Danny Thorpe is marking a year in charge of the borough (photo taken at an event last month: twitter.com/ElthamNigel)

Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe says the council has begun to listen more since he took charge of the town hall a year ago.

Reflecting on his first year in charge of the Labour administration in the borough, Thorpe said when he took office that he wanted to change the way the council interacted and engaged with communities.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporter Service this morning, the leader said improvements had been made and the council was now listening more.

“Certainly a year ago there was a clear narrative about the council. Not all of it was entirely true and justified, but some people felt they were being left behind,” he added, citing controversies over a housing development on the Charlton riverside and the council’s backing for a cruise liner terminal in east Greenwich.

“That has changed a year on. Think about the fact that Rockwell’s Charlton plan was rejected, and the toxic port scrapped. We worked very closely with those residents.

Air quality focus

“People would say there has been a different approach, more community focused. The difficulty of is that there are no easy answers to the incredibly complex problems we face, so we are spending more time explaining that to people and taking them on the journey.”

The Shooters Hill councillor also outlined what he plans to prioritise in his second year at the helm. Air quality, he said, has been moved up the agenda, and knife crime and youth violence continues to be a concern.

“You can’t escape the fact that climate and sustainability has risen up the agenda in a massive way. That will be a big feature in everyone’s policy going forward this year. People expect action to be taken on these issues.

“That’s why we refocused the work Denise Scott-McDonald was doing previously to get more time and focus onto that area. The challenge is working with other people in Greenwich to get that change going.”

Rockwell Charlton Riverside
The rejection of the Rockwell Charlton scheme showed the council was listening more, Thorpe said

20,000 on housing waiting list

Knife crime has become a huge issue across the capital, and Greenwich has seen several serious instances in the last 12 months.

“We have been recruiting for a new team to work on a new approach with the police around that”, Thorpe said.

“There’s been really big challenges to deal with – it’s not like anything anyone has experienced before.”

Housing, Thorpe said, will be a priority for the full four years, as numbers of families in need continue to surge.

“The work we have done on housing has been absolutely massive”, he said. “We were talking a year ago about campaigning for resources to build the homes, and year on we have millions of pounds and teams working on plans.

“Housing will be a priority for the whole four years – we want as many built as we can by 2022. We have much bigger challenges around temporary accommodation than we did last year. There was something like 600 families in temporary accommodation last year, this year it is nearly 1,100, it’s almost doubled. The waiting list has gone up to 20,000 in the year, it is very much the start of the journey to do.”

Brexit frustration

Thorpe said the “frustrating” situation with Brexit has hindered important work being done elsewhere. He spoke on the same morning as Theresa May announced her resignation as prime minister.

“The big uncertainty we face is that we will have a new prime minister, what that means who knows. The impact of Brexit on central Government means that they are all so focused on that, they haven’t done much else.

“We have no idea what the spending review looks like or the parameters of that. And then there’s all the the stuff on green paper for adult social care too.

“We are potentially facing a general election and still have Brexit to sort out so the period of instability will continue.

“It’s massively frustrating, all other areas that need attention are just not getting it.”

The leader came under criticism at a recent meeting for removing “anti-poverty” from a cabinet member portfolio, but explained the reasoning behind that today.

“There was criticism that anti-poverty had been sort of taken away from one person. It’s been taken to bring other people and our partners into the picture, it’s going to be a central plank of what the council is being asked to do because the levels of poverty we are seeing are rocketing.

“In some ways keeping people focused on what we can do locally is important as we move forward in this period of instability.”

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Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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