Local Forums kicked off on Tuesday 28 October with the first being held in Redbridge Central Library. As I’ve written here before, Local Forums are designed to be the new space for councillors and citizens to come together to discuss the big issues that face the Borough.
Market place and Question time
The Market Place generated a good buzz. We had 65 residents turn out for this part of the evening, and they were able to talk directly to partners and senior officers for advice and support, without having to bow to formality or protocol. The Market Place gives local people simple access to a wealth of problem solving knowledge, and we must do more to communicate this opportunity to people who could benefit from it across the Borough.
Question time at the first Local Forum
Around 80 people attended for the Question Time debate, where over 40 questions were asked to political group leaders, the Cabinet Member for Planning and Regeneration, and Pat Reynolds, Director of Children’s Services. I’ll be working with officers to make sure that all the technical questions that didn’t get a full answer are followed up as soon as possible.
Proposed plans for local development
The debate also brought up a number of big issues which both the Borough as a whole and the Council as an organisation need to face in the coming months. The first is that of local development. We have to address the huge demographic pressures that face the Borough and the need for additional infrastructure this brings with it in terms of school places, children’s and older people’s care, increasing pressure on our roads and transport system as well as the Borough’s housing supply.
This last point has been causing contention in Redbridge for some years now, with local communities very legitimately concerned about how proposed plans for local development will affect the character and quality of life in the Borough. A number of people brought up concerns of this kind again at the Local Forum last week in response to the news that we will soon start consulting on development options as part of the process to refresh our Local Plan. I won’t go into detail about each of the options here, but I would advise everyone with an interest in the future of Redbridge to read that report carefully and feed your thoughts into the consultation, launched today. I want to reiterate what Cllr Coomb said last week – the consultation is about making sure that local voices are heard, and that the Council has no prejudged decision on any of the options. The evidence will be weighed up and presented to Cabinet and Council for Councillors to decide, as mandated advocates of their communities.
Contacting the Council
A second concern was about customer contact and difficulty getting through to the Council. This was something that really resonated with a lot of people in the room. But there are no easy answers here. I have instructed officers to investigate customer access across the Council’s services to take stock of the scale of this problem and how things can be improved. I will be following this work closely.
There isn’t space room to deal with everything that was discussed at last week’s meeting in this blog, but there will be a detailed overview with a Council response to each issue raised up on the website by the end of the day today, so please keep your eyes peeled for that.
While there are some kinks we need to iron out, a consensus is emerging that the first Local Forums worked well as a first step in creating a place were difficult issues facing the Borough can be deliberated – one which contains more straight-forward, direct scope for local citizens to help think through and co-produce responses. These kinds of spaces will be essential for helping rethink the relationships between the Council and local citizens as services are transformed over the next few years, and I hope to see as many residents as possible joining the conversation.
Find out how to give your views on how the Council can save £70m by 2017/18 on the Redbridge Conversation page of Redbridge i.