So far members from the Priory Court Computer Club have used this blog to express their individual views and concerns through published articles inviting comments from the public. They all started off as complete beginners not so long ago and this blog was an excellent step forward to boost their confidence and put to good use the computer skills they have learnt whilst coming to the Centre’s courses, workshops and drop in sessions.
They have now gone a step further and decided they would like to do a project on a more collective basis. Initial discussions focussed mainly on local matters and concerns. Recently, Councillor Geraldine Reardon has helped two members of the club so everyone thought that it might be a good idea to see if she would agree to an interview. When asked, she accepted without hesitation.
The members then put forward a list of questions each of them wanted to ask. What you are about to see and read, is the interview that took place and the questions and comments that came out of it. The interview lasted nearly an hour so Geraldine’s answers have been edited to contain the main points.
Q1) Peter S – “What made you decide to become a councillor?”
Watch Geraldine’s reply here:
Q2) Ron – “Since your time living in Waltham Forest, how do you think the borough has changed?”
“If I remember my first impressions of it when I moved here more than 10 years ago and what it looks like now I think the single difference is that there are a lot more cars. Around where I live I have noticed that where families used to have one car they now have 2 or 3 cars. The streets are choc-a-block with them and it causes everyone a lot of problems.
An important issue on the council that we are trying to deal with is that a lot of family sized homes have been turned into flats and then they get let out to single people or couples and each one of them has a car so that increases the numbers. And cars now are relatively cheaper than they used to be.”
Q3) Jean – “Has any decision been made regarding the development of Lloyd’s Park, i.e. the Pavilion?”
“The council have applied to get funding from Heritage Lottery Fund and we got just short of £3.5 million. The council has also put in its own money and we have other smaller pots of money to refurbish all of Lloyd Park & Aveling Park and improve the services there. For instance; the cafe and gallery will be rebuilt, there will be a new open air performance space and a synthetic bowling green. The pavilion on the island is going to be taken down and that space is going to be landscaped, opened up and returned to parkland. But there will be an area for outdoor performances in the summer. The problem with the existing pavilion is that it is being constantly vandalised and costs the council so much money to keep repairing it all the time. We want to have a purpose built performing arts space elsewhere in the borough. The work in the park starts next January and will be phased over an 18 month period.”
Q4) Dave – “It has been very noticeable of late that people have been urinating in public places. Do you not think that the declining number of public toilets in Waltham Forest is contributing to the problem?”
“It’s really the cost as to why they were got rid of. In place of that the council has started what’s called a community toilet scheme. This operates in other boroughs as well who do the same thing. They pay shops and pubs between £800-£1000 P/A to keep a toilet available to the public in good condition and they are inspected. And that compares to several thousand to keep an ordinary public toilet open and those public toilets were subject to vandalism and ASB. The scheme has been successful – there are 41 businesses signed up now. And can I just refer to the toilet in Chingford Mount – there is a community toilet scheme there with the potential to make it bigger but it costs the council £84000 p/a to keep that toilet open.
Dave’s comment: “There’s money spent on beautifying the borough with all those flowers and aquariums. If you did a survey to find out whether we want fish, flowers or flushing toilets I think you would find that people would choose flushing toilets!”
Geraldine’s reply: “OK, we could ask people what they would rather have but the toilets are very expensive to maintain. I think the flower boxes have been enormously popular and you will notice that they rarely get vandalised. The council has to make choices about how it spends its money and it’s getting more and more difficult. This year it’s going to be really tough.”
Q5) John – “Can you please tell us what the borough is doing for the disabled?”
“You all have access to the Internet here – you can go on the council’s website and see the range of services offered to children and adults by the council. The council does try to provide specialist homes for people with disabilities and at Priory Court we have some on the ground floor of blocks but there’s a huge range of services so I suggest you go to the website and have a look.”
Peter S comment: – “I would like to raise the point about travelling down the market for disabled people – they used to be able to drive down the street on a Monday and park outside shops but now that’s been taken away from them and there’s no access to anyone at any time. There’s some severely disabled people who find that a big disappointment – can’t the council take that into account?”
Geraldine’s reply: – “I didn’t know that, I think I can understand why they did that but I don’t know who they consulted with – clearly not many of you! I can find out if there’s a possibility of changing it. I do know that conditions in the market have changed a lot. There’s more concern about what to do with a road that people get used to treating as a pedestrian route and then when you put cars down there it becomes a dangerous place. I for one campaigned that cars should not be allowed on a Sunday because it becomes so extremely dangerous and there were a lot of near misses particularly involving children. But Monday would be a good day and I will get back to you on it.”
Q6) Doreen – “I love animals. However, I do not like the dog mess being left behind by some irresponsible owners who can’t be bothered to pick it up. Also there are not enough poo bins around which might encourage owners to be more responsible. What are your views?”
“I agree with you – I think it’s absolutely awful. The council takes it extremely seriously, it’s not just a problem in the streets, in some ways it’s even worse in the parks. People think it’s OK for their dogs to go on the grass but that’s worse than the streets as you can’t see it. So everyone – The Safer Neighbourhood Team, Police, council employees and residents are being alerted that this is a serious problem. If you are caught by anybody in authority you can be fined.
One thing I think the council has not done well is to advertise that it no longer has dog bins and that dog mess can be put in plastic bags and placed in an ordinary waste bin but hardly anybody knows that. So I have raised this with the people responsible for street bins and I have said that it has to be widely advertised. Some bins have a sticker on them (to indicate that they can be used for dog mess) but I have said that they should have stickers on all of them. When we had the red bins they were not being used but we still had to pay someone to go around every day to empty them.
We are trying to educate people on how to look after their dogs and there is an education programme in schools to show about dogs and what it means to own one.”
Q7) Lily – “Often when I go out I have been forced to walk in the road because the pavements are obstructed by overgrown shrubs and hedges (which are soaking wet after it has been raining). I have reported this to the council on more than one occasion but the people responsible for the hedges just don’t seem to care. Can a fine not be imposed on repeat offenders?”
“Anyone can phone 020 8496 3000 to report that or contact me (or your ward councillor). That’s a good way of doing it as your councillor would like to know about it, and yes, people can be fined and they have been fined. It’s a nuisance but it’s also a genuine hazard for blind and visually impaired people.
The council could, if it had the resources, drive up and down the street and spot hedges that are overgrown and write a letter to the owners to say you’ve got 30 days to cut your hedge. The council depends on us (as residents) to be their eyes and ears and report this sort of thing. What the council will do if the owner does not comply is to come along with their own hedge trimmer and lop it off and fine the owners.
A lot of these properties are owned by large companies like Circle 33 or individuals who don’t live there and a lot of the lets are short term. However, if we don’t deal with this in a sensible and calm way a lot of these property owners could say that its more trouble than its worth and just take the hedge out. I believe something has to be done and the landowners like Circle 33 should think about what they can do to keep the hedges and maintain them because they mean so much to the character of the area.”
Q8) Pat – “As a pensioner living on my own in a Controlled Parking Zone, I am unable to afford parking permits for family, friends and other callers. As a result my family and friends are reluctant to visit me for fear of being ticketed. I think it is unfair and as a pensioner I think that I should be exempt from having to pay for parking permits. What are your views?”
“You’re right Pat and I agree with you. I think that it’s a really serious problem, we’ve talked about this (on the council) and I would like to do something about it. It’s not just pensioners but also other people who are housebound for all sorts of reasons.
What is happening this year is a review of what used to be called Controlled Parking Zones (CPZs) now called Residents Parking Schemes. One of the things that some of us would like is not to have these big blanket blocks of time where parking is prohibited but to have a smaller number of hours. You only need a small slot of hours in the middle of the day to prevent commuters from parking but if you are near a shopping area that won’t work.
The thing that irritates me about visitor permits is that they are a nuisance and they cost money to process and sell them and if we could try to minimise their use that would be better. You have a lot of sympathy on the council. The problem is that we have to find a way of doing it that is manageable but it has to be taken within a complete review of how parking works (in the borough) so it does not discriminate against people but it also keeps the parkers who don’t belong there out.”
Q9) Mick – “Due to inconsiderate parking and what is suspected to be unregistered businesses operating on the street of a private road there are times when access is blocked to vehicles which would be a problem in an emergency. What can be done about this?”
“That’s called illegal street trading – they are not allowed to do it so they should be reported. Some people do it as a kind of sideline outside their home – it’s a nuisance, it does not look nice and it can be smelly.
You should tell your local councillor about this and get them to do something on your behalf. You should make your councillors work for you.
No one should be blocked and no one should be carrying on a trade without a licence. Certainly emergency vehicles should not be blocked.
Private roads are more difficult as it is up to the landowner to deal with it. You could find out who they are by going onto the Land Registry.
If you think there might be a potential fire hazard you should contact the local Fire Brigade Inspection Unit and they will go and inspect the area.”
Q10) Peter P – “There are 60 elected councillors in Waltham Forest (Lab 36, Con 10, LibDem 6). Only 12 of these belong to the cabinet which makes all the important decisions and they all belong to Labour. Do the other councillors have any say in how the council is run?”
“Yes, they do, that is the short answer. The system we run on the council is similar to the parliamentary system. Labour has the majority control of the council by virtue of the number of seats it has got but the other parties participate in the system at another level. For instance; and very importantly through the Scrutiny Committee system. They are similar to the Select Committees in parliament. They are 9 Scrutiny Committees that look in detail at all council decisions and try to intervene before decisions are made. They bring in cabinet members (such as me) who have to answer questions about their proposals to do something and they have the ability to make recommendations to cabinet. And that actually is a very helpful way of doing it because they sometimes come up with ideas. They’re not just criticisms, they often want to help to make something better and that can then be added to the report so they have a very important role. They can also really probe and ask difficult and embarrassing questions such as things we have forgotten or the cost of something.
Scrutiny Committees also look at some situations historically so they will look at decisions made in the past and ask how they were reached so that we can learn something about the decision making process and establish if it is a good idea to do it that way again.
Councillors also sit on bodies such as the Tenants Council, the very important Transport Liaison Committee, the Adoption Panel, etc. so they do contribute to the Council and it all becomes part of the decision making process. Everyone has their role, not everyone can be in charge, its part of the democratic process that when you have control of the council you decide who’s going to be in Cabinet and have the key jobs. That’s the way it works.”
So that was it – over 50 minutes of questions and very detailed answers. We are extremely grateful to Geraldine for giving us so much of her time.
One of the messages she stressed again and again was that we should make more use of our local councillors.
After all, it was we who elected them to serve for us.