Member Champion for Climate Change Update

The following update was delivered at Full Assembly on 30 September 2020.

Climate change and wider environmental issues such as biodiversity loss and air quality are my passions, and in the short space of four months I have already started to work on some exciting projects across the borough, which I look forward to updating colleagues on throughout the coming year as things take shape.

Often when people think of climate change and the environment, they think of fossil fuels, trees, wildlife, pollinators etc. all crucial things to consider, but actually it goes wider and is more deep rooted into our everyday lives than that.

It’s the developments we build, it’s the products we buy, the way we travel and the things we eat.

Historically when people think of Barking and Dagenham they think of Ford and industry, but in the future, I want to see the Leader’s vision realised where our borough is seen as ‘the green capital of the capital’.

This isn’t without it’s challenges.

Something which is often missing from the climate change debate is how its impacts will disproportionately affect traditional working class communities such as those in Barking and Dagenham,

Yet our communities are often hard pushed to adapt, especially after a decade of Tory cuts to local government budgets, public spending, and support for those that need it most.

It’s hard to shop ethically when you’re trying to provide for your family on a shoestring, and it’s hard to justify and find the time to visit Britain’s national parks with so many other pressures.

That is why as a local authority we have to look at an ethos from the past to improve our future – before the 1840’s there were no public parks in Britain. The Victorians introduced the idea of bringing the countryside to the city – encouraging communities to enjoy and feel a sense of ownership over the outdoors.

In the coming months I will be working on a number of comms projects that seek to engage and empower our residents to explore and enjoy our parks and open spaces. I have also been in touch with some of our neighbours to look at best practice on how we establish active ‘friends groups’ which will seek to educate and instil in our residents a greater sense of ownership over their local parks and nature reserves.

In addition to this I am liaising with colleagues in BeFirst about increased cycle infrastructure. Making the most of new funding streams available due to the pandemic. Trying to pull something positive out of these difficult times.

I’ve been building relationships with our Ranger Service, horticultural teams and external partners to help increase canopy cover which will deliver a wide range of benefits to our residents.

Next month I’ll be on site with the cosy homes team, safety guidelines permitting, to see the invaluable work they are doing to retrofit and insulate homes across the borough – as around 30-40% of carbon emissions come from the built environment nationally.

Lots of this work has already been set in motion by Cllrs Ashraf and Geddes – for example the Gascoigne regeneration project is now seen as a benchmark for sustainable development, and the Wild and Free in LBBD project has already seen local families venturing into our parks in greater numbers.

With that – I’m really excited to see what achievements we can make together in the coming year.

Thank you.

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?