African Families Service
The first public petition to be heard at the Council meeting on 16th September came from the Pastors and Community Leaders Group, asking the Council to note their opposition to the African Families Service being cut. Labour councillors immediately pointed out that the service had been cut in a budget set by former Mayor Lutfur Rahman. They had not protested about this particular cut at the time – but nonetheless Cllr John Pearce made a short speech saying that the Labour Councillors had never trusted Mayor Rahman’s consultation processes. Petitioners said that they had been grateful Mayor Rahman had kept the service going – but it was Council managers who had deleted a Council post, and it was the loss of that post which was crucial. As a result, there was not enough visiting of churches, and the petitioners were worried that children were at risk of abuse. Cllr Amina Ali, pointing out she was herself of African descent and thought that African voices should be heard in the borough, asked for detail of abuse which the group had suspected or detected. Petitioners said that there was suffering as a result of witchcraft and similar problems, but as a result of the work done in the borough the churches were beginning to realise that it was wrong to suspect children to be possessed and to harm them as a result. The items was guillotined before all councillors who wished to could speak. Cllr Rachael Saunders (joint second Deputy Mayor and former Leader of the Labour Group) answered the petition on behalf of John Biggs. She invited the petitioners to meet her and show her their services – and blamed Mayor Lutfur Rahman for the cut.
Yellow lines on Blackwall Way
The second public petition to be heard came from Mr Salman Ahmed and other local residents, who wanted double yellow lines to be removed from Blackwall Way. He pointed out that this wasn’t a through route and thought they weren’t necessary. His own concern was that he needed to park outside his home and then go in to help his 91 year old mother to get into his car. He had got parking tickets but ironically other cars parked in the road overnight. It would be better if the yellow lines were removed and resident parking bays were introduced. Cllr Oli Rahman supported him, pointing out this was a problem across the whole Isle of Dogs. Cllr Dave Chesterton said there had been single yellow lines there, but in March this year they had been made into double yellow lines; that parking wardens came round at 2am and 3am; and that many resident spaces had been lost to construction vehicles – and he asked the petitioner if that was true. The petitioner confirmed this was the case. Even though he had a disability badge, he could seldom park. He thought the double yellow lines may not be lawful, as the road was not a through route. At least if there were resident bays, outsiders would have to keep out. The single yellow lines had allowed disabled drivers to park, but the double yellow lines made things difficult because a disabled driver could only park for three hours. The Tory Cllr Chapman said he thought that the large scale of construction in the area, which was not supported by an adequate infrastructure, was to blame for the chaos. He offered to help the petitioner with his own parking problems. The petitioner stood his ground: if the developments were “no permit” developments, they should not make a difference – and much of the problem was that Blackwall Way was a D1 area, and it was D2 and D3 permit holders who came in to park. Labour’s John Biggs answered the petition – saying that though Cllr Miah should be answering, as he was in charge of parking, he preferred to answer himself. (So there, Cllr Miah.) Biggs said that the yellow lines would be reviewed when the construction ended, which would be soon – but he would try to hurry that up. He could see, he said, the petitioner’s problems but wasn’t entirely sure what to do. He hoped to review parking in the borough, though there were national planning policies which affected them. He also wanted to look at the local plan. Interestingly, John Biggs said some of this may be the fault of Mayor Lutfur Rahman, for granting too many planning applications. He joked that maybe Labour would come under criticism for granting too many applications under John Biggs. In fact, Mayor Lutfur Rahman had no power over planning applications: under his mayoralty, planning applications were heard and determined by a (Labour-controlled) planning committee which had to adhere to planning law.
The third petition came from residents of Yates House, E2, asking the Council why their block had not had any work done. Residents had voted, during the stock transfer process, not to transfer to Swan Housing Association, so they had ended up being managed by Tower Hamlets Homes. Since then, work had not been done despite a great deal of pressure from residents. The Speaker (the independent chair of the Council) intervened to say this block was in the ward he represented and he wanted councillors to take this petition seriously. Cllr John Pearce gave a little speech about Tower Hamlets Homes and the former Administration behind “asleep at the wheel”. Cllr Rabina Khan pointed out that the work on Yates House should have been begun long before she even became a councillor. When she had been the Cabinet Member for Housing, she had obtained the money for the works to be done on this block – but leaseholders then had problems with how Tower Hamlets Homes consulted over the work. She thought that the blocks actually needed extra work – such as cladding. The petitioner then pointed out that nearby blocks had been clad but were now suffering from condensation and mould, and that residents who were architects were suggesting other solutions. Cllr Sirajul Islam, Cabinet Member for Housing (Management) answered the petition. He said that the new Administration was trying to get to the bottom of the problems: they had put new members on the board of Tower Hamlets Homes and he hoped that would move things on. He reported that Tower Hamlets Homes had set up a steering group to work with residents and there was already a new provisional timetable. He would meet residents if they wanted.