There is a petition that is circulating around Havering calling for a stop to the development of a block of flats in Romford Town. This is likely to blight the town centre with overdevelopment of the town and lead to a strain on infrastructure like schools, hospitals and public services. I have been circulating this petition myself and I along with my Conservative colleagues disagree with more housing projects in Havering.
There has been talk of the citizens of Havering wanting the borough to break away from the Greater London Assembly and form a unitary district like Southend and Thurrock. The council tried to start proceedings on a vote for this motion in 2017 and then put it on hold until later. Some critics claim that this is just an attempt to get rid of Sadiq Khan as the unpopular Mayor of London and liken it to a power struggle. Not as such, there is more to this than a desire to break away from the capital. Now I could write this story in hundreds of ways but for the focus of this issue I am looking at it from a geopolitical and metropolitan point of view.
In Chingford there is another construction plan to develop a tower block adjacent to the Larkswood’s green space on the site of a leisure centre putting wildlife and established trees at risk. Plans like these to build over London’s greenbelt and migrate it’s people outside of the capital and into the suburbs is becoming symptomatic of an identity crisis that is affecting the boroughs of London. Where does the boundary of London stop and where do these boroughs get to shape their own destiny?
First let’s start with a brief geography and history lesson. Havering has been a London Borough since 1965 with the formation of the Greater London Act. In 1957 the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London was set up and chaired by Sir Edwin Herbert. Sir Edwin was to redraw the map of London to accommodate the increasing number of citizens working in London by expanding the city. That way they could that they could claim income tax from suburban workers who had made the Home Counties their homes and generate economic revenue for the capital. They also intentionally made it clear that by doing this London would expand to amalgamate and take control of boroughs from the counties of Essex, Kent, Herts, Surrey, and in the process devour Middlesex.
After this metropolitan restructuring had taken place there were now 32 boroughs and the London County Council was replaced with the Greater London Council. In 1986 this authority was then terminated by the Thatcher government because of conflicts in control between the boroughs and the GLC. The boroughs then got powers devolved to their own local authorities taking direct control of their services with the redrawn boundaries remaining the same. It wasn’t until 1999 that they came back into line again with the formation of the Greater London Authority which has an elected Mayor and Assembly Members.
This administration may have done some good for modern Londoners today but over the course of time the Greater London boroughs have become like crossover states to the counties for London. In the process they have funnelled so much business into the capital that places that there is so much commuting that the trains and buses are overstretched. It’s also taken business away from the counties and is gradually turning them into super districts of the capital. You have to travel as far as Chelmsford or Colchester before you can really feel like you are in an Essex town. I have travelled to Brentwood, home base of The Only Way is Essex, and the feel of the town’s position relative to London makes it feel like a London suburb instead of an Essex town. In fact,Brentwood is in the London commuter belt, which is also known as the London metropolitan area.
It might be worth revisiting the council motion to make Havering a unitary district again. Some councils agree that the GLA is not structured to the way in which it collaborates with the borough councils well. One model that can be used to modify the GLA is from the West Midlands Combined Authority and the Tees Valley Combined Authority. These two differ in the way the boroughs are represented in the administration. The WMCA for example has a Mayor, elected by the entire county residents, and 7 elected constituent members who act as representatives of the councils from 7 of those boroughs. Plus 13 non-constituent members for the other boroughs, which also include 3 local enterprise partnerships.
A structure of this kind could be imitated for London whereby we could have the Assembly Members replaced with council representatives or leaders who hold a checks and balances on the Mayor. That way we can make sure that what is paid in council tax and business rates to the GLA is fairly represented for what the locals want in their boroughs. It would also be helpful to mix the representatives up with local enterprise partnerships for economic, industrial, housing, environmental and community developments and services. There are also elements of the Tees Valley model that could be incorporated where some of these constituent councils are unitary authorities.
With a population of 8.9 million people (or 14.3 million if you include the metropolitan area), London is so overcrowded that it has grown too big for it’s boundaries. This is a sign that it’speople have got no room for new developments unless old ones get knocked down. Peckham was once a typical working-class area of inner London famous for it’s cockney culture and of course Del Boy Trotter. But recently gentrification has seen some of these working-class hubs displaced and uprooted to a neighbouring county.
This is a symptom that runs through many old-fashioned parts of London and it’s causing social cleansing of the working classes from the capital. In their place middle class youngsters and families have turned once deprived areas of the capital into hip and trendy areas.
These deprivations have now moved over into the outer boroughs and are reducing the quality of life in parts of them. As Tower Hamlets and Newham became less deprived, Havering and Redbridge started to lose their standards of living. In the fallout of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 it was revealed that London’s housing stock was low, overcrowdedand in bad quality. This has going on for years and I was one of many who fled this social deprivation long ago to become a homeowning family.
Since the Herbert Commission made Havering a London Borough the Essex identity of this area along with Barking and Dagenham. Dagenham is now populated with so many East Londoners spilled over from Tower Hamlets and Newham that it’s hard to find a distinct Essex community here. Where there has been gentrified housing projects in Islington over the last 40 years there are fewer affordable homes that ordinary people can afford. This really shows in the make up of the housing in the area where it is now largely a middle-class neighbourhood.
Romford MP Andrew Rosindell likes to think of Romford as an Essex town and so do I. I believe it’s time that the people of these outer boroughs reconsidered the validity of the GLA and Havering’s own identity. Would it be better if the boroughs succeeded to form their own districts? When my family left Tower Hamlets behind and settled in Hornchurch, we expected to be an Essex district town. But no. We are geographically and culturally in Essex, but politically and legally we are in East London. One thing that is worthy of note is whether the GLA’s formation was worth it considering the turn out of the referendum to make it in 1998. Even though it passed with 72% supporting it’s creation, just 34.1% of the electorate turned out to vote. Would it be better to consider a restructuring of the Greater London Authority again?
Whoever wins the London Mayoral election next year will have a tremendous amount of mess to clean up. The crime rate in London is overflowing into the surrounding counties, Khan is using his position to attack his political opponents, TfL has been bankrupted by financial mismanagement and that decisions made by the Greater London Authority have made the outer boroughs like outlying districts that get short changed.