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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 March 2007, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Living on the wrong side of the tracks
By Steven Shukor
BBC News, London

Peter Woodhams
Peter Woodhams' death was the culmination of months of torment
About 100 yards away from the street where Peter Woodhams was shot dead is Excel, one of London's premier international exhibition and conference centres.

Tallis Close and Excel are in the same electoral ward, separated only by Docklands Light Railway tracks, yet in terms of affluence they could not be further apart.

Excel is set in an attractive waterfront development boasting exclusive hotels, classy bars and restaurants and 750,000 penthouses.

Tallis Close is in a rundown housing estate, a mixture of high rise and low rise blocks, narrow walkways, where boarded-up flats and closed-down pubs are not uncommon sights.

This is Canning Town south ward. A 2000 government survey ranked the area as London's most deprived ward and the 35th most deprived in England and Wales.

People are not exactly queuing up to move in. In fact, they are leaving.

The proportion of vacant shop floor space in the main centre increased from 5% in 2000 to 21% in 2002.

Excel may only be 100 yards away, but we are worlds apart
Mr Jathwa, Canning Town store owner

Add to that high unemployment, a weak community spirit and a transient population, and you have the factors, which many in the area say explains Mr Woodhams's killing.

"Peter Woodhams is a victim of an area with a reputation for lawlessness and that's what we're trying to change," says Councillor Paul Schafer.

Community action

Located between London City Airport, Canary Wharf and the 2012 Olympic site, Canning Town is highly accessible, with good road and public transport links.

Mr Schafer, a ward councillor in Canning Town north ward, is vice-chairman of the Canning Town and Custom House Regeneration Project.

Paul Schafer
Paul Schafer believes regeneration is key
Motivated by a desire to foster community spirit, he has spearheaded numerous projects using New Deal for Communities money, such as the 3m award-winning The Hub resource centre.

He is a firm believer in the "broken windows" theory adopted with startling results in New York - create a neighbourhood which people can be proud of, and anti-social behaviour and other crime will fall.

"You don't hear of people shooting each other or pulling out a knife in bars in the Excel development or in Canary Wharf," said Mr Schafer.

"We need to build something that will send the message that this is not a place where you can come in and do your drug deals or commit crime."

Anti-social behaviour

Opposite a row of shops on Freemasons Road, where Mr Woodhams's brief encounter with his tormentors led to his death minutes later, is the office where Canning Town's future is being plotted.

The regeneration project team is overseeing the phased implementation of a 1.7bn programme that will see the area reborn within the next 12 years.

The atmosphere here isn't very peaceful
Resident Alex George

The plans include the demolition of 1,700 homes and the building of 8,000 homes. The town centre will be revitalised with a new library, a health centre and school. The streets and open spaces will be improved to make them more attractive and safer.

Creating opportunities for young people is high on the agenda and they are being encouraged through a youth forum to take an active part in the regeneration.

A number of sports and leisure schemes have been started, including a football project ran by West Ham United Asians in Football.

A Newham council spokesman said the authority, police and anti-social behaviour teams as well as voluntary groups were working together to improve community safety.

Anti-social behaviour hotspots are being tackled and a project has been launched whereby youth workers engage with young people in the street.

'Not safe'

Among residents' main priorities listed in the regeneration masterplan is safety.

"The atmosphere here isn't very peaceful," said resident Alex George.

"You don't feel safe here when you realise people are getting shot within your midst."

The anti-social behaviour, which was highlighted by Mr Woodhams's death in August 2006, has not disappeared despite efforts by the council to address them, say residents.

"At the time of the killing, police were swarming," said Mr Jathwa, owner of the Nisa food store on Freemasons Road, where Mr Woodhams and his fiancee went to shop.

"But once the media had left, the police disappeared and it was business as usual: youths outside the shop intimidating customers, shoplifting, attacks on staff, ram-raids, vandalism.

"Even the community support police officers get picked on.

"Excel may only be 100 yards away, but we are worlds apart. Thousands of people attend events there, but it has not generated business for any of us here.

"Regeneration in Canning Town can't come soon enough."




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