June 2021


Going swimmingly

6800-Wanstead-Street-View-02v1-300421Visualisation of the venue’s new entrance on Redbridge Lane West

After some initial setbacks, Redbridge Council’s expansion and improvement plans for Wanstead Leisure Centre are now progressing nicely, says Councillor Sheila Bain (Wanstead Park, Labour)

Redbridge Council’s exciting and ambitious expansion plans for Wanstead Leisure Centre – which include providing a new swimming pool and major improvements to Wanstead High School – are progressing nicely. Construction is due to begin this summer, with anticipated completion in late 2022.

There had been some initial setbacks with the project, including around providing temporary classrooms for the school ahead of the demolition of old school buildings. The procurement and appointment of the main contractor and, clearly, the impact of the pandemic, have also presented us with challenges. But with the contract awarded and the school now occupying new temporary classrooms, it’s all systems go with the building works so as to open the pool toward the end of next year.

The major improvements to Wanstead High School will include a new three-storey teaching block. This will provide up-to-date school accommodation, and this investment will go a long way to ensure Redbridge can continue to deliver first-class education to our young people.

Adjoining the new teaching block will be the new 25m swimming pool, changing facilities, dance studio and an impressive new entrance on Redbridge Lane West.

The pool will be operated by the council’s leisure provider, Vision. It will be open to the public every day and will offer a variety of activities, including aqua aerobics, swimming lessons and open swimming; in other words, something for all ages to enjoy. Even the changing room facilities will be state of the art, with different size cubicles, larger family and group changing areas, easy stairs into the pool and a ‘pool pod’ accessible lift, as used in the London Paralympics, ensuring everyone is able to use the new pool.

The scheme has been designed to ensure the highest levels of sustainability and green credentials. It will meet a BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) rating of ‘excellent’, putting it in the top 10 of new, UK non-domestic buildings, as well as meeting best practice standards within the UK.

This will be the third pool to be provided in Redbridge since 2014, when we had been left with just one public swimming pool, demonstrating this council’s commitment to invest for our residents across the borough, while we tackle the continued impact of government austerity. Our leisure facilities provide all age groups with access to exercise opportunities and bring communities together. The new pool will give more people an opportunity to learn and use this important life skill and will be a brilliant new addition to the leisure facilities in Wanstead.

Councillor Sheila Bain is Cabinet Member for Planning and Planning Enforcement. Email sheila.bain@redbridge.gov.uk


Brick wall

speechmakingCouncillor Morgan-Thomas at a meeting in Ilford Town Hall

Councillor Daniel Morgan-Thomas (Wanstead Village, Labour) explains why legal obstacles forced him to vote in favour of the recent application to demolish a local Victorian house, despite his better instincts

Despite nearly three years on the council, joining the Planning Committee in 2021 was a daunting prospect. This meant consulting the local, regional and national policy documents that frame planning decisions for Redbridge and having a refresher on material planning applications. These are a narrow set of criteria on which planning decisions are made, defined by law.

At the core of the planning system, there is now a presumption in favour of sustainable development, and the council has additional limitations, imposed by the government in response to Redbridge’s failure to meet Housing Delivery Test targets. All this means applications for housing have a tilted balance in their favour when decided by either officers or committee; members must demonstrate adverse impacts which significantly outweigh the benefits of a housing development before considering to refuse such applications.

Nevertheless, sitting on the Planning Committee remains a quasi-judicial role and it is essential to approach applications with an open and enquiring mind. An overwhelming majority are decided by officers (following changes in national planning guidance) so those that come to the committee are of strategic importance or particularly controversial. Committee members must familiarise themselves with detailed reports from officers so we can make decisions based on material considerations defined by law in a transparent way. This is especially important as any suggestion of bias or political interference – voting on party lines is forbidden – can be grounds for an applicant to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate; if found at appeal to have refused permission unlawfully, councils (so taxpayers) must meet the developers’ costs, which can run to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

All this is very different from my usual role as a ward councillor, which involves championing residents’ views. Some applications generate relatively little opposition, but the recent case on Sylvan Road caused a lot of upset. As I said at the committee meeting, the concerns were justified: the proposal meant the destruction of a Victorian house for the building of flats, which in much of Wanstead Village would be far harder to receive approval for because of Conservation Areas. Unfortunately, the presumption in favour loomed over the committee: while residents spoke eloquently against the development, it seemed very likely that had it been refused, then it would have been allowed at appeal for failing to take sufficient consideration of the tilted balance. It goes against the grain to approve something that residents have protested, but joining the committee has shown me just how tightly national government has restricted planning powers in local government. Unfortunately, residents will continue to be short-changed by a planning system that places ever more power in the hands of developers.

To contact Councillor Daniel Morgan-Thomas, visit wnstd.com/cllrdmt


Forest walk ‘on the edge’: the changing face of Snaresbrook

boundary-markerMysterious boundary markers in the forest will be discussed on the walk

The Epping Forest Heritage Trust will host a free guided walk around Snaresbrook on 27 June.

“Snaresbrook has always been ‘on the edge’: of the forest, of Wanstead, and even now, on the boundary of Waltham Forest and Redbridge… This walk has two themes: water and transport, both important in explaining why people moved to Snaresbrook in the 18th century,” said historian Lynn Haseldine-Jones, who will lead the two-hour tour, departing from Snaresbrook Road car park at 10.30am (booking required).

Visit wnstd.com/sbk


A Humanist chap

Screenshot 2021-05-24 at 15.12.51

The appointment of Redbridge Council’s first Humanist ‘chaplain’ marks an important milestone, says Wanstead resident Paul Kaufman, who was invited to take up the role by the newly elected Mayor of Redbridge

The new Mayor of Redbridge, Councillor Roy Emmett, is an example of the important selfless contribution which many non-religious people make to public life. Roy is a member of East London Humanists, a partner group of Humanists UK. He announced my appointment as his chaplain at his inauguration at the end of April. I start my official duties in June.

The chaplain’s role includes speaking at the beginning of each full council meeting and attending civic events, such as Remembrance Day. The role, which is voluntary and unpaid, is rooted in tradition. ‘Chaplain’ originally described a Christian clergyman attached to a private household. It has long been accepted in Redbridge that the role should reflect the diversity of the borough. For example, in 2012, the then new mayor appointed five chaplains representing respectively the Christian, Sikh, Jewish, Hindu and Islamic faiths.

These appointments were hailed at the time as mirroring the inclusivity and diversity that captured the Olympics, held in London that year. Our group, the East London Humanists, was also founded in 2012. Aims included bringing the non-religious together locally and ensuring we are fairly represented in civic life. A large proportion of the borough is non-religious. It is therefore overdue that Humanists are involved in such civic occasions. It is only with Humanist involvement that they can be said to be truly inclusive.

Of course, as a Humanist, I will open meetings with reflections rather than prayers. These will respect the diverse beliefs in the borough. They will promote community and thoughtfulness. While freedom of religion and belief is a cornerstone of Humanism, so too is the right to freedom from religion. Sitting through prayer sessions can be discomfiting and divisive if you don’t believe in them. We can talk about shared universal values, such as kindness, without bringing religion into it. One value, which should be front and centre to all our thinking, not least in the council, is the importance of acting on threats to our precious environment.

Are moments of reflection at the beginning of meetings out of place in the modern world? Arguably, all workplaces and institutions would benefit from setting aside time to think about what’s important in life. Like it or not, the practice where councils are concerned is now enshrined in an Act passed in 2015 following a legal challenge. This legitimises council provision for events “connected with a religious or philosophical belief.”

I hope my year will demonstrate the important contribution Humanists can make to community cohesion and to making the borough a better place.

Paul is chair of the East London Humanists. For more information, visit wnstd.com/elh

To watch a video of the new mayor’s inauguration, visit wnstd.com/mayor21