approval.

In May the leading Tory candidate, Syed Ahmed, finished 700 votes adrift of Alec Kellaway, but Labour can’t be too complacent.

At the last council by-election in Royal Docks in 2009, Steve Brayshaw only narrowly beat off the Tory challenger. His 15 vote majority was uncomfortably narrow. And those with longer memories will recall by-elections in Bemersyde in 1991 and Greatfield in 1992 that Labour actually lost. 

Sitting Beckton councillors Chowdhury and Christie would be advised to cancel any holiday plans and buy some comfortable shoes. They’ll be pounding the streets for the rest of the summer.

A place to live, work and stay

15 Jul


The Focus E15 mums decided to confront Sir Robin Wales at the Newham Show this weekend about his housing policies and what they see as the long-term social cleansing of the borough. It’s clear from the video that he’s not at all happy about it.

The mayor obviously doesn’t appreciate ordinary people using his expensively staged propaganda events to challenge his priorities.

A number of Labour councillors can be seen providing a human shield for the mayor. This must have been an uncomfortable experience for some of them. They stood for election in the genuine and sincere hope of improving the lives of Newham residents; now they find themselves confronted by people protesting against homelessness, high cost private rents and the prospect of being rehoused hundreds of miles away from their families and friends – causes that ought to be close to their hearts.

The confrontation was even reported in the Morning Star, which described it as

a testosterone-fuelled east London mayor squaring up to a young homeless mum campaigning for decent housing.

The Star reports that the protesters were subsequently forcibly ejected from the Newham Show:

A spokeswoman for the council argued that “officers took the decision to evict the group of protesters and political activists from the park as they staged an aggressive protest.”

It’s ironic that Sir Robin’s angry response to the protest is that it’s “a family day” when all that the Focus E15 mums want is to keep their families together in Newham. ‘A place to live, work and stay’, as the council’s own slogan has it.

RPZ consultation drop-in

4 Jul

Angry mob Simpsons

The atmosphere at The Gate during Thursday’s RPZ extension “drop-in session” was heated, to say the least. Some very angry people were making their feelings known in no uncertain terms. 

I got the opportunity to speak to an officer and ask the questions I wanted answered.

The consultation is happening because a small handful of residents on Windsor Road petitioned the council. They also had requests from a bit of Woodford Road and residents on Forest Side. The total number of requests was around fifteen, which seems a very small number to trigger a consultation over such a wide area. Clearly Newham were looking for an excuse.

The officer insisted that the proposals and the consultation had been designed with the input and support of local ward councillors, though when I pointed out that the election was only 6 weeks ago and the plans must have taken longer than that to draw up she did admit it was the previous set who had discussed it. The boundaries of the proposed extension were based on who asked for it and where they were located. Sebert Road was included because Councillor Robinson said she had had a lot of requests ‘on the doorstep’ and she thought it would be good to give residents the chance to vote on it.

If the scheme goes ahead residents with permits will be able to park anywhere in the Forest Gate zone, not just their own street – that includes areas in the currently existing RPZ. And I was assured that anyone who lives in the zone and has a car registered at their address will get a permit if they apply – the council can’t refuse a valid application.

The application process is online and requires residents to submit a scan of their V5C vehicle registration certificate.

On the matter of the database of vehicle ownership details – which obviously includes copies of all of those scanned documents – and who gets access to it I got no answers at all. That’s handled by “another department.” The officer suggested I submit an FOI. 

Predictably there are no guarantees that charges won’t be introduced for permits which are now free. The officer acknowledged that all our neighbouring boroughs charge for permits, even the first permit per household, but insisted “we have no plans” to start charging. Which is far from reassuring.

There is no monitoring of fraud or the misuse of visitor permits and no enforcement.

Surprisingly, no business impact assessment has been carried out on shops, cafés and market stall holders in Forest Gate.

And it’s not just business owners being ignored: if you don’t live on a street that’s part of the proposed extension you won’t be consulted. Even if parking will get worse because cars are displaced from the RPZ, tough luck.

The reason there’s no public meeting about the proposals is ‘safety’. Make of that what you will, but given the atmosphere in the room I can understand the concern. 

If the zone is extended but residents later decide they don’t like it and want it removed there’s no formal mechanism to do that. We’d have to petition the council and lobby our ward councillors. “It’s never happened in Newham,” I was told.

The consultation closes on 18 July and results will be known by mid-August. A summary of responses (how many participated, how many said yes, how many no etc) will be published. And officers will look at the responses from different areas and make decisions on a street-by-street basis. It isn’t all or nothing.

Other people were raising concerns too – very loudly. Residents on Bective Road were insisting they hadn’t ever received the consultation pack and I spoke to someone from Claremont Road who said the same thing. I’ve also heard via Twitter from people on Chestnut Avenue and Capel Road that  they didn’t get them either. 

One man complained about the introduction of pay-and-display bays outside Woodgrange Cemetery. He said asking people who were coming to bury their dead to pay for parking was “a sick joke.”

Two councillors were at The Gate, Mas Patel of Forest Gate South and Ken Clark of Little Ilford. Councillor Clark lives on Hampton Road and was attending as a resident rather than his official capacity. Both councillors agreed something had gone wrong with the distribution of papers and said they would ask questions. My view is that the integrity of the consultation has been fatally undermined by the failure to provide proper documentation to all resident in good time. If people get them now, after the one and only ‘drop-in’ session has happened, what good is that? Who can they go and ask if they have questions or concerns? The closing date is only two weeks away.

As with so much in Newham, it’s just not good enough.

Money works

2 Jul

Newham Labour M 012

In his 2014 local government manifesto Sir Robin Wales promised to address the problem residents face from the high cost of credit and rip-off pay-day loans by setting up a council-run alternative: 

Labour will set up a one stop shop – Money Works – which will provide a range of support to responsible residents including:

  • Pay day loans – at fair rates
  • Access to loans for white goods – at fair rates
  • A life changing fund which provides loans when people have a realistic and sensible idea which could change their lives – at fair rates
  • Access to low cost home furnishings
  • Crisis loans
  • Access to credit to clear loans in certain instances
  • Support, guidance and loans to help you with your energy bills.

The basis of this one-stop shop will be that residents will only be able to access loans if they are responsible. Any failure to repay the money owed will mean they can never get any support again for Money Works.

On the face of it, that sounds like a good idea – though, given that Sir Robin thinks 80% of London market rents are ‘affordable’, quite what his idea of ‘fair rates’ might be is anyone’s guess.

But it’s actually completely redundant – an alternative source of low cost affordable finance for residents already exists – Newham Credit Union:

NewCred is a community based credit union. It is a not-for-profit organisation owned and run by its members. As part of a worldwide credit union movement it provides financial services to the people of Newham. NewCred strengthens social networks and contributes to the local economy.

NewCred aims to be the primary provider of low cost affordable financial services in Newham. [emphasis added]

Why would the mayor want to go to the trouble and expense of setting up and then managing an in-house operation rather than simply point residents to NewCred? Given that credit unions are cooperatives, owned and run by their members, this would be a good way for Sir Robin to help build the more self-reliant, resilient community he talks about.

And supporting NewCred would fit in with Labour policy nationally. Ed Miliband has promised his government will impose a levy on the profits of payday lenders that would be used directly to fund the expansion of credit unions.

So why not do it? I asked some of the candidates – now councillors – before the election and the answer that came back was a “concern about scale.”

But the council could help NewCred overcome that and make it a genuine local alternative to the likes of Wonga. It would take a bit of investment. NewCred’s office’s on Romford Road are not exactly prominent, so retail store fronts in, say, Stratford shopping centre and East Ham high street would be a huge boost. Newham has ready access to exactly that kind of commercial property, which it could lease at favourable rates.

And the council could become a depositor – if Newham can put £7 million into risky Icelandic banks, why not the rock-solid local credit union?

Then there’s advertising and promotion. Perhaps Sir Robin could be persuaded to have his photo taken at NewCred’s offices opening his own savings account and published in the Newham Mag. Stories could be placed in the Recorder. I know he’s normally a bit reticent about that sort of thing, but he could be persuaded for a good cause!

I suspect though that the real objection to building up NewCred is one of control. For all his talk of fostering independence and building resilience, Sir Robin wants everything to come from Building 1000. Even your white goods and home furnishings.