Crisis: How Councils are dealing with COVID-19 - Cllr. Alistair Strathern, Waltham Forest
Over the weeks since lockdown was announced Waltham Forest, along with local authorities across the country, have faced a significant number of immediate challenges.
It has involved an effort across the entire organisation to protect vulnerable residents and maintain social distancing efforts. One example of how the authority has responded to this challenge is the creation of our Community Help Network which has already distributed 800 food parcels to residents at high risk.
However, alongside this it is important we continue to push on with our work as an innovative authority. It is crucial we help our residents weather the crisis, but it is just as important we can continue to deliver for them once the lockdown is lifted.
A priority for us in Waltham Forest is the provision of ‘decent homes for all’. This necessity was brought into sharp relief by the onset of the COVID 19 crisis, with the number of residents subject to insecure tenancies and the immediate threat of homelessness all too apparent. As a result, we are steadfast in our commitment that plans for the delivery of genuinely affordable homes must continue.
As part of this effort, I was delighted to act as substitute Chair for Waltham Forest’s first virtually hosted planning committee. It is a testament to our officers’ creativity that we were ahead of Government guidance and did everything possible to keep our key decision making on track.
Not only has it meant that new opportunities and investment in the borough can continue but it has ensured that, in Waltham Forest, the planning system remains democratically accountable. This crisis should not mean a lower bar in design quality, sustainability or the provision of new infrastructure and affordable housing. Waltham Forest residents should be assured that we are committed to delivering on the priorities of the Draft London Plan and Waltham Forest’s emerging Local Plan.
At the committee, we made a determination on one of the borough’s largest residential-led developments, The Score Centre. The proposals would deliver 358 affordable homes, improved sport and leisure facilities, a new nursery school, over £450,000 worth of transport infrastructure and new space for the local community. We are indebted to our officers’ hard work in ensuring we could leverage technology to deliberate safely and fully on the item, ultimately judging the officer’s recommendations acceptable and voting to grant permission.
Waltham Forest is determined to build on our reputation as a council which innovates, fights for our residents and supports local business. Beating coronavirus will remain the key priority for all of us, but we will continue to innovate too, ensuring that as the crisis relents we will have done everything we can to make it the best possible recovery for our residents.