Most of my posts have been about improving Tower Hamlets but I need to do one negative post.
There should be a simple rule in elections – if you do a bad job as an elected politician at the next election voters should vote for somebody else, applies to all of us.
I think Tower Hamlets Council has done a bad job in a number of important areas since John Biggs was elected seven years ago (see list below), in some cases things are getting worse, in other areas progress has been too slow, only a few areas have shown real sustained improvement over time. This is based on eight years of detailed analysis of how the Council performs.
Part of the problem is that the Council itself has major cultural, managerial, and structural problems. So whoever is the next Mayor is going to struggle to deliver until the organisation is sorted.
And ultimately John Biggs as the Executive Mayor is responsible for these issues – that is the whole point of having a Mayor – one person to take responsibility
I gave John Biggs my 2nd preferences vote in 2014, 2015, and 2018 but I cannot do it anymore even to stop Lutfur Rahman (who I believe was a more effective Mayor from 2010 to 2015 then John has been in 2015 to 2022 but of course, Lutfur also has his own issues)
So I will be giving my 2nd preference votes to Cllr Rabina Khan – Lib Dem
But John & the Labour Party locally (as well as the Council) just keep blaming the government for everything that goes wrong BUT it is always possible to find Labour Councils who do a good or better job than us in a number of areas despite in theory austerity affecting us all equally e.g. Barking & Dagenham. And we are one of the richest (in terms of our income) and youngest Boroughs in the country (which means fewer older people to look after as a proportion of the population) so we have been less affected by austerity than many others. But it infantilises us to keep blaming others for things that we are also responsible for.
So I would encourage you to not to vote for John Biggs again, sometimes the safe option is not as safe as it looks. For example:
· Failing to prepare for the scale of development underway in the E14 area
· Not supporting the Neighbourhood Plan you voted for last May
· Not helping disabled people with cars
· Not running safe children’s services
· Allowing the leisure centres to become unsafe to re-open
· Losing so much money through inflation
· Not doing a public investigation into why so many girls tried to go to Syria
· Etc etc etc – see a partial list below, I stopped when I got to page 7
FULL DETAIL BELOW
· Failed OFTSED in 2017 – 2nd worst report that year
· No serious case reviews ever carried out for the three girls from Tower Hamlets who died in Syria
· SEND failure in 2021 requiring the Council to write a letter because of significant areas of weakness found
· Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse found issues in Tower Hamlets “It was clear from the evidence that none of the police forces or local authorities in the case study areas in this investigation had an accurate understanding of networks sexually exploiting children in their area”
Parking especially disabled parking
· Difficulty in getting disabled parking bays for residents requiring complaints to the Ombudsman
· Not protecting disabled residents parking access to private underground car parks in s106 legal agreements
· Not delivering the 3% disabled parking spaces required by the London Plan
· 210 blue badge thefts from cars because LBTH won’t consider providing disabled people with virtual permits for at least one vehicle used by disabled people. Forcing disabled people to pay extra to repair damaged cars or insurance premiums in order to protect LBTH from some additional parking fraud.
· Car-free properties include many people with cars, but LBTH has no strategy for them
· Granting permit transfer schemes for developments with little or no nearby street parking
· Introduce 3-hour mini zones initially without consultation and then change some zone boundaries to mitigate the impact
· Failures on parking enforcement resulting in the largest unpaid individual parking fine in the country
New Town Hall
· No detail has ever been provided to explain the increase in the budget since this Council first approved the decision. Was it inflation, larger building, asbestos? Was originally estimated to cost around £77 million now the budget is over £114 million
· But we still do not know the estimated final costs (not even Councillors on the scrutiny Cttee)
· Costs that should be included in the program are being kept separate i.e. London Yard
· 700 new homes promised as part of the programme not delivered
Council house building programme
· Not actually building 2,000 new homes as advertised – many were built by others and are not ‘new’ – only 225 genuinely new homes built by the Council so far
· Unwilling to build tall buildings on Council owned land in areas with fantastic transport connections and access to facilities proving that there is no actual housing crisis i.e., Mile End Veolia depot/Stroudley Walk – new development is lower than old nearby development or lower than nearby sites in Newham
· Buying expensive old stock in poor repair from one housing association and then making it difficult to find out how much spent on that stock even though clear more spent than originally planned
· Forcing existing tenants out of homes so that they can be presented as new Council homes
· Spending scarce funds on a large number of small projects resulting in high overheads and poor economies of scale rather than as a previous administration did using compulsory purchase powers to assemble large sites where large volumes of new affordable homes can be built more efficiently
· A lack of clarity (like Croydon) over what was bought, where and for how much? All we see is a dip in reserves.
Construction management failures by Tower Hamlets Council
· Two residents died in construction-related accidents outside the boundaries of the construction site – this should not happen
· Things routinely falling off construction sites onto public areas or people’s homes – there is no public record of how many & where
· Pavements blocked for years – making sites safer but making it more dangerous for pedestrians especially the disabled
· Permitting cutting down trees often when not required or too early
· Always saying yes to developers including allowing them to work over the Easter weekend
· Making it difficult to track the extent of permissions to work late
· Not encouraging the use of off-site parking areas for trucks to wait before being called onto site has happened with the London 2012 Olympics
· Not enforcing the relevant policies in the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Plan despite it getting an 86% yes vote
· Not using enforcement powers to discipline bad behaviour in the past
· No air quality nor noise sensors next to construction sites providing public information about their impact
· Continuous digging up of key roads like Marsh Wall because there is still no long-term plan for utilities
· Danger to residents of living in incomplete buildings like Amory Tower still under construction
· Failing to challenge housing targets set by the Mayor of London which we are now failing to achieve making it harder to resist new development
· Setting targets that put 57% of all new housing into a relatively small part of Tower Hamlets, the Isle of Dogs and South Poplar and then creating Supplementary Planning Documents for the largest part of Tower Hamlets to make large developments more difficult there, mean it will be even harder to meet targets overall putting more pressure on small parts of Tower Hamlets
· Failing to learn the lessons of previous failures i.e., Blackwall is the worst planned place in the UK (playgrounds!) when it comes to new development areas like along the river Lea
· Failing for the 2nd time to decide the West ferry Printworks planning application on time, on both occasions allowing others to make the decisions instead
· Routinely losing planning appeals because LBTH has not designed a process to ensure that if Councillors reject a scheme recommended by Officers that Councillor decisions are supported with the strongest possible planning reasons for a rejection
· Failure to report alleged corruption around planning issues to the Police until told to do so
· Failure to so far use new technology in the planning process until years after its introduction, Vu.City 3D model for example
· No effective meanwhile use strategy for the many large sites demolished and then left empty i.e., JP Morgan site
· No response to the poor door controversy – Councillors complain at planning committee but there is no formal policy response to the issues raised by the segregation of tenures
· There is no strategy despite talking about it for years
· Substantial and continuing losses from reserves through inflation approximately £10.8 million in the last year, in 2018 to 2020 the Council finance team estimate was that we lost £22.3 over 3 years – this loss is not reported in the accounts nor commentary
· LBTH holds substantial reserves but there is a lack of clarity over what they are for
· Services that actually support children in the Borough: Scouts, Sea Scouts, Police Cadets, Brownies, Guides etc get no support from LBTH only impediments (have to pay business rates for example) – struggle with facilities
· Continuous restructuring of the youth service – four in recent years meaning no stability
· Youth centres cut and cut until only open 3 times a week
· Unwillingness to consider different funding models bringing in external funds and resources i.e., Youth Zone
· Moving a Council investigator into the team he was investigating to work alongside the people he was investigating.
· Temporary closure of youth centres like St Andrews Wharf in previous years due to inability to recruit staff (even when they had budget)
· What is there for teenagers to do?
· York Hall and St Georges swimming pools still closed; Tiller not safe to re-open last year
· Failure to deliver the infrastructure required as set out by the Isle of Dogs and South Poplar Development Infrastructure Funding Study commissioned by the Mayor of London
· Not spending s106 funds within 7 years as agreed
· Delays to the 4th attempt to build a new pedestrian bridge across South Quay & to make it compatible for cyclists
· Lea river bridge by Poplar gas works – allowing new development to occupy land required to allow construction of a new bridge that had planning permission (but was not built)
· Loss of GLA funding for the Poplar River zone
· DLR only 3 carriages long – should have been built 4 or 5 carriages
· No growth of public services to match population growth despite that being what New Homes Bonus is for.
· Second library for Whitechapel but libraries on the Isle of Dogs at risk of closure despite 57% of all new housing in Tower Hamlets allocated there.
· Loss of the Isle of Dogs Police station
Crime & Anti-Social Behaviour
· Worst ASB rates in the UK during lockdown, worst in London outside of lockdown
· Has been the top or 2nd highest concern of residents for years in the Residents Survey
· Little investment in ASB, the CCTV investment programme is mainly driven by the need to digitise the CCTV network to allow the move to the new Town Hall
· Most CCTV cameras are placed where the main population centres were a generation ago not where they are now i.e., Millharbour and Marsh Wall, densest place in the UK has no Council CCTV cameras
· Introduction of new PSPO to deal with NOX, six years after first introduced in London
· Still a lack of clarity over how to report ASB and to whom
· On a range of issues related to planning and rubbish little evidence of LBTH using its enforcement powers
· Other Boroughs are noticeably keener to enforce and take people to court
· Pension’s failure – having to declare our failure to the Pension Regulator
· Accounts from 2018/19 still not signed off by auditors with material issues found by auditors requiring major changes in the reserves position
· Still using Microsoft Excel to track key data
· Every year failing to spend our capex budget
· Threat of business rate reductions to our future income if properties revalued – what are we doing to attract new or retain existing businesses and encourage the full occupation of our shops, offices, and restaurants?
Homes of Multiple Occupation (HMO)
· Watering down limitations introduced by other Labour controlled councils to regulate the growth of HMOs.
· No strategy to provide a wider range of home tenures then just private for sale apartments, shared ownership, and social rent.
· Loss of family sized accommodation in existing larger houses as private developers meet demand instead by converting family homes which results in financial losses for the Council as well as the loss of affordable homes which might have been gained by developers building new buildings to meet this demand instead
Quality of Life
· Allowing parts of Tower Hamlets to look like a shambles due to the neo-liberal attitude of LBTH
· London rates poorly for quality of life in a number of international surveys – LBTH contributes to that
· Suffers high turnover as a result and skewed demographics (vaccine uptake might suggest we have the youngest population in the country)
· Facilities for teenagers are poor to non-existent in large parts of Tower Hamlets or noticeably poorer than elsewhere i.e., skateboard parks in Lewisham superior to those in Tower Hamlets
· Playgrounds in or near to new developments are too small, badly located, or inadequate – LBTH has not provided new playgrounds to compensate for this.
· Only 30% of staff earning more than £60k are BAME but BAME staff comprise 59% of all staff
· Staff sickness rates – this leads to additional pressures on other staff
· Proportion of senior staff promoted from within the organisation is extremely low – high quality organisation would promote a % of management from within – this leads to higher recruitment costs, loss of knowledge, and low staff morale as can see little hope of advancement.
Rubbish & recycling
· Worst recycling record in London in last full year measured, 2nd worst rate in England
· % Recycled has declined over time – is getting worse – but has improved for London as a whole
· Blackwall Reach URS bins routinely not emptied on time or full – within sight of the sales office trying to sell apartments at Blackwall Reach. LBTH is the developer!
· URS truck problems
· Issues with collections being missed on a regular basis or not being picked up for other reasons that are not made clear to residents i.e., Castalia Square
· Council fleet of vehicles still fossil fuel-powered with only a couple of hybrids – bought new fleet of diesel refuse vehicles after City of London sometime before proved that electric refuse vehicles worked
· No electric vehicle chargers in any Council facility
· Only one Council building has solar panels on roof
· No other form of sustainable electricity generation in any Council building
· Bought electricity from renewable sources ten years at least after this was possible
· No emergency response to the emergency declared in 2019
· Most affected Borough in the country by a factor of two, 293 buildings asked for Building Safety Funds versus Manchester 144
· Almost every week new buildings are being added to the list of building with issues requiring a walking watch – perhaps 1⁄2 to 1/3 of all tall buildings are affected in some way?
· LBTH does not know how many buildings were affected by wider fire safety issues as mainly focussed on ACM clad buildings at the request of MHCLG
· Fire risk reports old and out of date for THH buildings
· No tall ladders placed in LBTH by the London Fire Brigade – does LBTH have a view on this?
· No evidence that LBTH has committed any of its own financial resources to this issue until 2022 (extra staff employed funded by MHCLG) despite earning approaching half a billion in funds from development (s106, CIL, NHB) now at risk
· Not commissioning a fire safety report following the NPW fire to help learn all of the lessons from the fire.
· How will LBTH help affected residents? Will it support a reduction in Council tax based on a decline in property values?
· Raines Foundation secondary school – second OFSTED failure despite LBTH staff being placed on the governing body to turn it around and eventual closure despite building a new secondary school in Wapping proving there is demand for secondary schools
· Loss of world-class new secondary coding free school on Commercial Road due to opposition from LBTH despite the Department of Education buying the site for tens of millions of pounds
· Schools struggling to recruit staff due to cost of living in Tower Hamlets and journey times
· Schools are average in London based on their OFSTED inspection results despite getting the highest funding per pupil
· Failure to ensure delivery of new secondary school on the Isle of Dogs for an established school but building a new secondary school for a school that does not yet exist in Wapping
· Unlike many other Boroughs LBTH has failed to commission a new school in over twelve years now despite being the fastest growing Borough in the country for more than twenty years – it has solely relied on others to provide new schools with the Wood Wharf primary school being the first to be provided by LBTH (to open in 2022)
· A process that started with broad public support – to stop vehicles rat-running through Wapping has created division and conflict by being rushed through in a pandemic and by ignoring consultation responses
· Has created revenue-generating assets (bus gates) from using money meant to support new infrastructure in other parts of Tower Hamlets
· Danger to life and property from emergency vehicle delays by using planters rather than ANPR cameras as requested by the London Fire Brigade
· Opportunity missed for liveable streets to be self-funding through the use of ANPR camera-controlled gates rather than using scarce infrastructure funds
· LBTH still acting as if air quality is getting worse when its own sensors show the opposite, that air pollution levels have been dropping for years in part it is assuming due to new EURO standard engines.
· LBTH buying an all-new fleet of diesel refuse vehicles in 2020 (using latest EURO engines) shows that it actually believes this is also the case.
· As a result, it is not focussing its efforts on those areas with poor air quality nor other sources of air pollution (construction sites)
· Evidence that LBTH will ignore consultation responses if they do not fit what LBTH has already decided to do i.e., Bethnal Green ward name change not supported by residents of the ward, Wapping residents wanted Wapping residents to be able to drive through Wapping
· Consultation hub does not alert you to new consultations, have to manually visit the website to see what is being consulted on
· Many consultations are not advertised by the Council via its social media or are only done once
· High levels of deprivation remain – suggesting a generational failure by LBTH
· Lack of a strategy to welcome new immigrant groups, how many people from HK will more here, what will we do if they do come in large numbers?
· Too many people still cannot speak English well which has a detrimental impact on their ability to access a range of services (health especially) and jobs