Wednesday, 29 July 2009

What does a Councillor actually do?

I often get asked this question.

The answer is, I do case-work. Lots of people in St Peters Ward have day-to-day problems that need solving, and they go to their Local Councillor for help. I will give you a few examples of the sort of issues I get involved in:

A couple living in a residential street backing on to a playground had been repeatedly burgled, because there was a hole in the wall at the end of next door’s garden, opening onto the playground, with a fence across the garden about four metres from the hole, which provided cover for the burglars and the goods they were stealing. The next-door house was managed by the Council. I visited the victims of the burglaries and saw the hole. I took photos of the hole, sent them to the repairs department, and chased the Council until the hole was bricked up, which eventually it was.

A constituent contacted me because her neighbours had built a staircase from their first floor terrace down to their garden, which meant that anyone using the staircase looked straight into her garden as they went up and down, which was upsetting her a lot. I visited the lady, and established that the staircase was not built in accordance with the planning drawings. Planning enforcement visited the neighbour, and got them to change the staircase.

A constituent on an estate in the ward contacted me because she had some water leaking into her wardrobe. A repairs person came round from the Council to ‘fix’ the problem, and next time it rained, water gushed into the lady’s wardrobe ten times worse than before. I went round to visit the lady, and discovered that whoever had visited the property to ‘repair’ the leak had actually punched a hole in the roof drainage straight into the lady’s flat, causing all the rainwater from the walkway upstairs to empty into the lady’s wardrobe. Eight weeks later and the Council still haven’t actually fixed the problem. They keep sending people round, who seem to be trying to guess how to fix the problem. I am going to meet the Service Director for Housing and read him the riot act if this doesn’t get fixed in the next week.

Residents on the Popham Estate are extremely upset, that the Council has sent in contractors to ‘rewire’ their homes when they don’t need rewiring. This ‘rewiring’ is to the worst possible standards, as it results in perfectly safe wiring being disconnected, and new plastic trunking being fixed all over the walls of flats that tenants have spent a lot of money decorating over the years. Many of them are in tears at the damage done to their homes by these pointless works. I have visited a number of homes on the Popham and agree entirely that the rewiring is pointless and unnecessary. And we have got the IEE (Institute of Electrical Engineers) to confirm this. We are in the process of getting the Council to admit that tenants can refuse to have the work done if they don’t want. In the mean time, caring local residents like Martin Rutherford tell us on a daily basis of more tenants distraught at the vandalism done to their homes. Sometimes, in the face of such lunacy, you just try and console people.

Tree officers emailed me to say that someone had driven their van into a tree on St Peters Street that leans out into the road quite a bit. Its a lovely, and in the words of tree officers “majestic” tree, but because someone had driven their van into it, and made an insurance claim, the Council had decided to chop the tree down. This didn’t sound right to me, and I called an 8am meeting with Council Officers in St Peters Street to discuss the options. They admitted that actually, if they built the pavement out round the tree to prevent further accidents, then they didn’t need to chop it down. Whilst we discussing this, a local resident came out and thanked me for saving the tree.

Residents in Arlington Square were getting very fed up with young people gathering in the square gardens after it was closed, drinking alcopops, and making lots of noise. I contacted the Safer Neighbourhood Police Team, who mounted an operation to identify the young people, which has resulted in much more peaceful Saturday nights for local residents. Following on from this I called an 8am meeting with tree officers and local residents, and agreed a programme of pruning to the trees, which have been somewhat neglected over the last few years, which will make the gardens more visible from outside the square, making it more difficult for miscreants to hide in the square. We have also allocated a small budget to the square for planting, which we will use to plant prickly plants next to the fence, making it more difficult for people to jump the fence when the park is closed.

A constituent contacted me in desperation, because they had got behind with their Council tax payments, and although they were offering to make arrangements to pay off the debt, the Council sent round the bailiffs, who threatened my constituent that they would break down the door. I contacted the Council, got the bailiffs called off, an apology for the threats made by the bailiffs, which were illegal, and agreement to my constituent’s proposals to pay off the debt. I’m still waiting to hear what action the Council will take against the illegal behaviour of the bailiffs. I haven’t forgotten, and I will not give up until I get an answer.

When the planning application for the new school buildings at what used to be Islington Green School, and is now City of London Academy, was made, it was clear to me that children attending the school whilst the construction works were in progress would be severely disadvantaged, since the plans required the new school to be built on the old playground before the old buildings could be knocked down, which means no playground during the building works, and no-where to go at lunchtime. I asked for some of the extra money given to the Council by the developers as part of the planning permission, (section 106 payments, as they are called), to be put towards some additional temporary youth work to help support the pupils at lunchtime, when they are wandering round the streets of St Peters because the school hasn’t got playspace for them. The school wants the extra youth work, we have a plan from the Youth Service to provide the work. Its just that the Council is trying to argue that the wording of the permission doesn’t exactly describe this kind of support. This is bureaucratic obstruction. I will see that the youth work is provided, and I will go to the press if the Council carry on being awkward about it.

Along with my St Peters colleagues Cllr Shelley Coupland and Cllr Gary Doolan we have become aware of a reluctance on the part of Registered Social Landlords to take proper action against their tenants (and their offspring) when they are causing trouble either on, or near their estates. We have now had a meeting with Hyde Housing, at which we persuaded them to accept that they need to serve notices on trouble-making families, and we are still trying to have a similar meeting with Peabody, who have allowed at least one tenant to commit GBH on another tenant, on the premises, without taking any action at all against the perpetrator, preferring instead to offer extremely mediocre support to the victims to move elsewhere. This doesn’t sound right to me, and I want some answers from Peabody.

I go to as many local meetings as I can to make sure I know what’s going on in my Ward: I attend the Safer Neighbourhoods Ward Panel to help set police priorities for the ward, I go to several different residents associations meetings, I am a member of the Angel Town Centre Management Board, I am a governor of Camden and Islington Mental Health Trust, attending all their meetings, I attend the Angel Association meetings and Islington Living Streets. I attend and support Islington Boat Club and The Canal Boat Trust. I am happy to meet residents separately or together at any time when there is a problem.

Tomorrow morning I am meeting a concerned local resident and highways officers at the junction of Baring Street and New North Road at 8am, to discuss how this junction can be made safer for pedestrians, without making it impossible for a refuse truck to turn the corner.

I’m looking forward to it.