Bloke walks into a car hire office, rents a very powerful and very flashy sports car for the day. Only few hours later he walks back into the office. A bandage covers one eye. His breath smells of alcohol. Small twigs are stuck in his hair. He slams the car keys down on the counter.
“ I want to hire another car,” says the bloke.
“Where’s the one you hired two hours ago?” asks the car hire guy.
“Crashed it. Total write off.” Car hire guy is puzzled.
“Hang on a minute sir, you hired our best and most expensive vehicle not two hours ago. And now you say you have totally destroyed it. And you expect to hire another one?” The bloke slumps against the counter, belches and looks offended.
“Oh come on, let’s not dwell on the past…”
I was reminded of this anecdote during Wednesday night’s Network Wapping meeting. For the reasons why please read on. I should warn you that it is not pleasant reading. Although for those of you who enjoy car crash politics this is your lucky day.
No laughing matter
As I wandered along to Polyanna’s I bumped into Crona who works for the London Dock development people. Just before we entered the meeting room I warned Crona that any booing would be directed at me, not her. She laughed. She thought I was joking.
Anyway the meeting had just started and in marked contrast to the last one there were only around 12 people there, which I think breaks down into eight Network Wapping people including John Bell of course, Crona as an observer, local resident Cathryn Rees and David Leonard of Friends of St Katharine Docks. Oh and me!
Introductions were made and I was handed a copy of the agenda.
Now the funny thing is that I had decided that for this meeting I would not say a word. Instead I would just make notes and scribble away and wish I had learnt shorthand. Then report back to you, dear reader.
But it was not to be. Fate had other things in store for me last night.
Made an offer I could not refuse
Because when we came to Agenda Item 3, Request for any additional Agenda Items to be discussed as Any Other Business (AOB) John Bell asked if I and Cathryn Rees would like to voice our concerns regarding Network Wapping during AOB and allow Network Wapping to respond?
I thought this was a very gracious thing to do and my vow of silence flew out of the window. Sensible move on the vow’s part.
The meeting progressed. Well, sort of. In the way you progress if you fall down a flight of stairs. [Don’t use another accident metaphor, please. Ed.]
Agenda Item 4, Procedure, was then addressed, first issue being the timing of the regular Network Wapping meeting on the 2nd Wednesday of every month. I think it was at this point that it all started to unravel.
Prospect Quiz Night is part of the mental wellbeing of Wapping
John Bell said that it was “Quite well known” that the regular Network Wapping meeting was on the 2nd Wednesday but wondered if another date might be better? Thursday’s perhaps? I didn’t really follow up on the “Quite well known” remark apart from a quiet giggle and there was soon an intense debate going on – Wednesdays or Thursdays? Should we vote on it? Was there a clash with other events in Wapping? The Prospect of Whitby Quiz Night was mentioned as clashing and this issue in itself was discussed for some time. Some considered that if people preferred a quiz night to a Network Wapping meeting then they should get their priorities right. Others pointed out that the Quiz Night was very popular and that individuals were part of teams. A lady from Network Wapping voiced the opinion that “If the Quiz Night is part of the mental wellbeing of Wapping” then Network Wapping should support that wellbeing and move its meeting to Thursday.
This discussion went on for half an hour. I know because I timed it. Final decision was to leave the Network Wapping meeting date as it is. At this point I realised that I might have made an error in leaving my curry in the oven, even at a very low setting.
The something interesting was mentioned. The Network Wapping meetings that take place on a Monday. And have done for the last two years. Apparently the fact that these meeting take place is always mentioned at the end of any Wednesday meeting. Are they? News to me. What about you?
On being questioned about these Monday meetings it seems that they are only ‘working groups’. My excuse for not going to these meetings is because I didn’t know about them. Did anyone else know about them? Bit tricky going to meetings you are unaware of. But more on this issue later…. Much more.
On the subject of Wednesday meetings those of you who attended the 8th May gathering may recall that was an agreement to hold an extra Wednesday meeting before the original deadline for the NF application date.
If Network Wapping had posted the minutes of this meeting (see below) I could have checked this there. But they haven’t so I couldn’t.
Instead I checked my report which you can find here where you will see the line ‘Someone pointed out that the deadline for responses to their application is midnight 4 June so they would have to bring the date of the next [Network Wapping] meeting forward.’
Some optimist on the Love Wapping editorial staff suggested checking the Network Wapping site for details. I have no comment on this.
The possibility of Saturday meetings was then discussed. Briefly.
There is nothing like a good minute
Then we came to the issue of meeting minutes (see above). Now when I was a kid I never thought that one day I would write about meeting minutes. But I am. Life is full of surprises.
The reason I am writing about minutes is because Network Wapping has not really published any. Well, actually to my knowledge they have never ever published minutes of any of their meetings. At all. Ever. Which is not a good way to operate. It is not transparent. It is not open. And this is a very important issue.
Cathryn Rees took Network Wapping to task over this and Network Wapping made a commitment to publish meeting minutes in future. This is what Cathryn said:
“This issue of meeting minutes is an example of the requirement for open engagement which [Network Wapping] is sadly lacking.”
We told them that we would hold them to this promise. And so would everyone else in Wapping.
I also pointed out that Vickie Flores of the well respected What’s in Wapping website had repeatedly emailed Network Wapping and asked when and where meeting minutes were to be published but had never got a reply.
The next day I checked this with Vickie again. This is what she said:
“I have asked John Bell for meeting minutes repeatedly and persistently since I first found out Network Wapping were holding meetings over 18 months ago. I have also asked for all the verbal feedback residents have given on proposals like Shadwell Basin Lunar Power but have had nothing at all.”
Cathryn Rees also pointed out that she had asked for Minutes of the 29th May meeting but so far had received only excuses.
The agenda then turned to the use by Network Wapping of the internet. All of a sudden Network Wapping seem to have discovered that the web has its uses. To their credit Gren has done some work on their website in the last week or two and he should be congratulated for that. Apparently anyone can submit items for possible publication on the Network Wapping site. While this is to be welcomed although I have given up emailing or tweeting Network Wapping as I never get a reply. Has anyone else?
Next up was Agenda Item 6, Planning Matters. John Bell went through a PowerPoint slide presentation.
This presentation was very different from all previous presentations I have been treated to as there seems to be a complete change in Network Wapping’s tone. They seemed to be considering basic nuts and bolts stuff instead of moon powered yucca plant factories and the like.
And I was gobsmacked when the next slide was of King Edward Memorial Park! The infamous Thames Water artists impression no less. Actually I wasn’t gobsmacked. I nearly choked. Or maybe I did both.
Because it is a fact that Network Wapping had never consulted with the Save KEMP team. Before they were told to do so. And I also know for a fact that no one from Network Wapping attended the PINs planning meeting regarding KEMP. Because I was there.
Odd that a group ostensibly interested in planning should miss a meeting solely about planning. Maybe they just weren’t interested? Before they were told to be interested. I also know that Network Wapping have now spoken to the Save KEMP team on the phone.
So where is this park place thingy?
Just in case Network Wapping are going through the motions of appearing to be interested in the Save KEMP campaign I should point out that King Edward Memorial Park is the big green thing with trees before Limehouse and after Shadwell Basin. You can’t miss it.
Or can you? Network Wapping have been working on their NF plan for two years. And it is only now, after they have been given an extension to their application by the Council, that they are showing any interest whatsoever in our most cherished green area.
Probably a coincidence.
A brief discussion about the London Dock development gave Crona the opportunity to make a few facts clear which was very handy indeed. Many thanks to Crona for attending.
Network Wapping pointed out that the London Dock development would bring three thousand or more extra residents into Wapping.
Fair point but they never seem to mention that London Dock might also bring in around 1,200 jobs to Wapping. Plus several hundred jobs during development.
The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) was discussed, this is the replacement for the Section 106 monies approach.
Someone from Network Wapping rambled on about this for some time. Which was a shame because he made no sense whatsoever. But I am reasonably sure if I had understood what he said it would involve some conspiracy theory. Yawn.
The Network Wapping members present seemed to perk up a little when mention of possible money from their NF application was mentioned. Any group making an application can apply at various stages for money to help them get established which seems fair.
I did think the Network Wapping were making a little too much of how much of their time and their money they had invested.
Tough. It’s called public service. Get over it. Lots of people do all sorts of things for the community for free. That’s how communities work.
Network Wapping stated that one of the reasons they had applied for funding was to be able to communicate properly. Hmmm. I think just some genuine intent to engage with the Wapping community would be much more useful than some cash.
As was mentioned to me later sticking up a notice in places like Waitrose, John Orwell or Cinnamon is free and takes little effort.
Does Wapping have a grassy knoll?
I think at this point ‘Incoherent Man’ as I referred to him in my notes went off on one again. What about I am not sure. Neither was anyone else. It could have been about a conspiracy theory though. Quite possibly the same one. Who knows.
Then it was Any Other Business and Cathryn Rees and myself were invited to speak.
Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Blast off.
And it all kicked off.
There are two views on why this happened. One is that I am a gobby troublemaker who just likes winding people up.
The other is that Network Wapping just do not like being criticised. By anyone. Which is a significant flaw in a group that claims to represent the views of the people of Wapping.
Here is how Network Wapping would like all their meetings to go:
Wapping Resident: “I don’t believe NW are doing a very good job.”
Network Wapping: “Yes we are. Just agree with us.”
Wapping Resident: “OK, I do agree with you and everything you do.”
But life just isn’t like that. And certainly not in a democracy. Oops.
As it was getting late I thought I would raise just three things with Network Wapping.
- The continued lack of transparency in the way it operates
- If they had amended the initial proposed area in their NP application to take into account the views of Friends of St Katharine Docks, Save KEMP and Limehouse Community Forum (LCF) who all objected?
- Further elaboration by John Bell over his involvement with the Tower Science Academy, an important area of openness and transparency. See my previous post on this issue.
For some reason I started on my second point. No idea why. Quite likely because I was losing the will to live.
I asked John Bell if Network Wapping had amended their proposed area of operations?
He replied that they had not changed the area.
Just a coincidence. Honest.
I remarked that it was a little odd that Network Wapping had spent two years working on their ideas yet had never managed to consult with other well established community groups in all that time.
And was it not true that the only reason they were talking to the other community groups now was because all these groups were actively opposing Network Wapping’s application?
John Bell denied this was the case. He then gave as his excuse for not consulting with the other groups before submitting the NP application that he only had one week’s notice to submit the application.
Uh? You what where? Two years of meetings and Network Wapping did their application in one week?
Both Cathryn Rees and myself put it to John Bell that if they were so unprepared to submit their application why did they not just submit it later? Tower Hamlets have stated that they are happy to receive applications twice a year. So why not wait and do it properly?
[Checking my report of that meeting I notice that someone actually suggested delaying the application.]
There was no coherent response to this. John mumbled something about wanting to get on with it.
Baffled by this revelation I moved on to the continued lack of transparency. Now it just so happens that I had heard of a meeting between John Bell and Tower Hamlets Planners a week or so back. But few other people had.
I should make it clear that this was not the meeting organised by Cllr. Denise Jones some weeks back at the Mulberry and Bigland Centre. See my previous account of this meeting.
A private public meeting or a public private meeting?
This more recent meeting between Network Wapping and Tower Hamlets Planners was… well I am not sure what it was. I think it was probably the Planning Department bending over backwards to help out. Maybe they gave Network Wapping some advice?
Then I read something very interesting on the Network Wapping website. Here is a quote but you can check it for yourself here.
Nework Wapping News
Week of 9 June, 2013
Last Wednesday an open public meeting of Network Wapping (“NW”) was held at 3pm in Stockholm House, Wellcome Close. It was held in a community room made available by East End Homes. Full minutes are available to people who attended the meeting and any person named on the application for designation by the Council who requests them. [My emphasis.]
Reading that paragraph you will probably be as puzzled as me. How on earth can a meeting be public if the minutes are restricted to those who attended the meeting or those people who have lent their names to the official NP forum application?
Only one way to find out!
I read that paragraph to John Bell and asked him if that was a private meeting or a public meeting?
There was a deafening silence.
That lasted quite a while.
To be accurate John Bell refused to answer more than once.
It was going on for 9pm at that point but I told John that I was quite happy to wait until midnight if necessary as I and the residents of Wapping wanted an answer. (Residents of Wapping – hope that presumption was ok with you?)
At last John Bell said that it was a public meeting. So I then asked the obvious question about the minutes being restricted to Network Wapping people. No proper reply was forthcoming.
I then pressed my point by suggesting that if no one knew about this meeting in advance other than Network Wapping and I only found out on the day through a source close to John Bell and neither I or anyone else had heard nothing about it since then it was in fact a private meeting?
Which is fine. No problem with Network Wapping having private meetings. Good idea. Especially when Tower Hamlets Planners want to give them some advice.
But it is absolutely not fine to keep it a secret then pretend it was public after the fact.
[Yesterday I checked with the Tower Hamlets Council Planners as to what their understanding of the status of this meeting was. They replied: “Officers were not involved in organising the meeting, nor reached any view on its status or the invitees to it. Notwithstanding the status of the meeting organised by Network Wapping, its outcome has been published on the Council’s website.”]
As no reasonable response was forthcoming Network Wapping were pressed on this point but it seems that it’s supporters genuinely do not know the difference between ‘public’ and ‘private’. They even seemed to suggest there was something in between the two.
Just to add to the confusion over this meeting the Newsletter post on the Network Wapping website has the incorrect date. Tower Hamlets Planning have the date as Monday 3 June 2013. And I trust their record keeping.
So – and i wish i had realised the date error at the time i asked the question of John Bell – this meeting was one of the Network Wapping Monday meetings that have been going on for the last 18 months to two years. Which no one apart from Network Wapping supporters has ever heard about. If I am wrong on this please get in touch and I will correct this.
This compounds the oddity of the meeting status even further. Time and again when any criticism or question is raised about the way Network Wapping operates the stock answer has been ‘Come and join us and help make it work’.
Well how is this possible if it is at best not widely known that there is a Working Group meeting held on Mondays?
And John Bell and the Network Wapping core supporters have always been at pains that they are open to anyone. Yes, anyone. Are they? Has Network Wapping ever been genuinely open? Clarity on this would soon come from a very unlikely source.
When confused try shouting
Maybe it was their confusion over this difference that got them into a bit of a tizzy. It all became a bit of a blur to be honest as Network Wapping went into SHOUT Mode. At least they are consistent. But it is very boring when people SHOUT at you when they do not like what they are hearing and then SHOUT some more.
Network Wapping supporters attempted to SHOUT down Cathryn Rees as she pressed for clarification on the meeting issue. This SHOUTING went on for some time. We both felt that there was no point in continuing as our views were not being listened to despite being formally asked to give them.
As we got to our feet the SHOUTING continued which was all very unpleasant. But Network Wapping was saving the best until last.
Enraged that myself and Cathryn had the temerity to actually ask a question [but you asked us to!] one member of Network Wapping said the following – and this dear reader is a direct quote. Ready? Yes? Sure? Then enjoy.
“NETWORK WAPPING IS A CLUB!”
At last. What we have suspected all along is proclaimed by a Network Wapping founder member at a Network Wapping meeting. Well SHOUTED actually. He said he was one of the original Wapping 8. This same person also said more than once that Network Wapping was just ‘a platform for networking’ via the Internet and Facebook.
John Bell did not seem too impressed by this. Or the fact that I would report the comment verbatim. I keep my promises.
By this time the atmosphere was getting very unpleasant indeed. The meeting did not really formally end, more dissolved into a mess as I headed for the exit and Cathryn continued her discussion. Or tried to anyway.
I did not make a clean getaway however. Incoherent Man ranted at me for being all sorts of things, the main one that I was a journalist who changed his identity 10 times during the meeting! I told Incoherent Man that I was well known to the group as both a local resident and a blogger of the Love Wapping website. I also made the point that if he had bothered to turn up on time he would have heard me introduce myself as both at the start.
I prefer my Martini shaken, not stirred
More ranting ensued. Then SHOUTY RANTING! Incoherent Man seemed to think I was some sort of spy or something. Removing the micro dot from my left ear and switching the laser cannon in my watch to ‘standby’ I begged to differ. But he was HAVING NONE OF IT.
And he also seemed to be saying that members of the press were not welcome at Network Wapping meetings. In fact the words I wrote down in my notebook are ‘Journalists can’t report.’ Must be confusion with that whole ‘private’ and ‘public’ issue again. And that ‘democracy’ concept.
Incoherent Man then seemed to imply that he was a journalist. And asked me for my press card.
I opened my wallet and showed him my NUJ card. I don’t think he had ever actually seen a real press card before.
“Where is your press card?” I asked. No answer. No surprise.
And off I went into the night.
That bloke who wrecked the car
But what I hear you cry of the car crash? Why the anecdote at the start?
Well the reason is this.
Time and time again during this meeting, mainly when Network Wapping were challenged on any point, the same comment was made by one or other of them.
“Oh come on, let’s not dwell on the past…”
Which is quite handy. All previous sins are forgiven. Let the positive energy flow. This might be acceptable If Network Wapping has turned over a new leaf.
But I don’t think they have. I think Network Wapping is trying to pull a fast one.
Going through the motions
From everything I have seen and heard over the last few months my genuine belief is that Network Wapping is going through the motions of being a transparent and open organisation which is a genuine forum for Wapping residents to express their views on common issues. But it is not.
The reality is that Network Wapping is a club. They said it themselves. It is a closed club where anyone who disagrees with their views or challenges them is shouted down.
I think the only way forward now is to boycott Network Wapping. But more on that later.