Tag Archives: Local government

The Tories are coming for Church End with lies and damn statistics

In my little corner of South Woodford in the borough of Redbridge you can always tell when there’s an election coming up. The Tories start taking an interest in Liberal Democrat-held Church End ward.

This time round they’ve begun campaigning a little earlier, with three candidates making more of an impression than their predecessors. Perhaps they scent weakness with the announcement that a long-serving LibDem councillor is standing down while another has been cast adrift over poor attendance.

So there have been more editions of In Touch, the Tory newsletter to rival the LibDems’ Focus. There was also a residents’ survey that asked a couple of soft questions about local affairs: what did you like or dislike about living in Redbridge?

Then it got down to the nitty-gritty with a selection of touchstone Tory national issues: getting the economy moving (scrap the deflationary policies sooner was my retort); reforming welfare so that working always pays more than a life on benefits (a nod to Iain Duncan Smith, Chingford and Woodford Green MP and architect of the bedroom tax, possible the worst policy since poll tax).

Then, in the battle for right-wing votes, controlling immigration to take the pressure
off public services (failing to notice the dependence of the NHS on migrant
doctors and nurses and cleaners and … you get the picture).

Oh, and another one for the Ukip tendency, a referendum on EU membership. I wonder how many local residents work in the City for banks that will up sticks to Frankfurt the moment we quit Europe? Step forward local Tory candidate Tom McLaren of Commerzbank’s ABS Management team. I think that’s something to do with packaging up debt and flogging it off. Really useful banking.

Other leaflets have sought to take credit for the campaign to strip Funkymojoes, the pub that thinks it’s a West End nightclub, of its late licence over the misery caused to elderly residents of neighbouring flats.

They’ve also tried to frighten local businesses into thinking that Church End is a hotbed of criminal activity. A bit rich, coming from the party that’s cut police numbers and closed police stations across the capital.

There was even a poor quality YouTube video of some drunken shouting that appeared to be an issue for Redbridge housing department. That would be Tory-controlled Redbridge housing department.

It all seems to be directed at obtaining a controlled drinking zone, as if the place was overrun with drunks.

Rogue statistic

One leaflet got very excited about 48 car crimes in three months that targeted £1m worth of cars. That would be at an average of £20,833 each, which seems a bit unlikely. I suspect a rogue statistic there.

Another seems to think we should cheer the Tories for not implementing further cuts at Redbridge Drama Centre, again after local uproar at a Conservative proposal.

Local economic policy seems to consist of 30 minutes of free parking in the George Lane shopping street, to which the council has been dragged kicking and screaming after Wanstead businesses demanded some respite from the parking attendants.

But it will make for yet another photo opportunity with IDS, perhaps orchestrated by Joel Herga, the young PR man who has worked for several Tory MPs and is another of the candidates. I’m sure local politics will be good for his CV until a safe seat comes along. The third candidate, Emma Best, appears to have little troubled the search engines.

Quite recently there’s been a letter to individual voters. I don’t think everyone got one. But I’ve seen a copy.

It certainly takes a spin doctor to suggest that the LibDems have ‘parachuted’ in replacement candidates. Richard Hoskins’ retirement after 24 years of service is also hardly evidence of the local party ‘imploding’, as the letter suggests.

The latest Focus reveals that the LibDems are putting up sitting councillor Hugh Cleaver, who was elected in 1990; a 35-year resident of the ward and former parliamentary candidate in Geoff Seeff; and a 25-year resident in Deborah Prince, legal director of the British Heart Foundation.

And it is stretching credulity to suggest that the temporary swimming pool in neighbouring Wanstead, installed as part of Boris Johnson’s Make a Splash programme, justifies the claim that ‘the swimming pool many of you asked for is now being built’. Or is that referring to plans for a permanent pool in the south of the borough for which no site has yet been agreed, according to local newspaper reports? It may be the next set of elections before we can take a dip there.

The local elections are on May 22. Please vote.

PS. While the LibDems have parted company with Nicola Sinclair, they have at least not had to apologise for claiming she failed to attend a licensing hearing about Funkymojoes. That has been left to the Tories, apparently ignorant that in Redbridge councillors do not sit on licensing hearings for their own ward.

 

PPS The latest, very glossy, Tory leaflet admits they have had little success with the farmers’ market for George Lane after eight months’ effort. This would of course compete with the excellent greengroceries at Fiori’s and the International  Supermarket as well as the national chains M&S, Sainsbury and Waitrose.  I am not surprised that Sainsbury’s are refusing to back this endeavour. I am just astonished that the Tories, of all people, appear surprised by this expression of capitalism. Perhaps they’ll learn to hang on to more municipally-owned land in future.

I must acknowledge that we are told more about Emma Best in the latest leaflet. She went to school in Wanstead and is working for Crossrail while studying for a degree. Don’t know if she lives in the ward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which way to go in Epping Forest?

  • Road closure at High Beach but there\\\'s no through road to the right. The single signpost is hidden in the shade of the trees. Photograph: Paul Nettleton

  • The leaning No Through Road sign of Epping Forest. Photograph: Paul Nettleton

The closure for three weeks of Cross Roads at High Beach in Epping Forest, to permit the installation of cattle grids that was strenuously opposed by horse riders, has been baffling motorists trying to reach the A104 Epping New Road and head south towards London.

Running parallel with the A104 is Fairmead Road, which appears on Google Maps, for example, to join the main road a kilometre or so to the south. Cars do inch along this rutted route, now given over to forest users, to reach a couple of car parks.

Unfortunately for motorists seeking a way out of the woods, the southern exit is gated and closed to all except walkers, riders and cyclists. Doubtless motorcyclists might squeeze past the single traffic cone, that was today sporting a very temporary City of London Corporation sign stating there is no way through, and over the hump of earth that blocks the old road just before the gate.

Many a car driver or a white van man, though, will be faced with a lengthy diversion north to the A121 and on to Epping New Road at Wake Arms Roundabout (where for baffled tourists there is no longer a pub of that name, but a steak restaurant). Some have tried their luck, and risked their suspension, by driving down Fairmead Road at speeds that raise choking clouds of dust, before turning round in frustration and heading back to the official diversion.

The only indication on the ground that Fairmead Road is a dead end is a No Through Road sign leaning at a tipsy angle in the shade of trees to the right of the junction. You’d have thought the responsible authorities might have realised the confusion likely to reign for the next three weeks and at least put the sign back on an even keel. Photographs: Paul Nettleton

Update, 14 June: I checked and there’s now a freestanding metal sign to indicate that Fairmead Road is a dead end. The No Through Road sign under the trees is still leaning at a crazy angle. Oh, and is that asbestos corrugated roofing material that’s been flytipped at the end of the road? It’s been taped off, so the authorities must be aware.

A growing controversy over the Lee Valley’s glasshouses

  • Tied up

    Narrow boats on the Lee Navigation near Cheshunt. All photographs: Paul Nettleton

  • Quality time

    A family of swans in the Lee Valley

  • Milk ripe

    Berries ripening in the Lee Valley sun

  • Nesting time

    Arranging the eggs

  • Power in the park

    The National Grid electricity sub-station in the Lee Valley park

  • Growth industry?

    Glasshouses seen across the Lee

  • A bit Wind in the Willows

    Aerating a pond in the Lee Valley

For a gallery of images please click on the photograph above

My favourite way in to the River Lee Country Park is to drive up the Crooked Mile from Waltham Abbey and turn left into Fishers Green Lane before parking up and taking a walk or a bicycle ride around the Seventy Acres Lake. Striking out south brings you to the Royal Gunpowder Mills museum, north to more gravel pits and Nazeing Marsh.

It all sounds a bit Wind in the Willows and there are plenty of people messing around in boats – whether it be on the Lee Navigation, where there is a steady traffic of pleasure seekers in narrow boats along the canalised waterway, or at Holyfield Lake. Here the members of Fishers Green sailing club must steer clear of the weirs.

The park draws walkers and anglers and birdwatchers and photographers in all weathers, to watch the comings and goings of the wildfowl and the march of the seasons.

After rain, the Horsemill Stream and the Cornmill Stream and the Small River Lea (the alternative spelling), all part of the flood relief system, can run swift and powerfully. Even when the waters appear placid there’s plenty going on under the surface.

 Invasive species

Invasive virile crayfish have been found in the river, where in the 80s the signal crayfish wiped out the native white clawed crayfish. There are also terrapins, bought as pets during the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fad and released into wild after their owners tired of their growing size and appetites.

Then there are the human battles, for the future of salad growers in and around the regional park. And, with local authority budgets cut, there is political pressure on the authority to become self-financing.

Their glasshouses are, say the growers, too small to secure the long-term viability of the valley’s traditional market gardening. They say they are being squeezed between the demands of supermarket buyers for year-round supply and cheaper produce, and the park’s opposition to expansion of the area under glass.

The park is not a planning authority but has to be consulted by Epping Forest district council, where most of the growers are located. It has no remit to support horticulture, rather seeing production as a secondary function (pdf).

The river has a long history of quarrying and industry which has shaped the valley’s post-industrial landscape alongside farming and the glasshouses which have been in operation for more than a century.

Today, to the east of Cheshunt, there’s a mainline railway running within earshot of the river and electricity pylons march along the valley floor and across the former gravel pits to a substation. National Grid wants to upgrade the overhead lines to carry 400kV instead of the current 275kV. Consent is being sought for the work, with a decision expected by 2014.

The park’s boundaries skirt the extensive industrial estate on the west bank through Brimsdown, and the vast Sainsbury’s distribution centre by the M25 at Waltham Abbey. The jobs they provide are essential. There are pockets of deprivation in the town and it is not so far from Tottenham, which is seeking its own economic recovery after the London riots.

The authority wants the legacy of the London 2012 Olympic Games, with the momentum they generated for regeneration of brownfield sites and the watercourses around Stratford, to be a world class park for Londoners and a tourist draw in the green belt of Essex and Hertfordshire.

Hectare upon hectare of glasshouses, especially built taller and perhaps making more use of artificial lighting to extend the growing season and range of crops, are not seen as an attractive landscape feature. Nor are heavy lorries welcomed to narrow local roads.

A report by consultants to Epping Forest council (pdf) in 2012 set out in considerable detail the challenges for the growers and the dilemma for the councillors, who also have to contend with the pressures on the forest itself as another “green lung” for London.

Among the report’s conclusions were proposals to increase the area designated for protected cropping in glasshouses to head off increasing competition. This comes from abroad and also from Thanet Earth, the development of vast glasshouses in Kent where Combined Heat and Power technology means waste heat is used to warm the crops while electricity is produced for the grid.

 Cucumber festival

When the shelves of the city’s supermarkets boast of locally-sourced or “East Anglian” produce, they are likely to mean cucumbers grown by members of the Lea Valley Growers Association alongside tomatoes and peppers.

For the past two years they even held a Great British Cucumber Festival to celebrate the fact that the valley produces 75% of all UK cucumbers – about 1.2 million a week. There’s no event this year but “Cue Fest” is due to return in 2014.

The Epping Forest report painted a picture of an ageing generation of farmers running businesses on a knife edge of viability, needing to invest to thrive and grow, but hemmed in by physical and planning constraints. The need is for largely level sites, suitable for glasshouses which are regarded as temporary structures, and sufficient energy.

On national salad day last month, David Heath, Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was asked in the Commons by Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, if he was aware of the concentration of salad growers in his consituency around the villages of Roydon and Nazeing.

 Halfon asked his Conservative colleague: “Will the government place more weight on food production in the planning system to help the Lee Valley growers and glasshouse industry in my constituency?”

Hansard records the reply: “There clearly needs to be proper accommodation for growing food stuffs in this country through the planning system, but it is equally right the government are clear on this that local planning decisions need to be taken locally. Central government have continually to remind our colleagues in local government, however, that having sustainable food production in this country is a top priority. We have an increasing population to feed, and we must ensure that we can do so in a sustainable way.”

A reminder perhaps to the park authority that the coalition made transforming the economy a priority for all parts of government, or as David Cameron put it in his first major speech as prime minister in May 2010, a big part of our strategy for growth is getting out of the way of business.”

The views into the LeeValley from High Beach in Epping Forest are striking. A study of Google Earth or Maps gives you an idea of the extensive area under glass, but its hardly on the scale of the Netherlands. My own view is that there is room for more glasshouses without throwing stones at the park’s leisure remit.

 

The planners, HS2 and the bonfire of red tape

High speed Javelin train on the HS1 track above Rainham Marshes bird sanctuary in Essex

High speed Javelin train on the HS1 track above Rainham Marshes bird sanctuary in Essex. Photograph: Paul Nettleton

There must have been disappointment at the BBC2 when the first programme in its documentary series The Planners drew only 1.3 million viewers, some 5.5m fewer than would be expected for the peak time slot.

 

Days after the controversial announcement of the northern extension route for the HS2 railway, this portrayal of how developers, local authorities and the public are reacting to the government’s stripping away of planning controls  to encourage construction with the aim of kickstarting the economy is both timely and engaging.

 

Who cannot have felt sympathy with householders faced with losing their views of farmland on the edge of Winsford in Cheshire. They even pursued a fruitless hunt for great crested newts, a protected species, in their attempt to bock the building of 540 houses, with all that entails in disruption during construction work, additional traffic and the loss of an open aspect for which they’d doubtless paid a premium in house prices?

 

You might have wondered why a human resources company boss could not have a dropped kerb to facilitate parking in the front garden of her Regency house in Pittville, Cheltenham, “just like her neighbours”, instead of having to manoeuvre round the back as if her car was a horse being led to stables?

 

Solar panels

 

At least Basil and Rachel Thompson, retired GPs nurturing a beautiful garden in a grade two listed house in the shade of Chester’s historic city walls, were allowed to put 17 solar panels on the slate roof of their garage.

 

Conservation officer John Healey objected to concealing wall walking tourists’ views of the slates with large modular reflective panels. Basil pointed out that the office block looming above the far side of the wall looked “just like a panel”.

 

Indeed, redbrick Centurion House, boasted slate grey window frames and acres of glass arranged as if to resemble a fortress – lacking only Roman soldiers peering over the top.

 

Healey said he could not “answer for the sins of those who were here in the 70s”. This failed to answer the Thompsons’ point that solar panels are a response to 21st century needs for sustainable energy.

 

After the elected councillors voted through the installation, Healey was interviewed while looking down from the walls, oblivious to the blooms most tourists would have admired and with his back to the office block monstrosity rising behind him. It even had me jumping from my seat and prodding at the screen in astonishment.

 

Appeal costs

 

Still, even as the nimbys brief their lawyers in attempts to derail HS2 that are likely to delay its construction for years – not in my leafy acreage, please – you have to wonder if the balance has swung too far in favour of private developers.

 

Planning officers and councillors alike must now calculate the likely costs of losing an appeal to the planning inspectors if they reject any application. That’s not treating an application on its merits.

 

Developers who secure outline permission can return time and again, asking for more blocks and more flats. They can build closer to the neighbours than agreed drawings showed, yet not be forced to tear down the timber frames and start again. Both are examples close to my home in South Woodford, north-east London.

 

And while the predicted benefits of HS2 for the North and Midlands are now being questioned by academics and rail experts, such as Christian Wolmar, it is becoming all but impossible to stop a railway or a Thames bridge or a housing estate on a flood plain, all in the name of economic recovery.

 

Dither over HS2

 

The Chinese, we are told to wonder as we were once told to work more like the Japanese, will have built thousands of miles of high speed railway while we dither over HS2. But in the bonfire of red tape, so beloved of Tory politicians at their annual conference, are we ignoring the growing clamour in China for controls to avoid preventable deaths in the breakneck race for growth?

 

Would we accept the pollution-laden air of Beijing, where CNN last month reported an air quality index reading of 700? The World Health Organization regards 25 micrograms as healthy.

 

There’s a telling quote in a People’s Daily Online article after fire killed 53 people in a 28-storey building in Shanghai in 2010. It raised concerns at the lack of fire safety measures and facilities in China’s biggest metropolises. “The drive for modernisation should also include the quest for a greater peace of mind,” the article said.

 

It’s a lesson lost on British politicians engaged in dismantling protections for the public won at Westminster over many years, or seeking in Brussels to negotiate away workers’ rights in some à la carte European Union.

 

The Planners is on BBC2 at 8pm on Tuesday