Let’s start with the Market Place. I wasn’t sure about this bit beforehand but having experienced it I’d say it was a jolly good idea, and it takes a lot for the council to impress me, I can tell you. I got to meet people in person who I had only previously known via social media which is all to the good. It was packed out as you would expect a Market Place to be and the participants, the third sector stalls, seemed to be relishing this new platform to promote their activities. I would hope, that as we move around the borough, we have new stalls from other local groups and associations, indeed ourselves, to keep this part a vibrant and welcoming exercise.
On to the Question and Answer section. Again this was, on the whole, very good. It was two hours of interesting questions from members of the public and our councillors responding. Perhaps a little too long for the attention span of some, like me, but the definite end time is good. Some of us have pubs to go to. There were one or two logistical issues though. Because there were so many people there, milling about, the changeover from open market to seated audience format seemed chaotic and took longer than anticipated. The number of people also made the room rather stuffy and quite warm. Ventilation should be considered for future venues. The acoustics could be improved. While the top table are used to speaking with a microphone, the public may not be and sometimes it is difficult to hear what they are saying (I also found this a problem with Area Committees). Perhaps the Chair should be mindful of this and summarize or repeat the question when it is appropriate?
Ah, I almost forgot. The Tuesday forum clashed with External Scrutiny which was dealing with Public Transport issues. However, I’m quite sure that Cllr Mrs Ryan did a splendid job in our absence on step free access at Newbury Park station and a bus route along Forest Road.
So let’s now look at some of the criticism in the local press:
“Area Committees were scrapped and Local Forums foisted upon us without any consultation”. This was a clear pre-election commitment on the part of the new administration. What did you expect them to do? We voted for it on May 22nd, they did it, end of. STFU.
“It’s just a talking shop”. What on earth is wrong with that? If you want to engage with the community it would be wise to er, how can I put this … talk to them, preferably in person? You might as well say that the meetings organised by local community and campaign groups are just talking shops. The plain fact is that Area Committees had their teeth gradually drawn over successive administrations to the point where for some you had to wait three months before you could get a say and only then if the Chair would let you while the other councillors were on social media tweeting flippant comments about each other. While these forums have no allocated budget or decision-making powers, the point is that the councillors and officers in attendance do. It just needs to be monitored and reported back properly. An easy enough task, surely.
“Boo hoo, our meeting is in the afternoon”. No! The meeting in Wanstead is in the afternoon. You don’t have to wait until there is one on your doorstep. If you have a problem or issue you can go to any or all of them. Someone in the Town Hall, and I suspect not a councillor, has put some serious thought into this. The sort of feedback we, Barkingside 21, get is “I can’t make Tuesdays”, or “I can’t do Thursdays” or “why can’t you have coffee mornings in the evening?" [sic!]. Area 3 meetings were always held on a Wednesday which for someone with a regular Wednesday commitment elsewhere was not very convenient. These Forums are on different days of the week in the evening and there is one in the afternoon. They rotate around the borough at venues that are accessible via public transport and they are monthly. This is good practice and offers the widest possible choice to the widest section of the community.
Oh, and apparently we are to get a new swimming pool but we don’t know where or if it will hold water yet.