Raising the bar in public life – Organised people and public accountability in Waltham Forest

This article appeared in the Waltham Forest Echo – http://walthamforestecho.co.uk/we-welcome-new-housing-commitments/  on 5 June 2018

By Gill Burbridge (Principal Leyton Sixth Form College), Vanessa Conant (Rector Parish of Walthamstow), Averil Watan (Warden, St Barnabas Church), Andy Trenier (Rector Parish of Chingford) and Saira Mir (Faizan-E-Islam)

Public life is often dominated by slurs, egoism and disrespect as people who feel powerless attack decision-makers. Yet the problems we face – youth violence, inequality, a lack of genuinely affordable homes, creating a decent and fair society – cannot be tackled by politicians and the council alone. The only real way to make long term change is to return to the root ‘democracy’, from the Greek ‘dēmokratiā’ (literally ‘rule by the people’), which starts at the local level, requiring each of us, as citizens, to take responsibility for our area and work in partnership with councillors and officers to achieve change.

Waltham Forest Citizens is a society alliance of 9 faith and education organisations – mosques, churches, colleges and schools, with 15 000 people in our membership. Together, we harness our collective power to find out what matters to our members, build accountable relationships with people in power to transform our communities for the common good.


Waltham Forest Citizens leaders at the Waltham Forest Citizens Accountability Assembly on 25 April 2018, creating public deals with Cllr Coghill and Cllr Siggers

On 24 April 2018, 603 local leaders from Waltham Forest Citizens members held the biggest local pre-election accountability assembly in London with Cllr Claire Coghill (Lab) and Cllr Alan Siggers (Con) on the issues of genuinely affordable homes for local people and tackling youth violence/youth opportunities.

Specifically, we won commitments from the candidates to ensure that Waltham Forest Citizens has a seat around the table to participate in the disbursal of £4.35 million of ‘Borough of Culture’ and ‘Integration’ money to ensure it is used to benefit the young people of our wonderful Borough. We also secured commitments from Cllr Coghill to meet with her and her officers in advance of the Life Chances Report to discuss its recommendations and then be involved in its implementation.

In terms of genuinely affordable homes, we secured agreements to build 50% affordable housing across all developments on public land. Now we look forward to Cllr Coghill delivering on her ambitious commitment by ensuring that The Score site, next to Leyton Orient stadium, has 50% affordable homes, a fully achievable goal given that the Council has been paid £48 million from developers Taylor Wimpey.  Spending only half of this amount on affordable homes would ensure that The Score moves from the current agreement of 25% to 50% affordable. In addition, over the next 4 years, the candidates agreed to build an incredible 600 Community Land Trust (CLT) homes, where the price of the home is connected to the median local income, not the market price. The candidates also agreed to build 1200 social rent homes. Well done Cllr Coghill on the new deal she secured with the Mayor of London to build 525 social rent homes in the next few years!

These are the victories that local communities can win if we are organised and powerful. But long term change is only possible if we are able to build respectful, reciprocal relationships with the council and collectively raise the bar in public life. If you would like to join Waltham Forest Citizens, please contact Senior Organiser for Waltham Forest Daniel Mackintosh on Daniel.mackintosh@citizensuk.org




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