‘It’s there, it’s real and deserves representation’: Maryland neighbours’ fury after Newham rejects ward proposal
PUBLISHED: 15:00 27 February 2020 | UPDATED: 16:49 27 February 2020
The council has been accused of putting itself ahead of community after rejecting plans to turn an area into a ward.
Newham objected to plans for Maryland to become a ward following publication of a Local Government Boundary Commission review of how the borough is divided.
The local authority accepted the Commission's broader plan to redraw wards at a meeting on February 18 but rejected a draft proposal which would see Maryland get three councillors.
Martin Smith, co-chairman of the Maryland Community Group, said: "We thought this new administration would, as it says, 'put people at the heart of everything' it does. In this case they put themselves before the community. Let's hope they are not going backwards at Newham."
A council spokeswoman said: "We do not determine the boundary lines and have not led this process - the final decision over ward boundaries will be made by the Boundary Commission on the basis of all the evidence submitted by the council, community groups, and other interested parties.
"We recognise Maryland as a place but do not believe it warrants a ward of its own. In our view, the negative impact on the effective representation of residents in Stratford and Forest Gate North and South by creating a new three-member ward in Maryland outweighs the benefits stated by the Boundary Commission."
Maryland Community Group members believe Newham has failed to submit enough evidence to overturn the Commission's proposal and to back the Town Hall's claims that New Town belongs within East Village while the rest of Maryland is part of Forest Gate.
When carrying out an electoral review, the Commission has to consider ways of making sure councillors represent an equal number of voters; that the recommendations reflect community identity and support effective local government.
Newham claims the number of Marylanders using the Sir Ludwig Guttmann medical centre in East Village ward shows there is no evidence of a unified Maryland community. But members say this is insufficient evidence.
They also accuse Newham of failing to provide proof of its claim there are no organisations, community or sports groups which include streets in both East Village and Stratford New Town wards.
The council spokeswoman said: "Our submission, which was sent last week, is based on robust evidence supporting our position and in line with the three statutory criteria that the Commission is required to consider, which are electoral equality, maintaining the identities and interests of local communities and securing effective and convenient local government.
"We are pleased the Commission has largely aligned its proposals to our detailed submission, which was presented in August 2019."
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Mr Smith explained that people are currently faced with navigating nine councillors when issues arise because Maryland currently straddles three council wards.
"We do not have the required level of focus and are overlooked in decision making, which is why we need our own ward," Mr Smith said.
Maryland has its own station, streets, park and centre together with a 800-strong community group. A total of 89 per cent of its polled members support the new ward bid.
Members are also angry that Newham did not consult before rejecting the proposal from the Commission, which did talk to Maryland neighbours.
Mr Smith said: "Of the 15 councillors on Newham's boundary committee none of them represent the affected wards of Forest Gate North, Forest Gate South or Stratford New Town. Presumably they do not live near Maryland either."
The council says its committee was formed by inviting councillors to become a member and it never intended to have representation of a councillor from every ward.
Resident, Michael Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate at the 2019 general election, said a council counter-proposal to merge East Village and Chobham Manor communities with north west Maryland would have a political impact.
"It merges one of the highest, non-Labour voting areas with an area with a much higher Labour vote, deleting any potential opposition voice on the council," he explained.
At the local elections in May 2018, Labour won 67pc of the vote in Forest Gate North ward while the Lib Dems were on 4pc, Conservatives on 9pc and Green Party on 20pc.
In Stratford & New Town ward, Labour's vote share was 61pc while the Lib Dems were on 19pc.
"The council says Maryland is a small community sandwiched between older communities. But it's there, it's real and deserves its own representation," Mr Fox added.
The council spokeswoman said: "All residents are at the heart of decision-making in Newham and Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz has established a Democracy Commission to look at ways in which residents can get even more involved.
"Specifically for Stratford and Newham Town ward, there is a community neighbourhood and citizen assembly that operates, both open to Maryland residents.
"In addition, part of it has been designated as a business improvement district, where businesses allocate an additional amount of business rates to improve the retail sector in the area, for example, Stratford and Maryland branded bins."