The blue bid for Waltham ForestThe second of our series of interviews with party leaders in the run-up to the local election
Waltham Forest hasn't been blue since 1971 but local Conservative leader Tim James insists they are "not going to be pushed out". Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service over video call, he said: “I think we punch above our weight and get good outcomes. We’re here to stay."
Since the Lib Dems lost all their spots on the council in 2014, the Conservatives have been Labour's only opposition, currently holding 14 of the borough's 60 seats. The group is down four councillors since 2010 but is determined to claw wards back, with Cllr James insisting it suffered smaller losses than at other London councils because they're "not complacent" and "speak up".
After two terms under Labour control, Cllr James says he often finds the speed of changes to housing and transport frustrating when heritage projects like the Highams Park’s Regal Cinema or Walthamstow’s EMD cinema are “very slow”.
A Conservative vision for planning in the borough, he said, would see different "styles" adopted in different parts of the borough, adding: "In Walthamstow it's much easier to put things with more density than Chingford or Highams Park.”
While the group is "very aware" of London's housing problem, he said: “We just don’t agree in terms of the breakneck speed of change. I think that every area ought to be considered in different local plans, which ought to be reconsidered at face value.”
As an example, he pointed to the resident-approved plan for Highams Park, which guides the shape of larger planning applications. In March, this document contributed to a decision to reject plans for a seven-storey flat block near Highams Park Station, vehemently opposed by residents.
The proposed flats viewed from the station (Credit: Stephen Davy Peter Smith Architects)
What about the borough’s contentious low-traffic neighbourhoods? Laughing, he said: “[Waltham Forest’s] traffic policy is gridlock, we just want to clog everything up as much as possible to pollute even more and stop people from getting from a to be. It just seems not to be not working really; mini-Holland is not bringing us to Holland.”
Cllr James has represented Hatch End ward since 2014 and took over the local party last year after former leader Alan Siggers stood down, allegedly under duress.
The 52-year-old senior recruitment advisor was born in Anglesea, north Wales, and left school at 16, working in Guernsey hotels before starting at the bottom in the island's infamous banking industry.
Explaining his politics, he said: “I’ve always been Conservative. For me, it wasn't necessarily about policies, it was about outlook and way of living, about the work ethic from my parents who had their own business, about patriotism and fairness and belief in law and order. So, without knowing it, I was groomed and brought up as one.”
He felt excited and optimistic during the 1980s, after the “English disease” of strikes and nationalised industry a decade prior, and said he thought Thatcher was "by and large phenomenal", adding: “When I think of Canary Wharf, the Eurostar, Channel Four, I think ‘these things are here because of this woman’."
For his fellow Conservatives in the borough, he hopes to "push back" against Labour rule and "find different arguments and perspectives", without "opposing for opposition's sake".
He added: “I have found it interesting that whenever anything is praised it’s to [Labour's] credit and then when it’s negative it's our fault. The reality is: they’ve been in power a long time, they’ve got [two] local MPs and the London Mayor, maybe it’s time to look a little closer to home.”