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Biggs finds £3m to tart up neighbourhoods

IN AN EXTRAORDINARY move, Mayor John Biggs has found £3 million to fund superficial cosmetic improvements to “refresh” the cosmetic appearance of parts of Tower Hamlets – though he can’t find cash for the highly successful Youth Sports Foundation, Children’s Centres or Day Care nurseries to survive.

Most Tower Hamlets residents are interested in their environment and of course nice environments are nicer to live in than nasty ones – but are they a funding priority? The Council has not revealed any rationale behind this sudden prioritisation of making areas more “attractive” – while at the same time vulnerable adults are being charged for the social care that keeps them in their own homes.

The Council has announced that this £3 million scheme to “invest in local infrastructure to brighten and uplift neighbourhoods will start in September. (Did you realise your neighbourhood needed “uplifting”?) Residents and community groups will be encouraged to work with the Council on what is actually done to their own areas. It will be called The Mayor’s Neighbourhood Refresh Programme.

Mayor John Biggs said: “I want to make Tower Hamlets even safer, cleaner and greener. Residents know their neighbourhoods best and that is why we want to listen to suggestions about what would improve their part of the borough. This could range from more green spaces, new lighting or bins to traffic calming measures. These practical improvements will make a real difference across Tower Hamlets so please do get involved”. He did not invite residents to get involved in suggesting how other services could be improved – such as nurseries or youth sport.

The Council suggests that improvements could include more trees and green spaces, installation of cycle parking, better lighting, street art, pleasant resting areas; and safety and traffic calming measures. Perhaps the children who are not in nurseries could contribute to the street art. Perhaps the frail and vulnerable elderly can pay for their social care and then make their way through the calmed traffic to one of the pleasant resting area.

A pilot refresh project has already been completed in Stepney, where the Council was receiving reports about (unspecified) road safety issues and responded by installing brighter lighting and some traffic calming measures, doing some road resurfacing and installing some littler bins.

The first area to be consulted as part of the main “refresh” programme is the “Weavers area of Bethnal Green” – though whether this is the Labour marginal ward of Weavers (the two sitting Labour councillors had majorities of just nine and 23 votes at the 2014 elections) or just the general area is not clear.

The decision on what will be “refreshed” will be made after a consultation process which will involve a street audit – at which residents, community leaders and council officers will walk round the area and point out potential environmental or safety improvements. Consultation ends on 30th September.

The Street Audit for Weavers will take place at 1pm on Saturday, 23rd September, starting from Jesus Green Park, Quilter Street, E2. There will be an exhibition on the Council’s proposals in the park from 10am that day. Members of the public have been asked to register to take part in the street audit, but no information has been given on how to do this.

The Weavers Street Audit will be joined by John Biggs and Cllr Amina Ali, Cabinet Member for Environment. Cllr Ali made it clear that although the public are being consulted, the Council will take the final decision, saying, “Take part in a consultation or come along to a street audit near you, give us your ideas and we will review them and decide which are best to pursue.”

The consultation is being run by a company called Project Centre. It doesn’t seem to be too busy at the moment: the only “live projects” advertised on its website are a consultation with businesses in Brick Lane to establish whether they need loading bays, a streetscape improvements consultation for Lewisham and the current Weavers consultation.

The Council’s proposals for the Weavers Area have already been published online. There are six proposals and the map and online questionnaire allow you to make additional suggestions. Residents can also email their views to the council. The deadline is 30th September.

To see the proposals and online map, go to:
https://www.pclconsult.co.uk/projects/weavers/

•Read more about it:
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Biggs sits out Labour support for International Youth Day

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