Forcing homeless families out of London – our report on London councils ending their homeless duties with private rented accommodation

Freedom of information report shows 95% of the households Newham council have forced out of the borough have children (e.g.’take this housing in Birmingham or lose your right to social housing altogether’)
How disruptive to their education, and they family’s stability! Our council has failed in their duty of care to local residents.

This isn’t new information if you follow local news and/or the work of groups like the FocusE15 Mothers, but this report shows Newham are one of the worst cases for this social cleansing.

Please join us and the Focus E15 Mothers in fighting back. Social housing is a right, not a privilege.

Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth

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Using Freedom Of Information requests sent to London councils, we looked at how hundreds of homeless households are being forced out of their home communities and out of London into private rented housing or else facing destitution. You can read our full report HASL report on private sector discharge -final

The Guardian has covered the research here

We wrote about our findings for Novara Media here

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Introducing our new candidate for East Ham #GE2017

Ex-investment banker Chidi Oti-Obihara has lived in Beckton for 6 years and is standing on a platform for improving local lives

I’m proud to announce that our candidate for East Ham is now Beckton-based Chidi Oti-Obihara!

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Michael (on phone) and Chidi having just finished registering on the ballot
Chidi Oti-Obihara lives in Beckton and became a member of the Green Party while working with us on our investigations into Newham Council’s mis-sold Lender Option, Borrower Option (‘LOBO’) loans.

Previously an Investment Banker, Chidi turned whistle-blower in 2007 and testified to Parliament about the practices he’d witnessed and been bullied for not colluding with. He now works as an independent financial consultant. 

Chidi said “It’s a bittersweet moment for me as I became involved in the party largely because of Rachel, so it’s a shame to have this opportunity due to her standing down. However, it’s a huge honour to have been selected by the membership to represent the party, and especially my own neighbourhood!” 

Chidi Oti-Obihara has lived in Beckton for 6 years and is standing on a platform for improving local lives:

“My part of the borough – Beckton and the Royal Docks, nearby – has been rather neglected by local government. There isnt enough sustainable planning. Whenever investment does appear, it’s privately funded or uses opaque private-partnerships that rarely meets the needs of local people. The air pollution, which is disgraceful across London, is particularly bad in parts of the borough due to the sewage works, the airport and the endless building works. The air is constantly full of dust particles and unpleasant smells. We deserve better, and that’s a large part of why I want to stand in East Ham.”

Chidi is also keen to discuss the problems with some of the privatisation in local government – such as the use of LOBOs by many local authorities. “Having worked in finance for over 15 years, I’ve seen both sides of the coin. I know some of the more questionable practices used in selling products. We know that Newham Council is by no means alone in having been mis-sold these loans, and I hope we can push this topic into the national agenda.”

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Chidi with local members as part of the #StandUpForCleanAir campaign

Today, Chidi launched his campaign with some leafletting on East Ham High Street, talking to residents, shoppers and business owners.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be holding events and stalls around East Ham, Beckton and the Docks – find out more on Chidi’s Facebook page.

Introducing our candidate for West Ham!

Today’s news is very poignant for us – as we have to announce Rachel Collinson is standing down as a candidate for the upcoming ‘snap’ election. Rachel needs to focus on recovering from current health problems and felt unable to adequately meet the demands of the candidacy, in addition to her other duties for the Party.

We fully support her decision and wish her a full and fast recovery.

As a result, it’s been a roller-coaster week; we held a second selection meeting with the local membership, to vote again for candidates in both East Ham and West Ham constituencies.

It’s a pleasure to introduce Newham Green Party treasurer Michael Spracklin, who has been selected as our candidate for West Ham. 

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Support for Green policies is at an all-time high and the party have built a strong presence in Newham. Last year the Newham Greens candidate came second in a by-election in Forest Gate North, with 31% of the vote.

The picture of a working class boy done good, Michael has always lived in East London, and is an IT Consultant in central London, but he never lost his roots and has campaigned for social equality and more social housing for many years.

Michael hopes to engage disillusioned voters. “During our EU Referendum campaigning last year, we spoke to countless people who didn’t plan to vote because they didn’t feel their vote mattered. Newham’s residents deserve to have a voice, and many currently feel that they don’t.”

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Michael Spracklin chairing our town hall meeting with No Silvertown Tunnel

Michael is passionate about politics and a big believer in social justice and equality; he has campaigned for left-wing causes as long as he can remember. “Newham Green Party have been working towards a fairer borough, through campaigns against the council’s LOBO loans, the increase in fly-tipping, expansion of London City Airport, and big new developments which don’t meet the needs – or budgets – of local people.”

Michael added “I’m also proud of our long history of supporting like-minded grass roots activists like the Focus E15 mothers, Friends of Queens Market, Newham Say No to Racism, BLM UK, and the Boleyn Dev100 campaign.”

“Nationally, we’re challenging the environmental, humanitarian and economic catastrophe that the UK now faces. The mainstream parties just bow down to the super-rich and lobbyists. I believe that the Tory government’s ideology driven “austerity” cuts should end. It’s grotesquely unfair. The super-rich, banks and multinational companies should take their losses and pay their taxes.

A green, fair and prosperous society is not only achievable but necessary.”

Introducing our candidate for West Ham!

 

This weekend we were joined by London Assembly member, Sian Berry, to announce our candidate for East Ham in June’s General Election.

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Michael Spracklin, left, with Sian Berry and local spokesperson, Rachel Collinson

It was a great start to our London Young Greens action day – part of their weekend of Ed Balls Day events across London. Sian announced the winner of our members vote – which was unanimous in favour of Michael Spracklin, from Manor Park!

Michael has been our party treasurer for the past few years, and is an IT consultant by day. Mike is sadly one of the dwindling number of East London-born working class residents who has managed to live here his entire life, without being priced out. …Yet!

Concerns around housing and the rise in social injustice was a key part of why Michael joined the Green Party:

“The banks are still ripping us off – nothing has changed since 2008 to fix the system. The mainstream parties just bow down to the super-rich and lobbyists. I believe that the Tory government’s ideology driven “austerity” cuts should end. It’s grotesquely unfair. The super-rich, banks, and multinational companies should take their losses and pay their taxes.

A green, fair and prosperous society is not only achievable but necessary.

This is his first time standing as a general election candidate, inspired by his time campaigning for recent elections in the borough. If you’ve spoken to us on your doorstep, at one of our stalls or community events, you may well remember meeting Mike.

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Michael Spracklin chairing our Silvertown Tunnel town hall meeting in 2015

One of Michael hopes for this election campaign is to encourage voter turnout and show disillusioned locals why the Green Party are a valid choice. “The EU Referendum turnout in Newham was the second lowest in the country. During our campaigning we spoke to countless people who didn’t plan to vote because they didn’t feel their vote mattered. Newham’s residents deserve to have a voice, and many currently feel that they don’t.”

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A Better Deal for Newham’s Taxpayers

Newham Green Party are thrilled to see action following our 2 year campaign against Newham’s LOBO loans

We are thrilled by Newham Council’s announcement that Barclays are turning 55% of its Lender Option Borrower Option, or LOBO, loans (worth £248 million) into a normal fixed-rate loan. It is estimated that this deal will save Newham Council £1.6 million this coming year!

The move follows years of campaigning by our team, alongside Debt Resistance UK and members of the public who uncovered the toxic debt, totaling 90% of the council’s debt portfolio. The interest payments alone equal 80% of Council tax paid from 2014 to 2015.

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Debt Resistance UK’s profile of Newham

We are excited to finally see positive movement on this issue. This should rescue us from over a million pounds of cuts to local services and jobs this year. Newham taxpayers’ deserve to see their money spent on local services, not bank debts from mis-sold financial products.

However, we are concerned that the other 45% of the council’s LOBO loans remain unchallenged, and that full details of this new deal with Barclays have not been released. We can’t be sure that this announcement isn’t just a rewording of last year’s changes initiated by Barclays for all of their LOBOs contracts in the UK.

Rachel Collinson, Membership Officer of Newham Green Party, and Elisabeth Whitebread, the Green Party candidate in the 2016 Forest Gate North by-election, have worked closely with Debt Resistance UK since investigations started in 2014.

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Speaking on behalf of Newham Green Party, Rachel Collinson said “This is a brilliant first step to reduce Newham’s debt problems. However, we will continue to campaign for further action to reduce debt expenditure from the LOBO investments with RBS.
Residents, local businesses and Council workers should not be penalised for these banks mis-selling loans to councils.”

Newham Green Party’s campaign started in 2014, following discussions with Joel Benjamin of Debt Resistance about investigating Newham’s LOBO loans.
In 2015 Ms Collinson submitted letters to Newham Council regarding the LOBO loan debt, with little in the way of constructive response. This was followed with a request to the auditors to take the Council to court over illegal spending.
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In 2016 Green Party and Debt Resistance activists attended various Council meetings; providing investigation reports, and offers of no win, no fee legal advice to provide the council with a low cost solution.

In addition to the nearly 900 people who signed our petition, we would like to thank all our volunteers, members and supporters, and Newham Councillors Rokhsana Fiaz, John Gray and John Whitworth for their input and questions at some of the Council and audit meetings – often against strong resistance from other Newham Councillors.

In an email to their supporters, Ludovica Rogers of Debt Resistance UK said:

We hope this deal goes beyond a simple PR stunt for Barclays and Newham council and that risk and high costs for taxpayers associated with LOBO loans are being effectively removed. Until Newham Council put the terms of this deal negotiated in secret into the public realm, we can’t comment, in particular on loan breakage costs, interest rates and loan restructuring fees.

Debt Resistance UK would like to thank the hundreds of Newham residents who have signed the LOBOs petition and kept up public pressure on Robin Wales administration, alongside efforts of Newham LOBO loan objector Rachel Collinson

They join us in our disappointment at the poor conduct of Finance Director Lester Hudson and Mayor Robin Wales – “whose financial competence must now be called into direct question.”

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Cllr Hudson speaks at Council Meeting, July 2016. Photo by Debt Resistance UK

We will continue to work with the brilliant Debt Resistance UK team on monitoring the council’s new deal and how the savings are put to use.

Please get in touch if you’d like to join this campaign, and sign the petition to continue the pressure on the remaining RBS loans.

No pass for Maryland station

Maryland residents and Green Party members have been campaigning to get Maryland station included in Zone 2/3

Maryland residents and Green Party members have been campaigning to get Maryland station included in ‘Zone 2/3’, like all other Stratford stations.

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‘Maryland is a Stratford station’ by @MarylandPoint

Sadly we discovered this week that the campaign to rezone Maryland as zone 2/3 hit a major stumbling block. Staff from the office of Mayor Sadiq Khan responded with a no, but only commented on the financial concerns campaigners had raised:

The re-zoning of stations in the Stratford area from Zone 3 to Zone 2/3 was done as part of plans to secure the Olympic legacy and on the basis that it would be self-funding due to the increased value of the land owned by the Greater London Authority in the area. These considerations do not apply in the same way to Maryland. The decision to re-zone the other stations was also made to prevent passengers from having to travel through Zone 3 on the Jubilee line to reach Stratford. Without these changes Jubilee Line users would still have had to buy a Zone 3 ticket, which would have put them at a disadvantage compared to Central Line users.

While we are disappointed about this, we’ll continue to urge TfL and the Labour Mayor of London that safety and overcrowding is an issue they should reconsider.

Rezoning Maryland to 2/3 would encourage residents to board there, easing the scary over-crowding at Forest Gate and Stratford stations. Already a real danger, particularly at rush hour and on West Ham match days, station over-crowding will only get worse once the Elizabeth link (aka Crossrail) opens for Stratford, Maryland and Forest Gate in December 2018.

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Newham Record piece on complaints to TfL about overcrowding at Stratford

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Yes, as an added bonus, it would make travel cheaper for local residents too, which could be a huge relief for many struggling with ever rising costs. However our main priority, and that of TfL and the Mayor of London’s office, should be in making sure all travellers are safe when using Newham’s stations.

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Local campaigners in the Friends of Maryland group have pledged to continue the campaign, with support from Councillor Seyi Akiwowo and their ongoing petition.

Hopefully the increase in foot traffic from the Elizabeth Line will lead to a full review of the situation, if we’re unable to get it resolved sooner.

Stratford Town Centre Improvements

Newham Council has proposed changes to the one-way traffic system around the Stratford Mall (including the Broadway and Great Eastern Road), including the introduction of two-way traffic flows.

The council’s aim is to reduce accidents in the area and “encourage more people to visit the Broadway, High Street and Cultural Quarter” to support local businesses and venues.Stratford Improvements 1

The information available online is relatively limited and vague, proposing:

  • a two-way traffic system and road calming measures like 20mph limits
  • upgrading the existing cycle tracks making them more distinct
  • improving shared pedestrian and cycle spaces
  • widen the pedestrian crossing at Meridian Square
  • move other intersections to “where pedestrians prefer to cross”
  • resurface pavements, “removing old street furniture and introducing new landscaping”
  • enhancements to the ‘public areas’ around St John’s Church and the Theatre Square

So far, we’re quite excited by these proposals – which look like they might resolve many of the issues we’ve had with the shared pavement/cycle paths, although cyclists will still have to fend for themselves in certain quarters. The resurfacing of pavements and improvements to traffic crossings are also very welcome – some paths in Stratford remain uneven or steep, which can be difficult for those with mobility issues, or prams.

Our highlights from the details specified on the proposals map include:

An additional ‘Quiet way’ cycle route (for families and less confident cyclists) along Theatre Square.

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Relocating the station taxi rank from tucked away the other side of Westfield stairs to the behind the bus station, so access is improved – brilliant for those of us who are less mobile! – and taxis are easier for visitors to find.

Coaches have also been relocated from both sides of the shopping centre, to Montfichet Road, near the station’s Westfield exit.

The former rank and coach stop on Great Eastern Road will become a pick up/drop off zone.

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The main concerns are the execution of changes from a one-way ring road to a two-way traffic flow. Apparently local residents and businesses will be kept informed as the project progresses.

We’ll add more information as/when we get it.nc-nov-consult-events

You can take part in the public consultation via the Council’s online survey, and you can find the proposal’s full map in the consultation leaflet (pdf)

Alternatively, the Council is holding public information events in November, and hopefully more detailed displays of the proposals will be available at Stratford, Plaistow and Forest Gate libraries until 28 November.

Construction is proposed to be completed in phases, starting in summer 2017. Based on current projections, completion is estimated for spring 2019.

Update: Newham Cyclists and the London Cycling Campaign have both published their responses to the proposals, and residents have pointed out that there is a gap between the works featured in this proposal and the works on Maryland point – raising concerns there might be issues if the cycle paths aren’t continued. Stratford has had problems with cycle paths that just stop before, so if you are a cyclist you might want to look at that as an area for feedback.

Deadline is 28 November, so please respond here, if you haven’t already.