Stephen Timms MP answers your questions

I met up with MP for East Ham Stephen Timms and put some of your questions to him.

We spoke about some of the most common and pressing concerns that businesses in Newham have with regard to the Olympics – having to change delivery times, transport problems, lack of communication from the council, and a relaxation of Sunday Trading laws for example.

He told me that he’s pushing parliament to allow businesses located near the Olympic Park who have incurred costs to be able to claim compensation.

Click below to find out how and to watch our discussion…..

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Crimes against businesses in Newham drop in the lead up to the Games

In the last two years, Newham has seen a 45% drop in robberies against businesses. That’s significantly more than the London average drop of just under 15%.

Andrew Stanley from Andrew Stanley Woodworking says he hasn’t been ram raided since London won the Olympic bid back in 2005. Before that, being robbed was something of an occupational hazard.

His business is located just 600 metres from the Olympic site. He says a drop in crime against small businesses like his are one of the positive impacts the Games have had on the area.

Of the six Olympic host boroughs, Newham used to be the worst in terms of business robberies. But in recent years, as the following chart illustrates, there has been a significant drop in this type of crime, and the borough is now on an equal footing with Waltham Forest and Greenwich. The chart shows the number of business robberies in the six Olympic boroughs over a 10 year period from the year 2000. Notice how Newham experiences a surge in business robberies around 2005 and then a dramatic drop after 2007. The statistics are from the Metropolitan Police Crime Mapping and its Crime Mapping Data Tables.

Statistics from Met Police

But what’s behind the fall?

A key part of the winning bid was an emphasis on the social benefits of sport. In the run up to the bid almost £1m of government money was spent encouraging young east Londoners to engage in different sports. Over 64,000 young people took part in 26 different Olympic activities including fencing, swimming, gymnastics and boxing. Olympic ‘Gold Cards’ allowed young people to gain access to Newham’s four leisure centres.

And in 2005, the year of the winning bid, the number of young people in the borough making a first court appearance dropped by a quarter. This compared with a mere 1% reduction in other parts of London. Overall the figures for juvenile court appearances in Newham were down by just under 40%.

So it appears that promoting sport has had a beneficial by-product – it may have caused a dramatic reduction in Newham’s crime figures.

But Andrew Stanley has another more direct theory. He believes the drop in business robberies is down to the increase in policing and security in the area around the Olympic Site:

Security continues to beef up as the event itself approaches

Up to 12,000 police will be dedicated to policing on the busiest days of the Games, and about 9,500 of those will be in London.

And as the event itself looms large on the horizon, Chris Allison, the Met Police’s assistant commissioner and national Olympic security co-ordinator, successfully secured an agreement from chief constables around the country to postpone cuts to certain key areas such as firearms, explosive detector dogs, mounted police until after the Games.

But those reductions will be phased in after the Games. So will the borough of Newham continue to enjoy a drop in crime rates when the party has left town?

Data: Newham spending linked to deprivation

In an earlier post I detailed Newham’s spending as being the highest in London and the second highest per person.

Whilst this is hardly surprising as poorer boroughs need to spend more I thought I’d show this data with the aid of two heat maps.

The first is a map of the London boroughs scaled as to how much they spent per head in the tax year 2010/2011 (source: Audit Commission). You have to click on them and you’ll be taken to another site where you can zoom in and click on each borough to find out more details:

The second shows a map of the amount of people unemployed scaled against each borough. This data was produced by the GLA in 2010.

Data: Newham Council one of London’s biggest spenders

According to data from the Audit Commission Newham Council spent the most money in 2010/2011 out of all London authorities. Splitting this data per person means they are second in net expenditure next to Tower Hamlets.

In fact the Audit Commission gives details of planned expenditure for the tax year ending this month, which shows Newham eclipsing Tower Hamlets with a planned £3,704 per head.

The data compiles what authorities spend on services such as housing, sport and culture, the environment and social care.

Why is spending so high? Well preparing for the Olympics must surely take its toll as well as a brand new office block. It’s also the third most deprived area in London according to the Department for Communities and Local Government.

It’s also worth remembering that Newham is classed as an outer-London borough when it comes to government grants. Neighbours such as Tower Hamlets and Greenwich have inner-London status. This is something that the authority has tried to change in recent years.

A night at Newham Town Hall

Last month, Newham Council decided to freeze council tax for the fourth year in a row. This came as no surprise as most London councils are doing similar due to central government grants. This means that properties in tax band D will continue to pay £945.63 as they have done since 2008/9.

What was different for me was how they did it.

Living across the river in Charlton I often attend Greenwich Council meetings. Fifty-two councillors in the large council chamber at Woolwich Town Hall. Eleven opposition members ensure debate is apparent if not particularly constructive.

When Greenwich Council set their council tax freeze the meeting lasted two hours. Newham’s lasted fifteen minutes.

I arrived at the town hall with five minutes to spare. I walked into the reception area and waited with about fifteen members of the public. It reached 8 o’clock and large man with a torch welcomed us. He was dressed from head to toe in navy blue and resembled a night watchman.

He proceeded to lead the fifteen of us outside the main doors and down a long dark path. We walked into the heart of the town hall past the rubbish bins and reached some steps. I felt like I was being transported back to the 1950’s as we climbed the four flights to the top.

Waiting for me was the council chamber, half the size of Woolwich Town Hall’s. It seemed in serious need of a lick of paint.

There were twenty chairs in the public gallery. I shuffled along and found a seat which seemed to be covered in a fine layer of dust.

As soon as the meeting started it had finished. Newham has sixty Labour councillors and no opposition. Sir Robin Wales naturally did most of the talking. Declaring at one stage that he was “proud of how Newham has created in its own Olympic legacy with little help from the government”. No members asked any questions but we had a good bit of back-slapping as Councillor Gavin Pearson stood up to tell everyone how well the council had performed in the face of central government cuts.

No local journalists were present, despite the importance of the meeting, although this freedom of information request might explain more.

After the meeting was over there was confusion in the public gallery. I turned to my left and realised that my fellow onlookers were trying to get the attention of councillors.

After further investigation, I found out they were all teachers from nearby Langdon School. They told me that new parking charges would mean they would have to pay an extra £300 a year. They had come on mass to the town hall and had formally submitted a question to ask the council. Due to what seemed like an administration error this question had been left off the agenda.

This short meeting didn’t strike me as being a perfect example of democracy. Having said that, these councillors are obviously democratically elected. I just wonder if the good people of Newham realise how little debate actually goes on within the walls of the town hall.

Will council plans win favour at Queens Market?

Newham Council have finalised their development strategy for the borough which highlights plans for Queens Market on Green Street.

A market has stood on the site for 111 years and has deteriorated in the last decade with two failed attempts at renovation.

Firstly, Asda’s big plans failed in 2006. Then property developer St. Modwen had their follow-up designs rejected in 2009 due to it’s inappropriate 31-storey tower block.

The council lost patience with St. Modwen and assumed control and running of the market. A new roof costing £140,000 has done little to stop water leaking through and stall-holders tell me customers are still on the decline.

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Newham Council have declared Green Street one of their strategic sites for development and want to add larger retail units but keep providing for small independents.

“Green Street town centre will maintain its specialist ethnic retail identity with a local to international draw, popular market place and independent shops and quality evening offer that continues to evolve……Queen’s Market will be an important meeting place for the local community as at present, reinforced through co-location of other community uses”.

Despite use of vague council language it does suggest that they are looking to retain the market but build both housing and more retail space on this site and the surrounding are.

This is where we reach the important stumbling block. It seems that the council insists that the current market can’t be maintained or updated and needs to be rebuilt if it is to stay. Stallholders and shoppers meanwhile are worried about a temporary location during building work as well as increased rents when a new market is completed.

Locals are in agreement that the Olympics are great for Stratford and some are looking forward to increased footfall in Green Street this summer. Currently the best days for the market are when West Ham United play at home. This is where the second problem for the market lies.

The council are still keen for the football team to be moved to the Olympic stadium. The Boleyn Ground would then give an “opportunity to create an exemplar urban village development, incorporating high quality housing, community uses, and community green space.”

Stall-holders I spoke to are worried this loss of custom could be more damaging than any supermarket’s ideas.

Initial signs show that these new plans for the market aren’t welcome. The council need to win favour with the community. West Ham’s potential move makes this process even harder.

Local businesses kept in the dark over road closures

Andrew Stanley Woodworking is located less than 600 metres from the Olympic site

Andrew Stanley Woodworking is a joinery business located less than 600 metres from the Olympic Site. They use the A12 every day to transport deliveries and send out fitters to and from the West End where many of their clients are based. But they fear that the road will be partially, if not completely blocked for up to 10 weeks before and during the Games.This would severely affect the running of the business. However, they have had no official information or advice from the local authorities.

Andrew Stanley who runs the business spoke to me about his concerns…

 

“We’ll have to adapt

The A12, which they use continuously to transport materials and products could be reduced to just 1 lane if the other becomes a designated Olympic VIP lane. And it could be cut off for 18 hours a day. This would mean Andrew Stanley having to work overnight, taking deliveries at 4am.

But with a lack of any official information, Andrew Stanley Woodworking and other neighbouring businesses on his site have come to the consensus that the A12 might be completely closed off.

Andrew has had no official correspondence from any authority

“Zero correspondence”

The last time Andrew had any contact with an official body about the Olympic Games was when he was visited 5 years ago by the Olympic Police who are responsible for security around the Olympic Site throughout the Games.

With less than 6 months to go before the Games, and the possibility that road closures could start to take effect 8 weeks before the actual event, Andrew wants to be in a position to start planning.

After contacting various councils for advice, he received an unofficial reply from Newham Council. He has not been asked to fill in any official forms. His local MP has yet to respond.

He feels that no one is willing to commit to any solid information, in case the situation changes.

“Sounds grim”

And today, Andrew told me that a notice has gone up at the Old Ford Junction warning of road works for the next 4 months. This is the business’s main way in and out of the site.

“We’re an afterthought”

A great deal of money is being put into the Olympics and the government is keen to project an image of professionalism around the event. There is a growing sense of excitement as the event draws ever closer.

It has been dubbed ‘everyone’s Games’ by the organisers. But local businesses like Andrew Stanley Woodworks are left feeling forgotten and abandoned.

If you have any useful information for Andrew, please contact us and we’ll pass it on.