This article is a slight update from the one first published in the Heart4Harlow business and community awards brochure in October 2017
In 2017, Harlow is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its designation as a New Town. There were many community events, supported or organised by the Council, by community groups, faith groups, and individuals. They highlighted both Harlow’s heritage, the vision of Sir Frederick Gibberd, but also the wonderful artistic, cultural, sporting and community organisations.
In addition to celebrating Harlow’s past and present, it was also a year when we look forward to the next 70 years. I truly believe we are on the cusp of a renaissance of Harlow, and over the next 5 to 10 years we will see the start of a massive and positive transformation of Harlow.
Those that have heard me speak on this subject will be familiar with my ‘4 legs of the stool’, namely Jobs, Infrastructure, Skills, and Housing, all of which are inter-dependant, and each of which must be pursued in parallel. It is not possible to pick and choose just one or two, demanding Housing without the infrastructure to support it, jobs without the skilled work force and housing for the workers, and investment without the critical mass of housing, as each is necessary to provide the justification, and crucially the funding, for the others. I will expand on each of these shortly, but it has rightly been pointed out that even these four together, while necessary, do not make a place. There is a fifth element, perhaps the seat of the stool itself, that holds it all together; namely the great Art, Culture, green spaces, sporting facilities and community spirit that turns a collection of things into a great place to live, work and visit.
Harlow has many great things going for it. An internationally important public sculpture collection with works by Rodin, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Gerda Rubenstein (who I recently had the honour of meeting at the exhibition of her work at Parndon Mill), and many, many others. The many artistic communities including at Parndon Mill, Gatehouse Arts, St John’s ARC and others. Harlow’s many green spaces, the Green Flag award winning Parndon Woods and the Town Park, and of course the Gibberd gardens, as well as nowhere in Harlow being far from some wonderful, and tranquil, wood, pond or stream. There are also great sporting facilities, including the fantastic new Rugby Club at Latton Park, the new Pavilion at Harlow Cricket Club, Martial art centres, the Table Tennis Club and others. Many of these are not well known, even to some living in Harlow, and we must all do more to develop them, invest in them, and to promote them to the wider world.
Coming back to my four legs of the stool:
Job and Economy
The plans for locating Public Health England’s national science hub in Harlow are progressing well, with the old GSK site having been purchased, and the outline planning application approved. The Enterprise zone is also making great progress, With Raytheon and Arrow expanding their presence in Kao Park, the first phase of the data centre completed, and on the Council owned element of the Enterprise Zone, Anglia Ruskin University committed to locating their MedTech Innovation Centre, and the Council building one of the first building for small and medium high-tech businesses. Together they will generate over 7,500 quality jobs, not to mention the knock-on effect to the local economy and local businesses.
For businesses to grow and thrive, and for local people to take advantage of the great opportunities, these must be accompanied by great education and training. Local schools are making great progress, Harlow College has recently opened its fantastic Advanced Manufacturing Centre, and the University Technical College is also making a welcome contribution to the skills mix. There does however need to be a greater investment in Higher and Further Education, in vocational education, in Higher level apprenticeships, and I will continue to support further developments, and argue for a more coordinated focus of skills funding from central government to meet the needs of local employers, particularly in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Computing (STEMC) areas, where much of Harlow’s future opportunities will be focused. As a parent myself I know the vital importance of education and training, not just to secure a decent job, but in every aspect of physical and mental wellbeing, and I am sure that every parent would want the best possible education for themselves and their children.
While there are some that might disagree, there is undoubtedly a shortage of housing, or all types, and tenures, nationally and locally. I am reminded that there is more land allocated to golf courses in this country than there is to housing. There are over 3,500 people on the housing needs register in Harlow, buying your own home is an unaffordable dream for many, and young people are particularly impacted, spending longer living with their parents, and being unable to afford to rent, never mind buy.
People will rightly point to the deficit in Infrastructure to support the housing, in health, education, transport and community facilities. Apart from the desperate need for housing in of itself, it is precisely gaining the critical mass in quality housing supply that will enable the investment by developers and government in infrastructure provision, that will attract major retailers and leisure operators, and regenerate Harlow town centre. It is true that we need investment in infrastructure, but we also need the housing growth to facilitate that investment.
There are many ‘big ticket’ items needed in the infrastructure space, including investment in Princess Alexandra Hospital, and ultimately a new hospital in or around Harlow, four-tracking the West Anglia Mainline, and our aspiration for Cross Rail 2 to terminate in Harlow. While these will require significant investment from Government, and will take some considerable time to deliver when they are committed, I, and others continue to press for that investment. There are also things where practical progress is being made now. Funding for Junction 7a on the M11 has been secured, the development at Gilston Park will facilitate both the dualling of the existing Stort Crossing, and a new crossing, and other road improvements, such as along Elizabeth Way are in progress. There is also have an ambition for a sustainable transport corridor, and for a Northern Bypass, and I am heartened by the fact that this ambition is shared by neighbouring authorities, businesses, and others, speaking with one voice.
Many of the pieces of the jigsaw are starting to fit into place, and while I understand there will be much debate about individual elements, the particular location of houses, or road improvements, I would urge everyone to look at the bigger picture, and to look forward to a bright future for all of Harlow.
There are many people in the Council, Faith Groups, Businesses and the Voluntary Sector committed to doing all that they can to make a positive and visible difference, to make the best of the great potential of Harlow, working hard to secure the investment that we need, and to ensure that Harlow continues to be a great place, fit for the next 70 years.
With leadership and determination, I know that together, in common endeavour, we can make this happen. The future for Harlow is truly looking bright, and I look forward to sharing at least some of the next 70 years of progress in a town that I love, and am incredibly proud of.
Those who follow my personal social media will know I did not react well to an active campaign against my leadership by a local Momentum organiser (which this individual denies, despite several independent witnesses), being called a neo-Nazi by some Corbyn t-shirt wearing person outside the Labour Party Conference, and events at a national level targeting Labour Councillors and Labour Councils that do not conform to the particular form of ideological purity that seems to have taken a grip of the party, and that will shortly culminate in the output of a party ‘democracy review’ to make Councillors more accountable to a small group of party members (and less to the actual electorate presumably). Councillors, unless formally endorsed by the privately owned company Momentum, seem to have replaced the Parliamentary Labour Party as the focus of the hard left’s ire.
Being an active social media user, and being in a particularly unhappy political place, my social media output reflected that. I’ll be honest my angst did concern some of those people who genuinely cared about me. But I was officially warned about my calling out the behaviour of others (and to be clear, no names were mentioned, and only the specific perpetrators or the witnesses to their campaign would have known who I was referring to), as it might paint the party in a bad light.
I had intended to use the Christmas Break to reflect on my position, and make an active decision on my future, but due to family circumstances, including my mother being in and out of hospital, I did not get the chance to do that until the 7th of January, the day after I had dropped my mother off at my Brother’s. I posted on my private Facebook page that I was inclined to go on, but privately I gave myself until the 13th March to make a final decision, which would have got the council through the Budget and Local plan, and ensured that if I did decide to go, the by-election would be on the same day as all the other local elections in May.
I was however summoned by the Chair of the Labour Group, and the Deputy Leader on Monday 8th of January, and informed that the Labour Group needed clarity and I had to make a decision (it turned out that most of the Group hadn’t any clue about what was going on, so exactly who was demanding clarity is still not clear). We briefly discussed the three options – giving me more time was discounted as it would not have provided the clarity that apparently the group was demanding, I could commit to carrying on – at least until after the May elections when there would be an election for Leader in the normal course, or I could go. I was given one and a half hours to make a decision. In that short time I could not agree to go on indefinitely, and that left me with only one option. I had to go, and apparently I would be told by the Deputy Leader after the group meeting when that was to be.
The Labour Group was briefed that evening, apparently to the effect that I had decided to resign, with no context. The Chair of the Labour group was asked by another group member (who could not be at the meeting) to ask the group to give me some more time to make an informed and rational decision. That option was apparently not put to the group, and it was clear that many group members were unaware that I was ‘considering my position’.
When I found out that the group had not been given the background, and not asked if I could have more time to consider my options, I challenged the Deputy Leader, and to cut a long story short following a flurry of emails (all of which I have clearly kept a copy of), it was asserted that I had always been given the option of more time, and that I was ‘gaslighting’ (I had to look it up), to try to put suggestions into others minds. Those that know me well will know that being blatantly lied to, in the face of personal experience and evidence, is something I have zero tolerance of, and given that, I felt I had to go immediately.
With one or two notable exceptions, the Labour group, and the party as a whole (with the exception of press releases put together by the regional party press office) seemed to want to airbrush me out of existence, and partly because of this, and the fact that the Labour Party was becoming a deeply unpleasant place, I resigned from the Labour Party shortly after.
Now there are some in the local party who will be glad to see me go, some because of personal ambition, some because of ideology, and some because they just want to keep their head down and not attract negative attention from the thought police, and no doubt this blog will result in the amplification of the negative briefing that had been going on, and some open personal attacks. What is uplifting however has been the kind words of support from almost everyone else outside the party (and to be fair, as I said one or two notable exceptions within the party). I have been inundated with support on social media, by email, private message and text, as well as in the street, supermarket, and one or two house calls. Local businesses, faith groups, public and private organisations, friends and strangers have all wished me well and thanked me for the positive difference that has been made under my watch. I am proud of what has been achieved.
I am going to leave the positive stuff, on what I intend to do in the future (which very much has making a positive contribution to Harlow at its heart), the legacy for the town and for the Council, all of which should bear fruit in the next few years, to a later blog. But I am going to end on an appeal – whoever takes over, understand that ‘I don’t do detail’ is not a badge of honour, professionalism, pragmatism, and competence are not the opposite of passion and conviction politics – they are essential bedfellows, and that being leader is more than a nameplate on a door, and putting your name to a press release. Don’t mess up – I will be watching.
Since then, I have received many texts, calls, emails, asking me if I am standing in the parliamentary election.
I have never been a career politician – unlike the sitting MP, my life has been in the real world, earning a living, looking after my family, representing my community – so for me, standing for Parliament must satisfy a few tests.
Of course, I need to balance the needs of my family and personal life, which is already consumed by my political and civic duties – as well as a demanding full-time day job.
But I have also to ask myself the question – could I do more as an MP, in terms of making a positive and visible difference to Harlow, than I can as a Councillor and Leader of the Council?
I am proud of my record – in taking decisive action on Travellers, on Street Lights, on creating a company to deliver housing landscape maintenance and rationalising senior management to save taxpayers money, my role in ensuring that Harlow Council was the first Living Wage council in Essex, and of course fighting for the investment in infrastructure, our hospital, and jobs, that Harlow needs.
After a great deal of thought, and talking to friends and colleagues, I have decided that I can do more good in my current role, continuing to fight for the town I love and am extremely proud of, as a local councillor, and for as long as the people of Harlow, and party colleagues wish me to continue, as Leader of the Council. I don’t completely discount the possibility of my considering it again in the future, but at this pivotal time in Harlow’s history, now is not the right time to put my name forward to be considered as Labour’s candidate in the General Election.
There are many other talented potential Labour candidates who will put their name forward, and any one of them would take the fight to our sitting MP, and hold him to account for his voting record, and make an excellent representative of Harlow in Westminster. The Labour Council has made a positive, visible difference to Harlow and will continue to do so – a Labour Government would enable so much more in terms of investment in our NHS, our infrastructure, and fairness. I will do everything I can to make sure we get one.
I hope you will support our excellent candidates in the County Council elections on the 4th of May, and the General Election on the 8th of June. Both they and I will always work tirelessly to make Harlow a better place. I hope, I know, we share that vision.Tweet ]]>
In the light of recent events, here was my address to the service, attended by the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Lord Petre, the High Sheriff of Essex, the Chair of Essex County Council and the Mayors and Chairs of a number of local Councils.
The last few weeks have been a difficult time.
Not least for the family and friends of Arek, who was killed in the Stow just over two weeks ago, for the Polish community, and for Harlow as a whole.
In the wake of this, some sections of the media, and some other voices, inside and outside of Harlow, have labelled Harlow as a divided town, as a town with one section of the community pitted against another, as a racist town.
I must admit that, for a while, I stopped wearing my Proud of Harlow badge.
There are undoubtedly some people, a tiny minority, who are indeed racist.
Others, encouraged by some politicians, some sections of the media, genuinely believe that their situation, low pay, the difficulty getting a job, a council house, or a place at their preferred school for their children, is the fault of ‘others’, of migrants, of people who are ‘not one of us’.
I’m not pretending that this is a problem that doesn’t exist, and I’ve recently heard testimony from people that have been on the receiving end of abuse and discrimination.
I’m also not saying that it shouldn’t be challenged, that it shouldn’t be tackled head on, but it is not a problem confined to Harlow, it does not define Harlow, it is not a picture I recognise of the vast majority of people in Harlow.
When I marched in silence and respect with the hundreds of people last Saturday, in a show of solidarity with the Polish community, from the Stow to this church, with the Harlow community that always comes together at times of difficulty, this is the Harlow I know.
When I get together with volunteers to help at a drop in centre for the homeless and the vulnerably housed, as I will this evening, or see the many people working to help others less fortunate than themselves, this is the Harlow I know.
When I see a convoy of Harlow people leaving to provide supplies to refugees in Calais, for people who have fled a war zone in Syria, this is the Harlow I know.
Harlow is an open, compassionate, and welcoming community.
For every voice that preaches division, for every voice that blames others, for every voice that tries to drag our community down, there are a hundred voices that are welcoming, who want to strengthen our community, and seek harmony.
Voices that provide support for others, regardless of where they were born, their faith, or the colour of their skin.
The voices that seek to divide our community, that denigrate others, that resort to violence, are few, but they are loud.
It needs to be made clear that these voices don’t define Harlow, they don’t represent Harlow, these voices are not welcome.
They need to be drowned out by the voices of unity, of community, and of harmony.
Drowned out by the voices that declare that we have more in common than that which divides us.
Everyone one of us, community leaders, the police, each of us as individuals, needs to make it clear that everyone that contributes to our town, everyone that works in our hospital or our warehouses, that volunteers for a charity, everyone who is trying to do the best for their family, is welcome in Harlow.
Harmony is a soft, gentle concept, but it needs all people of good will to work together, to have a loud and united voice, to have a Heart for Harlow.
To declare that we have more in common than that which divides us.
I know Harlow, all of us here and across the town, will rise to the challenge.
That’s the Harlow I know.
That’s why I am, and will remain, Proud of Harlow.
We have more in common than that which divides us.
I will do everything I can, working with the Council, the Police, and others, to get beyond this, to restore the faith of everyone in Harlow – in Community, in Solidarity, in Harmony.
I hope, I know, you will too.
There is much to do.
Here is the transcript of my opening remarks.
Well, It’s been an eventful year. For the Council, for Harlow, and for the Country.
I am going to start by going through just some of the highlights that affected Harlow over the last year, a number of which I will come back to when I look to the challenges ahead.
Despite ongoing cuts to Local Government funding, the Council continues to exercise tight control of its finances, is improving performance, and continues to show leadership and tenacity – standing up for Harlow, its residents, businesses and visitors.
In October, we finally secured a deal, when others were throwing in the towel, to keep the street lights on overnight, financed in a sustainable and transparent way. The only place in Essex where that has been achieved.
In December, the Council secured the final injunction, banning unauthorised encampments across Harlow, the first time this has been achieved at the scale and scope in the Country.
While some were hurling abuse, we showed the leadership and tenacity to take decisive action. Of course this isn’t the whole story, and we must continue to fight for suitable provision for Travellers, balancing firmness with fairness.
Following an independent assessment, we have put in train bringing Landscape and Housing maintenance under Council control when the current Kier Harlow contract expires next year. This will save Harlow taxpayers money, and provide the flexibility and control necessary
The refurbishment of the Town Park and Pets Corner completed, culminating in its first Green Flag award, to add to the 8th consecutive one for Parndon Wood.
Harlow parkrun celebrated its 1st anniversary, and the Junior parkrun started last Sunday, with over 110 runners and many, many more family, friends and volunteers.
There was a major exhibition on post war public art in Somerset House in London, with a whole room dedicated to Harlow, which has generated significant interest in Harlow’s public Art collection.
The Arts Trust continues to put on great exhibitions in the Gibberd Gallery, by nationally and internationally renowned artists, cementing Harlow’s reputation, of both a great art legacy, and a bright artistic future.
We also officially opened two new Council house developments, the first in a generation in Harlow, and I was particularly pleased that we were able to name them Riley Mews in honour of the Riley Brothers from Harlow who died in the World War I, and Foster Court, in honour of Robert Foster serving with the Royal Anglian Regiment, who was tragically killed in Afghanistan.
In the year where there were a number of commemorations of the First World war, it was particularly fitting. I would like to thank Cllrs Clark and Carter, as well as Council officers, the Royal British Legion and others taking the lead on organising many moving events.
We also welcomed the Royal Anglian Regiment exercising their freedom to march through the town. A spectacular and heart-warming event, with around 5,000 residents lining the streets, bringing the community together, and showing our support for those who risk their lives for our country.
We’ve had great progress in the Enterprise Zone, with Raytheon and Arrow announcing their expansion and long term commitment to Harlow, and a development partner appointed for a state-of-the–art Science Park on land owned by the Council,
and of course the confirmation that Public Health England will be basing their headquarters and national science hub in Harlow.
I could go on, but I have chosen this selection to highlight both some of the assets that make Harlow a great place,
its Green spaces, its Artistic heritage, its Community spirit, and some of the fantastic economic potential that is coming to fruition.
A key focus for me, and for the Council, is securing the investment in Housing, in Infrastructure, in Skills, to enable Harlow, and all of its residents to realise that potential.
There are of course challenges ahead.
The impact of the vote to leave the European Union is not yet known, in terms of timescales, the sort of deals on trade and movement of people that might be reached, and the impact on business confidence.
There are uncertainties in Central Government funding, on Business Rates retention, on Housing policy, and of course we effectively have a new government.
The changes to Government policy on Council rents, on extending right to buy to housing associations, and how that is to be funded, have made the prospect of building many more council houses even more challenging.
And we have just had a debate on Devolution, and it remains to be seen if that will have a positive material impact on focusing resources, powers and responsibilities, at a local level, where the needs and aspirations of our communities are best understood.
We need investment in infrastructure, a new Hospital, regeneration of the town centre, and in road and rail
While achieving the ambition of Harlow being the North East terminus of Cross Rail two, particularly in the first phases, is going to be problematic, I welcome the explicit mention of Harlow in the Cross Rail Growth Commissions report just published, and that the recognition that 4 tracking the West Anglia Mainline is an essential pre-requisite for Cross Rail 2, and the benefits that itself will bring to Harlow.
We need a new junction on the M11, as recognised by a resolution of this Council, but I appreciate that sequencing, and the route will elicit a spectrum of opinion. When we have had sight of the consultation that has recently concluded, I am sure we will have a full debate, on this, and of spatial options in and around Harlow for Housing Growth. But whatever the outcome of the debate, I do know that it is essential that we reach agreement on a way forward, and soon, if Harlow is to truly reach its potential.
A lot of these infrastructure investments will be dependent on achieving the scale of housing growth, both to directly meet the needs of a growing population, and to provide the critical mass, and investment money.
We need to explore creative solutions locally for getting the right mix of housing, including truly affordable and social housing to meet the obvious need, and to ensure everyone can benefit from what Harlow has to offer, and what it will offer, in the next few years.
While great strides have been made in educational provision in Harlow, with the UTC, Harlow College and the secondary schools leading the way, we need to do more to promote the great opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Computing and to get the investment in Skills needed for everyone to take advantage of the great economic opportunities.
We also need to be bolder and more proactive is shouting about the many great things in Harlow, both internally and to the wider world. Using our great artistic legacy, our fantastic green spaces, our community spirit, to attract businesses and visitors, recognise the contribution these things can make to the growth and regeneration of Harlow, and to maximise the use and enjoyment by the people of Harlow.
And finally I recognise that we need to do a lot more to tackle issues of fairness, equality and equity. To recognise there is still too much disparity in things like life expectancy, 12 years less in my ward that it is just across the town in Church Langley, to address with partners, public health indicators such as physical activity, adult and child obesity, and alcohol related illnesses. That is why, despite not being an overly great role model myself, I am a passionate supporter of initiatives like the parkrun and the recent junior parkrun.
I want to conclude by saying I am immensely proud of Harlow, of the place, of the people.
But we need to work hard to ensure that Harlow remains an open and welcoming place, that we maximise its potential, and we secure the much needed investment.
I know that Harlow has a great future, and with the right leadership and tenacity, we can, and will, make a positive and visible difference.Tweet ]]>
Harlow, which celebrated its 65th year as a new town in 2012, has many things to be proud of. From its wonderful green spaces, designed into the very fabric of the town as part of its Master Plan by Sir Frederick Gibberd, its legacy of wonderful public art, including sculptures by Henry Moore, Rodin, Barbara Hepworth, and John Mills across the town, through to its current vibrant arts scene. Most of all though, it can be rightly proud of its communities and its people. Organisations such as Faith Groups, Charitable organisations, youth groups, schools and residents associations, as well as groups of friends and individuals, contribute enormously to community life in Harlow.
It is against this background, that I am excited to be helping to start the Proud of Harlow initiative. It is in part designed to celebrate Harlow’s many great things, places, organisations and people, but most of all to act as a hub to galvanise positive action to make a difference to Harlow.
It is early days – initially we are going to focus on helping to keep Harlow clean and tidy – inspired by Keep Britain Tidy’s ‘I love where I live’ campaign, with litter picks and community clear ups, but we are most of all looking for ideas for positive action.
If you have a place in Harlow that needs a bit of TLC, or would like to get involved in a community action day, please get in touch. If there is an organisation or an individual who makes a positive difference, send us stories and some pictures and we would be delighted to help give them the accolades they deserve. If there is a place, an object, or an organisation that you are particularly proud of in Harlow, please send us details.
Visit the website at www.ProudofHarlow.org, or sign up for our newsletter hereTweet ]]>
My speech in support of the motion is below
Thank You Chair
I want to start by saying that for me this isn’t a political issue and I approach this issue simply from a question of Equality and of Tolerance.
So, I am not going to cover all the issues, about the definition of marriage, procreation being a necessary pre-condition, and the conditions for the break up of marriage, about the equalisation of civil partnerships, the commitment the Tory Party made to look at it prior to the 2010 election, and so on, but I do want to address two very specific points in relation to Equality.
Robert Halfon justified his decision to vote against the bill in Parliament on Tuesday, on the grounds of Equality – hinting darkly at unspecified “profound and possibly unintended implications for faith institutions”
Whilst not someone of faith myself, I fully recognise the vital role that faith plays in the life of individuals, of families, and of the Harlow Community – a role I am happy to celebrate and support – and I do.
I fully understand that people have different views on this subject, that they are sincerely held, and many of these are based on their religious beliefs.
So, when Robert Halfon says ‘Religious Faiths have rights too’, I can fully support the sentiment.
So Firstly, that’s why it is right that the draft Bill that went though its second reading, has specific protections for all faiths.
Religious institutions will not be compelled to perform Same Sex Marriages – and with specific protection for the Churches of England and of Wales because of their current obligations under law.
It should be noted that in Catholic Spain, which has allowed same sex marriage for many years, there has not been a single referral to the European courts to force religious institutions to perform same sex marriages.
There is ample time for scrutiny and to ensure these protections are robust, both in its passage through the Commons in the Committee and Report stages and in its passage though the Lords – including scrutiny by Lords Spiritual.
But the second, and equally important element of Faiths having rights, are the rights of those Religious faiths who do wish to marry those of the same sex
The rights of Liberal Jews, of the United Reform Church, of the Society of Friends.
Those religions who, in the words of the Quakers “see God in everyone” and say that all committed relationships are of equal worth.
For them, as it is for many of faith, ‘this is an issue of religious freedom’ and equality too.
So I will finish where I started – for me – and for many of every faith and none, this is a question of equality. Of Equality for individuals, Equality for couples, and of Equality for religious faiths.
It is also about sending a strong message to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community of Harlow, that their love, and their committed relationships, are as important as everyone else’s – they are equal,
It is about sending the message that we want to take another step on the road to being a modern, tolerant, and Equal society.
It is right that the Council sends that message.
I will be supporting this motion.
On the little more side, I am hoping to do a little more walking and a little more photography. The headline picture is sort of starting how I mean to go on – a New Year’s Day walk through my local area, pastSt Mary’s Church in Little Parndon and past Parndon Mill for a walk down the river. Actually my wifde an I have been doing a little more exploring of our local woodland and green spaces – which lead to the discover of three wonderful carved Totems in Oak Wood less than a mile from our house. I’ve set up a Flikr account where I will me adding more of my photos from my collection and from my rambling (in the physical rather than them verbal sence!). Some are below.
On the political front, inspired by the Local Government Association’s Leadership Academy, which I am 2/3rds of the way through, I am going to attempt to be a little less critical, and a little more supportive being proactive, filling the holes, and offering solutions – in short a little more leading by example. The first bit (being less critical) is going to be the trickiest bit – suffering fools gladly is not one of my strengths. Will have to see how this goes!
Coupled with the more walking there is going to be a little less eating and drinking, a little more healthy choice in what I eat. While not exactly a diet, it will hopefully result in a little less of me!]]>
As a ward councillor I was aware of a number of complaints about specific HMOs, both in my ward and across Harlow. This covered complaints about anti-social behaviour, littering, and parking amongst other things that were believed to be connected with HMO’s. One of the first things I did when I became the Portfolio Holder for Environment (which covers planning and licensing) was to ask the relevant Working Group to look in detail at the issue, and give a nudge to start the consultation on whether a particular area (Morley Grove) should require planning permission for any HMO, regardless of size (a so called Article 4 direction).
Last night, the Working Group met to receive representations from Residents, Landlords, and other interested parties. While I am no longer the Portfolio Holder, I still take a more than passing interest in the subject, as it has a significant potential impact on residents, and on Harlow as a whole.
While I won’t detail all the points, these are some of the key points that were made:
The Working Group are going to deliberate further and consider other evidence, and in due course present a recommendation to Cabinet. I will await this with interest, but for what it is worth the session reinforced my view that action does need to be taken. My current view is:
Licensing should be introduced across Harlow for all HMOs.
The cuts to the inspection team should be reversed
At the moment I am not convinced that a town wide planning restriction (Article 4 Direction) would be appropriate, but there are clearly clusters of HMOs where this should be further investigated. This needs further investigation, and of course if pursued, widespread consultation.
I will be making representations to my Council colleagues on the working group to give serious consideration to introducing Harlow wide licensing, subject to the appropriate consultation and legal processes, in their recommendations to Cabinet, and if necessary raising it at full Council.
I have resigned as a member of Cabinet on a point of principle, due to my unhappiness at the manner in which the termination of the Contract between Harlow Council and Harlow Welfare Rights and Advice was handled, and the role that I personally played in that. I am unfortunately unable to elaborate further at this time.
While I feel I made good progress in a number of areas in my short time as Portfolio Holder for Environment, there is still much to do. It is this, that I will not be able to drive forward these issues that are of vital importance to the people of Harlow, that is the cause for my greatest regret. I wish whoever takes over as Portfolio Holder well, in what is a challenging and rewarding role. I know that he or she will receive the same professional support from the appropriate Heads of Service and their teams as I did.
I will be remaining as a Councillor for the ward in which I live, and will continue to stand up for residents concerns to the best of my ability, and try to play my part in making Harlow a better place to live, work, and play.
There will be more on some of the specific campaigns I will be running with, including the Living Wage, in the near future.Tweet ]]>