Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Cows returning to Wanstead Park but what about the concert on the Flats?

It was great news recently to learn that the cows could be coming back to Wanstead Park.
I am one of those old enough to remember when the cows used to roam freely across the park and Wanstead Flats from the Spring to the Autumn. Leave the front gate open and they'd be in, munching the bushes and plants.
The cows went a few decades ago but now they are set to return. Only this time they will be in a much more controlled area. The latest technology enables a border to be put in the ground, with a collar on the cow that stops them going outside the defined area.
So the cows will not be roaming on the roads or elsewhere. The reintroduction of the cows will see them keeping the vegetation down by natural means.
A less welcome development in the area is the planned music festival on the Aldersbrook side of Wanstead Flats. Many locals would hope there maybe some similar technology available to keep the estimated 50,000 festival revellers away from the important habitats, such as where the skylarks dwell on the Flats.
The Park and Flats represent a vital ecological site, where migrant birds come through on a daily basis. Last year, visits from rare species like the rustic bunting drew in birders from across the country.
The Wren Group have made a powerful representation as to the danger that a festival of the type proposed could do to vital habitats. I fully support their concerns.
There are other questions such as transport infrastructure and fire risk but these are questions to be raised by the likes of the Fire Service and Transport for London
What is difficult to reconcile is how on the one hand the Corporation of London takes an action that is very much in tune with the natural heritage of the park ie bringing back the cows. But at the same time it seeks to bring an event to the area totally out of keeping with the character and natural heritage of the area. 
What is for sure is that local people and organisations are demanding to be heard. The Corporation of London seems to be prepared to hear these concerns, though it remains to be seen if it really is listening.

published - Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 21/8/2019

Monday, 19 August 2019

50 years on, why does the British media continue to fabricate the story of the Troubles?

It is strange today to see the same old British media model for interpreting the Troubles period in Northern Ireland being rolled out again.

The story goes that in 1969, the British troops went into keep law and order between two religious feuding tribes. The IRA were the cause of the problems – the denial of civil rights to the Catholic side of the population easily forgotten.

When I went to the Northern Ireland for the Guardian newspaper in 1994 to mark the 25th anniversary, there was, as now, little mention of Loyalist paramilitaries and their collusive role working with various parts of the security apparatus.

The visit was an eye opener for me. I had grown up in the years of the Troubles but viewed it from a London perspective. Beautiful places like Warrenpoint and Crossmaglen were identified as the sites of various atrocities. The place was militarised in a pseudo-religious conflict. To say I came back with a somewhat different view was an understatement.

The trip started in Derry, meeting the relatives of those killed on Bloody Sunday. I sat in the front room of John Kelly, whose brother Michael was gunned down on Bloody Sunday. Michael’s picture was on the wall, the family had been unable to grieve and move on at all – life had stopped in 1972.

I met other relatives at the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry, they were in a similar time warp. I stayed in touch with John over the years, meeting him at the Saville Inquiry hearings into Bloody Sunday, when it took evidence in London and later sharing his joy at the final report and subsequent apology from the Prime Minister.

The journey in 1994 also took me to Newry and Crossmaglen, seeing the observation points in the fields.

Then there were the watch towers in Belfast before finishing in Dublin with a meeting of the relatives of those who died in the Dublin Monaghan bombings in 1974. The feelings of these relatives were similar to those of the Bloody Sunday relatives –a lack of closure, unfinished business.

What I came back from this trip with was a feeling that the truth needed to be told in the British media about what was going on in the north of Ireland. There also needed to be some sort of truth and reconciliation process if the country was ever to move on.

Fast forward to today – 50 years on and still it would appear the truth cannot be told. The old British government propaganda of the feuding tribes, with the British army trying to keep the peace in the middle - the IRA as the cause of the problem - persists. We continue to deceive ourselves as to what went on in the north of Ireland in Britain’s name.

It has profound consequences for the rest of the UK in terms of civil rights, policing and many other things.

Had the civil rights issues been addressed in 1969, instead of providing a military response, then the years of conflict and blood shed may have been avoided. Instead, not only were the civil rights issues not addressed but the whole conflict spread to the remainder of the UK, leading to more loss of life and liberties.

Not only were civil rights not restored in Ireland but more were lost as the conflict impacted the justice system across Britain – with rights to assembly, silence and trial by jury all dying on the altar of the Troubles.

Then there was the damage done to the criminal justice system by the miscarriages of justice that occurred in the Irish cases. The championing of the judge only Diplock courts.

Many of the errors of the Troubles were subsequently built upon with the next war on terror that came after 9/11. Detention without trial came to the whole of Britain. The draconian measures of the Prevention of Terrorism legislation, such as detention without charge were extended from seven to 28 days (Tony Blair had wanted 90 days at one point). The Muslim community replaced the Irish as the latest “suspects” to be policed.

The reality is that the Troubles did untold damage not only to the island of Ireland but across the whole landmass of these islands. There was little positive coming out of any of it, until the peace process of the 1990s. The divisions remain in Northern Ireland. There have been piecemeal efforts at reconciliation but the political will has been lacking to do something comprehensive like set up a full truth and reconciliation process along the lines of the South African model. And as we have seen, there has been little effort made on the part of media to start telling the truth of what went on, even 50 years after it all started.

The danger moving forward is that if we continue to believe a false interpretation of what went on, the mistakes will be repeated. The peace process is already under pressure, with the ongoing stalemate at Stormont and the threats of a no deal Brexit. It is up to us all to ensure that we do not go back to the future in the north - and the best way, particularly for journalists to ensure that does not happen is to start telling the truth of what really went on.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Supermarkets must take a lead in cutting plastic use

The work of creating a cleaner, greener Wanstead has focused recently on the need to cut plastics, especially from the high street.
Inspired by the excellent BBC programme, the War on Plastic, presented by Hugh Fernley Whittingstall and Anita Rani, people took the plastics back to the supermarkets, Tesco, M&S and the Co-op.
Plenty of plastic was piled up in the trolleys, then delivered to the managers of the different shops. The managers showed a positive willingness to engage and continue the dialogue.
Tesco pointed to its own recycling record.
The problem ofcourse is huge, with plastic choking the planet.
Now the stuff is literally everywhere, in the food chain, water supply and air.
It is estimated that there are 19.5 billion single plastic use items in the UK at any one time. And these plastic usage levels are set to triple by 2025.
There were the 8 billion plastic bottles produced last year.
Something clearly needs to be done. At an individual level we can all aim to cut out single use plastic. Locally, Redbridge Council is aiming to cut single use plastic in its various facilities, as part of the new waste strategy. The shops need to stop promoting single use plastic.
The fact that supermarkets charge much more for loose fruit and vegetables than they do for what is wrapped up in plastic containers says it all.
As we found on the #ourplasticsfeedback day of action, the supermarkets often quote recycling in defence. However, the real challenge is not to produce the plastic in the first place.
One disturbing part of the War on Plastic programme concerned the discovery that recyclable waste from the UK was being dumped in Malaysia, where it was burnt. This created transport emissions, then the damage caused by burning to the environment and the illnesses in the local population. A failure on all levels.
The story well illustrated the dangers of an out of sight out of mind approach to the problem. It is of absolutely no use to the planet if this country just transports the problem elsewhere, for someone else to deal with the consequences.
Recycling is good but clearly there needs to be far greater scrutiny of the process – a verifiable transparent audit trail to ensure that the waste really is being recycled in a sustainable way.
The tide of plastic can be turned around. It requires us as individuals to stop using the stuff, re-use wherever possible and recycle. Also, put pressure on the supermarkets to act, take the plastic back. Also, though, we must get government to act to stop this deluge of waste that is choking the planet.

published - Wanstead Directory - August

Thursday, 8 August 2019

When is the beer festival coming to Redbridge?

Summer is a time for beer festivals. I’ve been to a couple recently, with the Great British Beer festival at Olympia happening this week.

Recent events have included the Epping and Ongar real ale festival and Ealing Beer Festivals. Epping and Ongar last month, took place at the North Wield railway station. 

It all starts with a vintage bus journey to North Wield from Epping station – the buses are waiting outside, upon arrival at Epping.

The Epping and Ongar Railway is run by enthusiasts, with diesel and steam engines pulling some carriages from the 1970s and 80s era. On the day of the beer festival, there were trips along to Ongar station and back up to Epping. No station at Epping, so the train stopped in the forest[CPD1] , then came back. A number of real ales were available on board.

Back at North Wield station, there was a marque, with beers drawn from Essex and London, though there were others, from further afield, such as Newcastle and Somerset. The drink of the day, though, was a cider – Farmer Jim’s Rhubarb Bob from Devon.

It was a fantastic day, the smell of the steam trains, with the coal being stoked into the boiler. There is a great spirit of friendship between people at the festivals, as people are drawn in from all walks of life. The tanned bohemians, together with the suited and booted city types. Young and old, everyone mingling together.

The Ealing beer festival was set in Walpole Park, with marquees, surrounding a central area, where people sat in the sun. A bigger event there were 500 plus beers to choose from on the day. Again the geographical spread was impressive. London dark porters to Manchester reds and lighter citrus ales from Suffolk. All a central line journey away.

The Great British Beer festival is the biggest event spreading across Olympia. Beers and ciders a plenty plus games and music. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)’s champion beer competition takes place over the five days of the festival. Thousands flock into this event from far and wide.

The East London and City branch of CAMRA were involved in the Epping and Ongar beer festival and later in December, they play a major part in the Pigs Ear beer festival held in Hackney.

So when will the first Redbridge beer festival take place? We’ve got the open spaces Christchurch Green in Wanstead, Valentines Park in Ilford, the town centre.  Just need the movers and shakers (or should that be drinkers) and it could happen.

published - Wanstead and Woodford Guardian - 13/8/2019

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Remember many of today's high profile campaigns began at the grass roots

The pursuit of social justice, often means working in the margins.

Think back to recent campaigns such as miscarriages of justice, the living wage campaign, the anti-roads and peace protests.

All began in the margins. The people and institutions in the centre ground, simply did not want to hear.

On miscarriages of justice, friends and family of those convicted in big cases like the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four campaigned to get their voices heard. The odd journalist helped and politicians – notably John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, in many of these cases.

In the end, the subject became mainstream, with a whole structure established to deal with miscarriages of justice. That system today is far from perfect but it has come some way from when those who oversaw the criminal justice system either did not think there were innocent people in prison or more likely it was better they stayed in prison rather than the truth be known and the whole process undermined.

The living wage campaign began with community groups, made up of people struggling to do two or three jobs a day to keep their heads above water due to low wages. The efforts of organisations like London Citizens and the trade unions, led to enlightened businesses taking up the call. Then London Mayor Ken Livingstone championed the cause, setting up the London living wage unit and since them the idea has gained ground to the point that the government has now embraced it.

The anti-road protests of the 1980s and 90s saw people taking direct action to halt the bulldozers. This was never more evident than on the three-mile odd length of the M11 link Road through east London, where protesters locked onto anything that halted the construction from trees to buildings. The politicians were not listening, as more and more of the country went under tarmac. In the end, they did listen and the road building programme was stopped.

On peace, there was the Greenham Common protest. The women setting up the camps, taking daily direct peaceful action to stop nuclear warheads being positioned at the site. In the end, the missiles went.

All of these examples prove that working in the margins is crucial to obtaining change, however, such work must not distract from the need to change the centre.

It is laudable work, some, though, focus so much on the margins that they fail to recognise a need to impact on the centre?

The latest big rebellion is against those in power is over climate change. The youth led, Extinction Rebellion is at the forefront of taking direct action to bring home the importance of seriously addressing the climate catastrophe. They will continue taking these steps until those in the mainstream take the issue seriously and start making the changes needed to save the planet.

What is important, though, is to not lose sight of the need to work with those in the mainstream, in an effort to make that change, Work with the sympathetic politicians and businesses. The politicians can make direct change in the way lives are lived, otherwise change the politicians.

All have a part to play. The actions in the margins have to connect and permeate into the centre.

Simply operating cut off in the margins will not lead to change.

In the case of civil disobedience, unless handled properly it can invite stereotyping and alienation by the established order. This lets the established order demean such movements, treating them as threats to public order that can be dealt with via the criminal justice system.

Similarly operating in the centre without a wider movement in support invites isolation and frustration at not being able to attain the said goals.

The only way to progress on issues of social/climate justice is with a broad connected alliance reaching from the margins to the centre. All successful campaigns operate in this way.

In the case of climate, we are in a unique position today, given the growing intergenerational groundswell calling for change. 

The enemies of sustainable living will seek to discredit and seperate different parts of the alliance, from Extinction Rebellion to outspoken activists like Chris Packham. This must not be allowed to happen. 

If the links between the margins and the centre ground can be maintained, then an ever stronger alliance can be built and real change attained. Then in the case of the climate we might just save the world.
published in Morning Star - 7/8/2019
Wanstead and Woodford Guardian - 15 & 17/8/2019

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Angry residents confront London City Airport bosses about expansion plans

Angry residents of Redbridge and Waltham Forest crowded into a school hall to confront London City Airport (LCA) chiefs over plans to increase flights by 110 a day

Addressing the meeting organised by Cannhall Residents Association, Director of Hacan East (Heathrow Control of Airport Noise), John Stewart highlighted how the plans would see the 24 hour window over the weekend (12.30 on Saturday to 12.30 on Sunday) removed, as well as extended flying times at the beginning and end of each day.

The plans will see 40,000 more flight over a year.

Wanstead Village councillor Paul Donovan questioned why there had not been a consultation meeting scheduled for Redbridge residents. “There are four councillors and a lot of residents from Redbridge here in Waltham Forest tonight to hear what is happening in our borough, this is not good enough,” said Cllr Donovan, who also questioned the predict and provide approach to airport expansion regardless of the environmental implications. “Your own consultation paper states that the London airports will be at full capacity – including Heathrow with a third runway – by the 2030s – excluding Standsted. London City Airport’s data suggests your business passenger traffic has flatlined, whilst leisure has increased. This means the expansion is just about putting more and more air traffic up above us. It is not sustainable.”

Wanstead Park councillor Cllr Sheila Bain questioned the way in which the consultation was being conducted, with a lack of publicity, particularly in Redbridge, as to how to take part.

Liam McKay, director of Corporate Affairs at LCA, confirmed that there will now be a meeting in Redbridge. He also pointed out that the airport did not have to consult.

Another resident asked the LCA reps whether they had children. She asked were they not concerned about the future for those children, with the sort of damage being done to the planet by flying.

Leyton and Wanstead Mp John Cryer welcomed the willingness of LCA to consult and come to the meeting with local residents. He pointed out how over the years they had been reluctant to communicate with him, unlike most other elements of the aviation industry.

He pointed out that the skies over his constituency were already overcrowded with planes, these proposals would simply make things worse.
Other Redbridge councillors attending included Cllr Paul Merry from Wanstead Park and Judith Garfield from Barkingside.

*To submit your views to the consultation – open until 20/9/2019 – see:
To sign the Stop City Airport petition -


Monday, 29 July 2019

Air travel cannot continue to expand in a bubble

Flying is one area that does not seem to receive the amount of attention due when discussing climate change.

I wonder how many people put the recycling aside and jump on a plane for the summer holidays. Funny, how in our strange world, some seem to think these climate crises can be put on hold whilst we troop off for the summer hols. In reality, maybe this is the time of year when maximum damage is being done to the planet.

Air travel generates emissions, which go into the upper atmosphere. Planes also pollute the air.

One of the worrying things about air travel is that it seems set to grow hugely over the coming decades unless something is done. There were over 4 billion journeys in 2017, a figures due to increase to 7.8 billion by 2036. The recent consultation document about changes at London City Airport explained how all the main airports (except Stansted), including Heathrow with a third runway, expect to be up full by the mid-2030s.

The air travel industry seems much slower than others to develop cleaner vehicles. Compare for example, developments with planes to the technological leaps being made with electric cars.

Air travel is also subsidised in the form of airlines not having to pay tax on fuel – this is something that should have stopped many years ago.

So the challenges of getting the airline industry to address the climate crisis are big.

The latest move to expand air travel in this area is the earlier mentioned plans of London City Airport (LCA). LCA have brought forward a Draft Masterplan for 2020 to 2035. This updates the original plan of 2006.

Intriguingly, the new draft plan includes a commitment to go carbon neutral by 2020. LCA also aims to have 75% of passengers journeys to and from the airport by public transport and sustainable transport modes by 2025.

The major concern for Redbridge residents is the proposed increase in flights over the weekend and at the beginning and end of each day. At present, there is a no fly window between 12.30 on Saturday and 12.30 on Sunday. The daytime flying during the rest of the week would also increase by half an hour at the start and end of each day.

The campaign group Stop City Airport claim the move will add another 40,000 flights to air traffic over the area.    

There is growing opposition to the CA plans for more flights – the complaints being environmental and simple quality of life. Do we not have more than enough flights criss crossing Redbridge, poisoning the air we breath, not to mention the noise pollution?

Leyton and Wanstead MP John Cryer and local councillors have been making representations to LCA, who appear to be hearing the complaints but are they really listening?

What is for sure is that if we really are serious about addressing the climate crisis the attitude of turning a blind eye to air travel cannot continue. There need to be less and cleaner flights. The challenges are there for the airline industry - if it wants to survive, there needs to be action now.

*To submit your views to the consultation – open until 20/9/2019 – see:
To sign the Stop City Airport petition -