Huge crowd protests against development of Walthamstow Town Square

It was a bright, freezing cold Saturday lunchtime. Any doubts that the winds blowing in from Siberia would effect the turn-out of the protest against the proposed development of Walthamstow Town Square were dispelled as soon as I stepped onto the patch of grass that the Council want to bury beneath four mega blocks. A huge crowd were mustered in the square listening to speakers put forward the case against the development. There were even a couple of people swanning around dressed as cardboard tower blocks.

Walthamstow Town Square protest

Waltham Forest Council have got it into their heads that they need to compete with Westfield Stratford just down the road, by giving planning permission to property behemoths Capital and Regional to build a new mall and four monster tower blocks of ‘luxury’ apartments, one the size of Centrepoint. They claim there’s no viable alternative.

Walthamstow Town Square protest

The hundreds of local people in the Town Square heartily disagree. They want to see genuinely affordable homes and social housing. Just 20% of the homes in the new scheme will be classed ‘affordable’  – priced at up to 80% of market rates, in a new luxury development will mean they will be far from ‘affordable’ for the majority of local people in housing need.

The genuine question is, who benefits from this scheme? And why have Waltham Forest’s Labour Councillors enthusiastically endorsed such a plan when both Walthamstow and Leyton & Wanstead Labour Parties have passed motions calling for the plans to be reviewed and alternatives explored?

Walthamstow Town Square protest

The Mall development shouldn’t become Waltham Forest’s HDV, but the dogmatic intransigence of a minority within the Council could see this campaign snowball into something much bigger if the strength of feeling on display Saturday is anything to judge by.

Find out more about the campaign to save Walthamstow Town Square here

And there’s some good background in the Waltham Forest Echo

If you live in Waltham Forest and oppose the scheme please write to your local councillors – they’ll also be knocking on your door in the coming weeks canvassing for the local elections so ask if and why they support the Mall development.

The World Transformed at Labour Party Conference, Brighton

The last time I attended Labour Party Conference was also at Brighton but in 2000. I wrote and performed an ensemble political cabaret show at The Greys pub to an audience of party delegates and apparatchiks escaping the conference proper. Among the cast of 4 of The Soapbox Cabaret that night was a young up-and-coming comedian, Russell Brand.

So it was fitting that on my return to Conference that Russell should be there – but this time not performing The Song of the Spin Doctor dressed half in drag, but speaking soberly at a morning meeting about Addiction alongside Labour’s Shadow Health Spokesperson John Ashworth. The most notable thing that has changed in those 17 years though, wasn’t me or Russell, but the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Admittedly I avoided the actual Conference and stuck to Momentum’s brilliant fringe event, The World Transformed. Even the most tedious sounding events had queues stretching around the block like a gig by the hot new band or the release of a Triple A console game – except it was a bunch of people you’d barely heard of debating how to build stronger links with the Trade Unions. Chunky Mark, The Artist Taxi Driver, said “it’s a Conference but it’s like a f*cking festival mate”, when I interviewed him in the street outside a massively oversubscribed event where scores of people were turned away.

At an evening event, Governing from the Radical Left, John McDonnell was greeted onstage with a standing ovation. Paul Mason prowled the space like a glowering rock star. McDonnell summed it up best when he said the Party felt optimistic once more (when was the last time?).

Brighton pier sunset

When I’d decided to max out my credit card all those years ago to take a comedy show to the Labour Party Conference (I ran the show for a week in Bournemouth the previous year, 1999, also starring Russell) it came out of the frustration of my first Conference in 1997 as an international delegate. The first Conference after the landslide General Election victory that had returned Labour to power after 18 dismal, divisive, bitter years. It should have been a massive party, a celebration – there should have been a sense of optimism. But there was none – just a dampening of expectations. On Monday it felt like the carnival had finally arrived in Brighton, 20 years late, not to celebrate a victory, but to prepare for one.