Why I’m standing to be a Labour London Assembly candidate

First published on LabourList: https://labourlist.org/2020/01/andrew-achilleos-why-im-standing-to-be-a-labour-london-assembly-candidate

I’m standing to be Labour’s GLA candidate for Havering and Redbridge because I know just how much local people need a strong Labour voice to represent their interests in City Hall.

The Tories have held Havering and Redbridge for 20 years, leaving residents across two boroughs without a seat at the table on the issues that matter.

If members put their faith in me when ballots drop next week, we can change that.

Having worked for Jon Cruddas MP over the last eight years, I’ve made a name for myself by consistently winning elections against the odds. I’m the candidate best placed to beat Keith Prince because I did it two months ago when he organised the Tory campaign against us.

If selected I hope to stand on a bold agenda;

  • I will work across sectors to improve air quality and lead a green transformation thatmakes our parks and open spaces the best in London;
  • I will campaign for more investment in the Metropolitan Police and work alongside Labour colleagues to champion a multi-agency approach to violent crime; and
  • I will put council housing at the forefront of my campaign. I’ll challenge ’viability’ models and hold developers to account, ensuring we build truly affordable council homes.

As Deputy Chair of Overview and Scrutiny in Barking and Dagenham I have first-hand experience of being a ‘critical friend’ and if I make it to City Hall. I won’t be afraid to speak up for Havering and Redbridge.

These aren’t just words on a screen, I have a proven record of delivery.

My work for Jon Cruddas has seen us save Dagenham police station twice, halt plans to build a super-prison in the area, save the iconic Civic Centre which is now a university and I’m currently organising Jon’s campaign against a mass waste incinerator which would damage air quality.

I have always been passionate about the environment, and since being elected as a Labour Councillor in Barking and Dagenham I have worked tirelessly to make the area cleaner and greener.

Over the last two years I have; introduced a motion to phase out single use plastics, led an in-depth scrutiny review into environmental sustainability, fundraised to get nature book ‘The Lost Words’ into every primary school, and I am a key stakeholder helping to shape our Air Quality Action Plan.

In January 2019 Barking and Dagenham also adopted the Mental Health Charter which I drafted, aiming to end stigma and discrimination – supporting those in need across our community.

It is fair to say over the last eight years in the Labour movement I have gone from strength to strength. However, like many in London, my life hasn’t always been plain sailing.

I started out working down the markets in Walthamstow and Harringay. I grafted all through my education and I know what it’s like to make the choice between eating or paying the bills. I also found myself homeless for just over four years – a low priority for limited council housing stock, whilst not earning enough to rent privately. These aren’t unique experiences.

As a Labour GLA candidate I would be a strong advocate for council housing, the environment, police investment, improving transport networks and supporting our local high streets. Above all I will be a strong voice for Havering and Redbridge, making sure that the outer boroughs are not forgotten in the 2020 Labour manifesto for London.

Having lived and worked in the GLA constituency for most of my life it would be a great honour to represent Labour this May. That’s why I’m asking members to vote for me in the coming weeks. Together we can secure a Labour victory in Havering and Redbridge.

Solidarity in Dagenham and Rainham

This was first published by LabourList on 20.12.19. Original article here: https://labourlist.org/2019/12/solidarity-in-dagenham-and-rainham-how-labour-held-the-key-tory-target/?fbclid=IwAR0ZezwCu_dPqVwMm2nG3GJwiIZv4yiMe3Q62GBX-yyUQmHFwD29p0kJvKk

I felt I should write this before the bandwagon rolled through town and everyone started talking about how they saved Dagenham and Rainham. From day one, we were told in no uncertain terms that we would not be receiving wider support – despite being a key Tory target.

We ran the entirety of the campaign on a shoestring and, until the last week, with a very diminished team from previous years. With a core team composed of four people and the same seven to 15 people turning up to canvass daily, we were all pretty tapped out by half-time.

One of the most trying moments was when we had to get 45,000 leaflets delivered in one week. I walked 72 miles in five days and so did the rest of team Cruddas. If I say I’m going to do something, for good or ill, it gets done and by a huge team effort we got them delivered.

We had a clear strategy, which was a mixture of suppressing the Tory vote in Havering and turning out the Labour vote in Dagenham. The one thing we didn’t count on was the nature of our core working-class voters. It is a very Dagenham trait that instead of discussing the point, you’ll get a smile and a thumbs up on the door before being punished at the ballot box.

The fact is that for months Labour have been telling the people in our community that, having voted to leave the EU in 2016, their vote counts for nothing. Our national policies didn’t exactly strike a chord with our voters either – communities like ours don’t want freebies or handouts, they want decent education and vocational opportunities for their children and meaningful work. They want to feel pride in the lives that they lead. It’s as simple as that. Many people in our area felt patronised by Labour’s policies. I bet it was the same across the ‘red wall’ in the North.

So, we got smiles and a thumbs up from every doorstep until polling day when ‘our people’ said that after pledging their support, they hadn’t voted for us. However, in Dagenham and Rainham we have a habit of bucking the national trend – much to the annoyance of the Tories. This is primarily because we don’t take our lead from the national or regional strategies.

In Dagenham and Rainham, we set our own agenda, our own priorities, and we campaign in the community all year round on issues that matter in local people’s lives. Our win was also down to Jon’s Brexit position, which managed to cut through the Tories ‘get Brexit done’ mantra.

We knew that our voters were out there, and that we had enough to edge the win but with our small team there was no way we could get to all of them with GOTV materials. Mobilisation on polling day was something that I couldn’t bring myself to contemplate even as close as a week out.

However, after the MRP polling was released a week before polling day, despite being five points behind throughout the campaign, suddenly people started to wake up. It is all well and good flooding seats with support for a token win, but it just isn’t worth it if it costs us elsewhere.

For much of the campaign it felt like we were on our own with our backs against the wall. Which is why, when people from all over London flooded into the campaign room with a week to go, it was an incredibly moving act of solidarity that I will never forget.

Every door, every phone call, every leaflet, every person that came to help. If we had done anything differently, we would have lost the seat. A solid strategy and the people to deliver it is all we need – nationally we have one but not the other.

I’m still waiting for someone to ask how we won in 2015 and 2017 against the odds. I hope that this time the party really does seek to learn lessons from both extraordinary victories and defeats. In the coming months I would urge members to vote for a leader that can speak to communities in areas like ours and put forward a strategy that can rebuild all of Britain.

100 Years of Council Housing – Let’s Celebrate by Building Some

This year marked 100 years since the Addison Act – legislation that paved the way for councils to build social housing. What better way to celebrate and honour this ground-breaking Act than to get councils building again? There are somewhere in the region of 11,000 local authorities in the United Kingdom, if all of them pledged to build just 20 homes on secure fixed tenancies, at traditional social rents that is nearly a quarter of a million truly affordable homes.

Whilst I champion council housing, I also understand the need for mixed tenancies as well, I myself benefited from a 65% market rent ‘working persons’ option which lifted me out of homelessness in 2015. However, the majority of people on housing waiting lists cannot afford the standardised ‘affordable’ option which comes in at 80% of market rents.

The Mayor of London has gone some way to address this with the ‘London Living Rent’ and ‘London Affordable Rent’ – which is close to traditional social rents, but I think local authorities can go one better.

Councils should correlate affordability to average local wage levels, ensuring that ‘affordable’ means no more than a third of the average local wage on a borough by borough basis.

We’ll be told that this isn’t viable. However, the truth of the matter is that if the political will is there it can be done. It’s time to challenge the notion of ‘viability’. Basing a development on a 15-35 year return hikes the rents up and is contrary to the interests of millions across the country, pushing many further away from the security of a home.

The political system is so caught up in electoral cycles that for the most part we have stopped signing off on legacy projects. I expect a new home to be standing and habitable for generations. If councils, developers and ALMOs base their models on a 45-65 year return, we can start to make real meaningful inroads that provide housing at lower, traditional rent levels.

I’m running to be Labour’s GLA candidate for Havering and Redbridge and if I am selected housing will play a large role in my campaign. I’ll fight to deliver more council housing but make sure that we aren’t overdeveloping to the detriment of existing communities. That means sustainable place making and bringing the community with us on all decisions.

I’ll advocate like for like on all regeneration projects to ensure that families and community networks are preserved, and people aren’t moved on against their wishes. Regeneration shouldn’t be a code-word for social cleansing.

I’m also in full support of the Mayor of London’s call for rent controls. If I make it to City Hall, I’ll work with the Mayor and local authorities to extend licensing schemes, delivering more rights for renters.

There is much more to say but for now I will end where I began.

This year marked 100 years since the Addison Act – legislation that paved the way for councils to build social housing. What better way to celebrate and honour this ground-breaking Act than to get councils building again?

Halt Airport Expansion and Invest in a Green Transformation

Firstly, it is important to recognise that supporting the environment doesn’t mean neglecting the economy. However, after declaring an environmental and climate emergency it would be hypocritical to support airport expansion and the increased emissions that come with it. That is why I recently announced my opposition to the London City Airport master plan.

As a key stakeholder in the local air quality action plan, and having organised a campaign against waste incineration which would increase emissions across the south of Havering, I know all too well about the damaging impact poor air has on human health and biodiversity.

A report from the British Lung Foundation earlier this year highlighted that Havering has the fourth highest rate of lung disease related deaths per annum in London, and that Redbridge has the fourteenth highest. The British Heart Foundation recently reported that our area broke World Health Organisation limits for particulate matter and emissions. It is easy to link these two reports.

The flight path of City Airport runs directly over the south of the constituency and across areas like Newham, Tower Hamlets and Barking and Dagenham – I’ve seen the emission dispersal maps and with a prevailing easterly wind, Havering and Redbridge are set to take an environmental hit if these plans are agreed.

Opposing airport expansion doesn’t mean I want to see the country ground to a halt. There are proactive measures we can take that support the environment and contribute to a green and prosperous economy. Here are just a couple;

Renewable energy

At present Havering and Redbridge produces 47 megawatts of renewable energy. I want to see this hit 95 megawatts via local energy providers investing in solar, wind and sea that can collectively break the hold of large fossil fuel providers.

This year in Barking and Dagenham, we launched our own energy provider; Beam Energy which uses 100% renewables – I am led to believe that Redbridge are going to sign up to the company, increasing bargaining power and bringing down costs for residents. Investing in green energy also supports the creation of more skilled jobs in the power industry.

Housing and construction

Across Havering and Redbridge only 32.5% of the housing stock is insulated to a high standard. For best practice on energy efficiency we need look no further than the award-winning work of Norwich Council and the Goldsmith Street Estate. Built to Passivhaus energy efficiency standards it promises a 70% reduction in fuel bills. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/13/observer-view-on-stirling-prize-winning-goldsmith-street

I want to see councils delivering similar schemes to Norwich, but I want us to go further; per tonne cement and steel release an average 1000kg and 1800kg of carbon into the atmosphere. It’s time to move away from environmentally damaging forms of construction.

After listening to Southwark Councillor Leo Pollack at Labour Conference this year I am convinced that we can take a bolder approach. I would like to see council owned construction companies and a switch to Cross Laminated Timber as an alternative to cement and steel – call me a dreamer but I’d also like to see the green belt reforested and effectively managed, creating a sustainable source of CLT building materials and thousands of jobs across all of the outer boroughs.

The White Horse Regeneration

On Monday 16 September proposals to restore the White Horse Pub in Chadwell Heath were approved at Planning Committee by Barking and Dagenham Council. The plans also included using the existing car park to provide three and four storey flats.

Councillor Andrew Achilleos who sits on the Planning Committee commented: “After reading the report, listening to the testimonies of residents at the meeting and not receiving satisfactory responses to my concerns I could not support the application.”

The concerns raised by Councillor Achilleos centred on infrastructure, housing mix and parking.

Worries were raised about the increased pressure on the local GP. There are two operating GPs at the Ashton Gardens site and at present one of them has been graded as ‘requires improvement’ – there is a concern that care standards will continue to fall with more demand.

Regarding the housing mix, a key consideration in planning, Cllr Achilleos explained: “I wasn’t satisfied with the commitment to provide affordable housing. The majority of the development is private, and what ‘affordable’ housing there is will not be affordable for many residents based on local wages and their relation to market values.”

Concerns were also discussed around parking. The applicant explained that the properties would be marketed as being ‘car free’ but with two and three bed flats the assumption is that families would be moving in – with cars. The surrounding area has just been approved for a Controlled Parking Zone which new residents would not have access to.

Despite his concerns Councillor Achilleos added: “I am pleased about the commitment to renovate and reopen the White Horse Pub, as Barking and Dagenham has the fewest number of pubs in London. The White Horse used to be a real anchor in the local community. I remember the late Cllr John White holding his surgeries there and despite not being happy with the wider development it will be good to restore the community that surrounded the pub.”

Phasing Out Single Use Plastics in LBBD

In July Councillor Andrew Achilleos proposed at Barking and Dagenham Council full Assembly to phase out single use plastics in the borough.

The motion was passed unanimously and can be read in full by clicking HERE

Cllr Achilleos said: “I take a keen interest in the local environment and am always looking at ways we can create better green infrastructure and improve our open spaces. I am proud of this motion and feel that phasing out single use plastics and replacing them with more responsible alternatives is a ground-breaking step. As a council if we lead on environmental sustainability today we can deliver a greener tomorrow for Barking and Dagenham, paving the way for other local authorities to do the same.”

‘The Lost Words’ Project Launch

Thursday 7 March marked World Book Day 2019. This year in Barking and Dagenham the day marked the launch of a project by local Councillor Andrew Achilleos and Trees for Cities, a project which has now fully funded a book called ‘The Lost Words’ by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris along with teaching resources for every primary and SEND school in the borough.

Beam County Primary School in Dagenham is the first school in London to get the book as part of the project, and throughout the year Trees for Cities will be delivering the book across the city.

Local Member of Parliament Jon Cruddas and Barking and Dagenham’s Cabinet Member for Educational Attainment and School Improvement Evelyn Carpenter both attended the event alongside David Elliot the CEO of Trees for Cities and Cllr Andrew Achilleos.

Jon Cruddas commented: “this launch is the start of something very special in our schools, I’ve had a chance to look at ‘The Lost Words’ since the project started and it has my full backing. Not only does the book highlight the natural world, it will also broaden young people’s vocabulary and creativity with its excellent use of language and art.”

The Trees for Cities team held small workshops based on the acrostic poems found in the book, all the Year 4 pupils took part in a quiz where they had to identify birds from pictures, and the winning child received a personal copy of the book.

Jon Cruddas MP, David Elliot and Cllr Achilleos all read out some of the children’s favourite poems from the book during the final presentation event.

In the coming weeks, Cllr Achilleos will be working with Trees for Cities to deliver the book and accompanying teaching resource to every primary and SEND school in the borough.

Cllr Achilleos said: “the event was a resounding success. I’ve got no doubt that the book and resources will complement the astounding work teachers at Beam and across the borough are already doing to teach our children about the environment. I’m a passionate about establishing the natural world back into the hearts and minds of the next generation in Barking and Dagenham. This project is the first step.”