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Explained: The changes behind the Christmas tree

Wanstead’s Christmas tree this year is being paid for by residents who stumped up the £3,000 in a crowdfunding effort following a council cut. But it’s more than just a bit of community effort – the story is actually a result of a change to the way local politics is to be run in Redbridge. Wansteadium thought it might be useful to set out a bit more about the changes.

What is changing?
The previous system of “area committee” meetings was abruptly axed after the council elections last May. In our case, the meetings just covered Wanstead and Snaresbrook wards, and were held every other month. Each area in Redbridge had its own meetings. But they are being replaced with a single monthly meeting – a Local Forum – which will move around the borough.

What did area committees do?
The meetings were held at Wanstead Church School, and included a report from the local police about incidents or initiatives. Local residents who had applied in advance were given an opportunity to speak on something which concerned them. Then there would be a number of reports on areas for which the local councillors had been given authority by the council – typically very localised matters such as traffic calming, local CCTV, etc. The Parking Wars of 2012/3 which broke out into a beautiful harmony was largely staged at the Area Committee.

What is a favourable view of them?
That they were a sign of neighbourhood local decision making, even in a London borough. They were a regular chance to raise issues – or complain (or indeed on occasion shout) at one’s elected councillors. They were parochial, but that was rather the point.

What is an unfavourable view of them?
That they were expensive to stage, inefficient, appealed to the same old local busybodies, and did little to enliven local democracy.

How many people went?
As Wansteadium reported in January this year, not always very many. At that particular meeting, which did not have a huge amount of interesting business on the agenda, there were seven officers (i.e. paid council members of staff), six (unpaid) councillors, and 20 (paying) residents.

So we did some comparison – and in this diagram the blue line represents Wanstead and Snaresbrook – we concluded the area was “either more afflicted with controversy, or are more prepared to get stuck in”

forumHow will Local Forums be different?
There will be 12 meetings in Redbridge a year, compared to 40 Area Committee meetings. They will move around the different parts of Redbridge – so just two per year will be held in Wanstead. The first will be held at Wanstead Library on the afternoon of the 18 February 2015 – which proved controversial since area committees were held in the evening. The council has promised that the second Wanstead meeting of the year would be held in the evening.

The forums will have two elements – a “market place” at which residents could “browse stalls staffed by Council officers, Councillors and partner and voluntary sector organisations to discuss issues such as planning, parking, cleansing, housing and payments and benefits”.

The second element will be a “more formal ‘question time’”, at which the leader or deputy leader of the council will attend with senior officers (e.g. the head of the planning department). Other councillors are welcome to attend too – including those for the particular area which is hosting that forum. Inspite of its billing as a “question time”, a council spokesperson says “it will not be a panel”.

One clear strength of the new model over the old is that the leader and deputy leader of the council will attend – which was not the case with area committees. So for residents seeking to call the council to account, but who do not wish to do so at full Redbridge-wide meetings, it will be an opportunity to question the people who are actually in power. Local councillors may not, after all, represent the party which controls the council so would not necessarily be able to justify its actions.

How will issues be raised?
A common frustration with the previous system was that questions generally needed to be tabled in advance – this led to irritation of people who had just turned up wanting to raise an issue. With the new question time, question may be submitted in advance “or taken from the floor on the night”. (Or, presumably, the afternoon.) The council adds: “If it becomes clear at the meeting there is a lot of interest in a particular topic, then time would be given over to discuss that in more detail.” For residents who have an issue which they do not want to raise publicly, there will be opportunity to speak to the councillors in private.

So will local democracy be any stronger?
The previous network of area committees were axed because, the council said, they were “out of date, poorly attended by residents and lacked participation”. Will the new local forums be any stronger? It’s true, the chance to question the leader of the council may well be a draw. And the scarcity of the opportunity (once or twice a year instead of the previous five or six times) may also provide a sense of occasion. However, the figures on attendance, above, seem to indicate – as one might expect – that local government per se is a minority interest (full disclosure: it’s an interest held by Wansteadium, sadly). When things are going just fine, people tend not to attend. But when there is a problem or issue – be it parking or speeding or proposed development – then people in Snaresbrook and Wanstead have turned out in numbers. These occasions may not coincide with a six-monthly meeting.

Will much money be saved?
Wansteadium has requested an assessment of this from the council (and will update readers when we have received it). There will be fewer meetings in a year – down from 40 to 12. The meetings will however be more ambitious affairs, with more council officers in attendance (i.e. people who are paid to be there). This presumably will be one of the things which will be included in the review of the new system which the leader of the council, Cllr Jas Athwal, has said will take place after the first 12 months.

So where does the Christmas tree come into it?
Each area committee had a few thousand pounds allocated to it from central council funds. It could decide how to spend this money, within limits. Typically the money in Wanstead was shared between Music in Wanstead Park, the Wanstead Festival, CCTV, flower beds, benches, Christmas lights and £3,000 on a Christmas tree.

How can a Christmas tree cost £3,000?
Good question. Forgot to ask that one at the time.

Is there an element of a political punch-up?
There is clearly some politics behind it. The area committees, though not set up by the Conservatives, served most of their years when the council was run by the Conservatives. Labour took hold of the council last May and followed through on its policy to abolish the committees. The funding for the Christmas tree was one of the pieces of discretionary funding they withdrew, and it was Conservative councillors who organised the crowdfunding which will now pay for it. Several other things funded by the discretionary money will continue.

Did we get anything wrong here? Email info@wansteadium.com if you think we did.

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Pearly Queen sighting

Was that Wanstead’s Pearly Queen Doreen Golding spotted on Strictly on Saturday?

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Wanstead weekend photo, CVI

Geoff Wilkinson writes on Wanstead Daily Photo: “Next to our gallery, ‘eightyfour’ in Nightingale Lane there is a newsagents, Annes News. Of course it doesn’t  just sell newspapers it’s more of a convenience store with groceries, sweets etc. Anyway drivers pull up outside and pop in for whatever they need, quite often there seems to be a  dog in the car or van. The thing that really amuses me is that the dogs must be able to smell or sense the ‘goodies’ in shop, so they are always peering out for the owners return, hopefully with a treat I assume.”

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Another trifling victory

timeoutThe second utterly insignificant but strangely satisfying vindication inside a week. The Time Out Love London awards have reclassified Wanstead shops and restaurants as being in “Leytonstone and Wanstead” rather than lumping them together simply as being in Leytonstone. Nothing wrong with Leytonstone, of course. But places have names for a reason.

Wansteadium rather snarkily noted the lumping together earlier in the week, and lo and behold it has now been amended. It follows the equally trivial vindication over “vegitarian“. Pathetic really.

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Guerrilla gardening again

Wanstead’s wonderful guerrilla gardener Marian Temple writes:

“Yes, we’re starting again.  Earlier in the year we had several work parties having adopted from the council some sad patches of bald soil in the planting around Wanstead station. We planted and chucked seeds around and generally had a good time but the long spell of dry weather was not in our favour. This time of year, rain is a given so time to have another go. Come if you can, to Wanstead Station, this Sunday 19 October, at 10.30am. Litter clearance, weeding, planting and seed chucking.  Everyone welcome, adults, kids, no experience necessary. Bring tools, gloves, anything you think might be useful. I’ll bring a load of tough plants.  Hope to see you there. Marian Temple.”

 

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Wanstead Property: Going straight

George C Parker, Wansteadium’s property blogger, writes:

georgecparker320x339Autumnal greetings, gentle readers. Your correspondent returns from a business trip of sorts, an occupational hazard that crops up every couple of years in my extremely specialised line of work.

Returning to the chestnut-lined Elysium of my dominion, I could not help but delight in the general vivacity of the old place at the moment. The new additions to the High Street seem mostly refined and thriving. I wish them all well.

What’s more, during my recent free time I’ve been reading about the inspiring work going on under the auspices of the Friends of Wanstead Parklands. Every improvement to the wonderful green space around us benefits us all, and the Group deserve a lot of support and praise for their efforts.

Additionally, whilst I was ‘travelling’ dear Tom Dyckhoff penned a charming appreciation of Wanstead in the Guardian for all to admire (unfortunately the online version is somewhat abridged). Beautifully balanced and researched, he gave well-deserved praise to the highlights of our High Street and the noble Wanstead Park in generous measures.

I also managed to catch up on the Evening Standard Homes and Property team guide to Wanstead from earlier this year.  To my mind,  the tweeted vignettes from local residents greatly improved the piece, which seemed otherwise to dwell overly much on historical goings on at Snaresbrook Crown Court.

Now safely ensconced back at Parker Towers, in some ways I feel I’ve never been away. The Farmer’s Market continues to thrive whilst the successful Art Trail and the stealth cool Fringe have underlined, in a beautiful font, the cultural credentials of our little patch.

The chestnuts are ripening and there’s a gentle background rumble about the so-called Evergreen Field on the Wanstead Society page on Facebook – it was ever thus.

Property-wise the news seems to be mixed. People trying to move locally seem stymied by the lack of liquidity. Renters are frustrated by the barrier to ownership. Estate agents are the last to squeal, it seems; we now have houses advertised above £2M
such as this  – a beautiful place to call home, for sure, but looking at that asking price, I’m calling my probation officer to check just how long I was “on holiday” – double life?

My inspection of rental market has thrown up opportunities like this  and this. I truly sympathise with those who find the rental market expensive at the moment – the laws of supply and demand are useful to property traders but not to those who are on the ladder towards their first purchase. Every town and village depends on a good mix of ages, professions, statuses and amenities in order to thrive.

To those currently searching – may you find a good home in Wanstead before long. And to the local property firms – a hat tip for their generous recent support of the Wanstead Fringe, and the Christmas crowdfunder.

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Pedants’ victory

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Who says Wansteadium is pointless barking at the moon? This is real change: one of the spelling mistakes on the new India Garden restaurant frontage has been corrected. The other one almost so. That’s pedantry in action.

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Letter to Wansteadium: Dig deep for the playground

Wansteadium reader Louise Cutler writes: 
As you may or may not be aware the Christchurch playground (Woodbine Place) is sadly in a very sorry state. It’s so popular with everyone, but in desperate need of updating or renovating. We (a group of mums) have approached the council who sadly say there is no funding to update the equipment (they have resurfaced it but that’s it – it’s more like patching up the holes). So it would seem that it’s down to the locals to fundraise. 
 
We’re in the very early early stages meeting with the council to discuss what could be done if anything, how much it would cost, and whether the council would provide any funding. 
 
The Christmas tree campaign highlighted the power of local spirit to improve this wonderful village we live in. If we’re going to do something about the playground, it’s this that we need to tap into. I know there are many local residents and nurseries who use this playground. I’m also of the thinking that any improvement may also help the local shops ie ‘build it and they will come’ sort of thinking. Ultimately this may lead to people spending more on the High Street.
 
In the next couple of weeks we’ll come forward hopefully with some real costed examples of what could be achieved, and we’ll set up another crowdfunding effort. In the meantime if you support us, please leave a comment on this blog post! We will appreciate your support.
 
Thank you 
 
Louise Cutler
More information on the new crowdfunding to follow .
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Wanstead weekend photo, CV

Geoff Wilkinson writes on Wanstead Daily Photo: “I always enjoy peeking into front gardens as I wander around Wanstead. I discovered this garden in Wellesley Rd, I really like the combination of the stones and the mosaic tiled path which I think must be original. Simple to keep tidy as well I suspect.”

Meanwhile, Wansteadium would be interested to know of cases of Box blight in Wanstead, to info@wansteadium.com.

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