New council leader set to be chosen

Chris Robbins has led Waltham Forest Council since May 2009

A new leader of Waltham Forest Council is set to be chosen following the resignation of Councillor Chris Robbins.

Cllr Robbins, who will continue to represent Grove Green ward in Leyton after standing down in May, announced his decision at a December council meeting. In a statement he did not elaborate on his reasons for resigning other than it being “the right time to let someone else take the reins”.

Local Labour Party sources suggest that Clare Coghill and Nadeem Ali are favourites to become the new leader. Cllr Coghill, who represents High Street ward in Walthamstow, is in charge of the council’s economic growth portfolio, while Cllr Ali, who represents William Morris ward, does not currently hold a senior role.

On his decision to resign after eight years leading the council, Cllr Robbins said: “I am very proud to have led this council for the past eight years and strongly believe the council has achieved a great deal since 2009. Despite the challenging financial situation, we are stable and have built a strong reputation. By working together we have delivered a number of successes over the years.

“It is therefore the right time to let someone else take the reins, and I am confident the next leader of the council takes over a borough with much to look forward to and that they will continue to build on our achievements.”

A new council leader will be chosen at a private meeting of the Labour group in January, when councillors vote to decide their favourite candidate.

During his tenure, Cllr Robbins has overseen a period of significant change in Waltham Forest. As a result of co-hosting the London 2012 Olympic Games there were big investments made to revamp town centres, parks and lesiure centres, although there were protests at the decision to allow several local green spaces to become paved over before and after the Games.

In the same year the council won its bid to demolish Walthamstow Stadium, the last remaining dog track in east London. A large housing development is now being built in its place.

The council was one of three London authorities in 2014 to win a share of a £100million pot for investment in local cycling infrastructure. Dubbed ‘Mini Holland’, the scheme has sparked borough-wide protests from motorists and business owners against road closures and loss of parking spaces, but led to declines in traffic as cycling numbers rise. It has also won a number of awards.

In respect of housing, Cllr Robbins oversaw a growing waiting list for council homes that, in 2013, became the largest in London with more than 25,000 households registered. The waiting list has since reduced to 15,000 but is still longer than when Cllr Robbins took charge. Controversy has also surrounded the rebuilding of housing estates in the borough, with fewer social homes being proposed. Overall, the number of council-owned residential properties during Cllr Robbins’ tenure has fallen by 503, according to housing charity Shelter.

Cllr Robbins’ pledge to bring a cinema back to the borough was fulfilled in 2014 with the opening of Walthamstow Empire, while this year he also officially re-opened Lea Bridge Station after more than three decades.

Martin Esom, the council’s chief executive, said: “Chris has been an outstanding leader for Waltham Forest with his roots firmly placed in the borough he loves. Through dedication and determination, he has delivered much for our citizens.”