LGC gets an insight into a typical week for Hackney LBC’s group director neighbourhoods and housing
Grenfell’s safety legacy
We have a major piece of work going on around fire safety post Grenfell and this week saw the meeting of the council’s fire safety programme board which I chair. This brings together all the work that we are doing to improve fire safety, including door replacement (about 17,000 doors) and fire risk assessments. We have completed 1,823 assessments and published them online. We were the first council to do that; we always try to be open and transparent with our residents.
Rebuild versus refurb
Another important meeting this week was the management board for our housebuilding programme which is overseeing our plans to deliver 3,000 homes over the next few years. This is hugely important and a critical manifesto commitment from the mayor so he is very involved. We are one of the largest council housebuilders in the country for social rent and shared ownership.
The programme includes estate regeneration schemes across 18 sites, all of which have got planning permission, and we are also looking to deliver 500 homes on smaller sites. You don’t always have to demolish everything and rebuild; refurbishment can be more cost effective. One of the key things on the Kings Crescent Estate is mixing the rebuild of 490 homes with the refurbishment of 225. We are also the first council to have an in-house sales and marketing agency to sell our new homes so we keep all of the income.
Tougher times ahead
The third major meeting this week was with the Hackney management team, looking at our financial challenges over the medium term, from 2021 onwards. There are still huge sums of money we need to take out of our budgets and that’s going to be challenging. Our focus here has always been on delivering the best services we can; that’s not changed but we have got a big focus now on inclusive growth and on those communities at risk of being left behind.
woodberry down park side
I also judged some of our staff awards this week, including apprentice of the year. Increasing the number of apprentices has been a big focus in recent years when the numbers have risen from 45 to 120. Roles range from trades to executive support and they are all local residents, which ties into our inclusive growth agenda. Local partners and businesses such as Homerton Hospital also do great work with apprentices.
My role includes responsibility for neighbourhoods, parking, markets, streetscene, community safety, enforcement and business regulation, environmental operations, libraries, sport, leisure, museum, green spaces, planning, estate regeneration, housing supply, Woodberry Down Estate, private sector housing, economic regeneration and housing services (30,000 stock). It is a lot to stay on top of but I have got very good people working with me and I’m good at being able to know the important matters of detail that I need to pay attention to while maintaining a focus on the long-term, strategic issues. Plus I love my job.
We are the first council to have an in-house sales and marketing agency to sell our new homes so we keep all the income
What I didn’t expect at the start of the week was to be dealing with a flurry of press interest over our parking income on the back of some figures published nationally. We banned a left-hand turn as part of a scheme which prevents traffic going around certain streets near schools at drop-off and pick-up times. The aim is to reduce levels of pollution and improve air quality. This caused a flurry of penalty notices to be issued. I know people don’t like paying traffic fines but we always make the point that such income has to be, and is, reinvested into concessionary fares and traffic schemes, for example and it isn’t a cash cow. We are seeing reductions in pollution and more people walking to school as a result of such changes around local schools.
Don’t get too comfortable
I started out as a leisure centre assistant and was the statutory director of adult social care at Hackney for 11 years until taking on my current role almost three years ago. I always say to people I mentor: ”Never say never if you are offered an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone.” I’ve had to learn a whole new set of alphabet soup and policies and laws. It’s a learning curve that I’m still on and still loving. I’m always poking with my ignorance stick and asking questions.
As told to Sarah Calkin