Greenwich West councillor Mehboob Khan has confirmed that he is standing down, meaning there will be four council by-elections held alongside the mayoral poll in May.
Khan’s resignation also means a by-election in the one council ward where a low-traffic neighbourhood has been introduced, causing strong disagreements among locals.
While Khan has been a councillor in Greenwich since 2014, he was previously a councillor in Kirklees, West Yorkshire, where he rose to become council leader.
“I think tonight will be councillor Khan’s 25th anniversary in local government and I think he’s going to need a serious period of readjustment because I’m not sure that anyone after 25 years of council meetings will know what to do with themselves in the evenings,” council leader Danny Thorpe said. (watch here)
Khan joked that he had been “25 years as a councillor man and boy”, adding: “It is a very tough decision to give up something that’s been in my DNA for nearly half my life. I’m starting a fantastic new role as an assistant director in Redbridge which is politically restricted so I am having to bail out.”
He said his time at the council had been “fantastic” and praised its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. “The last 12 months have shown how important local government is to the fabric of our society and Greenwich Council has done a fantastic job in supporting its community through his really difficult period in the history of this borough.”
Khan, whose current role is with London Councils, a body representing the boroughs, praised Thorpe’s leadership during the pandemic as “absolutely impressive”. He said “Amongst his peers in the leaders and mayors of 32 London boroughs he absolutely holds his own and is a real credit to this borough.”
“Without local government, nothing would have been achieved in this pandemic,” he added.
Last December he was involved in a public row during a planning meeting when the chair of planning, Peninsula councillor Stephen Brain, shook his head as Khan voted against a proposal. Khan complained the gesture had been “disrespectful”, but Brain said he was not allowed to say that.
There will now be a by-election in the Greenwich West ward on May 6 – the same day as the London mayor and assembly election – to replace Khan. The ward is home to the Hills and Vales low-traffic neighbourhood, which has seen traffic restrictions placed in streets west of Greenwich Park. The scheme has been welcomed by many local residents but has also been the subject of strong opposition from others – including people who live on Blackheath Hill, part of which is in the ward, who say their road has seen increased congestion.
Labour comfortably won all three seats in Greenwich West in 2018, with the Liberal Democrats – who have regularly targeted the ward – coming second. Greenwich West contains the park and historic town centre, and stretches out into Deptford and the Orchard Estate in Lewisham.
A by-election will also be held in the safe Labour ward of Shooters Hill, where cabinet member Chris Kirby is standing down to leave London. He also paid tribute to colleagues at his last meeting of the council, where his final job was to shepherd through Greenwich’s 5 per cent rise in council tax, with cuts of £11 million.
“The number of families we are housing in temporary accommodation is calamitous – 1,411,” he said (watch here).
“Leaving aside the stress and the worry and the damage to children, that is a massive cost pressure [to the council] and those numbers are driven by government housing policy. In the seven years I’ve been a councillor, the waiting list has gone from 11,500 to 23,000. There is no central government grant any more, the planning system is stacked in favour of big developers and there is the idea that a 20 per cent profit must be delivered to big developers before social housing can be delivered.
“All of which means just 115 social homes came on stream in our borough. It’s no wonder our waiting lists are exploding when you have ideological decision-making undermining the system.”
“Our residents should not have to pay the cost of this government’s incompetence. Our hand has been forced.”
His role as finance cabinet member will be filled by Charlton councillor Linda Perks.
On the same day, electors in Kidbrooke with Hornfair will also be asked to choose a replacement for Labour’s Christine Grice, who died last year. In recent years the ward has been a comfortable Labour one, but the Conservatives – who had two councillors there for four years from 2006 – may be looking for an upset after local discontent over plans to build new council homes on green space on the Brook Estate.
There will also be a long-awaited by-election in Glyndon ward, a year after former councillor Tonia Ashokodi was given a suspended sentence for housing fraud.
The elections are all set to take place, despite the pandemic, but campaigners have been banned from delivering leaflets through residents’ letterboxes – which smaller parties have said discriminates against them.
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