Wednesday, November 16, 2005 

Councillor hides as council and developers get another slating over Queens Market

Public Meeting, West Ham Football Club, Tuesday 15 November

After the aborted Green Street Community Forum public meeting
on 20 September (see earlier report), local residents were promised that Cllr June Leitch, who leads on the Queens Market development for the council, would return for a meeting in November devoted solely to the Market's future. Sadly that wasn't to be, the promise as worthless as the many others that the council has given on this important issue. Ms Leitch didn't have the courage to show her face, leaving Deputy Chief Executive John Wood and Nick Kay from the developers St Modwens to face the anger of those who turned up at West Ham Football Club last night.

Predicably, whilst claiming that no final decision has been made,
John Wood rejected any solution other than a PFI style agreement with St Modwen and warned that "the point of no return" was fast approaching. Equally predictably, Nick Kay tried to make out that the proposed development was some sort of 'act of benevolence' by his company and that Asda's involvement in the plans is really incredibly selfless, rather than part of their efforts to challenge the dominance of Tesco by copying its retail model. And, at the end of the meeting, there was a call for an indicative vote of those who supported the development plans, and not a single hand was raised. Most people could have predicted that too.

But after stitching up an opinion poll by MORI (which failed to ask those it surveyed whether they wanted the Market to be improved rather than decimated), it is clear that Newham Council isn't interested in what local people think. Any sense that there is a long history attached to the Market, that people genuinely care about its future and that consultation should be meaningful has long been abandoned.

It was interesting speaking to one of the local councillors after the meeting, who privately admitted his opposition to the redevelopment but said that he had no power to stop it and no willingness to risk the vengeful wrath of Mayor Sir Robin Wales by making his views public. He tried to argue that the Market is 'not a political issue' and that he just wanted to do what the majority wanted - but in truth it is probably the most political local issue in Newham in the run up to next year's local elections. The development of the Market is Sir Robin's project and it has exposed how the creation of an elected Mayor has been a disaster for local democracy. It will be interesting to see whether the other parties, especially Respect as the left alternative to New Labour, decide to campaign for a new referendum to abolish the post and reject the
enormous power placed in the hands of one individual, as part of handing back decision-making to the people of the borough.

Meanwhile, Friends of Queens Market is launching an Alternative Plan for Queens Market at a public meeting on Tuesday 29 November, at 6.30pm at Katherine Road Community Centre. Some of us are already running a book on whether our autocratic Mayor will ban councillors from attending.