Last week, Redbridge Council announced a dramatic reshuffle of its cabinet, introducing three new members and creating entirely new portfolios.

Many residents may be unfamiliar with the new faces - an environmental campaigner, a former employee of London Mayor Sadiq Khan and one of Redbridge’s youngest councillors - now leading vital work across the borough.

The shake-up also saw a newly created role for “stronger communities” given to Cllr John Howard, formerly responsible for civic pride, as well as a new emphasis on the environment.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service reached out to the cabinet members taking up new roles to ask about their plans for the borough’s imminent future.

New 'stronger communities' role

Cllr John Howard (Aldborough) explained that his newly created role would see him focus on regeneration, the high street and supporting the voluntary sector.

He said: “Regeneration of high streets is something that comes up on the doorstep quite a lot.

“We think about regeneration as building homes but in places like Barkingside, Woodford or Wanstead, how you help is not about building new stuff, it’s about enhancing local businesses.”

He added the civic pride portfolio, given to a new member, will focus on “more overarching” issues like street-cleaning and waste management, although he anticipated significant overlap.

Cllr Howard’s final months in charge of civic pride were most notable for the “Quiet Streets” trials, which one Conservative councillor later controversially linked to a fatal traffic accident.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Cllr Joh Howard outside the town hall (Deniz Huseyin/Parking Review)Cllr Joh Howard outside the town hall (Deniz Huseyin/Parking Review)

Cllr Howard (Deniz Huseyin/Parking Review)

The trials, which saw almost all roads in two areas closed to all non-residential traffic, ended after about a month following strident opposition from residents.

Council leader Jas Athwal blamed the trials’ failure on the Government’s timeframe, arguing the council was not given enough time to plan and consult residents before they had to start.

Asked if this had been a difficult experience, Cllr Howard replied that the role “had always been challenging” as it deals with areas of public life “everyone cares about”.

He said his first action for stronger communities would be to “talk to local businesses and the voluntary sector about what (the council) can do to support them”.

He added: “When I was a kid the local high street was a really interesting, exciting place and that’s no longer the case.

“I do not know what the answer is yet but we are a pretty industrious and hard-working group of people, I think together we can work something out.”

New cabinet members

Cllr Howard’s old work for civic pride and a new portfolio dedicated to the environment has been given to Wanstead Village councillor and environmental campaigner Jo Blackman.

Cllr Blackman told the Local Democracy Reporting Service she looked forward to working “to ensure our neighbourhoods are clean and green”.

She added: “I want to make sure we’re doing all we can to support our local communities at this difficult time.

“In recent years, particularly since becoming a parent, I have become increasingly concerned about the climate emergency and threats facing the environment.

“I was pleased to lead efforts to get the council to declare a climate emergency and contributed to the subsequent corporate panel report on the measures the council could take to reduce their emissions.

“I have also actively been supporting measures to enhance the environment and nature.”

In March last year, she and her two fellow Wanstead Village councillors joined a meadow-planting project to increase biodiversity in their area.

Read more: Redbridge Council scraps plan to increase councillor pay

One of Redbridge’s youngest councillors, elected in 2018 aged 23, and London Assembly hopeful Cllr Vanisha Solanki (Fullwell) is now in charge of housing and homelessness.

The post was vacated in September last year when Cllr Farah Hussain resigned, citing a desire to spend more time with her family following the death of her father.

Cllr Solanki said she was “incredibly honoured” to receive the job, adding: “My commitment will always be supporting local people, building the much needed council housing for those in need and furthering our ambition in eradicating homelessness in the borough.

“There is always a challenge with anything you do, but I believe together we can make this happen.”

In her time on the council’s planning committee, Cllr Solanki has long been one of the most vocal critics of developers who fail to meet the council’s targets.

She has repeatedly expressed a desire to “send a message to developers” that the borough will look harshly on any applications offering less than 35 per cent affordable homes.

The final new member, Cllr Khayer Chowdhury (Valentines), is in charge of crime, safety and community cohesion, taking up Cllr Bob Littlewood’s post after his resignation at an unknown point late last year.

Cllr Chowdhury did not respond to a request to comment on his new role. Outside his councillor role, he works in communications and was previously employed by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

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