Archive for August, 2011

Today’s East End Life has a small item on p9 headlined “Name that gate”. A fuller version is on the council’s website here:

Competition launched to name new gate in Vicky Park

Residents have the chance to leave their mark in history by naming a new feature at Victoria Park.

Victoria Park is one of London’s most important historic parks and is currently undergoing a multi-million pound makeover.

Tower Hamlets Council, Big Lottery Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund have secured £12million to carry out an extensive programme of works to improve the park for residents and future generations to enjoy.

The refurbishment includes creating a new community centre on site, building a new island to house a Chinese pagoda, construction of two attractive bridges leading to the island, improvements to the play areas and makeover of the Old English Garden.

This is the biggest investment in the open space since its creation in the 1840s.

The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, visited the park today to unveil the newly refurbished Canal Gate and laid the final glass slab of the Jubilee Greenway Walk.

The Greenway Walk is a route that starts in Victoria Park and links the Olympic Park with London’s heritage sites and parks. It is intended to mark the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The Mayor also launched a competition to name a new entrance which has been built in Grove Road.

The park currently has 31 gates which are named after famous people, local landmarks or have a royal connection for example Royal, Crown, Queens, Bonner, St Augustines, St Marks, St Agnes and Gunmakers.

The Mayor said: “Victoria Park has a rich history ranging from its role as the People’s Park hosting political meetings and rallies to recreation, live music and sport and will be playing a key role in the Olympics as a live site.

“The competition is a chance to find a unique name which pays homage to the popular park and its royal links.  It is the borough’s royal links and distinctive history, which marks it out as a leading contender to be the UK’s next city.”

Tower Hamlets is bidding for city status as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

To enter the gate competition, you can email your suggestions to dave.hime@towerhamlets.gov.uk or by post to Victoria Park, St Marks Office, Cadogan Terrace E9 5DU by September 16.

The park’s refurbishment is due to be complete by April 2012.

It’s great to see the Mayor taking such an interest in Victoria Park, especially after the council pimped most of it out for a third of this summer by boarding it off for a month of music festivals.

I’ve no idea who will choose the winning name, but let’s hope it’s not his cabinet member for culture, Rania Khan, who at a council meeting last year dismissed residents’ concerns about the number of festivals in the park by sniffily observing that those who live nearby are middle class white people.

I’d guess that Queen Elizabeth Gate might be contender; or the Jubilee Gate.

Or maybe it will be the Shiraj Haque Gate?

What are your suggestions?

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Apparently it’s not really done to criticise your former employers, but as a shareholder in Archant, which owns the East London Advertiser (the shares were acquired under an employee scheme), and as someone who helped lead the paper’s campaign against Tower Hamlets council’s East End Life, I think an exception can be made.

During that campaign, the council consistently hurled back at us the argument that the ELA was in no position to take a moral stand on issues as long as it continued to carry adverts for massage parlours. While I always thought this was tortured logic, pretty much all the journalists in the office were deeply uncomfortable that our salaries were being funded in small part by the pimps who would regularly turn up to pay cash for ad space on Tuesday afternoons.

However, at least those ads were buried on the inside pages.

In 2007, the council passed a motion to try and restrict the growth of lap dancing bars in the borough. As reporters, we were  happy to back that line.

So on several levels, it was more than disappointing to walk into my local newsagent’s today to see an upturned copy of the the new ELA with a prominent advert for a “fully nude” lap dancing club on its back page.

Even leaving aside the question of ethics, this decision is poor judgment by a newspaper that will be left around the family home. Given that the paper is trying to win new readers among the large religious community in Tower Hamlets, the decision does not seem to make sense commercially either.

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Well done to Mayor Lutfur Rahman for yesterday’s statement about the riots, particularly his remarks about neighbours. However, he let himself be dragged down elsewhere. Here it is:

Tower Hamlets residents will be deeply concerned by the outbreak of rioting and street violence across London. This violence is totally unacceptable.

As your Mayor I urge everyone in our borough to remain calm.

We are one community, one Tower Hamlets; and it is the responsibility of all us as neighbours to look after each other, our local area and our services. The council is working around the clock with community leaders to ensure that this message is taken directly to our young people.

It is also the responsibility of the police to deal with crime in a way that wins the trust of local communities. That job is being made much harder by the cuts to community policing being forced through by the Mayor of London and the government. We need a local police service that remains in touch with, and understands the community.

We do not yet know all the facts behind the outbreak of these disturbances. I believe when full investigations are carried out one of the factors identified will be a sense of anger among our young people that they have been forgotten.

Government cuts are hitting our youth the hardest. Youth unemployment is rising, while youth services are being destroyed.

When opportunities for our young people are closed off, it is inevitable that frustration and alienation will increase. It is a recipe for disaster.

Young people should not target their  anger at their own community. It is not our local shopkeepers and businesses that are to blame.

We must have a genuine debate about how our society is being fractured and divided by an economic crisis made far worse by government policies.

Here in Tower Hamlets my administration will do whatever it can to show that there is another way; by protecting youth services, delivering jobs for local young people, increasing community policing, and showing that they have a future ahead of them that is not worth throwing away.

Tower Hamlets Mayor, Lutfur Rahman

Sadly, I don’t think he really thought about what he said and what he could and should say now.

I don’t know where he was last night, but he certainly wasn’t down the Roman Road. Perhaps he was watching from the expensive and impressive CCTV control room in Tower Hamlets Council’s Mulberry Place.

Along the Roman Road, there are several cameras that feed into that room. In fact, there’s one right by the overturned car which I took a picture of here. The people who work in that room feed their evidence directly to Tower Hamlets police, and Lutfur, I’m sure, would have been given updates. If he wasn’t on the streets he would have known what was going on.

How was it that all night that overturned car was simply left there? Where were his £35,000 a head THEOs, the not exactly ubiquitous Tower Hamlets Enforcement Officers he recently decreed were crucial to crime-fighting in the borough?

Here’s what he said about them in June:

“The THEOs have been making a real difference to our communities for over a year now, which is why we protected their funding. They patrol the borough: reassuring residents and responding directly to concerns about anti-social behaviour.”

Were they patrolling yesterday? Well, they weren’t in Bow? What is the point of them if they can’t be deployed when most needed like last night?

Yet, in his statement last night, Lutfur, like his out-of-date mate Ken Livingstone descended into politics. He blamed the Coalition cuts. Well, the THEOs weren’t cut were they?

No, if Lutfur had been on the streets in Bow last night he would have seen with his own eyes exactly what was going on: looting as a spectator game of dare. There was no one there to deter these people.

I know some of the people involved last night because they live extremely close to me. They’re gang members, barely out of their teens. I’ve watched them grow up for years; their mother is an alcoholic. She doesn’t work; I presume she’s been on benefits throughout the time I’ve lived here.

She and her sons live in a lovely three storey housing association home with a garden (worth about £350k, according to property experts). These kids didn’t grow up during a time of cuts. More than one person last night said quite the opposite: it was the bloated spending of the last decade which created the culture of dependency that failed to force their mother to encourage them into work. Let’s face it, they proved last night they don’t lack a certain entrepreneurial spirit. And neither are they “angry youths”.

And if Lutfur had been in Bow and along Bethnal Green Road last night, he would have noticed a couple of other things. Most of last night’s perpetrators were white and black trash scumbags who have no pride in their area and no real sense of community. They’re the ones who looted and encouraged it. In contrast, along Bethnal Green Road, there were groups of Sikh and Bengali shopkeepers standing guard outside their properties and probably prepared to fight if attacked.

This is what Lutfur should be bold enough to say today and ignore anyone who calls him racist. He should tell the returning Boris Johnson and David Cameron they can probably learn a thing or two from the East End: that much like there used to be among post-war white working classes, there is a stronger sense of family and community loyalty among Bengalis here – and they’re much more likely to stand up and defend themselves. Kind of Big Society really.

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If anyone thought the riots were the work of boroughless scumbags working themselves across London like a rats’ invasion of the Monopoly board – wrong. Tonight I saw people I know who live here in Bow laugh and egg each other on as they took turns to dart under a wrenched open shutter into a designer clothes shop on the Roman Road called Zee & Co – and emerge, scarves around their faces, arms full of booty.

One by one – black, white, Bengali, boy, girl, most of them teenagers – they went in and out as mates laughed and cheered across the street. I followed one lad, a black boy with a barely grown striped beard in a yellow polo shirt, thinking he’d walk to a van waiting somewhere nearby.

No, nonchalantly, at about 9pm he strolled about 50ft up the road and turned left into a flat above a furniture shop. There was a Turkish bloke wearing a red cap at the door smirking as he let him in. The black boy went upstairs, dumped his loot and joined friends cheering from a first floor window. More followed him in.

These thieves live here. And so do the people watching them. Do they give a toss about the area, one where a year today the eyes of the world will be watching? No, of course not. This was their fun-filled Looting Olympics.

I watched all this in Tower Hamlets for about an hour. In that time one police van drove past. It slowed down, put on its blue lights and then sped off. What could they do? This was just one shop; along Bethnal Green Road, riot police had been deployed.

On the way back I heard these comments, one on the road where I live:

“I hear Zee’s having an open sale,” and, “I got me a load of Stoney hats, bro” [he meant Stone Island designer hats].

I saw one man emerge from the shop and run into this blue car and drive away:

A bit further along, in the market section of the Roman, I saw this:

The car had been overturned by outside the local Muslim Community Centre. One of the elders there said a gang of black, white and Bengali youths had done it. He said they had been after the parking permit displayed on its windscreen.

Repeat: this is less than a kilometre from the Olympic Stadium.

Mindless doesn’t begin to describe it – but what else does?

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I’ve written this article in today’s Sunday Express about the extraordinary decision by Seb Coe’s Locog to allow Dow Chemical to sponsor part of the 2012 stadium. Dow will be paying for a £7million “wrap” (that’s a sort of colourful curtain wrapped around the outside of the stadium to make it more attractive). Dow’s name will be emblazoned on it in the months leading up to the Games next year.

Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide Corporation in 2001. Union Carbide of course owned and ran the chemical plant in Bhopal where a leak in 1984 killed up to 25,000 people. I spoke to victims’ groups in Bhopal on Friday. They are appalled. They protest regularly against Dow for its refusal to help remediate the still contaminated site and where babies continue to be born maimed. Dow refuse all liability saying they didn’t run the plant in 1984 and that settlement was already reached in 1989.

The victims’ groups are to complain to the Indian PM; they want him to write to David Cameron. (Sports Minister Hugh Robertson welcomed the decision saying he was “delighted”!) I wonder what possessed usually sure-footed Coe to make such a gaffe as he entered the home straight.

I also wonder whether a large campaign will start to get him to reverse this decision. Do Londoner really want this — all for the sake of £7million. Seems ripe for one of those new Government e-petitions…..

By Ted Jeory, Whitehall Editor

OLYMPICS chiefs are shaming Britain by asking a controversial chemical giant “with the blood of Bhopal on its hands” to sponsor the 2012 stadium in London.

This is the claim of campaigners for up to 25,000 people who died in India’s devastating chemical leak in 1984 after a decision last week by Lord Coe.

The 2012 boss announced that Dow Chemical would fund a “spectacular” £7million artwork “wrap” around the stadium throughout next year’s Games.

Its name will be emblazoned on the fabric – although the company is embroiled in a compensation wrangle over Bhopal.

Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide Corporation, whose former Indian subsidiary ran the doomed plant, in 2001.

It said the $470million compensation settlement reached by Union Carbide in 1989 was final. On average the very poor families of those who died received roughly £1,400.

It has insisted it is not liable and has refused to pay more or to clear toxic waste from the site.

Victims’ campaigners say children are still being born maimed because of poisons that continue to pollute the city’s groundwater. They are backing a number of criminal and civil court cases against Union Carbide.

In response, the US chemical industry has threatened not to invest in India.

At Thursday’s announcement, Dow’s UK boss Keith Wiggins admitted his industry had been responsible for “awful legacies” but said it was now time to concentrate on the good that chemicals can do.

Bhopal campaigners said yesterday: “Our terrible legacy is by no means over. Our children are still suffering.”

The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal urged Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to make a formal complaint to David Cameron.

They are also urging widespread protests, including a “Bhopal Olympics” involving disabled children, until a change of heart from London.

They said they are particularly shocked by Sebastian Coe since his grandfather was from India. Spokeswoman Rachna Dhingra said: “We have a message for Seb Coe: ‘surely, it’s possible to do the Olympics without taking money from this company?’

“By dealing with a corporation like Dow, which has the blood of Bhopal on its hands, the reputation of the London Games and its legacy will be tarnished.”

She accuses Dow, which also produced the Agent Orange chemical used to devastating effect by the US during the Vietnam War, of being guilty of “corporate and moral neglect”.

She said: “They have a PR machine working for them day and night. They can pretty much get away with anything.

“They’re so powerful and have so much money. They hire the most expensive lawyers in this country and they dangle the carrot of investment in India.

“Children are still being born with all sorts of disabilities and water is still contaminated with toxic waste, and yet this corporation continues to make profits every day.

“Dow took over Union Carbide’s liabilities in the US but not in India. They have a completely double standard.”

Arundhati Muthu, Greenpeace spokesman, described the London 2012 move as “offensive”, adding: “This crass attempt by Dow to detoxify their brand won’t wash with the thousands of victims of the Bhopal disaster, nor ordinary Londoners.”

Lord Coe declined to comment, but London 2012 bosses said Dow was a major sponsor of the International Olympic Committee long before last week’s decision. They refused to say whether they had discussed the issue of Bhopal.

A Dow Chemical spokesman said: “Although Dow never owned nor operated the plant, we, along with the rest of industry, have learnt from this tragic event and tried to do all we can to assure that similar incidents never happen again.”

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Tower Hamlets Tory group leader Cllr Peter Golds has an interesting article on ConservativeHome this morning. I’m cross-posting it with ConHome’s permission here:

Cllr Peter Golds, the Conservative opposition leader in Tower Hamllets, documents a housing scandal in his borough

In mid July I received a visit from a woman whose pregnant daughter had been housed in uncompleted student accommodation. One visit to Seth Court, Parmiter Street, Bethnal Green was shocking. Three became harrowing.

This block was designated for students, it was incomplete and the new owner was using it to house vulnerable people, young mothers and others with drink and drug problems.

I found incomplete ceilings, wires hanging free, a fire escape, blocked with building materials and uncompleted windows, a balcony with wobbling rails and as can be seen in this picture floors with windows opening directly outwards, with no catches and a four story drop. The property had not been cleared by building control or the fire service.

Vulnerable people were being “directed” by housing officers to take up private tenancies and of course housing benefit would pay. The weekly rent is £255 per week.

As well as dozens of young mothers, I met a man hardly able to stand because of the effect of drugs; another was walking corridors with a Staffordshire bull terrier, with no lead. Residents described a prostitute on her knees, in the common areas servicing men who were waiting in line!There are no letter boxes and so mail is delivered to the owner. He carefully sorts mail and opens letters from the council or other authorities. If cheques are made payable to him he banks them, if not he sends them back. One resident, Toyah, received notification that all her benefits would cease because they had been sent back. Of course the cheque had been made payable to her. Another, Kathleen, received demands that she pay the landlord in cash, or else. Yet another, Charlee, was missing medical appointments because of intercepted mail.The owner is a man called Yusuf Sarodia who lives in Ilford. He runs a company, which is difficult to identify because it is registered but there are no accounts and the postcode has an incorrect letter. It can be traced to a vacant plot in Hackney.

Yusuf Sarodia, when he learned that residents were speaking to the local press and councillors, served eviction notices on some residents. He threatened the local paper and called me to say “you are a councillor now, you might not be tomorrow.”

The police have been informed about the threats and the council are promising not to send any more vulnerable people here.

From the top floor of this building you can actually see the Olympic site.

In late July I met Rachel, a young woman who was renting a one bedroom property on Commercial Road, E1. Rachel is in work and this was available. It was, she thought, a one time council property purchased under Right to Buy. The landlord was a young man who eventually gave her notice to quit, which became difficult with her losing possessions including her cat.

Discussions with neighbours established that this property was not actually his. It was a council tenancy and in the name of his grandmother, Mrs Bibi.

Having made an enquiry I was told, and I quote the letter exactly, “I can confirm that we are currently dealing with a request to assign the tenancy from Mrs Bibi (who is absent from the property) to her grandson.

Hold on, this is a one bedroom flat. Were grandmother and grandson sharing a room? Mrs Bibi is “absent from the property”, where and how?

Fortunately Rachel has bank evidence, driving licence and other information to prove that she and not the young man was actually resident in this flat.

Will the council check where Mrs Bibi and her grandson are living? Do they receive benefits in respect of this flat? Will the tenancy be assigned?

Do not hold your breath.

 I imagine there are countless other cases like this in Tower Hamlets: I’d like to build up a dossier, so please send me full details.

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I’ve been asked to publish the following letter, signatories of which include Jim Fitzpatrick and the Quilliam Foundation.

Bangladesh Welfare Association
Shaheed Bhavan
39 Fournier Street. E1 6QE

We, the undersigned, call on the authorities to ban the proposed march by the English Defence League (EDL) in Tower Hamlets on Saturday 3 September. The EDL is a violent racist organisation that seeks to vilify communities and damage community relations. Its planned march is designed to whip up fear and incite violence.

We reject entirely the EDL and its racism and we don’t see why the people of Tower Hamlets should pay for its march of hate. There can be no excuse for this march of hate. It is not right for one or two thousand racists to bring fear and trouble into somebody else’s community. We have to stop the EDL from marching.

We are calling on the police and council to ask the Home Secretary to ban the march. In doing so we are standing up for all the people of Tower Hamlets, whatever their religious or racial background.

We have shown before that we can force the authorities to act. We need to stop the EDL from marching in Tower Hamlets in September.

We are proud of Tower Hamlets, a vibrant multiracial area, which has a long and proud history of resistance to racism & fascism. From Cable Street in the 1930s, to Brick Lane in the 1970s and to Millwall in the 1990s, the people of Tower Hamlets have come together to see off racism and fascism before. We will now stand united against the racist and extremist EDL.

We believe that everyone has the right to live in peace and without the fear of abuse or violence. We stand against all prejudice, whether it’s racism, anti Muslim racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia or extremism.

We oppose all extremism – from whatever quarter – and we recognise that extremism breeds extremism. We condemn the extremist EDL just as we condemn Islamist extremism. We say a plague on both their houses.

We believe that the people of Tower Hamlets should be allowed to live without the threat of violence and fear. This is why we are standing together against the hatred of the EDL. We believe in HOPE not hate. That is why we are calling on the authorities to ban the EDL march of hate.

Sam Tarry
Campaign Organiser, HOPE not hate

Mr Mohammed Hormuz Ali
President, Bangladesh Welfare Association

Nurul Islam
General Secretary, Bangladesh Welfare Association

Mr Sajjad Miah
Acting President, Brick Lane Mosque

Mr Mahmud A Rauf
President, Brick Lane Business Association

Mr Badrul Islam
Director, Centre for Citizenship and Development

Mr Amir Hussain
Chairperson, Tower Hamlets Apasenth

Mr Ansarul Haque
General Secretary, Collective of Bangladeshi School Governors.

Mr Gopal Das
General Secretary, Bangladesh Udichi Shilpi Gosthi

Mr Nurul Islam
General Secretary, Soytten Sen School of Performing Arts

Mr Shahriar Bin Ali
Joint Convenor, Bangladesh Youth Union

Ms Shamim Ara Begum
Convenor, Nari Digangta – an association of progressive Bangladeshi women

Syed Enamul Islam
Secretary, Pir Habib Memorial Foundation

Dr B B Chaudhuri, Nirmul Committee

Ansar Ahmed Ullah
Organising Secretary, Altab Ali Memorial Foundation

United Platform Against Racism & Extremism

Syed Nahas Pasha
Editor, Janomot

Belal Ahmed
President, Bangla Press Club

Nazim Chowdhury
Director, Betar Bangla

Maggie Bowden,
General Secretary, Liberation

Ghaffar Hussain
Quilliam Foundation

Mina Rahman
London Bangla Women’s Network

Murad Qureshi, AM

Leon Silver
Senior Warden & Honorary Officer: East London Central Synagogue, Steering Group Member: Tower Hamlets Interfaith Forum

Alice Sielle
Belief in Bow

Women Against Fundamentalism

Amanda Sebestyen
Asylum Education & Legal Fund

Abu Musa Hasan

Mohammed Emdadul Haque Chowdhury
Editor, Weekly Potrika

Soyful Alam
Acting Gen Secretary, Altab Ali Memorial Foundation

Selma James  
Global Women’s Strike

Councillor Peter Golds
Leader of the Conservative Group, London Borough of Tower Hamlets

Steve Silver, Journalist

Jim Fitzpatrick MP

Rumana Hashem
Visiting Lecturer and PhD Fellow, University of East London

Councillor Helal Uddin Abbas
Spitalfields & Banglatown

Dan Jones
Human Rights Worker     

Ahmed Nurul Tipu
President, Projonmo71, UK

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