Council leader on the borough's future, CPZs and receiving death threats

Darren Rodwell in his office at Barking Town Hall

Darren Rodwell in his office at Barking Town Hall - Credit: Michael Cox

"I see this being that moment where we collectively design the next 100 years for the borough."

Quite the statement from Barking and Dagenham Council leader Darren Rodwell as he embarks upon a third term leading the borough.

He has just led Labour to a second successive election landslide where they hoovered up every seat on the council.

The Northbury ward councillor will reach ten years as council leader by the time of the next election.

"I'll never have a better job than I did the first day but I'm still excited eight years on that every day I can bring a change," Cllr Rodwell said.

"Every day I can build aspiration, every day I can build a brighter future for my children, my grandchildren and their children."

Joy for Labour on election night in Barking and Dagenham

Joy for Labour on election night in Barking and Dagenham - Credit: Michael Cox

But despite Labour's popularity at the polls, it does not mean the father-of-five is immune from those he describes as "keyboard warriors".

He revealed he has had a number of death threats and claimed some candidates did not want to knock on doors during the campaign because of abuse they were receiving.

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"Why would you do the job if all you are doing is getting abuse? It takes a lot for someone to stand up for their community and serve it. 

"I have to say I take my hat off to all the candidates, even the ones who lost, to do that.

"The keyboard warriors, my words to them are very simple - put yourself in that position before you criticise others.

"If you do that, hopefully you'll understand what it means to serve in public life."

One of the Labour administration's policies that has come in for some criticism has been the introduction of controlled parking zones (CPZs).

In these zones, people living outside a zone are restricted from parking there and residents have to apply for permits to park.

But Cllr Rodwell was adamant CPZs are here to stay. 

"CPZs will continue and they'll continue because we've got to get people to think about whether they need all the vehicles they've got."

He said the council had already listened to concerns about the scheme and introduced mitigations such as being able to park over a dropped kerb with a permit.

Some of the money generated from the scheme is also going towards other areas such as safer streets, Cllr Rodwell added.

The CPZs are also aimed at reducing traffic and improving air quality.

The council leader said: "I've got asthma based on the air pollution of the borough - I've never smoked, I've never taken drugs. But I've got smoker's lung and that's not right.

"I'm willing to stand there and say this isn't just about parking outside your house, this is much bigger than that."

Cllr Rodwell was first elected onto the council in 2010 and took over as leader after the 2014 election.

He said the council has seen a "massive turnaround" in the last decade.

Last year, it was announced that three London markets - Smithfield, Billingsgate and New Spitalfields - would be switching to Dagenham in a move the council says will bring more than 750 jobs and £280million a year to the borough's economy.

Two film studios in Dagenham and Barking, with investment coming from Los Angeles-based company Hackman Capital Partners, will add 1,800 jobs and around £35m a year.

Cllr Rodwell said: "The last time Barking and Dagenham went through this aspiration was when Henry Ford drove down the Southend line on steam and saw the Becontree estate being built and he thought 'do you know what? That's where I'm going to put my factory'."

Despite the current positivity he has for the borough, it was only months ago that he was leading it through the Covid pandemic.

"It was very difficult and I can still remember the first week of January last year was probably the closest I thought I can't take anymore.

"I'd lost five friends in that week, we had the highest Covid figures in the country

"But I'm awfully proud about how this borough and the people of this borough came together."

When quizzed on what he would like his legacy to be when he does eventually stop as leader, Cllr Rodwell said: "I would like to think over time people would look back and go 'yeah he did alright'."