Archive for August, 2012

Two bits of Bank Holiday weekend fun for you.

1. Peter Golds has pointed out the irony of this post nine days ago on Axel Landin’s Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s blog. It’s headlined “Bring Back British Rail” (the author was clearly too young to remember BR):

Yesterday saw a national day of action by transport unions and passengers to protest fair (sic) hikes and service cuts across the railways. I salute them. British train passengers already pay among the highest fares in Europe for train travel and now the government has announced that train operating companies will be able to increase rail fares by three per cent more than inflation. 

For the last two weeks we have seen government figures in Westminster and London figures basking in the borrowed glory of the Olympics that their Labour  predecessors secured for city and the country.

One tangible related benefit of that much touted but hardly touched Olympic Legacy has been the development of transport links across the previously cut off poor areas of East London – and on its way is the Crossrail link which ties in the area to the greater region.

And now it is back to dismal normality with the announcement of 11% rail fare rises.  We will indeed be better linked to the rest of the Capital and the world. But far too many of our citizens will not be able to afford the tickets.

It is going to mean price hikes on rush hour travel, season tickets and on off-peak fares on the majority of intercity journeys. Passengers will get worse quality and less safe service for their higher fares. 

This is all a direct result of rail privatisation. As we saw with the spectacular failure of G4S Security, the conservative idea of so called “private enterprise” is to take national and civic assets, milk them with subsidies, dividends and bonuses, and then call upon the public sector to rescue them from the consequences of greed and imcompetence. One study “Rebuilding Rail, Transport for Quality of Life” shows that rail privatisation costs over than £1bn a year. 

During the Olympics, we saw that the rail infrastructure was already running close to capacity. But despite that the success of Ken’s policies, like the Oyster Card, the bicycle lanes and the congestion charges had kept people off the roads and carbon dioxide out of the air.

We need more investment in public transport, cheaper fares to coax more passengers out of cars – and less money for bonuses. As the RMT’s Bob Crowe says “The campaign to Bring Back British Rail is an idea whose time has come.”

Peter was particularly struck by this paragraph (my emphasis):

During the Olympics, we saw that the rail infrastructure was already running close to capacity. But despite that the success of Ken’s policies, like the Oyster Card, the bicycle lanes and the congestion charges had kept people off the roads and carbon dioxide out of the air.

Oh yes. But of course Ken’s policies haven’t been that successful, have they?

That’s the infamous E-class Mercedes Lutfurmobile that the Mayor hires at our expense for £72 a day. Yes, it does spew out carbon dioxide.


2. Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy in a tweet tonight has highlighted a fascinating data-map of London based on common surnames. It has been produced by James Cheshire, a geography lecturer at University College, London. On his website here, which I thoroughly recommend clicking through to, Cheshire shows how surnames cluster themselves in various parts of London. You can scroll into Tower Hamlets districts and see the concentrations of Rahmans, Uddins, Browns, Smiths and Khatuns for example.

Here’s a flavour….have fun.


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The phrase ‘Olympic legacy’ is understandably all the rage at the moment. Indeed, Mayor Lutfur Rahman has used it as a pretty weak hook for an article about housing and Government cuts in the Huffington Post today. It’s here.

If he (or whoever writes his pieces for him) had been a bit cuter, and possibly a bit more knowledgeable about what goes on in Tower Hamlets, he could have boasted instead about how a handful of the borough’s schools are leading the entire country when it comes to delivering a true Olympic legacy, one that genuinely harnesses the power of sport to do good.

For at George Green’s School on the Isle of Dogs and at Raines Foundation School and Morpeth School in Bethnal Green, the lives of probably thousands of kids are being transformed via a pioneering coaching initiative run by the marvelous Greenhouse charity.

Greenhouse, which is run by ex-accountant Michael de Giorgio (see, we are a special breed..), places inspiring coaches in inner city schools with the aim of not only improving children’s sporting prowess, but also – and more importantly – of using sport to make them better people and more employable.

Would you believe that Tower Hamlets youngsters are now amongst the best table tennis players in Britain? I saw an exhibition of the Morpeth kids in action when the Queen visited Millwall fire station few years ago: they were breathtaking.

[Of course, it’s particularly ironic that George Green’s is one of the schools doing so much good in this area. Last April (see here and here), its headteacher, Kenny Frederick, warned Lutfur and his cabinet spokesman for education Oli Rahman that their completely uncosted decision to take youth services back under the bureaucratic and historically failed control of the town hall risked returning the Island youth to street gangs.]

The Greenhouse charity is so well thought of that Prince William, Kate and Prince Harry, via their new Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, last month backed its Coach Core pilot scheme, which will roll out nationally if successful.

I wrote about it for the Sunday Express here; it is worth a read.

And I thought I’d use this blog to highlight another piece that appeared in the Sunday Express last week, this time by Greenhouse’s Michael de Giorgio. We asked for his thoughts on the Olympic Legacy for school sport. It would be brilliant if Lutfur could write about the Greenhouse’s work in one of his East End Life columns sometime soon.

Here it is:

THESE are the Games that promised to “inspire a generation”. Over the past 17 days, they have done so.

The promise of the Games was not just to deliver a festival of sport, however, it was about creating a sporting legacy for young people inspired by the likes of Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah.

With that generation now inspired, are we ready to deliver the promised legacy?

I’m afraid the answer is “not yet”.

Grassroots sport is not in a good place. Top of the agenda are cuts to school sports and the Sports Minister’s admission that considerable spending on raising sport participation has failed.

Introducing a school games competition is a sticking plaster that is fooling no one.

To start to put this right we need to start to change how we think about sport.

Our Sports Minister’s remit is to win medals and get the maximum number of people playing.

The former has been a resounding success, while the latter has not.

Measuring the role of sport and making funding decisions based on these two measures greatly undervalues the role sport should play in society.

Raising sport participation is failing because the quality of the experience received by the child through these schemes is not good enough. The funding system rewards those providers who claim they can reach the most people. If your focus is volume alone, quality will be poor.

We need to spread the funding less thinly. Current government thinking is to target 14 to 25-year-olds. That is simply too late in a young person’s life.

We need instead to concentrate funding on the most disadvantaged communities, where sport can make the biggest social difference.

Secondly, we need to develop our coaches to have a greater influence on young people. We can follow the lead of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry on this point, who through their Royal Foundation, have worked with us to set up Coach Core.

The scheme not only trains coaches to be good technical coaches, but also mentors and role models who can engage and develop young people.

This approach needs to be adopted widely if sport is to make the difference it can.

These principles of focusing on disadvantaged communities and using coaches to develop young people are used by several charities, of which Greenhouse is one.

We place coaches full time, spending an average of five hours a week with each young person, setting very high expectations.

The young people are out-behaving, out-attending and out-performing their school peers.

They are fitter, healthier and the risk of them being drawn into crime is greatly reduced.

However, in a system which rewards organisations that promise thousands of attendees, but deliver no real benefit, charities like ours remain the exception rather than the rule.

We were promised a better legacy than this.

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Oh dear. What should have been a straightforward farewell ceremony to the troops who had been stationed at Tobacco Dock in Wapping for the Olympics has turned into sour political row.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman, alongside Dame Helen Mirren, was given the honour of inspecting the military on Sunday in Wapping Rose Gardens.

Here they all are together.

Thanks to Wapping-based Baynes Media, we have a video of the event in which Lutfur’s young political adviser Axel Landin can be seen trying to scare the hell out of the soldiers by jumping up and down behind them with a camera at 1minute or so in.

After making a gracious speech thanking the Armed Forces for their efforts and then inviting them all to eat a curry that someone in Brick Lane had laid on for them all (who, I wonder..), Lutfur retired home, rested overnight and wrote an account about his experience for his blog on Monday. The full blog post is here.

Again, the bulk of it strikes the right tone, but then this:

There was unfortunately one sour note. As this was a civic occasion for all of our borough, I naturally invited the leaders of the other groups on Council, Joshua Peck (Labour Group) and Peter Golds (Conservative Group) to join me at the event in paying tribute to the efforts of our servicemen. They did not turn up.

I very much regret that our opposition leaders chose to absent themselves from this very moving ceremony. I sincerely hope that their discourtesy to our armed services, and indeed to our borough, will not prevent them from supporting the Covenant our borough has announced to ensure fair treatment for returning veterans.

Well, this is pretty rum. Someone I know who is an officer in one of the regiments who served at the Olympic Park believes these comments to be disrespectful to the soldiers. A gracious farewell event should be apolitical. Trying to make political capital out of this is fairly low grade.

Josh Peck tells me the invite to the event was only sent ou by Communications head Takki Sulaiman at 6pm on Friday, and even then only as a round-robin to all councillors. He says he had a long-standing family commitment that he just could not alter. I’m sure our soldiers, of all people, would appreciate the importance of family events.

Peter Golds, who has an OBE and from what I have seen takes more pride in such civic duties than most, has gone further. He was unable to attend because every Sunday he travels to look after his severely disabled brother. Again, I’m sure the troops, more than most, would understand the value of this.

Peter said:

It is a slur to suggest that Iwould show anything but utmost respect to our armed forces and had I been given notice about this event I would have attended. In fact notice was sent out at 18.14 on Friday evening. I have written to [Royal Navy Regional Commander] Commodore Atherton and also to Lutfur Rahman requesting that his blog be amended. I have also asked questions as to the timing of the arrangements via members enquiry and freedom of information. 

This is his letter to Commodore Atherton:

Dear Commodore Atherton

On behalf of my group colleagues and local residents I am writing to express our thanks for the work that our service personnel put into the Olympics. Always cheerful, never failing to respond to requests for directions they were a credit to our city and country.

As reported in the East London Advertiser, your reception at the parade in Wapping on Sunday showed how much locals appreciated the work put in by our Forces.

I would like to apologise personally for not being present to pay my personal thanks. Sadly, Tower Hamlets Council notified members late on Friday afternoon and like many council colleagues I did not see the email until too late.

I know from residents who did attend, that you were given a rousing reception and I hope that this short letter adds to the cheers.

And this is the letter to Lutfur:

Dear Mr Rahman

Re: Your “Blog” – Thanking our armed forces for their Olympics Service

I have today written to Commodore Martin  Atherton regarding the Parade on Sunday in light of your blog, which is accessed via the Council website and therefore can be construed as official and certainly more than the ramblings of a politician.

The blog makes an untrue and dishonest statement regarding me which I quote directly:

“I very much regret that our opposition leaders chose to absent themselves from this very moving ceremony. I sincerely hope that their discourtesy to our armed services, and indeed to our borough, will not prevent them from supporting the Covenant our borough has announced to ensure fair treatment for returning veterans”.

Notification of this event was sent to me by your Head of Communications at 18.14 on Friday 10th August using my normal council email address. I did not open this until late on Saturday – far too late to make arrangements to attend.

It stands to reason that arrangements for this would have taken some time and therefore members could have been given an indication of the time and venue before all details were finalised. I find it difficult to accept that the very late notification was anything other than intentional.    

I will be raising questions with regard to this blog but expect that you will alter this untrue story and provide me with a right of reply in case anyone should be misled. 

Unfortunately, Lutfur does not allow comments on his blog. If he did, I’m sure someone would have raised another civic occasion at which respects are paid to the military when another senior member of the council failed to show turn up…one which is marked in the calendar every year…

Remember the Remembrance Sunday Service in November 2010? Yes, the missing man on that occasion was a certain Mayor Rahman. His surprise absence apparently even baffled then council chief executive Kevan Collins. He warned no one he would be missing, I’m told.

Perhaps he was just out for revenge when he wrote his blog. Very silly, very student politics. He can do better than that.

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Strictly speaking, this post is off the politics beat but it’s a topic that needs the energy of a brave, campaigning politician to take forward. They, and anyone else who has information about the following police investigation, including former or serving Tower Hamlets police officers, can contact me anonymously/confidentially, via the contact details on this blog.

Of all the brilliant front pages produced by my former editor at the East London Advertiser, Malcolm Starbrook, these two are among the ones of which I am most proud.

The first was published on the first anniversary of the death of 30-year-old Mark Blanco, who fell in highly dubious circumstances from a first floor balcony in Romford Street, Whitechapel, in December 2006.

The second was published in October 2007, the day after a coroner halted an inquest into Mark’s death and dismissed out of hand the conclusions of a shockingly shoddy police investigation conducted in Tower Hamlets that suggested Mark had either killed himself or died as a result of an unexplained accident. At that inquest, Johnny Jeannevol – better known to his friends on Exmouth Estate in Stepney as Johnny Headlock, the diminutive hard-nut “minder” to Libertines frontman Peter Doherty – admitted he had confessed to murdering Mark by single-handedly throwing the bulky 6ft 4ins Cambridge graduate over the first floor railings…only later to retract his words.

Mark had been at a small gathering of people at a top floor flat in Romford Street hosted by slippery Paul Roundhill, who styles himself as a “literary agent”, but who is better known as a drugs agent for  Doherty (and who has been linked to Kate Moss in that regard). A post-mortem revealed Mark had been drinking but there were no traces of drugs in his body. The post-mortem also revealed injuries to his head that were consistent with being punched, something Roundhill confessed to doing at the inquest. The suspicion is that Mark was thrown over the balcony by more than one person, possibly not with murderous intent (the drop was 11ft and there was a parked car directly below), but certainly recklessly and with murderous consequences.

Here’s the balcony:

I’ve been investigating this for several years, but the expert is Mark’s wonderful mother, Sheila, who lives in Guildford, Surrey. If it hadn’t been for her tenacity or for the brilliance of her pro bono barrister, Michael Wolkind QC, there would not have been a second police investigation by the Met, something ordered by the coroner in 2007.

Not that the second police investigation achieved anything. Like the first, some of Britain’s supposedly finest detectives were unable to exact anything from Doherty’s conveniently blurry memory, or produce anything the CPS could use for a prosecution.

I will not go into the exact details of the case and circumstances here, but anyone wanting to get a flavour of them can do so from this 2009 Sunday Express article in which we showed for the first time the CCTV footage of Mark’s death, with a falls expert later concluding it was probable he had been deliberately pushed.

There are lots more details on the Justice for Mark Blanco website here and the fascinating Sky News interview with Headlock can be seen here:

Doherty always did have a close relationship with Tower Hamlets police, having been arrested by them several times for relatively minor drug offences while driving through Bethnal Green (and, as an aside, I was always curious how The Sun and the Daily Mirror always managed to report those arrests first and ahead of the Advertiser when they never attended any police press briefings in Bethnal Green: maybe they had useful unpaid contacts in the custody suite at Bethnal Green…). Surely, our police weren’t star-struck?

Earlier this year, Doherty said he felt “ashamed” about having run over Mark’s dying body to flee the scene that night, but he insists it was all an accident and that he is hiding nothing. Perhaps, then, he would like to give permission for the transcript of his interview with the police to be made public?

And there are also questions about Roundhill’s relationship with the police. At the time of Mark’s death, it was rumoured in the area that he was a very useful police informer (something he always refuses to discuss with me). And at the time, cracking down on crack houses and drug dealers was the number one priority for Tower Hamlets police, as directed by the council’s then lead member for community safety, Abdal Ullah. Join those two facts up, Mark’s friends and family suggest, and you have a possible but unproved explanation for the way in which the police seemed to make up their minds so quickly on what happened. Cock-up or conspiracy. I nearly always tend towards the latter when that question arises.

The detective in charge of the investigation was DI Mark Dunne. Despite the failings of his investigation, he has since been promoted to Detective Chief Inspector and appears on the BBC Crimewatch programme.

So Sheila’s anger is understandable, on many levels. She has just lodged a petition on the Change.org website here which calls for justice for her son and for reform of the “institutionally incompetent and corrupt Met Police”. I hope some of our councillors, particularly those who represent Whitechapel (Lutfur Independents Shahed Ali, whose cabinet responsibility includes policing, Abdul Asad and Aminur Khan) will be brave enough to sign it –  that would make a powerful statement. The media focus on this issue is about to intensify.

Here are Sheila’s remarks on the Change website:


I, Mark’s mother, Mark’s family and friends urge the Met Police to ‘discover’ Justice: to answer the many outstanding questions about the death of Mark Blanco, to conduct a transparent, robust investigation and uncover the facts. WHAT CAUSED MARK TO FALL TO HIS DEATH JUST MINUTES AFTER AN ALTERCATION WITH PETE DOHERTY AND HIS ASSOCIATES?

We are fighting for Justice for Mark Blanco who has not yet received a fair, open-minded and thorough police investigation, though he was unlawfully killed nearly six years ago. Mark, the victim, no longer has a voice,BUT we have. Much of the investigation into Mark’s death I have had to carry out myself. Should Justice in this country have to depend on the tenacity of a mother?

PLEASE SUPPORT THIS CAMPAIGN AND HELP TO BRING ABOUT CHANGE IN THE INSTITUTIONALLY INCOMPETENT AND CORRUPT MET POLICE. PLEASE JOIN US IN DEMANDING JUSTICE FOR MARK.We are convinced that Mark, a 30-year-old Cambridge philosophy graduate was killed – bundled or thrown over a 4′ high railing of a first floor balcony to his death.

On 3rd December 2006, my son, Mark, fell to his death from a balcony just minutes after an altercation with Pete Doherty and his associates, Paul Roundhill, Doherty’s drug supplier, and Johnny Jeannevol, better known as ‘Headlock’, Doherty’s minder. Mark had been punched, his clothing torn and his cap set on fire before he was evicted from Roundhill’s flat. Doherty, Kate Russell-Pavier and Headlock came down, almost stepped over Mark as he lay dying in the gutter and ran off to a party. Three weeks later, Headlock walked into Bethnal Green Police Station and confessed to Mark’s murder. Later, he retracted that confession and the Met Police investigating officer, DI Mark Dunne, did not think it worthy of a SINGLE mention in his report to the coroner. Dunne told family and friends that Mark had committed suicide (as his own brother had done), that Mark was blind drunk, that he had jumped, none of which were true. Why did he make blunder after blunder? Was it just negligence? (Dunne now promoted to DCI Dunne)

Michael Wolkind QC offered his services and it was his brilliance at the Inquest in October 2007 that turned the case round. An open verdict was declared and a police re-investigation into Mark’s death ordered.

From the outset, the first Met Police investigation was shoddy, incompetent, pre-judged and incomplete: the scene was never cordoned off and the scene was closed at 04.19 as ‘there is no indication that this is suspicious.’ Witnesses were questioned haphazardly and no forensic examinations were carried out on Mark’s clothes, nor was any DNA taken. I found the lens from Mark’s glasses in the gutter more than 24 hours after the incident happened and after Mark had died from his injuries.

The version of events given by Roundhill, the one-time literary agent to Doherty and his drug supplier, were those accepted by the police. It is also well chronicled in the area that Roundhill is an informant. In the words of Michael Wolkind, “Common sense tells us this is an unlawful killing yet the police allergy to crime in this case is extraordinary.” The second police investigation by the Homicide and Serious Crime Command showed further reluctance to interview the three men, Doherty, Roundhill and Headlock as witnesses and/or suspects. Hours of police time have been spent in trying to exonerate these individuals. Is this more than celebrity privilege? For them it is business as usual, bragging about what happened on that night at Roundhill’s flat.

Mark died from multiple skull fractures, with no injuries to his limbs .He used no protective reflexes to protect his head, which is normal in a fall. In 2008, I commissioned Injury Biomechanics experts to examine the way in which he fell. Richard Wassersug, Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology concluded that: “Given Mark’s injuries, the two most likely explanations are that he was backed into the railing and pushed over, or that he was not conscious, and was dropped over the railing.” The Met response to the experts’ findings; “We do not consider biomechanics to be of assistance in this particular investigation.”(DS V Rae)  I was told that I would never know how my son was killed.

December 2009, I put Mark’s case before Anne Milton MP for Guildford, who passed it to the Home Secretary, Commissioner of the Met and the Attorney General’s Office. In July 2010 I submitted ‘Flaws in the Met Police investigation into Mark Blanco’s Death’ to the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service). May 2011: “CPS London has decided there is insufficient evidence to charge any individual with either murder or manslaughter in relation to the tragic death of Mark Blanco in December 2006.” Given the quality of the initial police investigation, crucial evidence was lost or not taken into account. Was this a case of incompetence, celebrity privilege and/or corruption?

Following consultation with the legal team, I compiled a further dossier, submitted to the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) in July 2011. I understand that work on this is in progress.


Thank you

Sheila Blanco

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To mark the Closing Ceremony, today, dear readers, I present to you a guest post by Michael Keith, the former leader of Tower Hamlets Council who is now a professor specialising in migration studies at Merton College, Oxford.

His post is a follow up to my piece here last month (The Tower Hamlets population boom: is it all bad?) on the early results of the 2011 Census data. Michael wrote to me with some comments and he agreed it could be used as a separate piece:

I was impressed by the points in the blog post but also thought people might want to think about the following:

A few points to note about the recent release of the first results of the 2011 Census for Tower Hamlets.

1. If the first run ONS data is correct in suggesting LBTH population in 2011 is approximately 254, 000 from a figure of 201, 000 in 2001 then this returns the population numbers in the borough to roughly the level it was in 1950.  If you look at the following consolidated table for Tower Hamlets population trends longer term it highlights that from 1800 to 1900 the area that we now call Tower Hamlets had a population that grew to approximately 600, 000 people.  The story of the 20th century for the borough was a story of population decline until the upturn of the 1980s, amplified in the property market of the 1990s and 2000s.



Tower Hamlets population data 1800-2001. Source: University of Portsmouth – A Vision of Britain

2. A major social policy concern of 1945-1980 was of central and local government – in the east end itself as well as out of it – focused on the depopulation of inner London, prompting much worry about how repopulation might be promoted.  The story of blitz damage and both the good and the awful exercises in ‘slum clearance’ witnessed post war is one part of this background but it is worth noting that the greatest population falls in the borough happened in the period 1900 to 1940 long before the Second World War.

3. Part of the tale revealed by the census is a major success story of promoting the east end of London where quite clearly a lot of people want to live now.  We might want to think for a moment about the fact that while in most of the 20th century a lot of East Enders were very keen to move out of the borough and not too many wanted to move in; in the last two decades Tower Hamlets has become a very desirable and popular part of London in which to live.

4. Equally, part of the story not told by the census is the mixed record of good lessons and bad lessons about how to rebuild, reshape and regenerate London.  There are plenty of good and bad examples of this in the borough – cases of gated communities with complete exclusion of the ‘have nots’, other places where new and old communities are brought together through sensitive architecture and smart planning (yes there are examples of ‘smart’ planning in the borough just as there examples of awful planning – we just tend not to notice the former so often or so easily).

5. One misleading debate is the fuss about density that you reference in your blog post Ted.  As the housing market and revealed preferences show across London, Paris, New York and most other big cities in the world lots of people like high density once it is built.  They hate the construction, the noise and the disruption when building is taking place. But people like living in busy and bustling cities. As long as it comes with high amenity – decent open spaces, social inclusion, accessibility (both into and out of he borough, an ability to walk, cycle and drive).

6. What people have a right to see is a strategic sense of how the appropriate social infrastructure of school classroom spaces, local GPs, a functional NHS and an opportunity to live and work reasonably close might be achieved.  This demands strategic thinking about planning that recognises that people are not ‘housing units’, they are free spirits that want to live in real ‘places’; places enriched by spaces that bring people together – parks, pubs, shops, clubs, cinemas, nice places to visit, galleries and cultural venues.  Making these new places that work is the challenge and the need for public debate about this in parts of London like Tower Hamlets is always pressing. 

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Answer: Surely, yes.

On my way to work at the Olympic Park yesterday I saw this:


This tiny plot of scrubland is at the western base of the footbridge that crosses the A12 dual carriageway at Cadogan Terrace, which is right next to Victoria Park.

Here are two other shots of it:

The stables are behind that advertising billboard.

As I stopped to have a look, a man in a yellow T-shirt arrived (he’s the man climbing over the fence in the first picture). I asked him what the graffiti was all about. Bloody animal rights, he said. “Cruel, my arse. Where do they expect horses to be kept?”

He told me he was going to be keeping a couple of horses in there from this week. He also said he had a larger field but he declined to say where.

I asked him what the horses were used for and he said they were for his cart, that they were for work. He wouldn’t say what work, other than it was not for passengers. Perhaps he’s a rag and bone ban, I don’t know.

He then tried opening his padlocks to the makeshift “stables” but couldn’t because they’d been glued. That’s why he had to climb over. He then looked rattled when I started asking more questions, such as whether he had planning permission (“Yes, I’ve got all the permissions I need).

I can’t find any reference to it on the Tower Hamlets Council planning website and the press office is now looking into it.

If the animal rights campaigners don’t defeat him, then I suspect the various authorities will.


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The commenter TheTruthHurts makes some remarks on this post here about the pretty dismal turnouts at the Live Nation BT Live events in Victoria Park.

Regular readers will remember the fuss about these events and how, in the words of several Tower Hamlets councillors, Live Nation, one of the world’s biggest event promoters, “bullied” the borough’s Town Hall into some “frightening” indemnity clauses.

I wrote about Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s decision to unilaterally hire out Victoria Park last November. I think parts of that post are worth a re-read here:

Over the past few days a couple of executive decisions taken by Mayor Lutfur Rahman have caught the eye. I’ll deal with his version of Educational Maintenance Allowance in another post but for the moment, let’s look at his news for Victoria Park.

On October 20, he signed off a deal with events organiser Live Nation to run gigs in Victoria Park during the Olympics next year. The decision document (it’s well worth a read) reveals much longer than anticipated negotiations with Live Nation over the past year and that there remains a significant degree of uncertainty about what will happen.

However, what we do know is this:

  • Live Nation, with the blessing of the council, will cordon off with giant hoardings a large section of the park for six weeks next summer

  • In the week prior to the Opening Ceremony on July 27, Live Nation are looking at staging three “commercial gigs” (ie you buy tickets) each with a 30,000 capacity. The report raises some doubt over whether these will actually take place, however.

  • On each day from from July 27 until the closing ceremony on August 12, there will be “free to access” gigs/screens/events that will be licensed from noon until 12.30am. These events will be ticketed but they will be free. There will be a capacity of 30,000 people at any one time. The council has negotiated a daily allocation of 4,000 tickets for Tower Hamlets residents who will have to pay a £3.50 booking fee for a maximum of four each.

  • Live Nation estimate 1.2million visitors to their Victoria Park events during the Games.

  • The gigs and events will be aimed at “young people, families and sport” (note that older people who have paid taxes all their lives don’t seem to be welcome, they’ll just have to endure the noise – welcome to One Tower Hamlets). There will be an allocation of tickets for athletes.

  • Tower Hamlets council, the GLA and Live Nation will each contribute £100,000 for “the programme content”.

The council admits the impact of the park will be “significant” but it boasts that it has secured a good deal for residents. Well, what is that deal? It had hoped to charge a venue hire fee of £600,000, according to the document, but that seems to have been over-optimistic. It appears that Live Nation has negotiated that down to £442,285, which is about £10,000 a day for the six week period that an area of the park will be closed off. The fee is equivalent to 36pence for each of the 1.2million people expected to attend.

The small print is also worrying. The council has secured an £80,000 refundable deposit from Live Nation as a bond to clear the mess and damage to the park, but in return the council has agreed to agreed to indemnify Live Nation up to £20million if certain clauses are breached.

This is a staggering sum, so what is the main clause they’re worried about? Answer, the unauthorised issuing of press releases by the council. The argument is that if the council goes ahead with its own publicity that could damage the worldwide reputation of Live Nation’s artistes. Clearly, Live Nation has been reading about Takki Sulaiman, the council’s hapless “communications chief”, on this blog.

Although I’ve complained here before about the council using the park as a cash cow, I think the Olympics has to be the exception. Vicky Park, which is only a 15 minute walk from the main stadium at most (depending on routes will be open) will be the centre for Games entertainment. I just hope that they provide something that caters for everyone not just the Lovebox crowd.

Essentially, the council allowed itself to be gagged.
So, what has been the reality of the Live Nation/Lovebox experience? Friends of mine who went to the first night as the Olympics Opening Ceremony took place said it was busy but with shambolic queues outside. They also said the sound system was pretty terrible.
I went myself last Sunday and was shocked at how few people who were there.
It was a real shame in some ways. The big wheel is excellent and probably just about worth the £7 fee for adults. The stage was perfectly intimate for a high school band from Chicago playing to 30 odd spectators and the big screens are also good when there is a major event on: it was great watching Liz Armitstead get her cycling silver with a crowd of about 100 people…
But that’s where the positives end. The park itself looked as drab and poor as I have seen it and the weather has not helped teh large mud patches left since Lovebox.
Getting into the event was also shambolic and pretty disgraceful. Although there seemed to be only a few hundred people inside when we arrived, we had to wait 30 minutes for the pleasure of airport style security checks. I understand the small risk of a deadly knife attack but is it really necessary to treat grandparents and small children as potential criminals?
Remember, Live Nation sold these free events to the council on the promise that it would be aimed at young people and families. Well, on the Sunday afternoon I went, family after family who turned up with picnics had all their food confiscated at the gates. Even packets of crisps were snatched and chucked away. People were rightly furious. Clearly, there is no such thing as a free lunch when Live Nation are in town.
So without food, parents would surely be able to feast themselves inside on a dazzlingly diverse range of food that reflected the heritage of Tower Hamlets? Surely, Shiraj Haque had managed to persuade Lutfur Rahman to set up curry stalls and the like?
Er, no: just the usual sorry-looking festival food outlets selling fried chicken, burgers, hog roasts, noodles and pizza.
I asked Tower Hamlets Council whether, during their negotiations with Live Nation, they had asked for any locally sourced food to be sold. “That was part of our negotiations,” a spokeswoman said. ie They asked, but were told to get real. You see, this is where Live Nation hoped it would be making its return.
I also asked the council for attendance figures. Their first response on Thursday was: “20,000 on the first night…we were pleased attendances doubled yesterday.” What were the actual figures, I asked again. Oh, we can’t tell you, it’s Live Nation’s event – ask them. ie We can’t say anything that might be construed as negative because we’ll be sued.
So I asked Live Nation. Spokeswoman number one said 20,000 on the opening night and an average of 8,000 a day thereafter. Again, I asked for the daily breakdown. “That’s the only number we have,” she said. So when I said that an average can only be worked out by having the daily breakdowns, her boss, a very senior dude within Live Nation, called me.
He eventually read them out:
July 27 – 18,814
July 28 – 14,759
July 29 – 8,039
July 30 – 8,169
July 31 – 7,031
Aug 1 – 8,235
Aug 2 – 10,462
Note, these are total daily attendance figures, not the peak crowds at any one time. As you can see, they are a little more than 10 per cent of what the council and Live Nation were expecting.
I then pressed the senior guy from Live Nation on the question of food confiscation: quite categorically he told me that that was beyond their control, that they had to adhere to Locog’s rules (Locog run the Olympic Games). That’s funny, I said, because I’ve been going into the Olympic Park every day with sandwiches and packets of crisps and not once have they been taken, even by the G4S guards. So he went away and came back a few minutes later and said their rules have now been relaxed, that families can now take in–wait for this–Mars bars, crisps and sweets!
What about sandwiches and other picnic items, I asked? No can do, he said, Locog rules…yeah, right.
There are a few interesting aspects about all this: one is that Tower Hamlets need to consider very carefully when dealing with these big promoters. In this case, I suspect it’s all been a failure and the promise of a share of the profits will never materialise.
Instead of whoring itself for a simple hire fee, the council should have ensured its residents and taxpayers received a better deal; it should have forced Live Nation to include more diverse and healthier food. That would also have had the bonus of enhancing the atmosphere in the park.
To be fair some of poor attendances are probably a result of the unexpected London ghost town effect and the temperamental weather hasn’t helped, but I also suspect that word of mouth about the rip-off entrapment exercise has got round.
What have been your experiences?
UPDATE – Monday, August 6, 1.50pm
In response to a comment made by ‘You couldn’t make it up!’ below, I thought I’d take another quick peep at the Live Nation mega festival during my run in Victoria Park earlier. Again, outside the gates, there were several families eating sandwiches that they were forbidden to take in.
Watching people go through security made my heart sink: because they don’t actually have x-ray machines, the bag searches are all done by hand. The look on one elderly woman’s face as a guard went through every single section of her handbag, asking questions about various items, was quite pitiful.
Apparently, it was busier inside yesterday, but today it looked as dreadful as the last time I went. There must have been a few hundred people in there at most. When one of the bands was playing, there were six people watching.
But to answer the question from ‘You couldn’t make it up!’ I asked every food stall where they and their companies were from. When I asked one of the girls at the Hog Roast stall if she was from Tower Hamlets, I could have been speaking a foreign language. “What’s that?” she said. I told her it was where she was now. “I haven’t got a clue where I am now. We just go wherever we’re told–we’re from Stoke-on-Trent.”
Next door, the Noodles stall said they were from south-east London. A bit further along, the Fish and Chips stall said they were from Bromley in Kent, while the Paella man said they were from Stevenage in Hertfordshire. The burger stalls are all from Cardiff.
Not one of the stalls was from Tower Hamlets and that has to be a failure on the part of the council.
But here’s another thing: while the council is gagged from criticising Live Nation, its partners are free to condemn Tower Hamlets. All of the stall holder are furious with the council. “They deserve a slap,” one woman told me. “They’ve not bothered to advertise one bit. They’ve just left us to sink. It’s been terrible. We’ll never come back here again.”
To me, that’s good news, but the control Tower Hamlets has had over this has been frightening. My other half had a decent suggestion: if these events were meant to be for young people, families and sport, why didn’t they organise some kind of sporting competition for kids each day? That would have given it a theme and a sense of purpose. Instead, when there are no interesting Olympic events taking place, people just wander around very bored and looking for something to do.
And one other discovery from my trip today. Remember this?
Well, the reason Boris was the first to try the Zip Wire in the park last Wednesday was because it hadn’t been signed off by the Health and Safety people until the day before. They had had serious problems during the tests when testers complained of sore necks due to the high speed at which they were breaking. The reason for this, I was told, was because the tower was too high and the trajectory too steep. To fix it, they had to lower the tower by taking out a couple of levels…which is why the Mayor of London found himself dangling like a doughnut.

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