350 + turnout to last night’s community safety meeting, organised by the Limehouse Community Forum (LCF).
Mayor Biggs, Commander Williams, DS Mike Stubbins, Inspector Fran Reynolds, Cllr Begam and Anne Corbet from Tower Hamlets were on the panel, chaired by Conor McDonnell, Limehouse’s Ward Panel Chair.
To give some early context to the purpose of the meeting and why it was called so promptly into the New Year is down the recent spike in violent crime and anti-social behaviour. This new crime wave led to the creation of Operation Naga and DS Stubbins informed the community that 35 crimes had been linked in recent weeks. Victims range from as young as 12, up to 60. However, only 5 arrests have been made since the launch of Operation Naga.
There were passionate cries for more to be done directed at the panel and the 350 strong audience. One resident talked of living in Limehouse for over 20 years without much of a blip, for only to experience twice having their windows smashed in the past 6 months. There were tales of long-term medication being prescribed due to heightened anxiety and the fear of single women feeling constantly unsafe in Limehouse.
This clearly needs to change. Community confidence is at an all-time low. Police resources are stretched and Tower Hamlets haven’t been agile enough to restore, as one of our residents put aptly, “broken promises and the failure to protect our basic rights as citizens”.
Credit should be given to the panel for taking the questions, and at times, strong criticism for either their lack of action historically, poor service and failures to follow-up. The critique of policing is somewhat a double-edged sword, we know they are stretched, but we also know they can improve their service. Policing numbers continue to be cut across the Met, with London losing an equivalent of a borough’s worth of police officers since austerity took hold. This is obviously an issue nationally, but not one we should brush aside whilst dealing with local crime because we’re told it’s not relevant. Tower Hamlets are recruiting 39 additional officers starting this month however, as Commander Williams pointed out, there are further cuts in the pipeline for the Met. So, these additional offices will at best have a net neutral effect or more likely, see a decline in numbers.
As pointed out by DS Stubbins, the large failures to make more arrests and charges come down to inadequate CCTV and/or poor coordination of it between local property managers, the police and Tower Hamlets. Limehouse doesn’t have a single council operated CCTV camera. Not one. We rely heavily on private landlords to support police investigations, and as a result it’s badly managed.
Tower Hamlets needs to do far more. By Mayor Biggs’ own admission; “We’ve done some things, although often we’ve not done them quickly enough.” That excuse doesn’t wash. John Biggs stated that to install a camera in Ropemakers Fields would cost £200,000 as they’d have to dig up the road. He cancelled it as a result and said he’s open to better technology that can do this wirelessly. That was over a year ago and nothing has been done since. There is over £30 million sitting in Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) receipts, of which 25% is statutorily designated to communities impacted by developments - that’s over £7m.
The question was raised by a resident on Ropemakers Fields’ Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) which was due to come into affect by the New Year, however has not. Biggs explained that it could be another 2 months. Again not acceptable. What’s also not acceptable is the lack of enforcement to actually make the PSPO effective. Biggs said; “We have quite a few Enforcement Officers (THEO’s)”. A freedom of information request by the Liberal Democrats found that Tower Hamlets actually has 24 THEO’s who spend 80% patrolling the whole borough either on foot or in a vehicle 5 days a week. Tower Hamlets also have no plans to grow this department.
Coming back to restoring community confidence - it needs to be at the heart of all Tower Hamlets do, especially around crime and ASB. The inadequacy and failure of the council to take decisions and make solutions happen in a fast and agile way has let down the whole borough.
Change is needed across the board and, pertinently to Limehouse, we need full-time representation. In effect we’ve been without our elected Councillor, Conservative Cllr Aston, for over 2 years and he has turned up for less than 50% of his meetings since taking office.
Tower Hamlets needs a change as much as Limehouse needs representation. It needs fresh faces and fresh ideas. It needs to take head on the call for transparency and to call out corruption and deception. It needs to restore community confidence immediately.
Huge thanks goes to Limehouse Community Forum who orchestrated the night, secured the panel and managed an excellent community event.