New Labour mayor promises to ‘amplify’ resident’s voices

Waltham Forest councillors have elected Sharon Waldron as their new mayor for 2024/25, reports Sebastian Mann, Local Democracy Reporter

Cllr Waldron in her Mayoral robes, Credit: Waltham Forest Council

Sharon Waldron, the former cabinet member for housing regeneration and a councillor since 2014, was named mayor of the borough at a council meeting last night (23rd May).

The Labour representative for Markhouse replaced Conservative councillor Roy Berg, who was elected to the top ceremonial position last May.

In her opening address, she said she wanted to “amplify” residents’ voices and the council to “stand together to support people and families affected by neurodiversity,” having been diagnosed with dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia herself.

She told councillors: “Let us embrace challenges ahead with courage, compassion and the steadfast belief of hope as the power to change our communities – that’s why we’re here.”

Proud members of Cllr Waldron’s family watched on from the public gallery, cheering when fellow councillor Naheed Ashgar put her name forward on the strength of her “unwavering commitment” to residents.

As the cabinet member for housing regeneration, Cllr Waldron oversaw the council’s housing transformation programme, part of its wider housing strategy, as well as customer experience.

Each mayor, who has no formal power, is elected for a twelve-month term. They preside over council meetings to ensure they are conducted properly and act as an ambassador for the borough, attending hundreds of event each year.

Councillors from both parties also paid tribute to Cllr Berg, the outgoing mayor and councillor for the Endlebury ward.

Council leader Grace Williams emphasised his focus on supporting the Armed Forces, while Tory group leader Emma Best praised his dedication to civic service, volunteer organisations and his Chingford constituents.

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The annual meeting closed with a characteristic clash between the two leaders, over progress the council was making and the past 14 years of Tory rule.

Cllr Williams said the authority had been successful in building new homes – more than 9,000 in nine years – as well as improving recycling and tackling flytipping, adding: “We’re getting this stuff done.”

After making a dig at the length of Cllr Williams’ speech, Cllr Best reflected on the decade-and-a-half of Conservative government, with election polls predicting a Labour landslide in the 4th July general election.

She said Tory rulers needed to “own up to their mistakes” but expressed pride in the Government’s equality legislation – saying she felt its impact personally when she went home to her wife – and Personal Allowance, the amount of income you can earn before you pay tax.

She also attacked the council for the 24 serious complaints against it upheld by the Housing Ombudsman over the past year, up from zero the year before.

Prior to the event, protestors from the pressure group Waltham Forest for a Free Palestine stood outside handing letters to councillors.

It says that a petition by the group, which accuses the council of backing companies that support Israel through its pension fund, will be debated in the town hall on 18th July.

The group has previously called on the council to divest the £18.7million it is said to have invested in “complicit” companies.

A spokesperson for the council previously said: “The pension fund committee is very concerned about any exposure the fund has to companies accused of human rights violations anywhere in the world.

“Most of the council’s pension fund is overseen by two investment managers, the LCIV and the Legal and General Investment Manager (LGIM). We are in regular contact with both to ensure they understand our position. None of the funds we directly manage are invested with companies accused of complicity.”

Cllr Waldron is one of 46 Labour councillors that controls the authority. They face 16 Conservatives and one independent.

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