Brief moment of unity opposing Westferry Printworks eclipsed by petty tribal politics

Artists impression of Westferry Printworks development

Yesterday evening’s meeting of Tower Hamlets Council was one of the better ones LW has attended but Labour Party councillors once more put tribal politics before the interests of residents.

The agenda was disrupted by a crazy decision by central government about the Westferry Printworks development on the Isle of Dogs (see below) but here is a summary of what went on.

Wapping Bus Gate petition

Wapping residents should know that Gina Hayden’s petition to Tower Hamlets Council to allow vehicles and taxis access through the Wapping Bus Gate during operating times through the Wapping Bus Gate during operating times was very well presented indeed.

You can check out Gina doing her petition thing here on the webcast of last night’s council at 24 minutes 40 seconds.

Cllr. Abdal Ullah (Labour, Wapping) said something in response to the petition which nobody in the Council chamber understood and was told off by the Speaker (“What is your question Councillor?”).

It was almost as if Cllr. Ullah, now deprived of any meaningful role in TH Labour, was using the bus gate petition as an opportunity to make a speech in a vain attempt to get noticed. Maybe his mates opposite were trying to film it for posterity?

Anyway he failed.

Cllr. David Edgar (Labour, Mile End) and Cabinet Member for Environment gave a very bland response to the bus gate petition along the lines of ’see what happens at the end of the experimental period in March’. Ho hum.

The main event of the meeting was very much unplanned.

Westferry Printworks is A Really Bad Idea

Artists impression of Westferry Printworks

Westferry Printworks is a huge development on the Isle of Dogs – or ‘A new neighbourhood near Canary Wharf’ according to the marketing blub’ – the brainchild of former Daily Express and Daily Star proprietor Richard Desmond.

There are numerous reasons why the size and scale of the Westferry Printworks is A Really Bad Idea, simply put it is asking for trouble creating a development of this size without the supporting services (roads, shops, GP surgeries etc) that its future residents on the Isle of Dogs will need.

Vehicular access to the Isle of Dogs is also becoming more of a problem with every new development, this impacts Poplar in particular.

Conservative Councillors Cllr. Andrew Wood (Conservative, Canary Wharf) and Cllr. Peter Golds (Conservative, Island Gardens) have been leading the opposition to the development but there is cross-party consensus that Westferry Printworks is most definitely A Really Bad Idea.

Council, residents and planning inspector ignored

Robert Jenrick MP

But hey, what do they and the Council and residents and the planning inspector know?

Just 24 hours before Council met Robert Jenrick MP, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, sent a 196 page letter telling LBTH that he was ignoring all the professional advice given to him and ignoring all the objections made by Tower Hamlets and was approving the latest version of the application.

Developer Westferry Developments already had consent for a 722-home version of the scheme, to be delivered in four towers of up to 30 storeys after then Mayor of London Boris Johnson used his powers to approve the scheme in 2016.

However the new plans for the site submitted in 2018 added an extra tower of 40 storeys and more homes, bars and restaurants.

You can see the debate about this irrational and unwanted Westferry Printworks decision here on the webcast of last night’s council at 47 minutes 40 seconds.

£50 million CIL money down the drain?

Just to make matters even worse the timing of the letter (apparently deliberate) means that the Council will lose between £20 – £50 million in Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). As we all know this is money the borough desperately needs.

As a result of this last minute letter the Council meeting had to be adjusted which meant that the motion for restoring faith in politicians was not debated as it ran out of time, same with Cllr. Rabina Khan’s motion.

Mayor Biggs proposed an emergency motion (see below) which was supported by all sides and voted through unanimously.

Wet fish

A spontaneous round of applause erupted from the Labour benches when Cllr. Golds spoke very strongly against the Minister’s decision and called it “A slap around the face with a wet fish”.

Cllr. Golds said that in his 23 years as a local councillor he never thought he would have to vote against a Conservative government decision – but vote against it he would. And he did.

Mayor Biggs said that the letter needed to be properly examined but he was not ruling out the possibility of organising a judicial review into the decision.

(A judicial review sounds bigger than it really is. In practise it is a short hearing before a judge to challenge the exercise of power – like the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government in the Westferry Printworks case.)

LW Comment

Before this outbreak of unity amongst the borough’s political parties there was a disappointingly familiar demonstration of petty-minded political tribalism by the Labour councillors.

Residents are the losers once again as opposition Councillors plea for a cross-party working group to hold the new Conservative administration to account was blocked by Labour.

The working group, similar to a select committee in Parliament, would consist of members of all elected parties who could hold the Conservative government to account. If the government broke promises made that would affect the borough they could, with one voice, call the government to account.

No party politics, just sensible stuff.

Cllr. Woods exasperation was plain to see as he asked the Labour councillors if Labour “wished remain a party of protest or did they want to represent the residents and businesses of Tower Hamlets by trying to influence and shape legislation?”

Seemed they just want to do the protest thing.

True to form Tower Hamlets Labour recoiled at the pragmatic option of ditching their usual nonsense and putting aside party differences and working for residents.

From their actions yesterday evening it seems that Tower Hamlets Labour are intent on following Jezza and Momentum into electoral oblivion (or their allotments) and destroying the once shining beacon that was the Labour Party.

Watching this sad display LW was reminded of student politics at college, adolescents playing games with little or no reference to the real world. Lots of slogans, lots of banners, lots of marches. End result? Nothing apart from a few pints in the bar.

Why did Apsana Begum get elected as a MP?

Apsana Begum MP and Cllr. Abdal Ullah campaigning in Wapping.

Mayor Biggs (we think ’cos a huge pillar was in the way) responded to Cllr. Wood’s proposal and comments by asking why, if Labour were so bad, Apsana Begum won her seat and was sent to Parliament as a Labour MP?

LW’s answer is simple. Labour voters in Tower Hamlets are being conned. Each and every Labour voter in the borough needs to properly examine what the party they vote for actually really is.

Voters are not daft but too many see a Labour candidate on a ballot and automatically vote for Labour – and to a much lesser extent the individual.

Trouble is that many Labour voters in Tower Hamlets have the genuine belief that they are voting for the Labour Party of old – the real one that did what it said on its tin like the administration of Harold Wilson that came to power in 1964.

Well they ain’t.

In some wards a Labour vote might be for a cracking local councillor* – but in many wards voters are backing Labour councillors who do not do their jobs. Quite why these people wanted to be councillors in the first place is beyond LW. (*There are a good number of very good Labour councillors but we will not be naming them as they would probably suffer as a result. They know who they are.)

Maybe it was just so they could pretend to have some stature in their community.

Voters need to turn up to council meetings and start to make their judgements there, not on the doorstep during electioneering when all sorts of promised are made (and rarely fulfilled).

Voters should also find out how busy their councillor is. Maybe go and have a chat with them at their surgery and find out what local issues they are working on? Or just try and get in touch with them for a natter on the phone? Or send them an email.

For many months LW has been aware of residents from all over the borough asking either Cllr. Khan or Cllr. Wood or Cllr. Golds for help. This issue has grown so much that these three councillors are having difficulty helping residents of their own wards.

Do you know who your ward councillor is?

Wapping bus gate camera

Why do an increasing number of residents look to the one Liberal Democrat and two Conservative councillors for help? You can work that one out for yourself.

If you do not know who your ward councillor is – and a scary number of residents do not – then check here to see who she or he is and then contact them. That is what they are elected (and paid) to do.

This is not a call to vote for any of the other parties – all should be judged on their merit.

It was sad to see all the petitioners leave the council meeting as soon as their particular bit of business had been heard. After the first petition the public gallery emptied so fast LW thought there was a fire in the building.

Petitioners – whoever they are and whatever their gripe – should have the courtesy to remain at council meetings so they can listen and engage with all the other stuff going on. Some of it might even affect them.

Local politics does not work if people only show interest in their own hyperlocal issue. The Wapping bus gate is part of a bigger picture of traffic management and quality of life in one ward. This in turn is part of the same issues across the borough.

Get engaged with that bigger picture, find out who the elected politicians are who deal with this are then get engaged with them. Have a look at what Battle for Columbia Road do. See what the Limehouse Community Forum do.

Forget party politics. Just get stuff done. Nobody else is going to do it for you.

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