Councillor Liza Begum
Councillor Liza Begum

Churchill Ward Councillor Liza Begum made her maiden speech at the Council meeting on 22nd September. She said:

“I would like to begin by thanking my predecessor Andrea Mann for all her hard work and dedication towards Churchill ward residents during her time as councillor, I hope to continue to serve constituents with the same hard work and dedication. Today I am proud to represent the Ward I grew up in alongside my colleague and my brother Cllr Talukder.

Last week I went to visit what has been dubbed as the UK’s worst attraction, standing right at the top I got a great view of central London traffic – this was certainly not the scenic view I was promised.

The Marble Arch Mound has cost the council a whopping £6.6 million and counting. At a time when we have come out of a pandemic that has seen the loss of hundreds and thousands of lives, Westminster Council decide to waste millions on a hideous artificial heap, this decision only leaves one to think that conservative run Westminster are more interested in vanity projects than investing in people.

Having grown up in Churchill Ward I have witnessed the privilege to extreme poverty of communities and I cannot help but think how £6.6 million could change the lives of disadvantaged constituents in my ward.

Churchill ward has some of the most deprived communities suffering from a string of socio-economic factors. Not too long ago I visited a family of 9 that were living in a 3 bedroom flat and a family of 6 living in a 2 bedroom flat and this is common across my ward. I myself grew up in an overcrowded house my whole life and in 2019 I had to fight for myself and my neighbours to remain in our homes against one of the youngest billionaires in the country.

Imagine £6.6 million being put towards family sized units of council housing. It would have at least alleviated a few Churchill ward families from housing deprivation. Although I must add that with so much regeneration and redevelopment in the ward, building too little is not the problem but not building housing which reflects the needs of the local community is the problem.

50% of families in Churchill Ward have dependent children and 33% of children rely on free school meals, that’s more than half of families suffering from food poverty. Our Warwick ward councillor and local MP voted against children receiving free school meals during holidays but has happily encouraged people to visit the mound – describing it as ‘controversial and reducing the failed project to a marmite analogy – as she said in a recent video people will either love it or hate it. I am yet to meet a person that loves it. Rather than create promotional videos it is time for those responsible to admit to their failings and the mismanagement of £6.6 million of tax payers’ money.

Recently I was also approached by parents struggling to purchase school uniform or stationery for their children, when trying to find out whether the council provided any support for parents, I was surprised to find out that there is no support for struggling parents

Imagine how £6.6 million could have changed the lives of families suffering from financial stress.

I was informed that last year a crowd funder for my old primary school, St Barnabas CofE school raised £20,000 to revamp the playground, while Schools are asking working class parents to cough up money millions were being spent on the mound.

When looking at the many poor decisions that have been made in Westminster, it begs the question what the priorities are of this council, it also begs the question whether any of my colleagues from the majority party have ever suffered from housing deprivation, food poverty or financial insecurity. I think their track record on decision making answers my question – probably not.

It is clear that struggling families in Westminster are set up for failure because the council would rather spend 6.6 million on a tasteless mound than invest in communities to better their living standards and flourish.

I have not yet had the chance to mention all the failings of the mound, not only is the mound unattractive but it covers the beautiful Marble Arch which has been a tourist attraction for many years, inviting thousands of people to the West End. Furthermore while we are under threat of losing green space, the council is happy to build pop up parks with dying plants – I guess green spaces used by the public don’t create revenue but pop up parks create revenue – aah but not in this case.

I will end with this, I was told by a conservative councillor that we must work together for the greater good and I couldn’t agree more with this statement but it’s difficult when policies are not people centred, I have very quickly learnt that there are two types of people in council, the people that want to invest in things and the people that want to invest in communities.

We cannot allow the mismanagement of millions of taxpayers’ money to go without holding to account those responsible. Westminster’s string of failures need to be scrutinised and most importantly there needs to be change because Westminster residents deserve better. As a councillor and as a Westminster resident I will always strive to work towards a more equal Westminster.”

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