Any crisis will exacerbate existing contradictions and tensions in both political systems and between people. Covid 19 has brought out the best in many but also brings up yet again what is wrong with the undemocratic business vote system in the City of London. Councillor Sue Pearson covered the issues in a blog posted on the Golden Lane Estate Residents Association website yesterday, underling what a poor job the City council is doing in relation to Covid 19 and why the business votes system fails both local residents and more broadly those who favour democratic local government:
The City Corporation announced yesterday that construction work on its own COLPAI development would recommence after a two week break, with workers maintaining social distancing “as much as possible”, but acknowledging that this may not always be possible: Recommencement of works at COLPAI site on 14.4.2020
The City Corporation has urged residents of Golden Lane Estate, part of which adjoins the COLPAI site, to comply with Government restrictions on staying at home, going out only for essential purposes and maintaining social distancing. We have been doing so. From Tuesday, when residents of more than 60 small flats on the estate look out of our windows, we will see construction workers who have not stayed at home, doing non-essential work and not always maintaining social distancing. This will be happening on the site of a development by the City Corporation itself, our landlord.
By contrast, a private developer ceased work at a site only a hundred metres away from COLPAI just after the lockdown began, announcing it was doing so “due to the current pandemic…and the health risk it presents to all people”. The reference to “all people” includes the construction workers, their families and the people they come into contact with.
The City Corporation has tried to justify its contractor, ISg, recommencing work on COLPAI by quoting the Government’s guidance to the construction sector, which begins by referring to construction work playing “an important role in ensuring public safety and the provision of public services”. The work on COLPAI does not ensure either public safety or the provision of public services at this time, unlike (say) the construction of temporary hospital facilities.
The recommencement of work on COLPAI will be harmful to a number of residents on Golden Lane Estate. As well as being demoralised by seeing the Government’s central lockdown message being flouted with the approval of their own local authority, they will be affected physically. In normal times, the noise from the site is stressful enough. But these are not normal times. People who would otherwise be at work are working from home. Children who would otherwise be at school are now learning in small flats, unable to go out except with their parents to exercise once a day. Young people have had their freedoms curtailed. Older and vulnerable people don’t go out at all. Everyone feels more stress because of the threat this crisis poses to their lives and livelihoods. To have that stress compounded by noise between 8 am and 6 pm every weekday because of non-essential construction work is intolerable.
The City Corporation could have joined the Mayor of London (Labour) and the local MP (Conservative) in calling on the Government to ban non-essential construction work, but has instead chosen to support such work by allowing it to continue on the Corporation’s own project, regardless of the harm this will do to residents in very close proximity. Unlike any other local authority, the City Corporation doesn’t need to worry about what its residents think, because only 20% of its councillors are elected in mainly residential wards; the other 80% are, uniquely, elected mainly by business voters, who typically have little interest in what their councillors do. This has for decades caused City residents to be poorly served by their council. When this crisis is over, that will finally need to be addressed.
In the meantime, here on Golden Lane Estate most of the practical response to the crisis has come from volunteers in our own community, setting up a GLE Covid 19 HUB to support our neighbours in need. We have been working with Liz King and others in the Barbican who, with Age UK City of London, who have set up the Square Mile food bank for City residents.
The City Corporation has played a very secondary role, although I would record my thanks to its Head of Housing Management, Liam Gillespie, for his individual efforts in arranging support where we have needed it. But as a whole the City Corporation, which has insisted that its non essential staff work from home, has been tone deaf in this crisis, while some of its residents will be literally deafened by non-essential construction noise.
The Corporation seems to think that spin (“we must work together”) is a substitute for substance. It isn’t. On behalf of Golden Lane residents I deplore the lack of moral leadership shown by the City Corporation and the irresponsibility of its contractor ISg, and call on the Corporation to reverse this decision immediately.
Please email your concerns to: email@example.com and the City’s dedicated Covid email firstname.lastname@example.org
City Corporation Supports Non-Essential Construction Work by Sue Pearson, Golden Lane Estate Residents Association website, 10 April 2020: http://www.goldenlaneestate.org/profiles/blogs/colpai-plans-to-recommence-despite-being-non-essential?xg_source=activity
Meanwhile on Barbican Talk an inverted version of the joggers debate we’ve already covered kicked off yesterday. This one is headed Benches removed from the gardens — what the hell? Once again some of the fit and healthy are at loggerheads with some of the less fit and healthy, fortunately this time it isn’t quite as bad tempered as the earlier thread. While it is better not to sit down while out exercising during lockdown, we feel those with health issues should be cut some slack and telling them not to go out or to take shorter walks instead of resting on benches betrays a lack of empathy. Medical sources agree that the benefits of fresh air, sunshine and exercise generally outweigh the risks of infection if social distancing and washing rules when returning home are followed.
Those who can only walk short distances and then need to rest should be allowed to sit on benches. The fit and healthy ought to refrain from being judgemental about this. The Barbican benches should be put back into service immediately. We view it as both unrealistic and cruel to expect all of those who are considered vulnerable and who live in a flat not to go outside at all for 12 weeks. The letters those deemed vulnerable have received from the NHS advise them to try and get some air and to sit in their garden if they have one. Most of those in EC1 and EC2 live in flats without gardens and may well want to go out occasionally to get some sunshine, which will help them maintain the levels of health – mental and physical – they currently have. Obviously everyone should try to stay in as much as possible and the vulnerable should not be going to shops – hence the Covid 19 mutual aid groups.
Section on mental well-being from NHS letter sent to those deemed vulnerable in our local area asking them to stay at home for next 12 weeks. Note it advises fresh air and sunshine, it isn’t possible to get the latter in all flats in the neighbourhood.
Rather than being worried by those who want to sit outside on benches observing social distancing rules, we’re more concerned by the huge queues sometimes encountered at Barbican Waitrose and the fact that the supermarket is still letting couples go in, which slows down the queue and exposes everyone to the risk of infection for longer. There is no need for two adults from the same household to go shopping together. Yesterday Waitrose were still letting couples in when they should have been making one of the pair go home to keep the queue moving faster and everybody safer.
On the subject of Waitrose we wouldn’t normally shop there but are following the advice that we should stay local. In addition a vulnerable person we are helping specifically wants products this store sells. However, we’re really shocked by how much more expensive a main shop in Waitrose – or even the Co-Op or Tesco – is compared to LIDL, which is where we’d go under normal circumstances alongside visits to some street markets. Given that under lockdown people shouldn’t be travelling from the City to Hackney, Camden or the Old Kent Road to get their shopping in LIDL, the Corporation could perhaps knock 20% off residents’ council tax bills to make things easier for those who are struggling with higher shopping costs and/or loss of income. It could easily afford this and might use its sovereign wealth fund City’s Cash to make up the difference.