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Archive for October, 2011

Well, this shows you the power of a good campaign. Yesterday, I called on Mayor Lutfur Rahman to overturn the decision by his council to rent out a national war memorial gardens to a catering company for a giant month-long bankers’ booze-up.

Tower Hamlets Council has just released the following statement:

Commenting on the Trinity Gardens proposals, Mayor Lutfur Rahman said: “Staging events in the Gardens was an idea put forward by Trinity House who have been working with the Council and the proposed event organisers so I am surprised by comments made this weekend. The Council do not wish to cause any offence to any of the parties involved. As it no longer has the support of Trinity House and the maritime community I have put a stop this event.” 

Ward Councillor and Cabinet Member for the Environment, Cllr Shahed Ali, added: “These gardens are an important part of the borough’s heritage and I am extremely glad the Mayor has used his executive powers to stop the event taking place.”

Job done. Well done – and thanks to Jim Fitzpatrick for airing it in the first place. At least he had some common sense. I have no idea why no one at the council, which says it cares about the heritage of the borough, saw this as a crass idea from the outset. A really good politician who had a feel for the symbolic nature of the multicultural nature of the memorials, would have seen it that way and made capital by squashing the proposal at the beginning. And then publicising it.

Why is this council so reactive?

UPDATE – October 11, 8am

Tory leader Peter Golds has pointed out something curious in the council’s statement above, that Shahed Ali is described as the “ward councillor”. Shahed, who was kicked out of the Labour group when he joined Lutfur’s cabinet, represents Whitechapel, while Trinity Square Gardens is in St Katharine’s and Wapping.

As Peter asks, has Lutfur now assumed the powers to redraw boundaries – or is just another clue to how familiar he is with this historic part of London?

And another thing, as they say, the statement on the council’s website refers twice to Trinity Gardens; it’s always good to be accurate about these things isn’t it because it shows you care? The name is Trinity Square Gardens. Here’s the sign on the park entrance to help the council’s communications team:

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The Observer has placed the “Bankers to party on Trinity Square Gardens” that I broke here on Thursday on its front page today and the article’s author, Nick Cohen, has also devoted his column to the issue.

I’ve also done a piece on page 12 of today’s Sunday Express and there was some discussion about splashing on it. It’s one of those stories that beggars belief.

Richard Beggs, the managing director of caterers Moving Venue, which has lodged the licensing application with Tower Hamlets council, called me on Friday to try and justify the project. He said the war memorials “were extremely dear to our hearts”, that he would provide security, and that they are walled off and in a separate area with their own entrance, the last bit of which is essentially hogwash.

Mr Beggs also revealed they had been in discussions with officers at Tower Hamlets council for six months and they had been extremely supportive of the idea.

He said the council would be receiving an undisclosed but sizeable income stream from renting out the space, which he said would be useful for Britain’s poorest borough (well, gee, thanks!). And he fervently hopes Mayor Lutfur Rahman will be attending a lunch with him to celebrate the swish new marquee.

When the proposal to close Bancroft History Library and Archives was aired in 2008, it was clear that many people in the Town Hall were neither aware of the incredibly rich history of Tower Hamlets nor, frankly, cared.

We won that battle but the history lesson doesn’t seem to have sunk in. Earlier this year, when residents and some councillors, including Labour leader Josh Peck and the Tories’ Peter Golds, complained about the number of events being staged in Victoria Park, Lutfur acolyte Rania Khan – the council’s culture spokeswoman! – brushed them off as the moaning white middle-classes.

She effectively said that money was more important that tranquil green space and heritage: that the various music festivals, which helped ruined the park again this summer, generated wads of cash for the council.

Well, as Mike Brooke from the East London Advertiser reported last month, the nine events staged there this summer netted just £250,000 in income. Half of that amount has effectively gone on refurbishing Lutfur’s office and his new Mercedes Lutfurmobile.

I’ve no idea what the council is hoping to grab from Moving Venue but whatever it is it’s irrelevant. As Nick Cohen says in his column, there are some things that can’t be monetised.

I’ve neither any idea what Lutfur thinks about Trinity Square Gardens but his past record suggests not much: he failed to turn up at last year’s Remembrance Sunday service there without telling anyone why at the time.

However, he now has a chance to redeem himself by telling Moving Venue that their idea is rum, to say the least, and that they should withdraw their application.

Anything else would be like dancing on the graves of the Commonwealth war dead, including those of the many Bengalis who died serving the merchant fleet.

Here’s what Rear Admiral Sir Jeremy de Halpert, Deputy Master of Trinity House, the maritime charity whose HQ overlooks the gardens, told me for the Sunday Express

“You can’t plant an all-day bar, dining room and disco on top of the war memorial and expect the due reverence to be untainted. Can you imagine 350 people spilling out of there?

“This memorial is the centrepiece of the garden, which provides that cloak of respect and deference to those who died. People go into that park because it is tranquil. The whole ambience and reverence will be ruined.”

And this is what Captain Malcolm Mathison, vice-chairman of the Merchant Navy Association, said

“You would not put something like this in a cemetery, so why this? Our guys were lost at sea, their relatives don’t have graves to go to. This idea disrespects the men and women of the Merchant Navy and the fishing fleets. They gave their lives for our country.”

Wise words.

Peter Golds has issued this statement today:

The proposal to hold parties in Trinity Gardens is an affront to the thousands of merchant seamen who lost their lives in times of conflict. It was possible to join the merchant Navy aged 14 and the magnificent memorial commemorates, amongst many others, these youngsters who gave their lives.

A party in a Marquee will involve drink and noise. A prime reason for rejecting a licensing application is disorder, and the potential for disorder around the Memorial is extremely high.

The proposed date for starting these events is November 22. On November 13th Trinity Gardens will be the setting for the Borough’s main Remembrance Ceremonies. How appalling that wreathes will be removed to be replaced by canapés, champagne and fairy lights.

The current Tower Hamlets administration has form on this matter. Last year, despite a seat being reserved for him, Lutfur Rahman declined to attend the Remembrance Ceremony. His administration blocked off large parts of Victoria Park for money making events in the summer and his officers are supporting a new Hotel on Trinity Gardens – despite there being no facilities for deliveries.

Something needs to be done and Lutfur Rahman needs to understand that One Tower Hamlets means actions and not press releases.

I can see this issue building a serious head of steam.

(PHOTO: Courtesy of Roll of Honour)

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Jim Fitzpatrick is outraged by a new plan to stage all night Christmas parties on the site of a national monument to those who lost their lives at sea during the two world wars.

He has made a formal complaint to Tower Hamlets Council about an application by caterers Moving Venue to erect marquees on Trinity Square Gardens, near the Tower of London, during the forthcoming office party season.

Trinity Square Gardens were created by Act of Parliament in 1797 and restored in 2003. They are managed by the council, the Corporation of London and significantly, the War Graves Commission. They contain memorials inscribed with the names of hundreds of merchant seafarers, a large number of them Bengali lascars, who were killed while serving and supplying this country.

Moving Venue, it seems, wants to use the beautiful space to let bankers and other City workers booze away their bonuses while overlooking the Tower.

Their application seeks permission for alcohol and music entertainment during the hours of 11am to 1am  from November 22 to December 17.

Having been contacted by furious boss of Trinity House, which overlooks the square, Jim, who is the MP for the area, wrote the following letter to the council:

I have been contacted by Rear Admiral Sir Jeremy de Halpert who is Deputy Master of Trinity House, Tower Hill, regarding a proposal to allow licensed entertainment in Trinity Square Gardens at Tower Hill, adjacent to the National War Memorials.  The memorials are of particular note as they are dedicated to those members of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets who lost their lives in the two world wars and have no known grave.  They are thus the maritime equivalent of, among other sites, the Menin Gate in Flanders.

You will, of course, have all the details relating to this matter, but I would like to emphasise how very inappropriate the proposals are to this area.  I echo Sir Jeremy’s sentiments in saying that the park includes two major National War Memorials two other significant memorials.  Such a site of entertainment would impact on the dignity of the memorials and the respect due those that are remembered there.  The marquee will dominate this very small park and deny the public access to one of the few open green spaces in this area.  The site is adjacent to residential properties within the City of London and the venue will impact on the residents.  The park is a Conservation Area and the erection of a marquee will impact on the bio-diversity of the area and on its scenic value, especially at a time when many visitors come to London in the run up to Christmas.  The proposed use is at odds with nearly all the Council’s own approved plans for the park.

Along with Sir Jeremy, I wish to register my own objection to this proposal.  I understand the cut-off date is 12 October.  Thank you for your assistance.

Yours faithfully

Jim Fitzpatrick MP

And this is how the rather officious licensing officer at the council responded:

Thank you for your email. I acknowledge and appreciate the concerns you have raised in relation to Trinity Square Gardens. 

Unfortunately, under the Licensing Act 2003 your email is not considered to be a valid representation. In order for your representation to be valid, you must make it clear how granting this particular application will have an impact on you only in relation to one or more of the following licensing objectives:
–         the prevention of crime and disorder
–         the prevention of public nuisance
–         public safety
–         the protection of children from harm

Under the above Act, for your representation to be valid, you must be one of the following:

–         a person living in the vicinity of the premises
–         a body representing persons living in the vicinity of the premises (i.e. residents association etc)
–         a person involved in business in the vicinity of the premises
–         a body representing persons involved in business in the vicinity of the premises
–         a responsible authority (i.e. Police, Environmental Protection etc)
–         a Ward Councillor

Also, please be advised that we require the full address of anyone making a representation. If you wish to represent an interested party, we would need to know their details.

This, quite understandably, has further upset Jim, who today wrote the following letter back to the council: 

I am writing to complain in the strongest possible terms that my representation against an ‘Entertainment Licence’ being granted on the site of Trinity Square Garden, which contains the National War Memorials, has been declared by you as, ‘…not considered to be a valid representation.’

Over 20,000 sailors’ names are recorded at the memorials.  For many, this is their only grave, as they died at sea.  Licensing entertainment and alcohol sales in the park is wholly inappropriate, and I believe my representation SHOULD be considered valid – not rejected out of hand by you.

I am copying this complaint to the Mayor’s Office, as well as to the Leaders of the Labour, Conservative and Lib-Dem Groups on the Council, and the press.

I full recognise procedures need to be observed, but your total disregard for the significance of this site as a national war grave is hugely disappointing.

I’ve called Moving Venue to see if they intend pressing ahead with their silly plan but I’ve yet to get a response.

However, I suspect their application has the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of getting through the Tower Hamlets licensing committee.

UPDATE – Saturday, Oct 8

I’ve written an article on this for the Sunday Express tomorrow – more comments from Merchant Navy veterans. The managing director of Moving Venue, Richard Beggs, also told me he’d been working with Tower Hamlets Council for six months on this idea and that he had agreed a significant rental fee for “Britain’s poorest borough”.

He also said he was hoping to have lunch soon with Lutfur Rahman about the issue. Given the likely fallout from this idea, Lutfur might want to do what he did last time he was invited to Trinity Square Gardens….ie not turn up.

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I know some might accuse me of being on dodgy ground on this one but there’s something deeply troubling about the attitude of the current Tower Hamlets Council regime towards the media. During Lutfur Rahman’s election campaign possibly the most disgraceful advert that has ever appeared in what purports to be a newspaper appeared in a tawdry rag called the London Bangla.

The advert appeared in the name of a supposed refuge for women who had suffered domestic violence. It even provided a phone number for other victims to call. Of course, the entire ad was false. The advert said we needed to “Stop wife beating Mayoral candidate Helal Abbas”. Abbas was Lutfur’s Labour opponent. For those who never saw it first time around, here it is:

The rally it advertised never happened either. As a result of this advert, London Bangla’s then news editor Emdad Rahman resigned. At the time, I and other journalists asked Lutfur to condemn the advert. He never did, probably because the London Bangla was very much in his stable. It was a pitifully moral failure on the part of the mayor and one that he should be ashamed of.

The London Bangla was owned by Shah Yousuf. Since the election, Abbas has been considering his legal options and, quelle surprise, the London Bangla has disappeared to be replaced by another equally weird publication called the East End News. Shah Yousuf is listed as its editor and, disappointingly, Emdad Rahman has reappeared as its “executive editor”. Ex-Labour party member James Frankcom is listed as “news editor”.

It is effectively the same “newspaper”. So, as they say, imagine my surprise when I attended the last full Tower Hamlets council meeting a couple of weeks ago to find that this paper is being promoted in the Town Hall. Someone in the council – we’re not sure yet who – has given permission for the paper to be distributed free of charge from the same newspaper bin in the foyer of Mulberry Place as East End Life. Here’s a picture of the copy I picked up:

Crikey, what’s this sexual disease epidemic that’s hit east London “hard”? Let’s have a look at the article…

The NHS is promoting a sexual health awareness project to help solve the capitals (sic) growing sexual health problems.

The initiative is a response to recent research that shows London has the highest levels of sexual ill health of any city in the UK costing the taxpayer £500m per year. There are estimated to be over 35,000 people living with HIV in London – a third of whom are not tested and do not know their HIV status. Indeed, when Dr Lucien Herpes discovered his eponymous STD back in the 1920s he would have had no idea how soon his name would be on everyone’s lips. [GEDDIT? Lips, Herpes… .]

In addition, teenage pregnancy levels are among the highest in Western Europe and abortions, including repeat abortions in all age groups are 25% higher than the English average. [NOW, why would a paper want to talk about teenage pregnancies and abortions in an article about sexual diseases..?]

So in response a brand new sexual health intiative called Sex Factor Ideas 2012 has been launched.

Sex Factor Ideas 2012 is described in the associated publicity drive as a hands on initiative to promote Sexual Health awareness among young Londoners by inviting Lonodn’s young community to actually create the promotional campaign themselves. They are hoping to encourage as many young Londoners to get involved as possible.

[And now for the best part….]

The campaign comes as concerns were recently raised on a social media site about the potential for the upgraded Altab Ali Park to be abused by the East End’s growing army of “doggers”.

“Dogging” is a craze whereby men and women who are otherwise unknown to each other indulge in semi-public sex in the open air in places such as parks, car parks and gardens. Concern has grown after it emerged the new tree-stumps erected at the back of the park were mooted by dogging enthusiasts as a new potential shelter for their nocturnal activities.

Other sites across East London listed on popular dogging websites include the bushes around Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone, the area between Plaistow Station abd Valetta Grove abd two sites in Walthamstow; one on Coopermills Lane and the other on Forest Road near the doctors surgery.

I have to say that despite the dubious undertones this is one of the funniest articles I’ve read recently and I do wonder whether the East End News is the new Viz….but given the Abbas advert and the paper’s strong links to Lutfur, is it right that the paper should be given a free distribution point in Mulberry Place?

What do you think?

Should we be told of more places where we can go dogging-spotting?

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