‘Devoted’ mayor and former council leader Chris Robbins dies

Chris Robbins CBE
Chris Robbins CBE, 1945-2021

Tributes pour in for influential local Labour politician who has died aged 76, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter

The “giant” who led Waltham Forest Council for seven years has unexpectedly died.

Chris Robbins CBE, the former council leader who was serving as the mayor, died on Monday 5th April.

He was made a CBE in 2017 for his public service, having served as a councillor for 15 years and overseen the introduction of the ‘Mini Holland’ cycling scheme and the reopening of Lea Bridge Station during his seven-year term as leader.

Council leader Clare Coghill said: “Chris loved the borough and its people – ‘our people’, as he would always call them – and his motto as leader was ‘residents first’. You saw that in every decision he made. 

“Above everything, Chris was utterly devoted to his family and my heart goes out to Shelley, Emma, Victoria and all of his relatives. We have all lost a great man and a great friend.”

Chris was born in 1945 in Bethnal Green and lived in East London his entire life, serving as ward councillor for Grove Green in Leyton since 2002.

Chris Robbins pictured in 2014 at the opening of Empire Cinema in Walthamstow, a project he helped lead while council leader
Chris Robbins pictured in 2014 at the opening of Empire Cinema in Walthamstow, a project he helped lead while council leader

He became leader of the Labour group in 2009 and led the party to win a majority, which it has not lost since, in the 2010 local election – after eight years of no overall control. He stood down in 2017, when Cllr Coghill took the helm.

As leader Cllr Robbins oversaw Waltham Forest being a host borough for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the creation of Leyton Jubilee Park, renovation of the award-winning William Morris Gallery, the opening of Empire Cinema in Walthamstow town centre, and rebuilding of Walthamstow Pool and Track.

In a tribute posted to Twitter, Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy said she was “shocked and saddened” by the news. She wrote: “Chris lived and breathed this borough and the Labour movement with all his heart. 

“He was also a proud family man who only last week was telling me how excited he was for the future and what he and they would do.”

Cllr Robbins became mayor of the borough in 2019; his one-year term was extended because of the pandemic and he had been due to stand down next month.

His chosen charity for 2020-21 was Haven House Hospice, which supports from birth families looking after children and young people who have life-limiting or life-threatening conditions. Donations are being accepted at JustGiving.

He also supported the Waltham Forest branch of Parkinson’s UK.