Posts Tagged ‘maureen o’mara’
The Greenwich councillor in charge of overseeing last Sunday’s Run To The Beat half-marathon has admitted “errors” were made in the way the event, which closed off great swathes of Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton and Woolwich, had been handled.
Environment cabinet member Maureen O’Mara told a full meeting of Greenwich Council that “things could have been done a lot better this year in terms of speaking to residents”.
The event, a commercial enterprise held by sports management firm IMG and sponsored by Nike, took place for the fifth time last weekend, but the only notice residents had was a densely-worded list of road closures, with a map appearing separately in the council’s weekly newspaper.
Blackheath Westcombe Conservative councillor Geoff Brighty told the council that the race had been given the nickname “the siege of Westcombe” due to the lengthy road closures, effectively sealing off that part of Blackheath as well as other areas.
Referring to the answer given to an earlier public question on the race, Cllr Brighty said there had been no proper public consultation and any plans to review the race with IMG would just see the issue “kicked into the long grass”.
In response, Cllr O’Mara – whose full-time cabinet post includes overseeing Run To The Beat – said: “I now know more about Run To The Beat than I ever wanted to know about Run To The Beat.”
“But errors were made this year. It’s about speaking to residents about what roads will be closed, and giving them much more notice.
“This forthcoming session with IMG is not about kicking stuff into the long grass. If this race is to return to the borough, it needs to be with residents fully understanding what’s going to happen in their streets, and what’s going to happen with licensing.
“And we need to think – well, what does this bring into the borough? I certainly don’t want go through again, the anguish of the past four weeks. We have to be absolutely clear about why Run To The Beat is here in the first place.
“If residents say they don’t want it, then we’ll have to talk to IMG about that.”
She added only two complaints were made about the licensing applications for sound stages – although no consultation is needed for road closures if they get Government backing, which RTTB did.
“Run To The Beat seems to create more trouble than the [London] Marathon, so there are questions to be asked about how much earlier members and officers can engage with organisers.”
You can hear all of the exchange between Geoff Brighty and Maureen O’Mara here, although the quality isn’t great:
It’s all welcome – the serious question is what the area gets out of RTTB, and it’s debatable whether there’s any real benefit other than to IMG and Nike – but Maureen O’Mara’s concession that things had gone wrong came out in a torturous manner. The public question Geoff Brighty picked up on actually came from me, inspired by the responses I’d had from the posts on this blog. Curiously, O’Mara’s written response to me was very different – basically, bland council officer-speak which didn’t really answer the question.
When you ask a question at a council meeting, you get to ask a verbal supplementary question, so I thought I’d point out this out as well as the grumbles from her Labour colleagues too.
Nobody put me up to it – it just perplexed me that they’d been ignored, and hadn’t made much of a secret about their bad feeling about the event.
Funny how she changed her mind and admitted all kinds of errors within about 15 minutes of that exchange.
And that it took an intervention from a Conservative, not one of her Labour colleagues, for her to admit all kinds of things had gone wrong. It’d have been easier if she’d been more frank earlier on. Or maybe even listened to the party colleagues she falsely accused of putting someone up to ask questions on her behalf.
This stuff isn’t hard, is it?
But hey, as she told a planning meeting in the summer: “This is Greenwich, and we do not do this in Greenwich.”
A senior Greenwich councillor has apologised for the weeds springing up across the area, blaming failings by the firm contracted to apply weedkiller across the borough’s pavements.
Environment cabinet member Maureen O’Mara said the council was having to bring a new contractor in to finish the job after foot-high plants started to appear in some parts of the borough.
“I apologise to the residents of the borough – the political buck stops with me,” she told last night’s Greenwich Council meeting.
“We didn’t get it right this year, and when you don’t get it right, you should say so, and get it sorted out, which is what we’re doing.”
In a written answer to Conservative councillor Matt Clare, she said a company had been engaged in March to apply a treatment called Dual to the borough’s streets.
But while the treatment is known to be effective, 853 understands the unnamed company – which was selected because it offered the cheapest tender – only applied it to existing weeds – but not as a preventative measure on other parts of the pavement, leading to the green growths springing up across local streets. (The photos here were taken in Harraden Road, Kidbrooke, on Thursday afternoon.)
“The unsatisfactory quality of the treatment was primarily due to the way in which the weed killing chemicals were being applied by the contractor, rather than the product itself,” Cllr O’Mara said, adding that a new contractor was at work and should complete the job within two weeks.
“Our own teams will also continue to undertake additional weed control works on some sites, and will gradually remove dead weeds as part of the street cleansing operation.”
It’s the second time in just over two years Cllr O’Mara has had to apologise for weed-strewn streets – in July 2009 she said sorry after the council struggled with adapting to new regulations on weedkillers.
Invited by Conservative councillors to pose for a photograph for Greenwich Time with the weeds in their Eltham wards, and to repeat the apology in the council weekly, joked: “I don’t want to stand with inanimate objects.
“If I get a look at these weeds, I’ll pull them out myself.”
Cllr O’Mara added: “I am sure my apology will be noted in the local press.”
However, neither the Mercury nor the News Shopper were present at last night’s meeting.
Hear Conservative leader Spencer Drury discuss the issue with Maureen O’Mara:
Also at last night’s meeting:
Hear council leader Chris Roberts discuss the council leader and chief executive getting VIP passes for the Olympic Games with Conservative Adam Thomas:
Chris Roberts also defended Greenwich Time under questioning from Conservative Matt Clare:
Funny, the morning after I posted about the state of Floyd Road, there’s a whole load of crap dumped on my doorstep… this was Priolo Road, Charlton, at midday today.
The council truck came within about two minutes of me calling them – now that’s service! – well, someone had already reported it. I suspect the dumpers planned to use nearby Wellington Gardens, a flytipping blackspot, but since that’s been taken over by Thames Water for its marathon session of roadworks, Priolo Road probably offered a more convenient spot.
This is, unfortunately, what you get when you don’t clean the streets properly – or, to quote the famous US example by James Q Wilson and George L Kenning, fix a broken window:
Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.
Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.
And this is exactly what has happened to Charlton over the past few years. The people responsible for this, you might like to know, are council cabinet member for neighbourhood services Maureen O’Mara – whose clean-up of weeds in nearby Highcombe led to them being strewn all over the road – and director of neighbourhood services Jim Wintour. And, of course, you and me, because we’re also responsible for keeping an eye on what goes on in our front yard. However, when the council fails to back us up, the whole system falls apart. I’ll give them some credit for there have been some small improvements in this area in recent weeks – a weekly sweep seems to have reappeared after whole months passed without the street seeing a broom, but even that’s not good enough, with the debris left behind from weekly bin collections left lying around for days.
I appreciate it’s tough for local councils. Across the water, Waltham Forest Council is lambasted for offering cash rewards to people who report litterers and fly-tippers by the Daily Mail, which decides to take the side of vandals because it gives them a chance to have a pop at a local council. Fly-tippers and the like should face the strongest possible punishments – at the very least, the vehicles they use should be confiscated. But in a country led by the opinions of the Daily Mail, the vandal is king, and the person who has the job of cleaning up is the loser.
So, in a climate where a right-wing media backs vandals and a Labour council can’t be arsed to pull its finger out, what can you do? From my experience, here’s some advice on the way to get things done.
1) Don’t e-mail the council – you’ll be left waiting days. This is where it all went wrong for me in the first place. Greenwich Council routes all its e-mails through a “contact centre”, which merely sends the e-mail to another inbox where it is likely to be left ignored. Unlike neighbouring Lewisham, communication via internet is not its strong point. Using web service FixMyStreet.com records the complaint in public, but council staff don’t seem to have internet access so can’t see photos uploaded there. If you e-mail the council, you’re wasting your time. (Take a look at the Love Lewisham blog to see how our neighbours are light years ahead of Greenwich – putting power into the hands of people.)
2) Call the council instead – 020 8921 4661. It’s a pain if you’re at work far outside the area, like I used to be, but the only real way to get a response is to call direct. The call centre staff, on the whole, are pretty good. They are, however, only a call centre so can’t answer queries, but can put you through elsewhere or, better still, give you a name.
3) Try to get the name of a council officer. If you can get someone’s name, you’re likely to be going places with your query. Drop them a friendly e-mail – email@example.com – and explain you’ve been having problems. Chances are, they probably haven’t been made aware of what’s been going on. One senior officer even told me he’d divert through my street on his way home to make sure it’d been cleaned.
4) Contact your local councillors. I give Greenwich councillors a lot of stick here, particularly Labour ones, because I don’t understand how they can stand under the banner of a local party that’s failing the borough so badly. But politicians are here today, gone tomorrow types, and they may well be hanging on and waiting for some more enlightened leadership under the same banner – some of those councillors were around when left-wing firebrands were running the place and getting ratecapped, and some may plan to be around when it isn’t sucking up to developers, publishing embarrassing propaganda rags and not clearing rubbish. In short – they may hate the system as much as you. And they can help. Drop all three a friendly line and see what responses you get. They may not be your political allies, but they can get things gone. Give them a chance.
5) Go public. All of the above fail? Start a blog. Didn’t you hear hyperlocal blogs are the new in-thing? Write to local papers (I know the Mercury and News Shopper aren’t brilliant, but they’ll appreciate the story ideas). Contact rival political parties if your leanings turn in those directions. If you can cause some embarrassment, some aggravation for someone down the line, you’ll eventually get the job done.
6) Go back to square one. You’ll have to do this from time to time. But it can be worth it, even if it’s arse-grindingly dull, and you end up feeling like the community pedant.
7) Use your vote in the next council election. Remember – you have the ultimate sanction over what gets done, and you’re due to get it on 6 May 2010. If all five options above don’t work, and you stay at home that day… don’t complain about a crappy council again.
Got any other tips? I figured I should try a more constructive angle on this issue, so it’ll be good to hear other people’s experiences.
I wondered why a post about weeds was doing very good business in page views, and it looks like we’ve seen why. A couple of weeks ago, I had a grumble about the triffids that are sprouting out of pavements and gutters in Charlton and Greenwich, and suggested that community clean-up days helped Greenwich Council get off the hook when it came to looking after the streets. (Incidentally, does anyone know how the Charlton Central clean-up day went? I can’t see any obvious difference in the streets, but it could just be me being blind, and I had to be elsewhere that day.)
But, lo, on Friday, there was a statement. A STATEMENT, no less! The winged messenger for this was hard-working Peninsula councillor Mary Mills, who brings this statement on behalf of Maureen O’Mara, the cabinet member in charge of leaving streets filthy. Or “neighbourhood services”, as it’s known as at council HQ. This is what she says, as reported by community site greenwich.co.uk…
“Weed growth and its control has proved to be a real problem this year. We are doing our best to deal with this issue and can only apologise to residents for this happening. I could blame the EU for new regulations that stipulate we have to use a new weed removal spray, meaning it takes longer to get rid of weeds, but I do not intend to do that. We have not cleared weeds as quickly as we should have this year and I apologise to residents for that. We are putting more resources into weed control to ensure that the remaining weeds are dealt with swiftly and that we tackle any regrowth very quickly. I will do my best to make sure that this.”
So clearly, the council has simply not bothered to go out and buy some new weed killer. How hard is it to do this? Do local councils never talk to each other? Those EU regulations also apply in Lewisham and Bromley, but they’ve not had any problem shifting weeds. Here’s an idea, Maureen. Get your people to ring up Lewisham or Bromley, ask them what they use, then buy some. And use it. It’s not that hard, is it?
It’s a shame, but entirely indicative of how Greenwich Council works, that a statement from a leading councillor has to come via one of her back-benchers. Mary Mills shouldn’t have to act as a go-between – the likes of Maureen O’Mara should talk directly to the people who pay their wages. Isn’t that why Greenwich Council has a press office, and a silly propaganda rag? The organisation badly needs reforming.
Speaking of the silly propaganda rag, last week’s Greenwich Time featured an odd little story about the Run to the Beat half-marathon and its licence application.
The previous week, Greenwich Time had buried a licence application for the event, condemned by participants for being badly organised and by some locals for the disruption caused, but the application didn’t feature either the name of the event or the date; and nor was there any supporting editorial to point people towards this.
And the suddenly, this story appeared in Greenwich Time – “a premises licence application was published in last week’s GT with regard to areas affected by road closures and music that will accompany the fun run, but may need clarifying”. Er, you don’t say. But they don’t reprint the advert, instead directing readers to the fiddly-to-use www.greenwich.gov.uk/licensing website, from where the links aren’t particularly obvious. And there’s nothing about the changed route, either. A slightly different version of this story appears on the council’s website.
I would say that they’re actively discouraging people from getting in touch, but I just don’t think they’re competent enough to even do that. Talking properly to people isn’t in the council’s mindset. Until it is, it’ll never be able to do its job properly.