Sizwe James takes on regeneration role in Greenwich Council’s new cabinet

Sizwe James
New regeneration cabinet member Sizwe James (photo from twitter.com/SizweJames)

Thamesmead Moorings councillor Sizwe James has been handed the regeneration portfolio in new Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe’s first cabinet – putting him in charge of Woolwich’s controversial Spray Street development scheme, proposals for thousands of homes at Charlton Riverside, and other major planning issues.

James takes over from Thorpe in the new role, now retitled “growth and strategic development”, after next Wednesday’s council annual meeting, when councillors will confirm Thorpe as leader and his new cabinet in their positions.

Thorpe, who was chosen by Labour councillors last week, has largely reshuffled the existing cabinet rather than drafting in a large number of fresh faces, with Christine Grice coming into the new role of finance and resources – a role largely carried out by the council leader under Chris Roberts and Denise Hyland’s administrations. Roberts-era loyalist Maureen O’Mara departs the cabinet.

James will take on dealing with major development schemes at locations including Greenwich Peninsula, Thamesmead, Charlton Riverside, Woolwich, Morris Walk Estate, Abbey Wood, Kidbrooke and Deptford Creek in his new role, as well as responsibility for the effectiveness of the planning department, which was embroiled in a number of high-profile blunders last year.

The Spray Street scheme, which involves moving scores of BME businesses and demolishing the historic covered market, already been criticised by councillors.

Prominence for public realm

Denise Scott-McDonald takes on a Air Quality, Public Realm and Transport portfolio, with an early challenge being dealing with the consequences of the Silvertown Tunnel approval, while another will be to deal with a street cleaning service which leaves some areas neglected.

Thorpe’s decision to create a public realm portfolio is notable considering fellow cabinet member Jackie Smith told a hustings in Charlton last month that she hadn’t received any complaints about the state of the borough’s streets. Smith has now lost responsibility for this aspect of the council’s service while Scott-McDonald will no doubt be expected to read From The Murky Depths more closely.

Smith stays in post on community safety, with a higher emphasis on youth crime – an issue which has rocketed up the agenda following police cuts and an upsurge in knife and gun crime.

While James and Scott-McDonald have bagged the high-profile roles, arguably the biggest roles – certainly in financial terms, definitely in the their responsibility for the borough’s most vulnerable people – have gone to deputy leader David Gardner, who takes over children’s services and schools, and Averil Lekau, who takes on the huge adult social care, health and anti-poverty portfolio.

More changes to come

Chris Kirby will take on housing – which will involve dealing with the opaque Meridian Home Start, the independent company charged with constructing homes at 65% market rent, as well as policy on council homes.

Outgoing leader Denise Hyland will be in charge of economy, skills and apprenticeships, while Miranda Williams takes on culture, leisure and the third sector (voluntary/non-profit groups).

Another challenge facing the council will land directly in Danny Thorpe’s inbox – a forthcoming rejig of ward boundaries to take into account the ballooning population in the north of the borough. A similar process in Bexley saw the number of councillors cut from 63 to 45.

Scrutiny panels will be chaired by John Fahy (finance), Gary Parker (regeneration, transport and culture), Mark James (healthier communities and social care) and Clive Mardner (housing and anti-poverty) along with newcomers Ivis Williams (children and young people) and Adel Khaireh (community safety and environment).

There is no confirmation as to who is due to sit on the borough’s main planning committee, the planning board, but Thorpe has promised to ensure it fairly represents the whole borough, after criticism that it was packed with councillors from the south, the area least affected by redevelopment schemes.

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