Newham borough’s Mayor and leader of 23 years is out – lessons for elsewhere?
Newham’s leader of 23 years (yes, you read that right) Sir Robin Wales has been replaced as leader after an internal election ousted the man who had been Mayor. It was the only way he was going to lose the role given Labour control 59 of 60 seats in the borough – and the other Councillor was a Labour member thrown out.
Yet his policies caused issues within the ruling Labour group. He supported plans such as the Silvertown Tunnel which his successor, Rokhsana Fiaz opposes.
She’s also made housing a big issue and stated in a tweet celebrating her win that she “can’t wait to start working with members and residents to build a Newham that offers homes for our residents”, with talk of far higher numbers of social homes.
That won’t be easy to achieve, but the desire is there.
Changes afoot in Labour boroughs
Could the effects of this change ripple over the Thames?
The change of leadership raises questions of what will happen in places such as Greenwich borough in coming months and years.
The Silvertown Tunnel issue is not at all popular in many parts of Greenwich and the authority have also made a hash of housing issues for years.
Senior roles and policy direction is dominated by those who live in and around Eltham, far from major areas of growth in the north.
That’s not to say all is well in Eltham and surrounding areas however. This weekend I was in Coldharbour estate near the Bromley border. The neglect and design ineptitude from Greenwich Housing Department is quite something. The main shopping area is dated and cluttered. It was a mess.
It’s yet another place where people (often poorer) are left to live in badly maintained and neglected estates and it long pre-dates cuts.
The Silvertown Tunnel not only has the potential to alienate many in Greenwich Peninsula but also areas further west. Adding tolls to Blackwall and Silvertown will lead to many more cars heading west to Rotherhithe if it remains free. That will gridlock Greenwich town centre.
And housing is of course a perennial issue in Greenwich, as in all of London. There just doesn’t seem much in the way of drive or focus on solving this issue locally.
Instead of using every tool possible to build as made truly affordable new homes as possible using Meridian Home Start to bypass government caps, they’ve dallied and built very small numbers, with future plans also modest.
206 homes over a few years is really not impressive when other authorities are planning in the thousands over the same period.
Blaming others at all times
They’ve continuously blamed central government restrictions for being unable to build anywhere near enough homes outright (rightfully in my view) but then failed to use other tools they have. Tools that aren’t perfect but can still achieve far more than the few alternatives on offer.
How long can the leadership point the finger whilst doing little within their power?
All the issues that have raised their heads at other London boroughs are just as prominent in Greenwich. Can a provincial looking leadership cope with rapid changes in much of the borough, especially the north strip by the Thames?
Reducing social housing
Many social homes have, and will, be demolished in Woolwich with far less truly affordable homes built in their place under the “One Woolwich” scheme.
1,100 mostly social homes are replaced with 1,500 homes of which just 35% are “affordable”, and far fewer still are are social rent levels.
When the issue was raised “affordable” and social housing was confused by Greenwich’s head of regeneration. There’s a big difference in cost levels between social and affordable.
Meanwhile the desperate need for new homes goes on. The Greenwich Council solution? Mainly to spend at least £47 million buying existing homes off the market which means no net increase in new homes, is the most expensive option out there and pushes up house prices for other buyers hampering first time buyers in particular.
It’ll be interesting to see what changes occur after May’s election. Local independent parties are springing up, including one in Plumstead. Will the Labour leadership still pursue support for Silvertown alone? Will they continue to blame everyone else and not use Meridian to build thousands of homes needed? Will they continue to neglect estates and poorer areas of the borough?
And if they do will internal challenges then arise?