In each newsletter I speak to somebody from the communities of North-East London about their hopes, dreams and aspirations for our very special corner of London. This week I talked to Cllr Mark Rusling, Waltham Forest Councillor and Portfolio Lead Member- for Economic Development and Corporate Resources.
1. How long have you lived in Waltham Forest?
I moved here in 2008 to buy my first house, having previously rented in Hackney. I made sure that I stayed in Jennette’s constituency!
2. What made you decide to become a councillor?
I have never liked the attitude of seeing something that you don’t like and, while not doing anything about it yourself, saying ‘someone should do something about that’. If you think something should be changed, you should do something about it!
Local councillors sometimes get some stick in the media – not least from this government, which should get its own house in order before it criticises anybody else. Yet, there is real power in local government to change people’s lives for the better. I wanted to do that.
3. As well as a local councillor you also hold the portfolio of economic development in the borough. How do you see the local economy developing in the next ten years and how will Waltham Forest continue to grow its reputation as a leisure destination?
We need to help those parts of our economy that are thriving to grow even more – healthcare, creative industries, food processing, among others. And, most importantly, we need to make sure that they are employing local people. If local people don’t have the skills they need for those jobs, then that is where we can step in and offer courses so that our residents can get the very best jobs on offer.
As for leisure, the William Morris Gallery is an internationally-renowned destination. If you haven’t been since its total facelift, you should get down there. I love the Vestry House Museum, in Walthamstow Village – those gardens make you forget that you’re in inner London. And of course there is the jewel in the crown of football in East London – Leyton Orient. We’re a great leisure destination.
4. One of the big economic issues that is frequently discussed in the media, is the demise of the traditional high street. Do you see high streets and traditional markets having a strong place in Waltham Forest’s future and what can be done to ensure this at a local level?
I do. We have some fantastic high streets. Leyton High Road recently won the Best Town Centre Project in the London Planning Awards. Leytonstone High Road – where the David Beckham legend began – is part of a successful Business Improvement District. Walthamstow High Street has the longest outdoor market in Western Europe and Chingford has Highams Park, the Mount and Station Road, with cafes and shops.
The key for me is that our high streets offer something different to, say, Westfield. Boutique shops, independent cafes and traditional market stalls all appeal to different people. We have to make sure that the streets look tidy and well-kept. And, as far as we can, we need to make sure that our shopping areas offer a variety of shops, and not just a parade of businesses offering the same thing.
5. Waltham Forest has undergone lots of changes in the past few decades – where do you see the borough in 20 years time?
I want to see a borough which people can move to, or grow up in, and stay in as they progress their lives and careers, start families and bring up children. That means a decent night-time economy, good schools and top class parks and leisure centres. It means helping residents to get the skills they need to get decent jobs wherever they are created. And it means keeping the individual community-feel of each of our areas – Leyton, Leytonstone, Walthamstow and Chingford.
We will always be a place in which large numbers of people move in and out all the time. We all – the council, businesses, schools, community groups, residents – have a role in making sure that, despite this constant movement, we create a borough that residents are proud to call home. I think we are doing that, but it will always be a work in progress.
6. Do you have any favourite places in Waltham Forest that you have a special relationship with?
I love the Vestry House Museum and gardens in Walthamstow Village. The borough’s archives are kept there, and there are hundreds of fantastic old photos of the borough, as well as Leyton Orient and Essex County Cricket Club. Otherwise, as a CAMRA member, I should say that one of the best things about living in Waltham Forest is our pubs. The Rose and Crown on Hoe Street is my favourite, but there are many others to while away a lost afternoon in!
7. If you were Mayor of London and could choose one policy to make London a better city what would it be?
I assume that it might be a little difficult to double the width of trains on the tube?! If I couldn’t do that, I’d attack high rents and low quality in private rented housing. Too many people in our borough – and throughout London – have to put up with atrocious housing conditions and spiralling rents through no fault of their own. How does that help children to study for school? Or their parents to progress at work? And too many taxpayers have to subsidise these spiralling rents through housing benefit. We all lose though the current system, and the Mayor needs to tackle it.