Community group meeting to discuss Network Wapping application
As always I wish to make it clear that this is not a formal transcript of the meeting, it is the main highlights and does not pretend to be anything else.
Purpose of the meeting
The purpose of the meeting was to sort out the Network Wapping application to become a Neighbourhood Forum.
The meeting was held at the Mulberry and Bigland Green Centre at 13.00 on Tuesday 21 May 2013 and was organised by Councillor Denise Jones. Many thanks to Denise for this. The meeting lasted just over 80 minutes.
In addition to Cllr. Jones Carl Dunsire and Emma Puosi Dunsire represented the Save King Edward Memorial Park (KEMP) campaign and other residents associations, Mark Slankard and three other members of the Limehouse Community Forum (LCF) were present, Sue Hughes and two other members of the Friends of St Katharine Docks, two members of the Tower Hamlets Planning Department and various Network Wapping people including John Bell.
Councillor and Wapping resident Abdal Ullah also attended as well as our MP Jim Fitzpatrick and John Biggs AM. I have to admit to being pretty impressed that Jim and John made the time to attend.
OK I know this sort of stuff is bread and butter to them but they are very busy people. Jim explained that he could only stay for 15 minutes as he had urgent business at the House of Commons to attend to. (How cool is it to be able to say that?)
Oh and I was there too! But as I made it clear I don’t represent anyone. And I had no urgent business anywhere else.
Down to business
Cllr. Jones chaired the meeting and first asked for a show of hands of those who wished to speak. After these people had given their view John Bell of Network Wapping would reply.
Denise then gave a very good overview of the current situation and outlined the possibility that the boundary proposed by Network Wapping should be amended.
“Do you mean it should be extended?” asked a member of Network Wapping.
Others present indicated that quite the opposite was being suggested. See the map below.
Out of boundaries
Carl Dunsire started by explaining how Save KEMP and objected to the Network Wapping application in its current form as the boundary proposed by Network Wapping included King Edward Memorial Park and Network Wapping had not consulted with KEMP regarding the boundary or any other issues.
Mark Slankard then voiced his objections that the boundary proposed by Network Wapping included part of Limehouse and Network Wapping had not consulted with the Limehouse Community Forum regarding the boundary or any other issues.
Sue Hughes then explained the objections of the Friends of St Katharine Dock, the main ones being with the proposed constitution and that the boundary proposed by Network Wapping included St Katharine Dock and Network Wapping had not consulted with the Friends of St Katharine Dock regarding the boundary or any other issues.
Have you noticed the trend here? No? Oh well, read on.
I voiced my concerns – the lack of transparency in the way Network Wapping operates, the proposed boundary needing to be drastically revised and the lack of consultation by Network Wapping with other community groups.
I also asked John Bell what he knew about the Wapping Science Academy and he said he had no knowledge of the Wapping Science Academy. It was only later that afternoon that I was to realise that this may not been the clearest of answers. But I did not know about the Tower Science Academy at the time. Did anyone?
Read the full explanation of the Tower Science Academy / Wapping Science Academy confusion here. It is very interesting I can assure you, even by Wapping standards!
As Jim had to zoom off to ‘The House’ (So cool!) he expressed his thanks to everyone for attending and that it was good to see so many different community groups coming together to work out solutions to problems.
Cllr. Abdal Ullah then voiced his concerns over Network Wapping and expressed his thanks to Vickie Flores of the What’s in Wapping website and Love Wapping (blush!) for making the community and their elected representatives aware of Network Wapping’s plans as they were a complete surprise to him.
Cllr. Ullah also highlighted the fact that the application by Network Wapping was not representative of the residents of Tower Hamlets as the Bangladeshi community was not represented and the Wapping Bangladeshi Association (WBA) had not been consulted. He also commented on the number of Network Wapping members who lived in Shadwell, not Wapping. (See previous post on this issue.)
Consultation? What consultation?
So in summary. In the two years (yes, two years) Network Wapping has been working on their plan they had not consulted the Friends of SKD, Save KEMP, the Limehouse Community Forum or the Wapping Bangladeshi Association.
But Network Wapping had included the areas and interests which these established community groups represent in their own plan.
At best that’s rude. But then again it might be a very good indication of the reality of Network Wapping. You decide.
So the representatives of the community groups attending were making it plain that unless the current application by Network Wapping was amended, including a reduction in the boundary to an area north of The Highway, they would object to the application.
So it’s a good job a Neighbourhood Forum has nothing to do with representing the interests of community groups or planning.
Oh. It does. Oops.
John Bell was then given his chance to reply.
And this is where my report runs into difficulties dear reader. I would like to give a balanced overview of John Bells’ response and outline his point-by-point responses to the concerns raised.
But I can’t. Not because I do not want to, I do. But the problem is that John Bell does not make any sense. Ever. I have spoken to him several times and have never understood what he has said. And his reply at this meeting was no different. Rambling and incoherent would be kind. Vacillating and disingenuous would be more accurate.
“I couldn’t decide if he was gormless or playing games with us,” was one of the kinder comments made to me afterwards.
Eyebrows were raised across the room as John Bell stumbled through various excuses and explanations that seemed to have very little relation to reality. Any reality. But I will attempt to summarise.
Regarding the boundary proposed by Network Wapping and the changes proposed during the meeting John said something to the effect that boundaries didn’t mean anything and that we all needed to work together without regard to physical boundaries. I think Stepney was mentioned at one point.
Regarding the lack of consultation with the other community groups – well he didn’t have an explanation to be honest. John did say that when he tried to get in touch with the Friends of St Katharine Docks he was stopped by the concierge and so left some leaflets. Hint. Phone? Email? Letter? Try again?
What he did manage to do was upset people.
Credit where credit is not due
Firstly he seemed to be taking credit for the fact that everyone was in the room talking about the issue and that this was a great demonstration of how everyone should work together. I suppose I should point out that everyone was in the room because they had serious issues with the way Network Wapping operates. Just to be clear. Network Wapping takes no credit for this.
Then John started talking about boundaries again and how they weren’t relevant and we should all work together and said something along the lines of “Working together starts here today”.
Mark Slankard swiftly responded to this.
“Limehouse Community Forum started seven years ago, that is where it started John.”
John didn’t really need much help annoying everyone else but one of his Network Wapping colleagues decided to help him out anyway. He did this by asking Sue Hughes of FoSKD exactly what she meant when she talked about representing her ‘members’.
Sue told him. She meant members.
The members who elected her in a democratic system to represent their views in accordance with the constitution of the Friends of St Katharine Dock. Have a look at their Constitution on their website right here.
The same person also questioned Sue’s claim to represent her members and recommend a course of action to them. Sue came back with the same answer. Democratic representation through due process.
Sue also made it clear that anyone who feels strongly about St Katharine’s Docks can join the Friends group. This was in response to another criticism by the Network Wapping person that the FoSKD group was exclusive.
Carl Dunsire also asked John Bell why no one from Network Wapping attended the recent PINs meeting regarding KEMP? John’s reply was something along the lines of Network Wapping not needing to show support for Save KEMP. Which is a strange answer when so many of us are expending a lot of effort doing the opposite.
I could go on but I honestly can’t. It’s just too sad.
Towards the end of the meeting Sue Hughes of FoSKD put it to John that he should withdraw the Network Wapping application as Network Wapping had imposed itself on the community. All the other community group representatives present endorsed this proposal. Me too.
There was much discussion around this with the options for Network Wapping being to either withdraw the current application completely or amend the application. Amendment would mean the date at which it would be considered by Tower Hamlets Council being delayed, possibly until January 2014 if not later.
An amendment to the deadline of midnight 4th June was briefly considered but was objected to on the grounds that we were changing the rules for Network Wapping and a legal process was in place and had been made public.
Redrawing of boundaries not up for negotiation
The multiple requests by the community groups present for the Network Wapping application boundaries to be redrawn were not up for negotiation.
It was made clear to Network Wapping that unless they changed or withdrew their application in its current form all the community groups represented would object and recommend to all the people they represent that they should object too. Which would mean the application would fail.
John Bell said it would be a shame to delay for six months and one of his colleagues complained that if the application failed it would be two years work wasted.
Cllr. Jones pointed out that a delay would mean not all their work would be wasted, but rejection of the application would.
Cllr. Jones pressed John Bell for a decision there and then as this was the purpose of the meeting but he said he could not make a decision and would need to consult with his colleagues.
John Biggs made some concluding comments that, bearing in mind John’s experience and knowledge of the Wapping area, I would hope everyone took note of.
And that was that. Well, almost….
You may recall that at the end of the previous Network Wapping meeting that I attended Michael Ainsworth, Rector of St George In The East Church and Network Wapping member, remonstrated with a gentleman who he thought was me over my criticisms of Network Wapping. Joke of course being that it wasn’t me the Rector had words with.
At the end of this meeting I saw the Rector and took the opportunity to point out that he had taken on the wrong person at the previous meeting. But as I was here and definitely me what exactly was his problem?
“Character assassination of John Bell” was the reply from the Rector. For the record I asked exactly what the Rector meant by ‘character assassination’? The Rector claimed, quite correctly, that during the previous meeting I had made the comment that I did not consider John Bell fit to be in charge of Network Wapping.
The Rector, John Bell and Santa Claus
Now this is not character assassination. If I claimed that the relationship between Santa Claus and his reindeers Dasher and Prancer was of a non-professional and intimate nature then I would be guilty of character assassination.
But as I made it plain before and I do again now, to say that John Bell is not fit to be in charge of Network Wapping is my genuinely held belief. If you have a different view to that then no problem. If you don’t think I am fit to write another word on anything that’s ok. You don’t have to read my ramblings.
And if you spread rumours about me and Donner and Blitzen, what can I say? It was those cheery red noses that led me astray!
Hole. Digging. Stop.
If you have got this far then I am impressed. I nearly didn’t and I wrote it. So how to sum up?
Well let me just say that if you see someone digging themself deeper and deeper into a big hole you would offer them a ladder. If they were sensible they would climb the ladder and walk away.
But there are some who would scorn the offer of the ladder, ask for a bigger, better shovel and keep on digging.
Please also read my earlier post on the Tower Science Academy here.
Can I also recommend the Mulberry and Bigland Green Centre if you are in need of a meeting room, a class room or even a small theatre space? Just up the road and well worth checking out.