Monday, July 21, 2014

The new “Local Forums”
– some thoughts and ideas


As has been pointed out in a comment on the earlier post on this subject, a supplementary report was submitted at the Full Council meeting last Thursday. I presume this is it. The opposition leader refers to the abolition of regional planning and area committees as “ ….. a democratic outrage which will destroy local accountability and it has been replaced with a Jas and Wes roadshow”. Unsurprisingly the Council Leader has a different view, here.

Well, as we have already pointed out it was a pre-election commitment and they have done it, or at least the first part of it. As we, both as individuals and as a community group, have a vested interest in the new arrangements being workable and effective, I think we should try our hands at some constructive criticism. The ruling administration may have rejected the opposition’s proposals for a period of consultation but that does not stop us from telling them what we think anyway. Fire away in the comments below.

So, what do we know?

We know that they will be called “Local Forums” and be held monthly. In reality that probably means 10 meetings per year as they are unlikely to schedule a forum in August or December. There would have been 34 Area Committee meetings. So that is quite a reduction already.

The Forums will be open to anyone. Area Committees were also open to anyone but if you wanted to speak or raise an issue it needed to be relevant to that committee’s area, even if you lived in a different area. Here you can raise any issue for any area, or borough wide, but in practice we suspect the idea is that issues would be localised to where the meeting is held.

Now, we don’t know where the meetings will be held other than that they will rotate across the borough. This is a very important point. If there are 10 venues you are only going to get one local meeting a year and possibly one or two more a bit less local. If it’s urgent you may end up travelling from one side of the borough to the other if that is the next available forum.

Now we come to the question of what does “Local” mean? Cllr McLaren (Church End) bemoans the lack of structure. This is a fundamental issue because the structure will define which councillors need to be present, or not. Because these forums are not formal committees, with a budget and decision making powers, there is no real requirement for the councillors to be there at all, other than to engage with their constituents. But they don’t know which forum their constituents are going to turn up at, unless they are told in advance which might be a good idea if you’re thinking of popping along. On the plus side we probably only need one councillor for each ward but even this may present problems with split wards.

The advantage of this flexible rather than structured approach is that the available structures (wards and their names plus areas) do not necessarily relate to identifiable communities and resident’s sense of place; as Area 4 found out when they put “Barkingside” on a notice board in Gants Hill. It was, and still is, in Barkingside Ward but the residents had other ideas and it was changed to Gants Hill. A forum held at Gants Hill Library, for example, would not need the duplication of 2 former Area Committees and attract residents from both sides of the A12. Not just good for community engagement but also for the community bonding within itself. I think this loose approach is good and is engagement on our (the residents) terms rather than the council trying to impose a structure based on electoral niceties (wards) to suit themselves. This was the problem with ward based policing which has now taken a back seat.

Now to the format. The sessions would kick off with an informal ‘market place’ followed by a formal panel sessions”. I quite like this. It gives you the chance to talk to people one-to-one which you didn’t get to do at Area Committees, except when Harry got to the Fairlop Oak afterwards. I prefer the phrase “cocktail party” though. Good for networking and community building when we residents actually get the chance to talk to each other as well. The panel bit is just the public participation part of an area committee meeting but there remains the question of which councillors are sitting on the panel and who gets to chair it.

So, “roadshow” is what it sounds like, or a sort of surgery for the whole council. It doesn't have to be just “Jas and Wes”, entertaining double act that they are, if the opposition take it seriously and provide some variety performances of their own.

Outstanding issues:

Much has been said and made about how few residents attended Area Committees. But attendance was not the whole of their worth, far from it. They were very good vehicles for local residents to find out what was going on in their local area, either by keeping tabs on the published agenda papers and minutes or the reports in the Ilford Recorder and sometimes here on this blog. As always it is the intangible and un-measurable benefits that suffer.

What we now need is the administration’s proposals to plug this gap. As I wrote in the last post on this subject - how do we get to know what decisions are being considered in our local area (by Chief Officers in consultation with ward members) and when/if we find out, how do we get to influence those decisions or engage in the decision making process?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Pavements are for people

Today I watched a couple make their way slowly down the high street. He was pulling a shopping trolley with one hand and supporting his companion with the other arm. She had a walking stick in the hand which wasn't holding onto him. Walking clearly wasn't easy. Perhaps they wanted some exercise, or fresh air, or didn't have any option except walking. Then they came to a part of the pavement through which, despite its ample width, it was impossible for them to pass side by side.

Because an irresponsible motorist had parked on the pavement next to a bin.

I've lost count now how many times I have seen this kind of behaviour from Barkingside motorists, on Barkingside streets, accommodated or tolerated by the authorities.

There's a choice to make. Do we want people who used to drive,

The Message by sean_hickin on Flickr
'The Message' by sean_hickin - cc
can't drive,

'Little girl, big eyes' by Barbara Piancastelli - cc 
may never drive,

'Meeting local guide dog users in Noel Park' by Lynne Featherstone - cc
have decided not to drive,

'Day 99 - asthma sucks' by dieselbug20017 - cc
or otherwise aren't driving,

'Arm in arm' by Elliot Margolies - cc
to be able to get around safely and easily?

Or do we insist on parking on the footway,

Outside The Chequers, High Street Barkingside, 20th July 2014
High Street Barkingside, 20th July 2014
sometimes obstructing all but the most agile pedestrians,

Off Fullwell Ave, 7th April 2014
and forcing people onto the road?

Off Fullwell Ave, 28th June 2014
If an irresponsible motorist has ever obstructed you from pushing your pram or walking frame, giving somebody your arm, holding your kid's hand, reaching your home with two armfuls of shopping, or getting around on your mobility vehicle, then you may be interested in the Living Streets campaign, partnered by Age UK and Guide Dogs.

Redbridge's plans for footway parking are available on Redbridge i. This depends on exemptions to the bans which apply to much of the rest of London. I think we are too accommodating of cars here and ask too little of public transport.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Clayhall Avenue U-Turn
– Traffic Order Published

Here’s today’s post from the Roding Liberal Democrats. Screen snip below.

“After Tory and Labour Councillors recently refused to reconsider banning the U-turn at Clayhall Avenue, ….”
Er ….. according to my sources all 63 elected Redbridge Councillors did reconsider, and debate, the Clayhall Avenue U-Turn proposal at Full Council on 19th June 2014. In fact they did this at the specific request of the Liberal Democrats who had requisitioned the item. That’s the whole point of a requisition – that the issue is reconsidered at Full Council. What’s more the author of the above statement, Cllr Deakins, put forward an amendment to the proposal and spoke in the debate she says didn’t take place. The minutes are here in the public domain.
“ …..the Council has published a notice proposing to make a Traffic Order to bring the ban into effect. (It appeared into last week’s Ilford Recorder where nobody would notice it, and Roding Councillors were not informed until we asked about it.)”
Well, I did spot it and so did a few others I have spoken to. Given that the decision was given the go-ahead at that meeting (by 59 votes to 3) it’s not too difficult to work out that the notice will appear shortly afterwards and to make a point of having a look for it.
“Anyone can make an objection to the proposed Traffic Order.”
In fact anyone can make ‘representations’ - either for, or against. So, as Cllr Deakins has alerted all those people who oppose the U-Turn ban I think it is only fair, in the interests of democracy and involving local people in local decision making, to also inform those who have been lobbying their elected representatives to implement it. Please note that representations ….
“ …. can come from anyone, not just local residents, so you can ask your friends, relatives and visitors to object [insert] comment [/insert] too!”
You can do so either by post to the Parking Design Team, 10th floor Lynton House, 255-259 High Road, Ilford Essex IG1 1NY, or by e-mail to richard.aveyard@redbridge.gov.uk. The deadline is 31 July 2014.