Chiswick Riverside ward councillor Gabriella Giles on her week
Chiswick Riverside ward councillor Gabriella Giles
Oh how quickly our world has changed. In my previous blog, written at the start of March, I encouraged readers to tune into borough council meetings on Youtube so that they could see what was being discussed in these public meetings. However, with COVID-19, it would appear that my enthusiasm for the council's leap into the 21st century, by using technology to keep us connected and involved in council business, may have been a little premature.
Some may say that I was naive back in the days before COVID-19, when we were free to go out at will, spend time with friends and family and even enjoy a pint in the pub. March seems like a lifetime ago. And unfortunately during that time, the council hasn't quite managed to get to grips with the changing times to make sure that democracy and transparency in the management of the council is upheld.
The first virtual licensing committee meeting
It is only in the last two weeks that virtual public meetings have been held and, on Tuesday, I took part in the licensing committee meeting which is now available on Youtube . I must say that I was surprised at the level of hand-holding that I was offered in the run up to this meeting. Calls from multiple officers to confirm that I would be using council-issued hardware, then calls to ensure that I knew how to use MSTeams (the Conservative group has been using this for our weekly meetings with the Gold crisis team throughout the crisis), posting the meeting documents to us, holding technical rehearsals for the meeting to ensure everyone is able to use the system - all ahead of the meeting itself. I don't think I've had so much support for attending a meeting since I was elected!
For those who don't know, the licensing committee is responsible for “all matters relating to the discharge by the borough council of it's licensing functions” under 10 acts ranging from licensing and gambling to zoo Licensing and hypnotism. The full agenda of our virtual meeting is available here . We were being asked to review and adopt two reports.
The first report, an updated version of the terms of reference for licensing, details responsibilities and elaborates on what is a very short reference in the council constitution. The second, a more detailed report on the council's new licensing policy for the years 2020-2025 that needs to be approved by the borough council before November 2020 when the current policy expires.
Like most of the reports we get, there are multiple references made to other reports, studies, plans and acts, mostly referenced in such a way that it is expected that we should know each of these in detail. For anyone who has tried to navigate around the council website, I'm sure you can understand my frustration that the documents created to help us often leave us with more questions.
I therefore requested that these references be hyperlinked wherever possible to ensure that we, as a council, can make it easier for all of us to access the required information. This is with the knowledge that the way we now access information has changed dramatically in the last 10 years and, just because a report of policy was published a certain way in the past, doesn't mean that it cannot be updated for modern, everyday use.
My So COVID Life
My life over the past two months hasn't been all licensing. I have also been working with my fellow Conservative councillors to put together our statement on walking and cycling [link here statement on cycling . Some would say it is an overdue document on what we really think about cycling in Chiswick and across the borough. The lockdown has given us the opportunity to breathe and focus on what we really want to say, and what we have been trying to say for the past two years. Obviously, the fact that our streets have been quieter has been a great catalyst for more people to cycle. What we now need to focus on is how we keep them cycling and keeping our roads safe in the future.
The need to promote social distancing while out and about has been a bit of an ongoing battle. The age-old saga of cyclists on Strand on the Green, and lack of signage along this beautiful and popular route, does not seem to have stopped. Both Cllr Sam Hearn and I have had multiple email exchanges with the council's transport officer Mark Frost about appropriate signage along this stretch of the Thames Path and, on investigation yesterday, I now have photographic evidence of the need for more signs to be put in place. I have a feeling that some of the signs that went up in April have been destroyed by the wind. I did spot this little one on the railing, that is still managing to cling on!
For those who can't read the small print, the sign states:
“Great View. And this piece of railing is the most touched/leant on along here. Suggest washing your hands after stopping here”
A small reminder to myself never to leave the house without a small bottle of anti-bac in my pockets or bag and, in hay fever season, tissues and maybe a packet of hand wipes. Tools that I always take when travelling abroad, but have now become a staple at home too – yet another change, however one I can control and which will have a benefit to my own mental health at this time.
Managing mental health and appreciating neighbourliness
I don't know about you, but throughout this period, there have been numerous posts on all forms of social media about mental health, or it could be that I am just paying a bit more attention to them now than before.
According to Mind , every year in the UK one in four of us will experience a mental health problem. Change can exacerbate this so I have found it extremely encouraging to see the sense of community that has arisen. Formal groups like the Chiswick COVID-19 Mutual Aid Group , or the offers of help via NextDoor.com to neighbours happy to add a loaf of bread, eggs, or other necessities to their online shop for those who aren't able to leave their homes, or a simple phone call to check in on someone you haven't spoken to for a while.
All these small acts of kindness have been gratefully received, reminding me of a line from Avenue Q: “When you help others, you can't help helping yourself”. Somewhat cynical, perhaps, but, when alongside another quote I have been seeing: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind” it's a reminder that by being good to each other, we can also be good to ourselves.
ON VE Day I popped round to my parent's home to enjoy a doorstop beer. They stayed one side of the wall, and I stayed on the pavement. It was a true pleasure to see their neighbours, some of whom have known me since I was a child, and others I am getting to know, and their children, reminding me of all the neighbourly family summer afternoons I spent there. So, I suppose, as much as things may be changing around us, in a way things haven't really changed, reminding me of another saying: “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” - the more things change, the more they stay the same. Perhaps we all needed a break away from our manic 21st century lives to remind us of what really matters. Love.
Cllr Gabriella Giles
25th May 2020
Being a Critical Friend to the Council During Covid-19
Turnham Green ward councillor Jo Biddolph
I’ve written before of the decision the Conservative Group on Hounslow council – nine councillors in Chiswick and one in Feltham North – to act as critical friends in private during the Covid-19 crisis.
Now that processes have settled into a rhythm, we plan to publish a weekly report on what we’ve been doing behind the scenes, without breaking our agreement. Do look out for it.
Committees are going virtual
The council has begun to hold meetings virtually, starting with statutory committees. Fewer councillors attend to make the new system easier to manage; political proportionality applies.
First to move on screen was the planning committee, held on Thursday, 14th May. Cllr John Todd was in attendance, well-practised and laid-back about the technology as we’ve been meeting virtually as a group for weeks. It was a little disjointed, with not much interrogation of applications (I hope that changes, members mustn’t be less vigilant just because they’re less visible) but nothing went wrong though Brentford councillor Guy Lambert might disagree – his hair went strobing.
Next is the licensing committee which meets this week on Tuesday, 19th May at 5pm. The council’s new licensing policy is on the agenda. Cllr Gabriella Giles is in attendance. Why not log in? The link is on the front page of the agenda.
Shopping local to support our hard working retailers
The Chiswick Shops Task Force, which three of us set up shortly after we were elected, was the first to compile a list of cafés and restaurants open for takeaway and delivery; shops considered essential and their social distancing arrangements for buying or collecting orders at the door; and shops trading online. It drew the ire of what I call the new hair shirt brigade (they aren’t punishing themselves but looking for ways to punish others) who deemed it irresponsible. The idea has since been copied by at least three other organisations or businesses while our list was taken over by chiswickw4.com to whom we pass on updates known to us. Here is the current list.
The point was, and is, to let residents know how they can continue to shop local, avoid unnecessary travel and support our hard-working traders through these difficult times. I am constantly in awe of their hard work and dedication to Chiswick. Those not yet allowed to trade are currently busy working out how to accommodate social distancing and hygiene management when they can re-open their doors.
Don’t believe everything you read (or see)
If you are on social media you might have seen some photos of queues that purport to show a lack of social distancing outside shops some deem not to be essential. I had been in a queue at the same spot on the same day – though at a different time – and was impressed by how seriously residents and the businesses were taking social distancing.
Often I’ve bumped into residents and we’ve chatted, 2m apart, checking around us and moving if others were coming close. It’s the new version of doffing one’s hat.
It is true that some people seem oblivious and others who share a household forget that they must socially distance themselves from others. But the vast majority of us know and stick to the rules. If bothered by the disregarders, we seem more than capable of indicating concern or, if really worried, issuing instructions. I know some who walk with arms spread wide; others hug walls or shop fronts; my neighbours and I climb onto the small grass verge on the route to our local shops to give the required leeway to the person coming towards us on the pavement.
Most of us are doing the right thing. Which is why the government felt compelled to publish an advertorial “Don’t let Truth be a Covid Casualty” (in The Times and perhaps elsewhere) warning us to fact check or, at least, check our instincts and why some professional photographers showed the tricks being used.
More business as usual
Most of us in the Conservative group report a surge of casework, some of it related to Covid-19 and some of it life-as-usual.
A problem house in multiple occupation (HMO) continues with its weekend long parties with others who have travelled to join in. Social distancing is not being practised, nor is social respect with numerous people dancing through the night on a flat roof to which they have no right of access. The neighbours – including at least one key worker – can’t sleep through the rowdiness. The area is a flood of empty bottles.
Nearby, an expensive car is parked irresponsibly, blocking a garage so a resident can’t get out her car to do her essential weekly shop. The unhelpfully parked car is taxed and has a valid MOT so Hounslow Highways can’t remove it. Given that two police cars arrived the next day, it was stolen as I had reported speculatively.
An elderly resident reports suspected fraud – an issue councillors are especially alert to during lockdown when people might be more at risk of exploitation.
Residents are anxious about going back to work where social distancing could be tricky; three planning applications are causing concern; several businesses have been refused business support grants and want the decision reviewed; garden waste bins weren’t emptied; a wall of graffiti efficiently cleaned by Hounslow Highways has been defiled again, reminding me of painting the Forth Bridge. Just like the life of a councillor – as soon as it’s done, we have to start all over again.
Cllr Joanna Biddolph
May 17, 2020
Chiswick Riverside ward councillor on getting boilers fixed and leper windows
Chiswick Riverside councillor Sam Hearn
Friday 1 st May: In many respects councillor work outside of meetings continues much as normal, at least on the surface. I follow up with a council tenant who has been without her boiler since the beginning of the month. She is overjoyed that a new boiler has just been installed and at last she has hot water and heating. However, other Covid-19 problems drift into my in-tray. A lady not familiar with the system has twice requested food parcels and is now receiving two! She wants to know how to return the unwanted parcel and to stop further over deliveries. A man with a disabled wife wants to know how to apply for a Blue Badge now that Hounslow House is shut – the answer is to email the documents to firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday 2 nd May: Joined the first online Saturday Social organised by St Paul’s Grove Park. Peter Capell gave an interesting talk about his involvement with the Weir-Archer Academy and the training of wheel chair athletes up to and including the Para-Olympics. See the St Paul’s website for details of future events.
Relaxing in the evening when I receive a desperate phone call from a resident in a council property. Water from her upstairs neighbour’s washing machine is cascading out of her kitchen sink and flooding her house with foul water. There is apparently a longstanding problem and regular maintenance work has not been carried out.
Sunday 3 rd May: Participate in the Zoom church service at St Paul’s Grove Park that my wife coordinates. Each week the process seems a little less strange and a new etiquette emerges. I find myself recalling the ‘leper windows’ built into the chancel walls of medieval churches so that unclean parishioners could watch the Mass. There is a head of steam building to open-up churches for some activities e.g. funerals. As always councillors must think of the impact across the Borough and how any changes would affect temples, mosques and gurdwaras.
In the evening I enjoy a regular Sunday night pint with a few friends. This is now a Zoom event and we are finding it hard to adjust to drinking alone together. One of our number has been struck down by the virus and still feels too weak to join in. You can survive the virus if you are over 70 but it will knock you for six.
Monday 4 th May: I am still working onour group’s response to the council’s climate emergency action plan. We submitted our formal response in the survey format required but there is still much left to be said. The pandemic and our corporate responses to it have, despite the additional government grants, torpedoed the council’s finances. How can Hounslow pay for its ambitious climate emergency plans? Surely, we must first focus on protecting all our residents, but particularly the most vulnerable, from the impact of unpredictable climate change?
Tuesday 5 th May: We have settled into a routine of holding a weekly virtual meeting with the officers leading the council’s response, the so-called Gold team. To get the most out of this meeting we hold a pre-meeting on Zoom the day before and run through questions that need to be asked and issues that should be raised. We try hard to deal with generic and strategic matters – but specific problems cannot be ignored. Cllr Gerald McGregor has formulated four questions seeking clarity from the finance team on key issues such as the expected impact on budgeted revenue and expenses. Our questions go to Gold in advance so that they have time to prepare.
The Staveley Blossom Day event has been cancelled. But the winning haiku from the associated children’s poetry competition was submitted by Skyla (Year 9) a pupil at Chiswick School.
First buds spring to life
Opening to the bright sun
A pink explosion
Wednesday 6 th May: The Gold meeting reports good progress on a number of issues. Discharges from hospitals are exceeding new admissions. There is some trepidation about what the easing of the lockdown will mean. Ideally officers would like some forewarning so that they can prepare. We are now housing twice the number of rough sleepers in hotels than were identified in the council’s annual survey.
Following the virtual meeting with Gold we settle in for own post Zoom meeting. From this our political assistant produces a summary and action plan. Predictably this half hour meeting lasts over an hour. Numb-bum, numb-brain syndrome sets in.
Thursday 7 th May: Joined the St Paul’s Grove Park weekly virtual poetry and readings session. The selections can be found posted as anthologies lodged on www.stpaulsgrovepark.com . L ots of nonsense verse to leaven out the Shakespeare and George Herbert. Very personal and great fun.
I had a long conversation with Mark Frost, Hounslow’s head of traffic management, about what the council calls “changes coming to a street near you” under the Liveable Neighbourhoods Scheme. But first there will be a detailed public consultation on the options. A real chance for all of us to shape our neighbourhood’s future. However financial constraints on TfL will mean that some of the big-ticket items will be delayed.
Another late evening call. A resident has tracked down the classic car stolen from outside his house in 2016 and wants the police to take action before it is sold on yet again. Yes, I know this is not a problem for councillors. Yet somehow it is.
Councillor Sam Hearn
11 May 2020
Chiswick Homefields ward councillor John Todd on doing his job virtually
John Todd (centre) with fellow councillors before social distancing
As someone designated by the NHS as a “shielded” candidate I've found it difficult to adjust to the related restrictions. As a distraction both my garden and allotment are now in pristine condition. The weather has been quite remarkable too. I've now adjusted to the new council regime and seen no evidence of reduced service.
Zoom and Microsoft Teams have come to my rescue. Hounslow Council will hold its first virtual meeting on 14th May when the planning committee meets. Our Conservative group meets frequently via this medium and once a week we hold a meeting with the executive crisis team of Hounslow Council. Other similar virtual meetings I've attended include the governing body of Chiswick School and the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust (CHGT).
I'm the SEN-D governor at Chiswick School and frequently liaise with Claire the SENCO and her colleague Wanda who keep me fully briefed so I can update my fellow governors. Laura, the headteacher, continues to do an excellent job in providing online education, supplemented by teacher contact.
Xanthe, our new Director at CHGT, has a most difficult role. The Trust relies on commercial activities, including weddings, to fund its activities and maintain the site to a high standard. Covid-19 has meant most bookings have either been postponed or cancelled. Vegetables and flowers from the walled garden have been provided to the Hounslow community support hub which are much appreciated by the recipients.
Casework remains diverse as ever. A resident in one of our houses in Feltham decided to hire a mini JCB and expand his rear garden by removing trees from an adjacent common and then build a fence on his new unilaterally decided boundary. I was contacted by a local resident as she couldn't get a reply from her local councillor. Officers quickly attended and are restoring the original boundary fencing line.
I was delighted to help Philippa of Chiswick Covid-19 Mutual Aid Group regarding a resident who required assistance over various matters. There's an excellent video on Chiswick Buzz where she is interviewed explaining what they are doing. A really committed team. They can be contacted at: email@example.com
Air pollution measurement
I'm frequently asked for local pollution levels especially in Chiswick High Road. Our monitoring team advises as follows:
Live monitoring data for LBH is available from this site.
Current data for the Chiswick Monitoring station, near the George IV Pub, is available here.
In addition, we get monthly reports from all our automatic air quality monitoring stations across the borough which are available here
I wanted the W4 data displayed on the side of the Chiswick monitoring station but my idea was rejected. Another alternative site is Breathe London (breathelondon.org) which has sophisticated pollution measurement readers in Devonshire Road and throughout London.
I noted that, although air pollution has reduced post the Covid-19 shutdown, there were a number of days when ‘moderate' warnings were issued. I closely follow the PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter) level in W4 because of its clearly confirmed link to reducing lung development and performance in children. I've now found an explanation which may assist. From the Breathe website:
• ‘The Breathe London network exhibits variability of PM 2.5 levels, but at this stage there is no clear reduction or evident association with the reduction in traffic. London experienced pollution episodes from 25 to 27 March and from 8 to 12 April with elevated PM 2.5 levels, which have been captured by the Breathe London network. These increases were likely due to wind blowing in industrial and agricultural pollution from mainland Europe, as well as wood burning for the March episode.'
The wisteria outside Fullers Brewery seems to be thriving. Picture: Gabriella Giles
The Old Chiswick Preservation Society (OCPS) does a great job protecting the Eyot. It's a real nature reserve which has recently had some unwelcome human visitors who were caught out by the quick rising tide and had to be rescued by the RNLI.
In their informative spring bulletin the OCPS mentions: “We cannot be sure which birds nest on the Eyot, but probably far more than we realise. All of the following can be found on this part of the Thames. The locals nest first (including Cetti's warbler, which used to migrate but no longer seems to), and then the summer migrants arrive.
“Here is a list of likely Eyot nesters: Reed warbler, Cetti's warbler, whitethroat, blackcap, willow warbler, chiffchaff, robin, blackbird, song thrush, mistle thrush, blue tit, great tit, coal tit, nuthatch, wren, reed bunting, chaffinch, goldfinch, greenfinch, tree sparrow, house sparrow, magpie, green parrot, green woodpecker, greater spotted woodpecker, lesser spotted woodpecker, pied wagtail, grey wagtail, moorhen, coot, mallard, teal and wigeon”.
An incredible list.
Cllr John Todd
3rd May 2020
Cllr Ron Mushiso congratulates school students for embracing new ways of learning
Councillor Ron Mushiso represents Turnham Green ward
The Easter holidays are over, and schools are back (online at least) for the summer term. Parliament has returned from recess to continue to uphold its constitutional functions that have remained unbroken since the time of the Black Death in 1349. The Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, added to the sense of measured national resilience by saying that, “thanks to modern technology, even I have moved on from 1349, and I am glad to say that we can sit to carry out these fundamental constitutional functions”.
In normal circumstances of course I would have returned to my regular functions teaching sport at St Benedict’s School. I would also be attending to my council duties at Hounslow House and having face to face conversations with other community leaders. Instead I find myself glued to my laptop, moving from one Zoom meeting to another, relying solely on emails to track casework and preparing to deliver my next set of online lessons to my pupils – all to meet our current guidelines to stay at home and practice social distancing specifically to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed.
It is important to remember that these measures are temporary. But spare a thought for pupils across the borough having to deal with these adversities for the first time, especially those who were looking forward to sitting their GCSE and A level exams this term. They should be commended for their patience and fortitude at this important stage of their lives. Continuing to study and studying from home in these uncertain times requires new levels of discipline to harness their love for learning.
In my workplace, there is an expectation that pupils embrace the daily routine in accordance with the school timetable. There is some flexibility with younger pupils, but ultimately, we are asking parents at home to support schools in implementing these new working patterns. Teachers I speak to regularly are thankful for the support that parents are giving to their children at home.
The Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, confirmed last Sunday afternoon what we had all anticipated: that schools would remain closed until the medical experts were assured that, across the country, the NHS was coping with the demand, that both the daily infection and death rate from Covid-19 were receding, that we had full testing capacity and that the risks of a second wave of infection were sufficiently mitigated. I fully endorse his statement.
Of course, schools have stayed open to children of critical workers. In addition, provisions have been extended to cover vulnerable children and those with learning difficulties. I am one of those teachers who has been taking turns in working at school to enable key workers to keep doing their heroics. It is true that we have not been at full capacity. This is also the case at schools across the borough. To look into this issue, I have started a dialogue with my colleagues, council officers and the lead cabinet member for children and young people to establish the extent to which this trend is affecting our most vulnerable children.
Vital support for residents through the Community Support Hub
As you may know, the Hounslow Community Support Hub is now fully operational. It is serving as a vital source of food provision to shielded residents. Its services have been extended to reach other vulnerable members of our community, not just the shielded. And it offers befriending and other support to vulnerable residents. It has a team of dedicated staff answering phone calls and responding to general enquiries. I have been attending the community support hub regularly both to see the operation at first hand and also to help as a volunteer packing the regular food boxes. If you are aware of anyone who could benefit from the support of this vital service, please get in touch with us or go directly to the hub.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to thank all our local NHS staff, fellow teachers, dustbin men, street cleaners, council officers, councillors, social workers, foster parents, bus drivers, delivery drivers and postmen and women for their local contribution towards our national effort.
Cllr Ron Mushiso
25th April 2020
Cllr Joanna Biddolph writes about cross-party working during the health crisis
Working cross-party and lobbying ministers
Not long after the lockdown, I wrote to the leader of the council stressing the importance of working cross-party on this crisis and Hounslow’s response to it – with our group, the official opposition, acting as a critical friend in private. It’s quite a leap for some to make but we remain resolute that it’s the best way to ensure our residents are protected and supported through these unprecedented times, without descending into back-and-forth arguments or posturing for party political gain. We started by providing a long list of actions, initiatives and pressures to anticipate, recommending mitigation, and discussed them and other issues in a three-way meeting with the council leader and chief executive.
As a consequence, our group now has a weekly briefing with the crisis team using MS Teams and, for urgent three-way discussions, conference calls. We hold our own group meetings on Zoom. Skype, previously a universal medium, seems so last year. And last year seems so long ago. I’m frequently reminded of the phrase, used by Lenin (obviously not a political hero of mine) "There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen". We’ve all lived through what seems like several decades in less than four weeks since lockdown started on 23rd March.
Looking for comparisons is useful so we can continue to hold the council to account, albeit behind the scenes. I’m active in a Conservative group leaders’ WhatsApp group which all but guarantees instant responses to questions about democracy (what are councils doing about their statutory planning and licensing committee responsibilities and their council AGMs); achievements (how many business grants have been paid, how and how quickly); and community initiatives (how many food boxes have been distributed to shielded residents and what’s the quality and range of their contents). A government minister is in the group which makes it particularly easy to highlight concerns raised by residents and businesses and lobby for policy changes.
How are we doing?
Our highest priority is, of course, social care. Hounslow is not as badly affected as some London boroughs but the aggressive nature of Covid-19 remains a challenge. We have 320 care homes; all of them need PPE (personal protective equipment) which is in short supply everywhere. The amount of co-ordination required to make sure everyone who needs PPE has it is extraordinary. Today (Friday) I delivered food boxes to shielded residents – people at greatest risk of being badly affected by Covid-19 – including in Hounslow homes. Our care-givers include our housing managers, and caretakers whose role is to maintain high standards of hygiene and cleanliness at blocks of flats. I was greeted by a housing manager wearing a mask, both of us doing the social distancing dance we’ve all learned – moving forward, standing back, stepping aside, a concerned question, a thumbs up – before I delivered the food box to the resident’s front door. Our grateful thanks go to all our care-givers, in whatever setting and whatever role.
Homelessness pulls all our heartstrings and even more so with the risk to homeless people of Covid-19. Over 30 homeless people in Hounslow have taken up offers of accommodation since the government instructed local authorities to house rough sleepers to protect them from the virus. A few rough sleepers remain resolutely resisting housing in Hounslow. The homeless team is regularly in touch with them, checking on their health and continuing to offer accommodation.
Not everyone in Chiswick is on Twitter so you might not have seen photos of messages of thanks, and the occasional bottle of fizz, left out for our recycling and waste collection teams who have continued as if nothing were different. They, and across the board at the council, have been working at 80 per cent capacity – roughly the same as normal when holidays and sickness absences are taken into account. It’s impressive and at least in part due to the fact that Hounslow staff were moved to WFH (working from home) rather earlier than in other boroughs.
Fly tipping has increased which is depressing. So, it seems, has graffiti if the number of reports some of us have put in is representative. Several of us – if we aren’t isolating – use our exercise time to walk briskly or cycle through our wards spotting and reporting problems. We’ve raised the need to manage what will inevitably be a surge in quantity of waste, including garden waste, when recycling and waste centres re-open. Hounslow, Ealing and Hillingdon councils’ recycling/waste departments are talking together about this, given that some of us use other boroughs’ centres because of where we live. Please hang on to the additional waste you’ve accumulated when clearing out sheds, lofts, garages, cupboards and drawers and be prepared for a phased or other system for taking them to a waste/recycling centre. Normal services are unlikely to be resumed in full overnight.
Valuing our volunteers
Another surge has impressed us all – the wonderful offers of time and tasks from people wanting to support others. Our churches have networks of helpers. The Chiswick COVID-19 Mutual Aid group moved fast to establish itself and is already adapting, setting up hyper-local WhatsApp groups by street or small clusters of streets to make it even easier to ask for help. The group is on Facebook – a challenge for people who are not online so please help neighbours in need by letting them know about it and contacting it on their behalf.
As always, residents in blocks of flats find it hardest to know what is going on. If you live in a block, please help by checking on residents and letting them know that practical support (for shopping or collecting medicines) is available. They might have been managing – working through store cupboard food for example – but this might change and become critical now that lockdown has been extended. Today Turnham Green ward councillors received an impassioned plea for shopping help from an elderly couple living in a block. We have raised the need to contact residents of blocks without increasing the risk of taking the virus into blocks.
The Chiswick Shops Task Force continues its work
Supporting our independent shops is always a priority – it’s why I set up the Chiswick Shops Task force with Cllr Patrick Barr of Chiswick Homefields ward and Cllr Gabriella Giles in Chiswick Riverside ward. When I emailed all those on our then current list about initiatives in the Chancellor’s Budget on 11th March I had no idea that less than a week later I’d be emailing again with news of more government initiatives to support them through Coronavirus; then again three days after that; four days later; and a further nine days later. Today’s announcement of an extension of the furlough scheme means another email is due. Anyone who thinks it’s a simple send-to-all admin task hasn’t experienced the council’s tech. It’s a slow process taking several hours.
Inevitably, there are replies to act on including desperate pleas for faster payment of grants (we have pressed for improvements that speed up the council’s processes); appeals by businesses that aren’t eligible for grants to be included in the scheme; and grim examples of landlords threatening eviction despite a ban on such actions (the callous tone of those letters makes my stomach churn).
We were criticised for compiling, before lockdown was imposed, a list of shops open for business including those who trade online. There’s nowt so queer as folk but thank you to everyone who is supporting our independents – indeed, all our retailers – not simply turning to distant international giants. We need to support our shops so they continue trading after the virus. Chiswickw4.com has taken over our list of cafés, restaurants, fruit and veg stalls and other businesses offering takeaway and/or delivery, some diversifying to sell other goods, others trading on-line instead of in-store. The arrival of spring means that the addition of Wheelers, our garden centre, has enabled people lucky enough to have a garden or balcony to do more than weeding and clearing; borders, pots and in my case an urn are gradually filling with cheerful colour. Find the list of traders still trading here:
As we know from the daily 10 Downing Street briefings, and from our own experiences here in Chiswick, there is a high degree of compliance with the lockdown but pockets of rebellion, or care-less-ness, still exist. Enforcement teams are out dealing with violations and police have started issuing fines.
We are in lockdown until at least the end of the first week of May. Whether it is extended, or lifted in its entirety or in phases, we are already looking ahead to the end of lockdown and the all-important recovery. Some say our lives and lifestyles will have changed forever; others are less sure. While helping today at the community support hub, opinions were divided on the long-term sustainability of WFH. Some miss their colleagues, the team culture and bouncing ideas off each other. Others want to escape family dynamics – and the fridge. We want to get back to the democratic process, which has been hampered by the lack of appropriate technology, and start reinvigorating our local economy. Some things will have to change so normal life can continue. In the meantime, stay home and stay safe.
Councillor Joanna Biddolph
18th April 2020
Cllr Patrick Barr gets strength from 'camaraderie' at work during Covid-19
WORKING ON THE FRONT LINE
As the peak of Covid-19 grips the country, life is very surreal. As I write this, 7,978 people have lost their lives to the virus. I’m on the frontline looking after some Covid-19 patients. Many of us would view looking after a Covid-19 positive patient in a healthcare setting as their worst nightmare come true. I see it as an absolute privilege. It is just another day as a nurse, delivering care to people in real need – and one of the reasons I get up in the morning.
Everyone is living their own experience of this pandemic, a once in a lifetime experience we hope. This is my attempt at giving you an insight into my experience on the front line in the NHS during this time.
A day in the life
I’m not an ICU nurse and I don’t manage ICU wards but patients do get Covid-19. It’s even more of a concern when they are already unwell. My day starts in a meeting at 7.30am with my Senior Ward Sister to discuss patients being admitted that day: in-patients displaying symptoms of Covid-19. We then discuss bed capacity, nurses on duty and skill mix. I liaise with staff to discussing any concerns they have on the ward, checking on their welfare and hopefully supporting them. Positivity, togetherness, high spirits and a can-do attitude are infectious amongst my team.
I don a surgical mask, visor, gloves and apron and reassure the patient it’s to protect them. If I manage to make them smile, then that’s a bonus. I change gloves and apron for every bay. I change the mask less often – a surgical mask is effective for up to an hour but after an hour, or when it becomes moist or comes away from the face, it’s ineffective. I then monitor the ward reminding all staff, nurses, physios, doctors and consultants to practise social distancing. It’s very hard to establish this as all the wards are heaving with activity first thing in the morning and the place is rammed.
Mid-morning the madness subsides and, in recent weeks, most days another patient develops symptoms of Covid-19 and our focus turns to them: getting them swabbed and giving them the support they need, both emotionally and physically.
Strength from camaraderie and belonging
For the duration of my working day I’m in a bubble. There is a huge sense of camaraderie on the wards and, frequently for me, it’s my absolute comfort zone and the most reassuring place to be. When you’re in it together and all are working towards one goal, it gives one a real sense of belonging.
Each night when I have downtime and a chance to reflect, my thoughts are with those who are struggling with the social isolation, experiencing increased anxiety and depression. Be reassured: we are all in this together.
The most poignant moment of each week is when the #clapforcarers occurs on a Thursday evening at 8pm. Listening to the sea of clapping should give us all strength. It does that to me.
The effect of not following social distancing
Richard and I went for our hour walk around Chiswick last Saturday. I did not see particularly good social distancing being implemented. Chiswick is not immune! I saw groups of people talking in close proximity, sunbathing and having picnics. Chiswick High Road was certainly quieter but still quite busy. Maintaining two meters social distancing with everyone who does not live in your household is extremely important. Remember without social distancing one person with Covid-19 can infect a further 1,093 people after six weeks, as opposed to 127 cases after six weeks with social distancing measures.
The facts about wearing masks
I also observed people wearing surgical masks. It is important to remember that there is no need to wear a mask unless you are unwell (with symptoms of Covid-19) or you are looking after a person with suspected Covid-19 infection. The masks can give you a false sense of protection and can be a source of infection. Wash your hands before you put the mask on, avoid touching the mask as it could become contaminated. If you do touch the mask wash your hands. As I mentioned above, surgical masks last for up to an hour and are ineffective if moist or no longer grip your face. At those points you must change it. Most masks are for single use only and are not to be reused.
The most effective prevention method is to wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water frequently. Practice social distancing when you have to leave your house for essential travel, health reasons or work (if you can’t work form home).
This is an Easter none of us planned for. Over this period, take time out to pick up the phone and call someone you know who is on their own to reduce the anxiety or depression they may be experiencing due to social isolation.
On a lighter note, the Easter bunny is immune to the virus so have a Happy Easter!
Councillor Patrick Barr
10th April 2020
Cllr Michael Denniss blogs about living in 'this strange and dangerous time'
Since my previous blog there has been an enormous national and local response to Covid-19. With this in mind I want to use this opportunity to share information that you will find useful. I have also continued to attend surgeries, support the local charity The Shelter Project Hounslow (TSPH) and heard applications at Hounslow (LBH)’s planning committee.
It is a strange and dangerous time. Only those with a memory of the war would be able to remember such government intervention and controls on our daily lives, although I was a little shocked when I found out that my granny, who was a ‘WREN’ during that conflict, had bought an enormous amount of Spam! For more recent generations these changes have been new and surprising. A small number have taken a while to get used to the new rules: as late as 24th March, 20 people attended a barbecue in Coventry and refused to disburse, and police resorted to pushing over the cooker! However, the vast majority have responded bravely and we see this in our doctors, nurses, essential businesses like butchers and residents, particularly those with young children, running households in difficult circumstances.
It is difficult to know what it would be like to have to stay in a property for a period of what could be several weeks or more. Luckily I have a great housemate and an assortment of boardgames to keep us busy. It is encouraging to see community support flourishing; a note quickly went up in my block offering a team of volunteers to help anyone who was struggling and my parents, who live in Chiswick, received a letter from a neighbour establishing a community WhatsApp group for their street.
Shops and pharmacies
Supermarkets and essential businesses like butchers’, corner shops and pharmacies continue to operate, albeit with varying degrees of stock. Trying to go out and do everything in one go – posting letters, buying essentials from more than one business and picking up that exciting but non-essential parcel that has been at concierge for over three days – is a challenge.
Several businesses have taken precautions: the security guard at Sainsbury’s wore a mask, only two people were allowed in at a time at the local butcher’s, although I did struggle to keep my distance from fellow shoppers without appearing to be passive-aggressive. Sainsbury’s (yes that is where I do most of my shopping!) as of 26th March had introduced a policy of selling just one type of item at a time. That did make me put back the pack of six ‘Pork’ sausages on the shelf as I didn’t fancy my chances arguing that it was different from the pack of six ‘Cumberland’ ones I had picked earlier (I was buying for my housemate), but I hope that this allows more people to get what they need.
Those who rely on food deliveries can use a few local cafes and restaurants who are continuing to provide a takeaway/delivery service, others may find themselves choosing online businesses with close links to farms such as Milk & More and Field and Flower as the supermarkets’ delivery dates are too far in advance. Many such businesses continue to service their customers but are unable to take on new ones. However, I did find some where you could order as a first time buyer and which delivered to London, although they were based further afield and could incur greater delivery charges.
The Government sent a text to all mobile phones with a link to the latest guidance and instructions on when it is safe to go out. I won’t repeat it here as it is widely available but please use the link here to see the latest advice, particularly if you do not have a mobile phone. Essentially, wash your hands regularly, wash them well and only go outside under certain conditions.
Transport for London is offering refunds for anyone who has a travelcard on their oyster card. Please see their website for information on how to apply. Several residents have told me that this was straightforward. However the line is under pressure from calls. I have tried for three days, sometimes being put on hold for over 30 minutes and at other times the phone call ended! But do persist. If you have continuing problems please get in touch.
My council activities
A recent meeting of Hounslow councillors -file picture
Hounslow Planning Committee
Until the shutdown I continued to attend the planning committee meetings where I have a vote on planning applications that get called in. The most recent meeting took place on 5th March where we considered designs for residential and commercial properties in Hounslow, Feltham, Bedfont and Brentford. In each case we took into account the officers’ recommendations and factors such as local objections, the implications for local infrastructure and the effects on residents. The environment is a factor that the council has finally strengthened its stance on, and it was encouraging to see that the plans for one application to erect a further storey to two tower blocks, whose developer we had asked to revise, had been returned to us with a much ‘greener’ solution including solar panels on the roofs. I hope that this marks the start of a trend and that developers will go further in the future than they have before.
I continued to volunteer with The Shelter Project Hounslow (TSPH), which ended its season earlier this month, a week early due to Covid-19. I was working alongside volunteers, many of whom live in Chiswick, cooking breakfasts and stewarding overnight. Several of the charity’s homeless guests have jobs, sometimes waking up early to get there on time, but are as yet unable to raise enough for a deposit; the charity’s caseworker helps them with this.
Homeless people are at risk from Covid-19, but the government has recently issued plans for them to be housed in temporary accommodation such as hotels and B&Bs. The first priority must surely be to save them from the virus, but I hope that steps are taken to ensure their safety and privacy too. I will monitor the situation and report back in my next blog with any developments.
I will continue to work from home, so please do get in touch. Recent casework includes advice on the planning applications, contesting expensive developments at council-run properties where leaseholders are asked to contribute and the inevitable problems with waste disposal.
Please email me if you feel that you do not have enough support under the government’s response to Covid-19.
27th March 2020
Cllr Gerald McGregor on how political differences are put aside during the crisis
Hounslow residents are increasingly concerned to find answers to the epidemic of Corona virus that is affecting London and the rest of the UK. To this end, some good news. To counter the impact of the epidemic on our daily lives in Chiswick and the rest of the Borough senior staff and political leaders have got together to evaluate the current situation and deliver important quantified plans and programmes covering vulnerable residents.
Huge thought has been given to the political, economic and social impact of the current crisis (described by the World Health Authority as a “Pandemic”)
This week a high-level special review meeting was called by the Leader of Hounslow Council, Councillor Steve Curran (Cllr Syon Ward) in order to brief the Leader of the Opposition, Councillor Joanna Biddolph (Cllr Turnham Green Chiswick Ward). Niall Bolger, the Chief Executive Hounslow Borough Council (providing the brief) and I (Cllr Chiswick Homefields Ward) were also present.
Following Mr Bolger’s admirably clear briefing, the party leaders agreed to an immediate suspension of party-political activity in the Council to deal with the increasing gravity of the situation. Councillor Biddolph expressed her full support for the work being done by the crisis team under Mr Bolger’s leadership, ensuring that council business would continue to be fully undertaken
I raised concerns about healthcare, discharge from hospital, provision of maintainable social care as well as the impact on our Looked After Children. I am glad that since we met the Government has agreed a broad definition of “key worker” so that their children, and those children in particular need, will still be able to attend school.
The Council is of course concerned about the well-being of its staff and the impact of school closures on them and on parents more widely.
There were also deep concerns raised about the local economy and local employment, particularly the high number of local residents employed in supply chains and logistics at Heathrow Airport.
Councillor Biddolph responded to the briefing quickly and decisively, saying the position required immediate cross-party support and importantly pledging that the Conservative Party would be supporting the plan of holding the necessary Borough Council meeting in reduced circumstances to deal with legally required business, which should take place as scheduled on March 31st. We are waiting guidance on how future meetings should be conducted from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
I suggested a variety of measures to provide the councillors (both Labour and Conservative) with a voice if (because of public health and wellbeing fears) they were not able to come to the Borough Council in person.
There was further good news about possibilities of holding future meetings during the current emergency using remote access technology.
During the crisis period Council staff will often be working from home in accordance with Government guidelines but a crisis group under the Chief Executive is meeting daily to ensure that the most critical services (such as for adults needing care, public health and waste disposal) continue to function. We must look after the most vulnerable at this difficult time.
Councillor Biddolph indicated that both the human dynamic of healthcare for workers, their immediate safety and security (including those keeping schools open) and the economic impact on traders, shops and employment were critical in this situation. We all welcome the Chancellor’s decisive action, and in particular the support for the wage bills of the most affected businesses.
There is a huge amount of information to digest from local and central government. Meanwhile keeping local administration and services on track and to budget is still a priority for both political parties at Hounslow whilst awaiting the latest decisions and financial releases from Westminster. Councillor Curran and Councillor Biddolph agreed to establish further regular meetings on a cross party basis.
I hope you and your family are safe and well at this difficult time. If we continue to work together as a Council and a community, we will get through this crisis.
All face-to-face councillor surgeries have been cancelled until further notice but you can still contact councillors, click here for further details .
Cllr Gerald McGregor
March 21, 2020
Cllr Jo Biddolph put the concerns of traders in Chiswick to influential politicians
Minister for Housing, the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick with Jo Biddolph
There is no such thing as a typical day, or week, in the life of a councillor. Time might be moving along nicely with us keeping on top of residents’ requests for help and the ever increasing flow-in of emails, dashing off to Hounslow House for committee meetings or discussions with officers, meeting residents to unravel the detail of the most complex issues, and wandering round our wards spotting then reporting graffiti, dumped waste, fly-tipping, damaged pavements and potholes (usually while having a moment for some normalities of life such as shopping for food) and bumping into residents and having a chat. Then along comes a curved ball, or a special event, and our directions switch.
In my case, looking at the most recent fortnight, I realised my councillor life has been sandwiched between ministers and talking to them about the state of Chiswick’s retail economy.
Putting the Chiswick Shops Task Force retail manifesto in the hands of ministers
As Conservative councillors we are obliged to join the Conservative Councillors’ Association (CCA) which provides training, guidance and support to all Tory councillors. This is the second time I’ve attended its annual conference – a one and a half day event, this year in Leicestershire – with excellent presentations, workshops and briefings, a generous drinks reception and dinner, and a large amount of networking that doesn’t only take place in the bar. Throughout, we have direct access to ministers and the chance to ask questions, face-to-face and one-to-one, about national, regional and borough issues.
Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for housing, communities and local government, was first to step on to the podium and noted that there has been a nine per cent fall in rough sleeping nationwide (though it might not seem like that to us in Chiswick) and spoke of the government’s commitment to all but eradicate homelessness including through its flexible homelessness support grant and the homelessness reduction grant for local authorities. Hounslow has been allocated £1,723,056 and £800,787 respectively – a total of £2,523,843 for 2020-2021. (For comparison, Newham: nearly £11m. Enfield: over £8m. Haringey: over £7m. Brent, Birmingham, Croydon, Westminster: over £6m each; Ealing, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest: over £5m each. Hackney: over £4m. Hammersmith and Fulham: over £3m. Richmond upon Thames: a little over £1m. See the full list here
He faced questions about funding special educational needs provision and adult social care, two of the most significant issues facing all councils. On social care and deprivation, his department is currently tackling problems in systems.
During the ministerial Q&A that followed, also with the minister for housing Christopher Pincher MP and parliamentary under secretary of state for housing and homelessness Luke Hall MP, Robert Jenrick said that, before Brexit took over, the big issue for his department was the state of our high streets and that tackling business rates is absolutely critical.
Cue my chance to talk to him about Chiswick’s retail economy, and the Chiswick Shops Task Force retail manifesto. His first comment was about the £51,000 rateable value (RV) threshold, a fixed level which defines a small business nationwide. Outside London, that RV applies to businesses that are very much bigger than they are in London. I nodded and confirmed that this point was already in the retail manifesto – the RV threshold should be much higher in London. In Chiswick, it’s a small to medium sized shop – a much smaller business.
That point applies if the government sticks with the current business rates system. The Chiswick Shops Task Force wants the system to be torn up and the taxation of the retail sector looked at afresh, bearing in mind all the other taxes and charges retailers also pay. If tinkering is what we end up – please, no – the manifesto lists all that is wrong that must be put right.
Since the conference we’ve had the budget announcement of the abolition for the coming financial year of business rates for retail and hospitality businesses with an RV below £51,000. This is good news for many of our shops, cafés, pubs, restaurants and others though some miss out by a whisker and others aren’t sure if they fall into the eligible categories; the Chiswick Shops Task Force is lobbying on their behalf. Regardless, there is a very strong hope nationally that, having abolished business rates for a year, they will not be reintroduce exactly as they were. From my perspective, that means reform must be on the agenda; it cannot just be a review.
Back to the conference – and the dinner (ham hock terrine, chicken with a thyme and rosemary stuffing, white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake) with Rt Hon Alok Sharma, ( seen above) secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy. He represents the UK at this year’s UN climate change conference (otherwise known as COP 26) and firmly stated that sustainability is at the top of the business agenda. He also said that the UK is the best place to run a business and the best place to start a business. You might detect a pattern here, with this Hounslow councillor … cue my chance to talk to him about Chiswick’s retail economy. As with Robert Jenrick, Alok Sharma had the full force of the Chiswick Shops Task Force retail manifesto placed into his hands.
Moving on two weeks and I’m at a meeting with Paul Scully MP, minister for high streets and minister for London, who had been to Chiswick a couple of years ago, canvassing with we three then council candidates (Ranjit Gill, Ron Mushiso and me) in the Gunnersbury Park Garden Estate at the top of Turnham Green ward. Also at the meeting was Andrea Jenkyns MP, parliamentary private secretary to Robert Jenrick MP. With the two of them together in listening mode, and with the state of our high streets in their portfolios, it was another déjà vu here-we-go-again moment. Cue my chance to talk to them about …
Chiswick’s retail economy is firmly in the inboxes of the ministers with the most influence and the Chiswick Shops Task Force will ensure it receives their full attention.
Back to other aspects of Chiswick life
The Coronavirus has, inevitably, taken centre stage. Remember Brexit? That’s long gone. We are now more interested in whether the masks others are wearing have any effectiveness and if we or anyone near us show any signs of Covid-19. It’s an ever-changing situation which we councillors must be concerned about on behalf of our residents, people who come here to work, visitors and of course staff. It can be personal, too: my 19 year old cousin, living with me since August, has been whisked back to New Zealand by her worried parents and I’m suddenly in a rather quiet snapchat-free world.
Otherwise, in my inbox recently are residents’ concerns about neighbours’ antisocial behaviour; persistent illegal trading; lorries and vans speeding up and down a small residential road damaging pavements, verges, a tree and the road’s usual peace and quiet; finding a new home for an evicted private tenant; a dangerous junction that needs more safeguards; and a new planning application at 250 Gunnersbury Avenue that includes 204 bedsits in a block that is a mix of 11, 12 and 13 storeys high. One minute we celebrate the fact that the Chiswick Curve appeal has failed; the next, another high-rise appears. We will have more to say on this.
15th March 2020
Cllr Sam Hearn on his week dealing with local issues
Thursday, 27th February 2020: At an early morning meeting with residents who are applying for conservation area status for their well-defined area of Chiswick Riverside ward. The council’s consultation on the borough’s conservation areas closed in December but it was good to see that, as the report for Cabinet is still being prepared, the officer concerned has applied some common sense.
Friday, 28th February: At St Mary’s Church Hall, Hatton Road, Bedfont, Feltham to attend a public meeting ostensibly about Heathrow’s Third Runway proposal and its impact on Feltham. The Appeal Court decision had changed the whole context for the meeting. It turned out that that it had been organised by a group dedicated to campaigning against ALL immigration detention centres. Many local residents left when they realised the political nature of the meeting. Nevertheless, for those of us who do not believe the fight is over yet, it is important to realise that Heathrow’s plans for the Third Runway necessitate the closure of immigration detention centres at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook and the construction of an enormous new detention centre in Feltham. This is strongly opposed by our Feltham Councillor Kuldeep Tak. We urge Hounslow Council not to change the green belt status of the proposed site for the detention centre and to oppose any development consent order (DCO) relating to the site that Heathrow Ltd may submit.
Saturday, 29th February 2020: A day for catching up on casework. As always, a wide range of subjects from council tenants wanting to swap properties to enforcement issues. As I have mentioned before, we have a trader who, despite enforcement notices and police raids, is still selling alcohol to minors and illegal tobacco products (under the counter).
Sunday, 1st March: Out helping Chiswick Homefields ward deliver targeted survey leaflets. The Mayoral/GLA elections are on 7th May but very few residents seem to have the date in their diaries. Our local GLA candidate, Nick Rogers, has been campaigning hard since he was selected last year but the South West London constituency covers a huge area.
Monday, 2nd March: Into central London to visit the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery and on for a meal with family and friends to celebrate my wife’s birthday. The exhibition was hugely impressive and it is hard to beat Howard Carter’s now legendary exclamation that he could see “wonderful things”.
Tuesday, 3rd March: After literally years of cross-party lobbying, TfL has agreed to transfer ownership of an arch under Kew Bridge to Hounslow council for it to be used as a new footway. As of today, the council is consulting on which of two options residents would prefer. Click on the link if you wish to learn more and help the council make the right choice. Not all residents are happy and emails are already dropping into my in-box.
Wednesday, 4th March: At Hounslow House (our new civic centre) for a Conservative Councillors’ Group meeting. Always good to focus our attention on up-coming consultations and on-going issues such as the delays caused by TfL’s roadworks at Kew Bridge and the closure of Hammersmith Bridge. The council has just begun the second phase of the consultation on its Liveable Neighbourhoods project. It ends on 31st March so please do not delay in looking at the plans for the so-called Grove Park Piazza and making your views known.
Artist’s impression of the so-called Grove Park Piazza
Thursday 5th March: Into Hounslow House to discuss my ideas for the work programme of Hounslow Pensions Board. After four years it is a good time to reflect on the board’s corporate governance and officers have helpfully provided comparisons with other councils’ pensions boards. Out in the evening for a meeting of the Staveley Road Blossom Day steering group. Everything appears to be coming together for a fantastic street party in Staveley Road on the afternoon of Sunday, 19th April. In Chiswick’s best traditions, Conservative, Labour and Green party activists and those with no party affiliation are working together constructively. All we can hope for now is for the street’s famous cherry blossom to appear on cue and for the weather to be kind. We are still looking for volunteers – so contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and for more information see: http://www.blossomdayw4.org.uk/
9th March 2020
Cllr Gabriella Giles not impressed with Hounslow Council's budget proposals
Councillor Gabriella Giles, Conservative spokesman on environment and climate emergency, notes that box-ticking overrides ambition
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how the plans laid out by the council need to be scalable and sustainable and now I would like add another word to that list – ambitious. This week's borough council meeting agenda included the budget for the next financial year. This is the second time I have been present as a councillor for this annual meeting and I must say I am not impressed.
Were you watching?
I won't go into great detail about who said what and who didn't speak during the debate (the vast majority of the Labour administration); if you are interested, the full show is available on YouTube as the meeting was live streamed from the chamber for the three-plus hours it took to go through the proceedings. When I checked to see if anybody was watching, I was surprised to see that 14 people were still online. Did anybody know that after 10 years of no broadcasts this meeting was going to be live-streamed? I found out a couple of hours before the meeting but I hadn't seen anything about this earlier. Perhaps there was a Tweet sent somewhere, at some point.
Hardly ambitious – more like a box-ticking exercise – but perhaps it will happen again and, if it does, I invite you to watch these meetings (we include the dates at the end of our blogs). You don't have to watch the whole thing but a brief dip in might give you an insight into the proceedings. The full calendar diary of council meetings is available online too. Tough luck if you don't have access to a computer but it's the cheapest form of disseminating information. Or so we are told.
So, what does this mean? It means that whenever there is a consultation, or a planning application, or official communication, you have to be connected and following the correct channels to be made aware of it. This does seem to be a recurring issue, and my dismay at initially hearing that a response rate of 25 per cent was high, is simply reinforced by seeing first hand how information between the council and its residents is shared.
To take just one example, along with my fellow ward councillors, we have been involved in the consultation on the Liveable Neighbourhoods Project and continue communications with the officers involved. The latest update is that although this is a Transport for London funded project, the timeframes will primarily be set by the Borough. Officers are currently reviewing the large number of comments and submissions made via the consultation, in conjunction with the traffic data received. This is all in advance of the publication of the consultation report which should comprehensively explain the data, provide a response to any questions raised, and set out the priorities and timeline for the project. There is a provisional timeline: the aim is to have an idea of the main headlines by March, the main report in May, then there will be another series of public drop-in sessions where residents will be able to see and help develop the details of the proposals.
We must engage with the under 35s
All in all, a very clear plan, with feasibility studies and a costing exercise for the Barnes Bridge walkway in March. The updates so far have been promising. However, despite the large number of responses from residents, there has been practically zero input from residents under the age of 30. To get over this hurdle a specialist consultant (another consultant!) will be contracted to help shape a plan (another plan!) on how the council will best engage with the under 35s in the borough. At the moment, the plan is to target Chiswick School which is all well and good but it misses a huge chunk of the local population and it is vital that we include the opinions of all those who will benefit most from the future developments.
To that note, I also attended the first consultation on the council’s climate emergency action plan where, apart from council employees, and one member of our Youth Parliament, I was one of the youngest people there. Admittedly it was held during the day, and I have a vested interest to take time out of work to attend, but I find it disappointing that, at every level of our democracy, it seems to be people who will least benefit from any of our long-term initiatives who have the biggest say. To that point, there will be another consultation on Monday evening at 6.30pm at Hounslow House to brainstorm on how the objectives of the climate emergency action plan could be put into action.
As for people wanting to have their say, I understand that some people have been trying to contact me by telephone. For various reasons, I have been issued with a new telephone number and this is listed below.
1st March 2020
Cllr Ron Mushiso reflects on a stormy week and how the winds of change are needed for our recycling habits
Councillor Ron Mushiso outlines his week and looks ahead at this weekend with two Clean Up Chiswick litter picks
My turn for the weekly blog couldn’t have come at a better time. This weekend I take the councillor surgery at the Chiswick Library and it is our monthly Chiswick Clean Up initiative which, this time, involves two clean ups. If you know an area that needs litter pick attention, please get in touch.
Turnham Green cherry trees
Regular readers of ChiswickW4.com news articles and the forum will be aware of the ongoing discussion of the postponement of the tree planting event last Saturday. I urge caution on unnecessary speculation. I am sure the full picture will start to emerge and people will form their own opinions.
As I write this blog, I have learned that Rebecca Frayn has resigned as chairman of the Friends of Turnham Green. I am saddened by this and want to pay tribute to her as an outstanding chairman and a lady who cares deeply about the local environment here in Chiswick. I want to thank her especially for her long-standing stewardship of Turnham Green. She has dedicated a lot of her free time to leading the Friends and ensuring that Turnham Green is a well-preserved green space that we can all be proud of. Indeed, it was members of the Friends, particularly Mitra Alam, who spearheaded the Chiswick Clean Up initiative. I am grateful for Rebecca’s support and I know she did her upmost behind the scenes to try a reach an amicable compromise with all the interested parties. A running commentary at this point will not be helpful, but neither will a blanket silence from me on this matter. Thank you, Rebecca.
12th February 2020
Conservative Friends of Cyprus
I spent the day at Godolphin and Latymer School on a training course, an opportunity to learn from prospective pastoral leaders in other schools across the country. Then it was off to the Houses of Parliament for an event organised by an old friend, Jason Charalambous, former Conservative candidate for Islington South and Finsbury and now chair of the Conservative Friends of Cyprus. I was delighted to be invited and it gave me a chance to catch up with Jason after a busy general election campaign and was an opportunity to congratulate some newly elected MPs from the 2019 intake including Alicia Kearns MP, Angela Richardson MP and Ben Everitt MP. Theresa Villiers, president of the Friends of Cyprus, was the keynote speaker. It was to be Theresa’s last act as secretary of state for the environment. She lost her cabinet post in the government reshuffle the following morning. I am sure it’s only a matter time before she will back in cabinet. She is a talented politician with a lot to offer. I am sure she will support the new secretary of state, George Eustice, and will continue to be an important voice on environmental issues from the backbenches.
Thanks to the marvels of the District Line, I was able to get away quickly after the speeches and was back in Turnham Green ward to join Catherine Meisels and the Friends of Chiswick Common for their AGM at Homecross House. We discussed various issues including a proposal for a joint Ealing and Hounslow cycling festival in July.
Saturday 15th February
Flower marketAfter campaigning with Nicholas Rogers, our Conservative candidate for the GLA, I went for coffee with Ollie Saunders on Chiswick High Road to get a better idea of the proposals for a new Chiswick flower market. Ollie offered councillors the opportunity to meet to explain some of the details ahead of the public meeting that took place on Thursday.
I was then back on my bike fighting the head winds as I made my way via Richmond Park to New Malden to watch my former team, Old Emanuel RFC, take on Chobham. The winds did not subside so I allowed myself some respite by jumping on a train to Teddington before hopping back on two wheels to complete my journey home. My exercise for the week was done!
Monday, 17th February to Wednesday, 19th February – Half Term week.
I managed to get away for two days to go to Brighton to see my nephews who are visiting from Normandy. It meant a very quick turnaround bearing in mind the week ahead – discussing the council’s budget, following up casework and planning the two Chiswick Clean Ups on Sunday.
On Wednesday I visited the Lampton 360 waste recycling depot at Southall Lane to speak with staff and ask a few questions. It was my second visit to the site and site officials emphasised a push for more residents to recycle their food waste. I learned that one ton of food waste sent to the recycling depot sends a £100 plus saving to the council. In the run-up to the budget with the council still haemorrhaging on spending pledges, we residents can do our bit to support the environment and the council by ramping up our recycling rates. If you don’t already have a food waste caddy, households can order them
The team at the waste recycling depot was very supportive of our Chiswick Clean Up initiative and keen for us to add another dimension to our efforts – where possible to try and put the aluminium cans, tin cans and plastic bottles in separate bags. I promised to start doing this from this weekend.
22nd February 2020
Cllr Gabriella Giles on e-bikes, and Hounslow Council's preference for consultants
Scalable and sustainable. My councillor colleagues must be bored to death with me saying this. Repeatedly. A huge part of our responsibilities as councillors is that we support initiatives that leave the world in a better place than which we found it. With that thought in mind, I have been looking into the cabinet papers for the Climate Emergency Action Plan and Greener Borough with interest, and had planned to propose a motion at Borough Council at the end of January.
What I find fascinating is that some people are very happy to talk about things, but very reluctant to make the changes needed to achieve their goals. As someone with a project management background, I am all for plans. Plans that are robust, costed, measurable and realistic.
I would also add that these need to be aspirational. Hounslow Council produces a lot of reports, and plans, however, the more I read, the more I despair. Somewhat like the failed bid to be a London Borough of Culture, these documents are well-intentioned but rely far too much on external consultants and not enough on local experience or knowledge.
This is something that is blatantly apparent in the Climate Emergency Action plan. Based on estimated figures from 2017 from a government report that classifies data based on regions, rather than locally available data.
At the borough council meeting on 28 February, we heard that for the borough “existing aircraft noise monitoring infrastructure is not as robust as that for air quality because system is rather antiquated and deserves major overhaul and further investments” (sic). The response from the administration? That we would rely on reporting from Heathrow on air and noise pollution. As much as I applaud organisations self-reporting, surely we, as a borough, have a responsibility to keep track of this ourselves to ensure that the measures we adopt are measurable, and realistic, for our local environment.
With that in mind, I leapt at the opportunity thrown onto Twitter by WestTrans to trial the new Brompton ebike.
As some of you may know, I’ve been an active cyclist for years and, like many, I have looked longingly at the Brompton folding bikes with the desire of heart and legs, but not my wallet. For those of you who don’t know, WestTrans is a partnership of six boroughs in West London, including Hounslow, formed to develop and implement sustainable transport projects in the area. One of these projects is to encourage more people to cycle, including by getting them onto ebikes, and, from time to time, ask locals to test the feasibility of some of the bicycles they might then roll out across the area.
Never having ridden an electric bike, I was super keen to give it a go, and eager to get my hands on the handlebars of the new Brompton ebike and start pedalling. It is lovely to ride and surprisingly fast. One point that I really appreciated was cycling to and from meetings and turning up looking smart, if a little windswept, even in the depths of winter. The speed is limited to 15.5mph so, for me – who normally tootles around London at anything between 10mph and 14mph – it felt as if I were flying with very little exertion. Until I rode over a pot-hole. Or ironworks. At which point, the battery had a tendency to disconnect, and the bike lost power. Which was fine when cycling during the day. At night, the battery-powered lights turned off; when cycling uphill, all the power would go when you needed it most.
One of the most attractive reasons for ebikes is to get people who may have mobility or health issues to be more active, or to encourage people who want to cycle but have neither the courage nor experience to do so. As far as this cycling experience went, it was nice, the upright position made me feel that I was seen, and I had a good perspective to see what was going on around me. When not used and folded, it was cumbersome to move around. And heavy. And bruise-inducing. You need to be quite strong to carry the 14.7kg bike and the 2.9kg battery, especially if you have to lug it up two flights of stairs with your weekly shop. Brompton says that their bikes are not for everyone.
WestTrans wants testers for bikes to see if it will encourage those who wouldn’t normally cycle to get on a bike. I have fed back to WestTrans saying I am yet to be convinced that this bike will be suitable for those users.
WestTrans are always looking for residents’ feedback, and volunteers and organisations to trial their bikes. If you are interested, Emily Shovlar, the senior WestTrans coordinator, is available via email on ShovlarE@ealing.gov.uk.
15th February 2020
Councillor Gerald McGregor rebukes Labour-led administration, in this week's blog
Wonderful news from the other end of the Borough. A by-election win that now returns Conservative support in the Borough Council to double figures with 10 councillors. Only another 21 to go and we will be running an effective, financially secure Borough Council again.
Kuldeep Tak ( pictured above) was the Conservative and Unionist Party candidate in Feltham North in the Hounslow local election. He was elected with an impressive 2,025 votes. This seat was formerly held for more than a decade by Conservative Councillor Mark Bowen. Many thanks to Feltham and Heston Conservatives team for the work that was done in supporting our winning candidate.
Setting a budget
The Labour group is now belatedly engaging the councillors and electors of Hounslow with an outline of the budget proposed. Expect to see an increased council tax of 3.99% from the council and more piled on top by the Mayor for London and his cronies at the Greater London Authority.
In my previous blog talking about the budget, I mentioned Labour had claimed once again great cuts in revenue from the taxpayer via Central Government and we now have proof that they don’t have the political will to drive the savings required to keep the council in balance.
Tens of millions of pounds of capital investment projects and plans already budgeted for have not started as there are long-standing weaknesses in project management capacity across many departments of the council. These capital programmes are in the main designed to provide support for more efficient support for council staff and thus to deliver long term cost savings and there is little drive to get them in place and deliver a balanced financial outcome.
London Borough of Hounslow as a Trader
Lampton 360 Ltd was established by the London Borough of Hounslow in 2012 with the objective of trading in local authority functions in order to generate financial surpluses and return those surpluses to the council. It is a company wholly owned by the council and with an aim of returning value to the council. (It was meant to represent a bold, new and ambitious approach by a London Borough.)
Once again, we hear that Lampton 360, the Labour-sponsored plc, is unable to deliver its current programme budget and provide the revenues promised by the cabinet to the council over and over again. The overdrafts involved are still toe-curling and in addition to the lack of capital projects starting, there are unfunded investments creating real problems for the council.
And now facilities management, including maintenance and security. As its chief operating officer said, “LFM 360 has been running as a wholly owned company of London Borough of Hounslow since April 2017. In this time we have undergone significant changes with increases in work streams as well as staff. Starting with 120 employees [!] and were only doing planned works [generally provided by the borough]. Now we have 300 employees and we are undertaking huge amounts of responsive repairs, grounds maintenance and facilities management as well as all the original planned works.” Is this success? And why change a “winning formula” as the management changes necessitated “a need to change the brand and name to more closely reflect the current and future aspirations of LFM 360”.
Hence coalo. The chairman of the new company tells us that the name “coalo” comes from the Latin and simply means sustain and nurture together, which is what they hope to do.
The ambition is to sustain the housing stock of Hounslow Council and nurture positive relationships within the target community and customers. He goes on to say, “We can also apply the same idea for all of us that work for coalo. We all want to work in a company that values development and
opportunities. As a company we have been, and will continue to be all about delivering on target and on cost with excellent quality”.
Well the jury is certainly still out on this one.
It is reminiscent of the 1990s Community Investment Partnership in Hounslow which had a constitution of four different entities and an opaque management relationship with the council. Perhaps the current administration (still smarting from this previous failure) wants to try again and prove that, by again using public money, they can manage a trading entity.
The latest quarterly performance statistics covering Hounslow Council will be out on 3rd February. Locate them on the website under cabinet. They might make pleasant reading … who knows?
Brentford Chiswick Border
Don’t expect relief any time soon from the chaos at Kew Bridge. The lack of good competent project management is well illustrated by the delays caused by the unthinking approach with one of three key Thames Bridges out of action and the Brentford development scheme now about to create the transport links with Chiswick that the scheme required. Obviously now is not the time to commence the construction of the much disputed Cycle Superhighway junction changes at Kew Bridge
Back to Hounslow and Co-operation
Meanwhile, as a sixteen-year-long councillor, delivering solutions and providing support are now concentrated on looking at the new budget year and co-operating with the administration on policies for the benefit of residents and their families and protecting council taxpayers.
This means better financial control, better investment, avoiding mad schemes, rebuilding confidence in constitutional practice, looking to improve education, meeting housing need, supporting leaseholders and Hounslow Housing, helping deliver the consultation on parking issues and, bearing in mind the crisis in the retail sector, acting to support the high streets and encourage multiple retailers to stay in Chiswick and Brentford and giving our independent traders and corner shops the support necessary for their survival.
So, while Labour maladministers a borough, we will do our best with our range of expertise and experience to advise … and hopefully to help avoid … what is a poor picture – a picture repeated from the ill-managing London Mayor spiralling like CS9 downwards into the activities of dodgy local councils across London promising a Socialist ideology or pretending that repeating past errors and mistakes will have a different outcome. (See Einstein’s response – but given the ferment in the Labour Party they currently won’t want to look.)
So, as well as our group helping with the budget, it’s more business as usual for all your Chiswick councillors.
1st February 2020
Councillor Michael Denniss blogs about his week
Since my previous blog I have attended local residents’ group meetings, attended surgeries and heard applications at Hounslow (LBH)’s planning committee.
Application approved for building retail and residential units in Chiswick High Road
I have continued to attend the planning committee meetings where I have a vote on planning applications that have been called in. At the most recent meeting, held on 9th January, I and the planning committee councillors considered and approved an application to build a six-storey building with two retail and thirty four residential units in 396-400 Chiswick High Road, which is next to Toni & Guy and where Daniel Beds currently still trades. Several businesses, including the much-loved Valentina’s, have long gone and residents have been concerned about the empty units here and nearby.
We considered the objections to the application, particularly to the height of the building, the loss of light to neighbours, overlooking considerations and parking stress. The building does indeed raise the skyline to a new height, which will likely set a precedent for other applications, but I felt that on balance the application was sound. I was pleased to see that there was adequate provision for affordable housing and I hope that this will allow residents to get on the first rung of the housing ladder.
The West Chiswick and Gunnersbury Society had requested that certain details be secured as a condition for approval. These included structures on the roof terrace not impacting the skyline and that shopfront glass be clear rather than mirrored. I felt that this was reasonable and I raised it with the rest of the committee. After some discussion the committee agreed to approve the application subject to that condition. I hope that this will mitigate issues with the skyline.
Other applications included erecting new residential buildings and extending existing ones in Hounslow, with two in Staines Road and in Bedfont. All were passed. Again I am impressed by the professionalism of the council officers and their knowledge of planning matters. You can see all details here:
Wider planning and environmental considerations for new housing
A key consideration for all these applications is the council’s aim to build 5,000 new affordable homes as part of its 2019-2024 strategy. While this is commendable, I feel that councillors put too much weight on this and do not ask enough questions about the long-term sustainability and future concerns that residents might have. As The Economist pointed out this week, in 1950-1970 Britain followed a similar initiative and built some 3m units of social housing. The boom ended when fewer people wanted to live in poor-quality residential accommodation. The dash for volume encouraged the government to cut corners, demonstrated by the gas explosion at Ronan Point block in Newham in the late 1960s. I am therefore keen to see that residential units are of good quality and would attract residents in the long term.
The other issue is environmental. The council declared a “climate emergency” last year and will launch an eight-week public consultation on the draft climate emergency action plan next month. However, in all applications for residential blocks, there has been no corollary on the use of gas appliances on new applications, which could easily be added as a condition. This is an issue which Conservative councillors, particularly Sam Hearn, have repeatedly and vociferously raised in the council. I invite the council to consider a ban on gas appliances for new properties as a real and practical step towards combating climate change and in line with the “climate emergency” it has declared.
Hounslow Council holds back funding for homeless charities
Local charity The Shelter Project Hounslow (TSPH) opens up for the winter season TSPH, the locally run charity project that provides meals and beds for homeless men in the borough, has started its winter season. TSPH is a classic example of a grass roots-led community organisation that has been stunningly successful. The charity recently moved 70% of its guests into accommodation, won The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service and commands an army of volunteers from across the borough including Chiswick Riverside ward. It is a well-run organisation with regular trustee meetings and a dedicated caseworker who works with the guests to find them permanent accommodation.
I stewarded two overnight shifts last week, one in Hounslow on 16th January and one in Chiswick on the 20th. What was clear to me was that homelessness remains a real issue across the borough. On both evenings at least six homeless men were catered for, and during the night I could see other homeless men walking around. The project is funded through grants, fundraising and generous donations which up to this year included a grant from Hounslow Council that unfortunately was not available this year. You can read more about it and make a donation here.
25th January 2020
Cllr John Todd's blog outlines some of the deprivation that exists in W4
A WEEK OF CHALLENGE……
Case work continues at a pace.
A family rehoused post a fire in their council flat were having difficulty in accessing their property because of health and safety reasons. I persuaded officers to change their mind and grant access. Two residents who for what I regarded as valid reasons wanted to challenge the planning departments decision to indicate in its ‘Pending List’ that approval for an adjacent property was recommended. I exercised the London Borough of Hounslow (LBH) Call-In procedure which caused the application to be heard by the planning committee later this year.
The LBH Energy Manager has produced a Cabinet report asking for authority to spend £6.2m to procure electricity and gas from the current supplier for a number of years. I’ve challenged the contents of this cabinet paper and established that a local SME located in the Chiswick business park can offer better value and sustainable energy.
I’m grateful for the Council Leader who has deferred this cabinet item pending me making a credible case. I’m on a big learning curve absorbing the detail but VFM sustain my case. Savings as much as £250-300k a year I believe may be possible.
Residents of the Edensor Estate await to hear if LBH will go ahead and build a number of flats on the roof of the current housing blocks. Additional soil samples taken late last year are still being examined and the related report is awaited.
I’m pleased this potential development has led to the forming of a Residents Association with strong and effective leadership. We conducted a comprehensive examination of the estate grounds and found a number of defects and matters requiring either repair or replacement. I’m now advised by Hounslow Housing that the remedial work required will commence shortly. It’s clear this estate has not been previously maintained to an appropriate standard. Working with residents we will actively monitor this matter.
I was really delighted to hear from the hard working Chair of the Hogarth Youth Club Fred Lucas of his successful fund raising operation and the expansion of their valued work touching on Chiswick in the community.
Government data on deprivation in Chiswick mentions pockets of extreme poverty hidden from view. When I led a campaign to save the club last year I was having a coffee in a café opposite the La Trompette Restaurant when a young boy came in asking for left over rolls and bread. The owner explained they come in every day. I met families in the club who were clearly struggling and so valued its existence and aims.
I was reminded of the café incident pre Christmas when with an employee of IMG we delivered on behalf of the Hounslow Community Foodbox huge trays of diverse food etc to a number of
residents in W4. One lady hadn’t left her small flat for over six years because of weight issues.
Another hadn’t spoken to anyone for days. Both were so grateful for this unexpected visit and the scheme that delivers such valued and needed products.
Its budget time again. In February we’ll see the accounts justifying the increase again in council tax. If we increased our current atrocious recycling rate of 31% (high rise flats only 7%) we would save a considerable sum in waste disposal costs and reduce the current budget deficit.
January 18, 2020
Cllr Joanna Biddolph on post-election life and an encounter with 'mansplaining'
Cllr Biddolph on right, with Cllr John Todd and Gabriella Giles, during the election count
Having experienced life as a councillor for over 18 months I now know that there is a rhythm to the council year. That rhythm was interrupted by the general election with all of us expected to do as much campaigning as possible while continuing with council commitments – following up residents’ concerns and attending council meetings.
One meeting, of the full borough council, was compulsory (though Labour members had a rather more lax attitude to that, with many absentees … out canvassing, I assumed). In December we meet to consider the council’s medium term financial strategy. We all have different aptitudes and Cllr Gabriella Giles’ particular skill is speaking in the chamber. She talked of Labour’s inability to balance its books and failing to understand the basics of profit and loss. This infuriated Brentford councillor Guy Lambert who afterwards, in his usual patronising way, offered to provide Gabriella with some training in local government finance. He had taken exception to the words “profit and loss”. He’s half right. Local authorities cannot be profit-making. But they should operate within their means.
Here in Hounslow, Labour’s budget is full of “funding gaps” an affectation, surely, for “loss”. Ok, we should have used the
word “deficit”. But should we take up Cllr Lambert’s offer of some mansplaining?
Another election – and now we are ten
There is a rhythm to elections, too. The leafleting, canvassing and knocking up are relatively predictable as is the need to expect the unexpected. This time I was caught out by the generous attitude of the presiding officer of the polling station where I was on the dawn session as a teller (she decided the cold and dark start to the day amounted to inclement weather, entitling me to stand in the indoor porch rather than outside) and caught up in the first day of CS9 traffic chaos at Kew Bridge (45 minutes to get from Verdict in Brentford to the Express Tavern, with one traffic light so badly phased it only allowed one vehicle through at a time).
Although our parliamentary candidate, Seena Shah, didn’t win, we were successful in one of the two bye-lections that took place on the same day. Kuldeep Tak was elected in Feltham North ward in the Feltham and Heston constituency. So now ours is a group of 10 Conservative councillors.
Judging a bake-off
Because of the general election, I haven’t been in and out of Hounslow House as often as is typical. But I chose a good day to go in for a couple of meetings and to pick up post and papers. As I was catching up with casework, there was a knock on our door, an apology for interrupting and a question. Would I be willing to judge the planning department’s bake-off? It’s an annual tradition at Christmas and taken very seriously – one participant came in with his dish despite officially being on holiday. A group of us – several officers and I – listened as each team described the food story at their table, summarising life in an area in Hounslow. We tasted and munched through dishes from around the world, representing the borough’s diverse population.
We huddled together outside to decide the best sweet, best savoury, best presentation, the most authentic and the best overall. We asked that there should be an award for the best story, too. It was over far too quickly – we were asked not to take too long so the teams could eat each others’ efforts – with no disagreement amongst the judges. Many more deserved praise – there was something prize-worthy at every table. It was fascinating to see officers in a relaxed setting and in teams rather than individuals in formal committee mode.
What do Hounslow residents talk about over Christmas lunch?
There was more prize-worthy eating at the second annual Christmas lunch for residents of the Gunnersbury Park Garden Estate (GPGE), a forgotten part of Turnham Green ward (it’s a conservation area of around 480 houses and flats opposite Gunnersbury Park and includes the Gunnersbury Triangle Tennis Club). This year 26 people enjoyed the full works cooked by local chef Hildred Watts who has also reinvigorated the fortnightly coffee morning for GPGE residents.
Of course residents talked about the outcome of the general election, the superb turkey and the dreaded return of the Lovebox festival but one subject stands out for being raised with irritation, anger, despair and disbelief – and it wasn’t Brexit. Leaves. The non-collection of. We’ve been asking for far too long for our pavements and roads to be cleared of slippery mush but Hounslow is sticking to its pre-determined schedule with no change to respond to this year’s exceptionally heavy leaf fall.
The Fisher’s Lane playground is currently particularly dangerous. I’ve asked for it to be cleared urgently – it’s likely to be in high demand over Christmas and New Year. What are the chances?
Please walk with care and have a safe and happy Christmas.
Councillor Joanna Biddolph
22 December 2019
A week in the life of Cllr Sam Hearn …
Friday 28th November: Terrible news from London Bridge. A man shot dead by the Police and several people stabbed. Yet again horrific events during a general election that are so hard to make sense of. We are told to suspend campaigning until further notice. Attended a hustings organised by the Chamber of Commerce at the Clayton Hotel on Chiswick High Road. Our candidate Seen Shah once again delivers a clear message and answers all the questions put to her clearly. There have been so many hustings meetings but I have only been able to make few of them.
Saturday 29th November: To Harvard Hill with my colleague Cllr Gabriella Giles and our candidate Seena Shah where a community tree and shrub planting event has been organised as part of National Tree Planting week. The plants have been provided by the council but the tree planting itself is a genuine well supported community effort. Interesting to see parents with young children making the effort to lead by example.
Sunday 30th November: A catch up on councillor casework and preparations for another busy week. Tactical plans change frequently during election campaigns and it important to stay on top of things. As well as the General Election there are council by elections in Feltham North and Heston West. Both seats were held by Labour and have been vacant for some months. In more normal times we would be assisting our colleagues in Feltham and Heston. Thankfully there is time to fit a walk in with friends who promise not to talk politics. Fat chance.
Monday 1st December: I note that the current planning application for the Old Station House Pub has been brought forward for consideration with a recommendation for refusal by the Planning Officer. Some residents are campaigning for the pub not to be downsized out of existence. My councillor colleagues and I are happy to lend our support. The pub as it stands is certainly a good venue for music and celebratory events. It forms a key element of the so-called Grove Park Piazza that is likely to receive funding from the Liveable Neighbourhoods Project.
Tuesday 2nd December: Chiswick and Brentford Councillors have received formal confirmation that enabling works on the Kew Bridge Junction section of Cycleway 9 will begin on the 12th December. Work will not be completed on this section until the Autumn of 2020. There will be lane closures from 22nd December. Chiswick’s Conservative Councillors are united in believing that this work should not begin until Hammersmith Bridge has been reopened. There are currently 2,000 additional cars crossing the Kew Bridge Junction because of the closure of Hammersmith Bridge.
Wednesday 4th December: Fire at the Brentford Travel Lodge in the early hours of the morning. The early indications are that there are no casualties and that 160 people were evacuated safely. This is a tribute to the skills and dedication of the emergency services. It will be interesting after the election to review how well things went and if the lessons learnt in the recent resilience training for councillors have beenlearnt.
Thursday 5th December: Finishing off local leafleting deliveries and canvassing north of the A4. As in every election there are streets and residents that we just do not manage get to try as we might. We will be canvassing in Riverside ward with our candidate Seena Shah.
Councillor Sam Hearn
Chiswick Riverside Ward
8 December 2019
Cllr John Todd blogs on the current financial overspend and attitude to residents
Tree pollarding by Dukes Meadows
Council finances have elicited a damning verdict from London Borough of Hounslow chief executive citing “significant and unmitigated overspend in some key areas … and unrealised savings.”
In June 2019 our new chief executive, concerned at what he found, instituted the #1Hounslow programme of cultural change – from the ground up – to help LBH become the best it can and become an outstanding council. This includes a systematic review of all services led by a champion, a consultant and a new assistant chief executive who arrives in early 2020.
In his report to the LBH cabinet, he raises a number of worrying matters. Most important is his statement of “significant and unmitigated overspend in some key areas … and unrealised savings”. He adds, “This cannot continue … a robust performance framework will be established”.
Dealing with customer services he says, ”There’s much to do. Our recent residents' survey indicated that our approach was aloof, out of touch and uncaring. Our interactions with our residents and businesses lacked personal attention and was characterised as being dismissive”.
Drilling into the detail
We had a meeting of the borough council on Tuesday evening to approve the administration’s medium term financial strategy. Disappointingly, the overspending continues unabated. The Lampton group of (in-house) companies still fail to contribute any profit and their outstanding loans of £50m will be paid back by 2037.
We drilled into some of the items. Disappointed to learn that we have 30-plus vacancies in our specialist SEN-D schools. The cost of educating these pupils outside the borough was highlighted as a growth item without evidence of awareness of these vacancies.
The brown garden waste wheelie bin charge was recommended for an increase because “we hadn’t done so for some years” and a comparison, not seen, highlighted the need to do so. I examined the related costs. The profit, or surplus as officers describe it, for this year is circa £45.5k and next year I estimated it’s £180k. The huge variation is because when people join their initial fee only covers the cost of the bin. In the following year, undiluted creativity especially when our waste operation is frequently requiring additional funds to survive.
Utility costs. The council publishes its plan next month. In an interim paper to our scrutiny team they mentioned current negotiations to procure electricity which was 50% renewable. I’ve advised the cabinet member that a company located in Chiswick Business Park can supply 100% renewable and beat our current costs.
Carbon offset fund. I recently asked a question at council about the sum of £300k lying dormant in a carbon offset fund. We charge £60 per tonne to developers to mitigate their carbon obligation. The leader said the funds were used in 14 schools in the borough – a statement he later retracted. Other local authorities in London charge up to £114 per tonne and using these funds reduces pollution and conserves energy in a number of schools. An amended charge of £100 per tonne is under consideration by LBH. Andrea Carnevali, the dynamic instigator of the St Mary’s School green wall alongside the A4, told the area forum that LBH had now completed its tests on the filtration equipment installed in the school and found they reduced pollution by 40% plus. Others believe the figure is higher. Whatever, five schools in Hounslow feature in the list of school with the highest level of pollution in London. Carbon offset funding must now be used to protect our children.
Barnes new footbridge. The recent soil tests are satisfactory. More needs to be done on the footpath near the Emanuel boathouse. We now have a projected timescale of end 2020. A value engineering assessment (linking construction materials, etc, with budget) is under way.
Tree pollarding. Pollarding shown in the photo has opened up the footpath and been done to a high standard.
Dukes Hollow. This unspoilt piece of river embankment is described by the Wildlife Trust as the last area of natural river frontage on the Thames.
1st December 2019
Cllr Ron Mushiso compares 2007 and 2019 election campaigns
It has been an interesting few weeks since the General Election was triggered at the end of October. In that time, I got myself on to the shortlist as a Conservative candidate in one of the Ealing seats close to where I work. Although I was unsuccessful, it was a great honour and privilege to share the platform with three brilliant colleagues who are now contesting Feltham and Heston, Ealing North and Ealing Southall constituencies.
I returned to Brentford and Isleworth constituent to give my full support to our candidate, Seena Shah, who is running a brilliant campaigned. One of her first actions was to call for all candidates in Brentford and Isleworth to sign a clean campaign pledge ensuring that all candidates and their teams conduct themselves with an appropriate and respectful tone towards one another. This would encourage debate amongst the parties whilst upholding our shared values of courtesy and tolerance towards those we may disagree with politically. Congratulations Seena for taking the lead.
Campaign trail comparisons
A lot has been written about the rarity of a winter election but, in fact, some Chiswick riverside residents will recall a winter by-election in 2007 that saw Cllr Sam Hearn elected for the first time following the passing of Cllr Robert Kinghorn.
Much has changed since 2007 but the basics are still the same. We still gather at an agreed location for a planned canvassing route. Local and national issues are intertwined where you could be talking to one resident about a local services issue and another about the NHS, having conversations, delivering our message and seeking their support at the ballot box. For councillors in particular, it is a key opportunity to listen to concerns in the community whether at a local or at a national level and that is what we have been doing here in Chiswick.
Technology is another major difference between the two elections. In 2007, the Apple IPhone had just been launched but we were out with pens and paper canvassing sheets. Fast forward to 2019 and I am in possession of a smartphone with maps, apps and all the gadgets at my fingertips. This year’s campaign is fast-paced and extremely demanding on our time as councillors. We must, of course, still attend to council meetings and carry out our casework, taking up residents’ concerns and issues, with campaigning taking up the rest of our time so something has to give.
Rugby on the back burner
For me, it has meant putting my rugby-coaching role at London Irish Academy on hold for six weeks. I was excited about coaching rugby in Chiswick, the first time here. In my previous stint as an Academy Coach for London Irish, I was stationed in Harrow. Chiswick is definitely a nicer place to spend an evening coaching rugby than Harrow though I am biased, I know!
Chiswick Area Forum
This week we took a short break from campaigning to carry out our duties as Chiswick councillors to hold our area forum at Chiswick Town Hall. We heard a very detailed and praiseworthy police report illustrating the hard work that our ward officers have done over the past four months to make us feel safe. There is a marked difference between now and 12 months ago. I have nothing but praise for our police officers.
We also welcomed an update on the green wall around St Mary’s primary school from local resident, and St Mary’s parent, Andrea Carnevali. Since its launch in June 2019, the project has grown and additional measures have been taken to tackle air pollution around and in the school. These include a pilot study for an air purification system that has produced truly remarkable results and a new paint job in the main hall with air purifying technology that prevents bacteria and reduces pollutants such as NOx, SOx, NH3, and CO2. St Mary’s Primary School can be proud to have Andrea as its champion. He has a busy day job but has been taking his project to other schools, spreading the word about what can be done and how.
Laura Ellener, head of Chiswick School, was listening attentively and making notes. She, too, made a presentation to the area forum about Chiswick School and the significant changes made since she took up her role championing the school and all it offers.
Community champions clean up Chiswick
Speaking of community champions, last week I met with council officers to discuss the next chapter of the Chiswick Clean Up initiative. Several volunteers are now wishing to take this initiative to their roads and their local green spaces. Council officers are aware that they have a responsibility to make better use of their resources to keep our streets and parks clean. However, they have also welcomed our Chiswick Clean Up Community Champion idea in principle where local residents take the initiative, if necessary, when they identify an area in need of gent attention due to littering and other forms of antisocial behaviour. Council officers will then work closely with a small group of residents, or an individual, to resolve the matter. We agreed that this would give an excellent opportunity, especially to our young people, to learn about how residents can contribute positively in their local community. We are still in the planning stages and have agreed to meet again after the general election to discuss it further. In the meantime, we will not be holding a Chiswick Clean up until Sunday, 26th January 2020 for obvious reasons. If you would like more details about the initiative, or would like to volunteer for our next outing, please get in touch using the contact details below.
24 November 2019
Councillor Patrick Barr, Chiswick Homefields ward, writes about a happy ending to a lengthy battle by a local gym
Patrick (2nd from left) with volunteers in the recent clean up Chiswick day
We have watched parliament in painful paralysis for weeks with opposition parties trying to thwart what this country voted for. What do we want? A second referendum (a people’s vote) or to remain in the European Union? It’s a highly contentious and emotionally charged issue that has spilt this country, political parties, families and friends.
When opposition party leaders speak on Brexit, I detect enormous insincerity. Jeremy Corbyn (a leaver throughout his political career) was neutral on Brexit and now leads the party that wants a people’s vote. The Liberal Democrats initially said they would back whatever this country voted for. They now
want to stop Brexit. What is going on?
Recent events have seen the Benn Act passed when the Prime Minister was forced to request a delay to ensure a no-deal was taken off the table or a deal could be reached. A brief ray of light was the backing of the Brexit deal at a second reading in parliament when it appeared we were finally united. However, the timetable to pass it was voted down. A General Election has been called for 12th December. No matter how you voted in the 2016 referendum it is so important we now come together.
We have a fantastic Conservative parliamentary candidate – Seena Shah. She is a true representative of the area we live in – aspirational and multicultural with a strong voice. I am also on the parliamentary candidates’ list and will be sent somewhere to fight the General
Election. Despite this, the residents of Chiswick will remain at the forefront of my mind. I will still be dealing with casework, attending local residents’ group meetings and taking the councillor surgery on 30th November at 09:30 in Chiswick Library.
Championing residents – a slow process
A notable recent triumph was that the Combat Temple, (a martial arts and boxing gym under the arches by Stamford Brook Tube station) will not only stay open but is due to move to a newer, larger plot a few arches down. The gym is an integral part of the local community: a place for all warriors, young and old. Combat Temple is led by Reza Khodai and his inspirational team. Reza stopped paying rent in 2012 when his lease ended (as did other businesses under the arches) due to not being able to make contact with TFL, despite numerous attempts. This went on for 42 months until a new lease was signed in 2016. Reza was paying the back rent from 2012 as well as the rent for the new lease. He had wanted to occupy the second floor of this plot; however he was unable to afford the extra £8,000 per year.
Following a call from Reza, I visited him at his gym in June 2018 when he highlighted all TfL's failings and the financial implications on him, his family and his business as result of TFL’s neglect. He further spoke about his aspirations for his gym and to move his business next door due to increased demand from the local community. I contacted Tony Arbour, the London Assembly member for South West London, who probed TFL to respond to countless requests for help from Combat Temple. I then facilitated a meeting in September 2018 at Combat Temple with Reza, a consultant for TFL and a property surveyor for TFL aiming to come to a resolution to Reza’s ongoing issues with TFL. I am so delighted for him that, nearly 18 months later, works have started on the new premises. Reza is a truly inspirational person with a selfless vision for local residents. Exercise is a good medicine for us all, both mentally and physically. I’m glad I could help.
Casework is a constant
Casework remains constant. Amongst all the cases residents have brought to me, I have picked out three, each of them raised by several residents demonstrating how much of an issue each on is. I’ve recently been addressing uneven/cracked pavements and the covering of unswept leaves that seem to have been present most of the summer along various Chiswick paths in Chiswick Homefields ward. I have recently sought an update from TFL following their promise of traffic mitigation in Chiswick as a result of the closure for Hammersmith Bridge. Finally, I am supporting the Chiswick Dental Practice based in Chiswick Health Centre which is under threat as it has not been included in the plans for the new Health Centre on Fishers Lane. I am working closely with the practice and hope to, with them, find a solution soon.
Another successful community clean up
I recently supported the regular monthly Chiswick Clean Up with a group of committed local residents led by Cllr Ron Mushiso. We got under bushes, behind fences, anywhere we could fit, collecting bags and bags of rubbish. It was a display of community at its finest and I really felt we were making a difference. It was also a great opportunity to meet many tireless people who contribute to keeping Chiswick looking spectacular.
3rd November 2019
Councillor Michael Denniss, Chiswick Riverside ward, asks can a pub survive in Chiswick without a kitchen?
Since my previous blog I have attended local residents' group meetings, heard applications at Hounslow (LBH)'s planning committee and taken part in the selection of the new Conservative Party parliamentary candidate for Brentford and Isleworth, Seena Shah.
Public meetings to listen to locals' views
The local Chiswick councillors Patrick Barr, Joanna Biddolph, Gabriella Giles, John Todd, Ranjit Gill, Sam Hearn, Gerald McGregor, Ron Mushiso and I are keen to hear residents' views on local issues for Chiswick including policing, Heathrow's third runway and the Cycle Superhighway C9.
To this end Sam Hearn, Gabriella Giles and I hosted a public meeting in Chiswick Riverside ward at St Paul's Church on 8th October. Over 40 residents came. Of particularly concern was the proposed planning application to change The Station House pub from its current form into a site with new flats and a smaller pub. There were some revelations. The current plan does not allow for a kitchen, and a resident with experience in managing pubs doubted the economic viability of a smaller pub. The application does go some way to address housing needs, albeit at the cost of a beloved local pub, and I will need to consider all factors when it comes before the planning committee. The planning committee is considered to be quasi judicial and members are required to keep an open mind and not to express an opinion until all evidence has been heard at the meeting.
There wasn't such an impressive turnout at Hounslow';s Cabinet Question Time on 16th October at St Michael's Church, Elmwood Road. About nine residents came not including local resident Andrew Murray who chaired the event. Nevertheless, there were some tough questions on CS9, unanimously approved by cabinet on 3rd September despite a well-researched and argued case against it. There had been enormous local resistance to CS9, particularly with regard to safety and the practical difficulties for businesses and other organisations working on Chiswick High Road. A petition led by the Chiswick councillors at the start of the campaign prompted Transport for London to alter its plans which partially mitigated concerns about rat running and traffic gridlock.
Other issues raised at the meeting included a new controlled parking zone, which was largely popular, although there were concerns about the large number of related signs and requests for the council to look into that point. Other points raised included the continuing effect on Chiswick of the closure to traffic of Hammersmith Bridge. The event was recorded and audio should be available on the council website.
A shift in planning rules puts more weight on housing provision
I have continued to attend the planning committee meetings where I have a vote on planning applications that have been called in – a process that allows for a review of applications on which a likely decision has been recommended by officers. A councillor in the relevant ward calls in the application which is then heard either at an area forum or the full planning committee, depending on which comes first. These call ins can range from small residential extensions to the construction of large blocks of flats.
At the most recent meeting, held on 10th October, we considered the extension of a house in a road in Chiswick Riverside ward which would mean its side wall significantly closed the gap between that house and its neighbour. A key consideration in this application was the symmetry of the houses in the road, which would be considerably changed by this alteration, and the view of the sky between the houses, enjoyed by so many residents and a key feature of the street. The application was narrowly passed and I feel that it sets a worrying precedent for properties not only in that street but across the borough. The planning rules, which the committee has to follow in making decisions, have recently changed so that we must give more weight to the provision of housing when making decisions. Consequently there have been cases which the officers now recommend which they would not have recommended previously.
One application for a block of flats was passed, albeit with the slimmest of margins, despite the application using incorrect measurements! However there have also been applications for genuinely exciting and innovative designs across the borough and I look forward to seeing these when they are completed. In all the applications I am impressed by the professionalism of the council officers and their knowledge of planning matters.
On 24th September local Conservative Party members selected Seena Shah as the party's parliamentary candidate for the Brentford and Isleworth constituency. Seena comes from a marketing background and has experience in digital communications and working with social media. You may have met or read about her already – she's been going around the borough meeting local groups and gaining a first hand understanding of local issues while we have been delivering leaflets through doors introducing her to local residents. I had the chance to meet her properly at an event celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. Friendly, sincere and with a shared interest in history – which may come from her degree in international relations – she struck me as just the sort of candidate who would appeal to a wide range of people and represent the constituency well.
27th October 2019
Councillor Jo Biddolph blogs about environmental concerns and local issues
With climate change dominating the news this week, the council’s Cleaner Greener Hounslow workshop on Wednesday was unexpectedly well-timed. Guided by independent consultancy Eunomia, our role was to consider ways in which the council and we could reduce our environmental impact.
As a committed (for which read obsessive) recycler. I’ve long said that our aim should be to reduce, not increase, the amount we recycle by producing less waste overall. I’m currently in despair about the volume of single use plastics in my red box; it has shot up thanks to my lodgers’ ready meal suppers.
We discuss ways of reaching our transient residents who, it often seems, appear less aware of the need to recycle. Is language a barrier to creating a cultural shift? Why do some people ditch their recycling habits when under pressure such as before going away? What can be done to make
recycling routine for all?
Having attended a celebration of Indian independence in a large field in Ealing a couple of weekends ago, at which all but one food stall served home-made samosas, curries and gulab jamun in plastic tubs or on polystyrene plates, my view is that every event held on or in Hounslow property – including our open spaces – should be required to be plastic-free.
Imagine my disappointment when, at a meeting with visitors at Hounslow House today (Friday), two days after the climate change workshop, a trolley was wheeled in offering coffee, tea and half a dozen plastic bottles of water. Two Labour councillors reached for plastic bottles. I reached for the jug of tap water in front of us on the table. It takes time to change minds but time is running out on climate change.
An image flashed into my mind of my too long ago visit to India where not to drink plastic-bottled water means dysentery or, at best, Delhi belly. The efforts we residents make here in Hounslow – with a population of around 260,000 – can seem pointless in a global context but that’s no reason to give up.
A nip to the ladies loo – where the dilemma was to dry hands on throw-away paper towels or under a heated hand dryer – left me wanting to know which option has the greater environmental impact, taking into account every step each goes through: sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, freighting, installing, using, recycling/throwing away. Drinking water was served in glass jugs and glasses – but what is the environmental cost of glass that needs to be washed, rinsed, dried (in a dishwasher or by hand using a couple of cloths) and that can’t be recycled if broken? We need a price list, or a green-amber-red identifier, to guide us through the climate change moral maze.
Yes, of course we considered the impact of cars (at our table, councillors and council officers had a surprising number of car drivers who said they would find it very hard to be car-free – I suggested they provide their colleagues in traffic/transport with a reality check). Which to do – a few hours’ journey by car to a remote part of Wales to spend a weekend with elderly parents, improving their quality of life, or taking longer to travel less impactfully and turning round to come home very soon after arriving leaving very little time for social interaction?
Climate change is a deadly serious subject. Should it ever be balanced against a socially beneficial action such as, for example, air-freighting fruit, the international sales of which mean jobs and incomes for the least well-off in the developing world or should it always be considered in isolation? We left scratching our heads.
No such puzzlement for Labour councillors asked for their views on the Extinction Rebellion activism a few miles away. All those interviewed would join in wholeheartedly and applauded the activists’ actions, however extreme, to highlight the climate emergency. As a former lobbyist, I support and defend the right to protest to give people and causes a voice. I don’t support disruption to individuals, businesses and services. We have a long history of peaceful protest in London, by marching to and demonstrating at Trafalgar Square. There are effective ways of highlighting even the most worrying of issues without disruption.
The workshop had started with a climate emergency temperature gauge. We were asked to raise an arm high if we were hopeful of the future, hover it somewhere in the middle if we weren’t sure, or hold it low down if fearful. At the end of the day temperature gauge, the half a dozen arms held high had disappeared; our mood was significantly more fearful about our ability to act fast enough.
Making the most of and from our allotments
Climate change was inevitably raised at Thursday’s seminar and workshop on allotments. There are seven allotment sites in Chiswick’s three wards and 21 in the 13 wards in the rest of the borough. Lucky us! Growing fruit, veg and flowers to cut, provides obvious benefits to health and wellbeing; supports education; encourages sustainability and biodiversity; and provides airmile-free food. It’s not so good when the maintenance service is so slow that a water tap at one site was left on full for six months while waiting for repair. Theft, flytipping, people living in sheds, providing water, the need for loos, managing the waiting list and allocating allotments that have been empty for years … the problems and requests came in as thick as a pea-souper. Everyone agreed more staff are needed, as is a much greater level of awareness of what having an allotment entails – it requires more effort than turning up for a couple of hours over a weekend, with a book and a G&T, to sit in the sunshine.
No sitting still with a general election in the offing
There’s no time for slouching when Seena Shah, our newly selected Parliamentary candidate, comes to town. We are off at a fast pace introducing her to residents. There is no door knocking without picking up work and Cllr Ranjit Gill and I went home with several issues to follow up including the unswept state of our roads, dangerous out-of-true paving stones and partially-filled potholes. Attempted burglaries and policing concerns gave us the chance to say that Ranjit has succeeded in persuading our borough police team to reinstate the third public meeting we were promised but which was withdrawn. We should next week have a date to announce.
Subjects raised with me this week
A house of multiple occupation (HMO) where over 100 people party for nights on end keeping
neighbours awake, strewing waste, urine and worse in the garden and over a neighbour’s fence. The house has its own Facebook page and YouTube video encouraging visitors to its debauched way of life. Neighbours complained for over 15 years but gave up relatively recently, resolving to move. The council has no trace of those complaints which means starting from scratch, keeping incident/noise records of anti-social behaviour before action can be taken. A festering fly tip between two shops and unfortunately on private land so it’s not for Hounslow Highways to remove.
Other issues raised : Begging on Chiswick High Road; An illegal car repairing business affecting residents’ quiet enjoyment of their homes; Business rates and rents and competition from street stalls.
DATES FOR DIARIES
• Borough council: Tuesday, 29th October at 7.30pm at Hounslow House
• Chiswick Area Forum: postponed and a new date to be confirmed
• The future of policing in Chiswick: date to be announced soon
• Chiswick: Every Saturday from 9.30am to 10.30am at Chiswick Library, upstairs in the private
• Gunnersbury: First Saturday of the month from 10am to 11am at The Triangle Club, The
Ridgeway, W3 8LN, usually a group discussion but privacy can be arranged.
October 11, 2019
Councillor Sam Hearn's blog on matters of local interest
Friday, 27th September: To Strand on the Green Junior School for an 8.00am meeting of the governing body’s pay committee. Always an opportunity for a quick catch up about other school matters. On, by bike, to Brentford for a business meeting. Ready by the early afternoon to head off to Oxford for an overnight stay and to meet up with old friends for a meal. The Ashmolean Museum stays open till 8.00pm on a Friday evening so we went and gawped at the amazing Pompei exhibition (open until 12th January).
Saturday, 28th September: We stayed at the Head of the River Hotel, a beautifully situated and fitted out Fuller’s Hotel. I won a voucher for a one-night stay in a Tory Raffle but don’t tell my wife. We visited the quirky Oxford Castle and prison and went for a stroll along the Thames before heading for home.
Sunday, 29th September: After the morning service at St Paul’s Grove Park many of us stayed behind for a soup lunch organised to raise money for Water Aid .
Time flew by in lively conversation and I almost forgot that I had promised to join Cllr Ron Mushiso and others for the Turnham Green Clean-up Sunday. These community-based events are advertised on ChiswickW4 and are very worthwhile (see picture). Best of all I had the chance at the end to discuss, over a cup of tea, the latest developments in Orcadian archaeology with Helen the midwife who attended the birth of both my children.
Monday, 30th September: Finalised plans for a public meeting at St Paul’s Grove Park Isis Rooms to discuss local issues such as the Liveable Neighbourhoods consultation and the proposal to convert the upper floors of the Station House Pub into flats and modify the pub itself. The meeting begins at 7.00pm on Tuesday 8th October and follows immediately after the first of a three drop-in sessions being organised by the council, at the same venue, as part of the initial phase of the Liveable Neighbourhoods consultation.
An estimated £3.3m of public money has been allocated to South Chiswick to fund initiatives with the potential to improve public spaces, and increase the trips to be made by foot, bike and public transport. Your councillors are talking to local amenity groups and officers but we really need your ideas and suggestions so that this money is spent wisely.
Tuesday, 1st October: Chiswick Riverside’s new controlled parking zones (CPZs) began yesterday. Several residents have complained over the last couple of weeks of difficulties in using the parking permit section of the council website. My emails tell me that everyone who contacted me now has a permit. Please do not hesitate to get in contact if you are still experiencing problems. Local schools are complaining that the small number of teachers who have to travel to work by car cannot afford to purchase a so-called business parking permit. I have been raising this issue with officers and the relevant Hounslow cabinet member but so far to no avail. Other boroughs can provide sensibly priced permits for teachers so why can’t Hounslow? This is not just a Chiswick problem. Do we actively wish to discourage good teachers from working in the borough?
Wednesday, 2nd October: Out canvassing this evening with colleagues in Osterley. It is good to see that support for our party is holding up well and that people are pleased to see us. Looking at my diary I am sad to discover that I cannot join our excellent new parliamentary candidate, Seena Shah, for a canvassing session on Saturday morning. I will be in Aylesbury for a conference on social housing.
Thursday, 3rd October: To Thame to assist a friend giving a talk about John Hampden MP to the local branch of the U3A. The recent interest in obscure parliamentary procedures forcibly reminded me just how ill-informed even some of our opposition politicians and otherwise well-educated commentators are. Our constitutional arrangements did not just happen but were hammered out on the hard anvil of social conflict and civil war over centuries.
Back in Chiswick for the Initial meeting of the Blossom Day Steering Group at St Michael’s Elmwood Road. A group of Staveley Road residents are seeking permission to close off part of the road to cars for a one day street party during that magical time every year when the street’s cherry trees erupt into bloom.
7th October 2019
Ron Mushiso updates us on his week as a local councillor
4th August 2019
I hope you have all been enjoying the weekly blogs and have found them to be insightful and illustrative of the diverse nature of our work as councillors. Since May 2018 it’s been an honour and a privilege to serve our residents in Chiswick in this great team of nine Conservative councillors. They all do a great job championing Chiswick and the interests of its residents. Here is a snippet of my past week as a councillor.
Sunday 28th July : BBC Radio London Interview with Dotun Adebayo
I was chuffed to learn that BBC Radio London wanted to hear my views on the new prime minister Boris Johnson and his new cabinet. I felt that our party had made a brilliant choice in electing a prime minister who has made it his priority to deliver a democratic mandate of getting Brexit done by the 31st October doing so, while sensibly making contingency plans in case of a No Deal Brexit.
As a teacher, I welcomed his pledge to level up per pupil spending in primary and secondary schools across the country. I told Duton Adebayo that one of our priorities in Turnham Green, and Chiswick, is crime. Our hard-working ward police officers do a great job already but the additional 20,000 police officers on our streets, as promised by our new prime minister, will have a massive impact.
On Tuesday we gathered as a cross-party group at Hounslow House to agree our priorities as an overview and scrutiny committee for the current municipal year. The scrutiny committee is one of the most important bodies in the council as it monitors local governance and spending. Its task is to review the performance of the council, investigate the effectiveness of its departments, help to develop new working policies and hold the cabinet to account. Of the 41 topics raised by residents, interest groups and councillors, there were 10 high impact subjects that we could take on. They have been divided between the three scrutiny panels – children and young people, health and adults care, and housing and environment – and the main committee. Here is a flavour of three that we all agreed on and the evidence behind our decisions.
Waste and Recycling
To consider the performance of this service and assist in the early stages of the implementation of the council’s new Cleaner Greener Strategy. The background data includes:
• The recycle refresh programme and fortnightly black bin collection is working for low-rise collections with a 51.2% recycling rate.
• High-rise flats recycling levels are only at 7%.
• The household waste recovery rate is 68% (incinerated waste converted to energy)
• In 2018/19, 92% of roads inspected across the borough passed the expected standard of cleanliness. This is up from last year’s figure of 86%.
Social isolation is an increasing problem across the UK. A scrutiny review could consider how social isolation manifests in Hounslow and make recommendations for action for one or several affected groups. The background data includes:
• 45% of people in Hounslow are single, divorced, separated or widowed. In London the rate is 49% and in England it’s and 41% in Hounslow which is ranked in the top quartile in Age UK’s loneliness index.
• 35% of people in care had as much social contact as they desired. The London average is 40%
• 62% of households are not living in a couple, compared with 55% in England.
Scrutiny might assess the tri-borough basic command unit (BCU) model and its impact on community policing, safety and crime one year on. It lends itself to a one-off meeting where stakeholders are invited to present evidence. Hounslow background data on includes:
• Incidences of reported crime increased by over 3,000 from 2015 to 2017.
• In the 2018 resident’s survey, 92% of residents said they feel safe during the day (this is lower than in 2016) and 65% reported feeling safe after dark (this is higher than in 2016).
• With the move to BCUs, the number of staff remained similar at 1,439. The number of PCSOs reduced from 65 in the three boroughs (16 in Hounslow) to 63 across the three boroughs.
• Response times before and after the introduction of the BCU model remain similar.
Wednesday 31st July: Eve of the Ashes and I get run out by a council officer!
With the ashes starting this week it was fitting that we set things off with the Mayor of Hounslow’s annual councillors and officers charity cricket match. It was my first appearance at this event although, as a PE teacher, I was somewhat on familiar grounds. Cllr Vickram Grewal (Labour) was on my team and he is decent cricketer (he doesn’t mind saying so himself) but we came up short chasing 154 against a team with Cllrs Tom Bruce, Mohammed Umair and Khulique Malik. I got run out without facing a single ball, so we will never know! I
n the end, cricket was the real winner and of course we raised money for the mayor’s two chosen charities. Our Barn which runs community-based activities providing learning, life skills and social interactions for young people with learning disabilities, and Hounslow Seniors Trust which works with local partnership groups to organise the Hounslow Older People’s Festival.
Edensor Gardens Community Fun Day on Sunday 4th August 1pm -6pm
Things went from bad to worse when I returned home and checked my emails only to discover that I will not able to start off with rest of the group at the Prudential RideLondon FreeCycle this Saturday (it starts at Market Place in Brentford at 9:30am and finishes at Green Park). I have contacted the organisers to say that it clashes with our surgery at Chiswick Library and it’s my turn this week.
Nonetheless I hope to catch up with the tail end of the peloton after my duties but certainly I will be amongst it on the return trip from Green Park in the afternoon. I manged to touch base with Janet Omondi from the Riana Development Network after missing each other’s phone calls on several occasions. Janet is an ever-present member of our Chiswick Clean initiative. Her and her husband Rodgers are organising the 2nd annual Edensor Gardens Family Fun Day this Sunday from 1pm-6pm.
Last year the event was a resounding success and from our discussions, this one promises to be a belter! The supporting cast includes Hounslow Council, the Metropolitan Police, Brentford FC, Dr Bike, Hounslow Housing and the Road Safety Unit. Not to mention all the food stalls and music that will add to the atmosphere.
Thursday 1st August: Shortage of Foster Homes for Looked After Children and my visit to the Ride
Fostering is one of the kindest things any person or family can do for neglected or displaced young person without a family or a home. A foster parent may be that last opportunity for that child to transform his or her future. As a former looked after child myself, taken into care by Hounslow Social Services at an early age, I know full well the importance of this altruistic act by from a member of our communities. Fostering is a subject very close to all of us as councillors because we are known as corporate parents to over 300 looked after children in Hounslow. We have a duty of care to them just as a parent would to their child.
Nearly 300 Looked After Children in Hounslow!
The London Borough of Hounslow has nearly 300 looked after children. Hounslow is at a critical point. In 2018 only 36% of Looked After Children were in foster homes. Between April 2018 and March 2019, the fostering team registered just five foster carers.
The chief executive of the Fostering Network said in his report this year that, “We are facing a continued increase in the number of children coming into care at a time when financial pressures and reduced budgets mean that local authorities are increasingly cash-strapped”. It means that most looked after children have either been placed in temporary accommodation outside the borough or, worse, outside London in some cases. You can only imagine the impact this might have on the child who is in the process of dealing with hardship and uncertainty.
I visited The Ride, a very well managed residential home for looked after children based in a quiet residential part of Brentford. I spoke with the team of social workers who have done a brilliant job in making the place look and feel like any other family home. The Ride is one measure that relieves some the pressures of demand for more foster homes. But at full capacity already, with a full complement of six young people aged between 12-16 years, you can understand the urgency of the situation. I spoke at length with the senior residential support worker Eliramson Saro who has worked there for nearly 10 years. We discussed ways in which we could try to create more of an awareness of this crisis not just in Hounslow but more specifically in Chiswick.
We agreed that potential foster parents may not be aware of the following: Did you know
… 1. Short term fostering : a potential foster parent could foster on a temporary or short-term basis from an overnight stay to anything up to a year. There are several cases in the borough where looked after children are being fostered on a short term basis. It gives a bit of time for social services to match children to potential foster parents in a carefully considered manner. In some cases, it gives social services the time and opportunities to rebuild bridges and plan for the child’s return home.
2. Long term fostering : an extensive matching process considering the needs of the child and the capacity of the foster parent to meet those needs. For some children a permanent home will make all the difference.
3. Parent and baby foster carers : this is a particularly specialised area. Often in these cases, the young mother and child are in need of a safe and nurturing family environment where they can be supported in developing their parenting skills.
Would you consider becoming a foster parent? If you have any questions or would like more information about fostering, please get in touch with me or the fostering team on 0800 731 8558 or email@example.com
Dates for diaries ;
● LBH Cabinet meeting: at which we expect the CS9 decision will be made: 3 rd September at 7pm at Hounslow House
● Borough council: Tuesday, 10th September at 7.30pm at Hounslow House
● Chiswick Area Forum: Tuesday, 17th September at 7.00pm in Chiswick Town Hall
● Chiswick surgeries: Every Saturday from 9.30am to 10.30am at Chiswick library, upstairs in the private room
● Gunnersbury surgeries: First Saturday of the month from 10am to 11am at The Triangle Club, The Ridgeway, W3 8LN, usually a group discussion but privacy can be arranged.
Cllr Ron Mushiso
Phone: 07976 702887
Sam Hearn updates us on his week as a local councillor
July 25th 2019
Chiswick Riverside councillors; Sam Hearn, Gabriella Giles and Mike Denniss
Friday 19th July: As the day dawns I find myself listening to the honeyed words of Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. Apparently a new Labour government would pass a law forcing local authorities to bring all their services in house. He cites the Carillion debacle as the reason why this makes sense. He quietly ignores the decades of inefficiency, restrictive practices and corruption in council-run services across the country. In Hounslow we experienced at first hand an in-house refuse collection service that struggled to reach a 17% recycling rate. Under a Conservative-led administration, a private contractor was within three years delivering a 34% recycling rate. The service was brought back in house by Labour and Hounslow now struggles to achieve a 31% recycling rate in its new purpose-built facility.
At our group meeting we bring together our ideas about next week’s borough council meeting. We remain unhappy about Labour’s response to the Boundary Commission’s draft proposals. On purely practical grounds we disagree with the idea that residents are ever better served by the creation of two-member rather than three-member wards when this can so easily be avoided.
Saturday 20th July: On Chiswick High Road with colleagues seeking signatures for the petition to Hounslow Council asking them not to support TfL’s proposal to construct a cycle super-highway (sorry a two lane cycleway) along Chiswick High Road. As usual our request for support is generally well received. Residents queue up to sign. It is interesting how well the campaign message is getting through. Again and again I hear people saying “I am a cyclist but I realise the damage CS9 would do and I want to sign your petition”. You can sign by clicking on this link.
In the evening to the new premises of the Grasshoppers Rugby Club on Syon Lane, Isleworth, for the new Mayor’s inaugural dinner and dance. The building is a little austere on the outside but the large function room with its airy balcony were a revelation. As always, this was an ostensibly non-political fundraising event showcasing the two local charities that the mayor has chosen to support in the year: The Hounslow Elders Trust and Our Barn Community. It was good to hear on the grapevine that the Chiswick Curve project has been vetoed by the secretary of state.
Sunday 21st July: A chance to catch up on casework, particularly the responses received from Hounslow Highways. It was sad to see that resurfacing work on Grove Park Terrace, that will precede the introduction of a new CPZ, will be delayed by essential remedial works by the gas utlility company. Nothing in life is ever simple.
I decide on impulse to make a quick trip out of London in the heat of the afternoon to idyllic Stonor Park. The house has been in the same family for 850 years; they suffered centuries of persecution for their steadfast adherence to the Catholic faith. Made me reflect on the Labour Group’s motion about how our country’s heritage has been shaped by diversity.
Monday 22nd: To the Hounslow Civic Centre for a meeting of the Community Investment Advisory Panel, one of those bodies that most residents have never heard of. Many small voluntary groups in the borough are not aware of the grants that they can apply for. Funds are not unlimited but it would still be worth checking out the following two links:
- The Community Information Guide is here
- The findings of the Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise Survey (VCSE) is online on the LBH website
On my way home I drop in at a well-attended Conservative social event in Osterley. Our hostess, a long-time supporter and originally from Iraq, had laid on a magnificent banquet. Good to see our GLA Member Tony Arbour and his wife Caroline again and our candidate to replace him at next year’s London-wide elections Nick Rogers. Maneesh Singh and Cynthia Torto, two of our candidates for the ward in last year’s local election, were much in evidence. Mary Macleod delivered an amusing and reflective speech. I am used to being the butt of her jokes.
Tuesday 23rd July: A bit of a dull borough council meeting: a discussion of the annual report of the overview and scrutiny committee was deferred because of the absence of the committee’s chairman, Cllr John Chatt, due to illness. The Labour motion on hate crime was pulled, ostensibly to work on a revised motion that we could all support. Finally, Labour refused our request to extend the meeting for 10 minutes to discuss the motion proposed by Cllr Joanna Biddolph and seconded by Cllr Patrick Barr seeking pledges from the council to set up a cross-party group to lobby TfL to find a long term solution to the closure of Hammersmith Bridge and to provide residents with a quarterly update on progress.
No one in the room seemed overjoyed by the draft proposals from the Local Government Boundary Commission for the new ward boundaries. It was also clear that Labour’s response to the proposals did not command overwhelming support from their side, and the Conservative Group was unable to support it despite some serious cross-party discussions.
Cross-party agreement briefly broke out when I accepted the Labour amendment to my motion calling for some immediate practical action to begin the process of delivering a carbon neutral council by 2030. It is, however, hard to accept the genuineness of Labour’s commitment when they fail actively to support the campaign against Heathrow’s third runway. It is also hard to understand why Labour continues to support CS9/CW9 when TfL itself acknowledges that it will do nothing to reduce air pollution on Chiswick High Road.
Wednesday 24th July: Hounslow Highways has responded to my request for information about the culling and replanting of street trees across the borough over the last three years. It is encouraging to see that, despite year-on-year fluctuations, more trees are planted than are culled. However, we will have to seriously step up our tree planting if the borough is to be carbon-neutral by 2030.
I was disappointed (not really) when a lady who had asked me to get the council to deal with her wasp infestation rang to say that the wasps had left of their own accord.
Thursday 25th July: Papers for theplanning committee meeting on 1 st August have been published. The committee will consider the application by the Quentin Trust to construct a new access road off Hartington Road to run parallel to Ibis Lane, and to intensify the use of its rugby pitches and enlarge the rowing club. I will be unable to attend this meeting but interested members of the public can. It is sad that such an important decision has been scheduled for what is traditionally the start of the holiday month.
Dates for diaries
● LBH Cabinet meeting: at which we expect the CS9 decision will be made: 3 rd September at 7pm at Hounslow House
● Borough council: Tuesday, 10 th September at 7.30pm at Hounslow House
● Chiswick Area Forum: Tuesday, 17th September at 7.00pm in Chiswick Town Hall
● Chiswick surgeries: Every Saturday from 9.30am to 10.30am at Chiswick library, upstairs in the private room
● Gunnersbury surgeries: First Saturday of the month from 10am to 11am at The Triangle Club, The Ridgeway, W3 8LN, usually a group discussion but privacy can be arranged.
Councillor Sam Hearn
Chiswick Riverside ward
Phone: 07833 376222
Gabriella Giles updates us on her life as a local councillor
7th July 2019
This week, it’s my turn to update you on the life of a local Councillor, so I’m going to try to summarise some of the activities I have undertaken in my first year and hope to show the breadth of what we do, or at least an insight. As you will see, this past year has indeed been eventful, full of challenges, learning opportunities and firsts.
In representing Chiswick Riverside ward on Hounslow Council, one of the first things I learned was that you need to ask the obvious questions. Often there is a presumption that fundamental questions such as who, what, when, where, why and how have all been asked and answered. As I quickly discovered, most of the time the answers to these questions can prove to be really hard to find. As a first time councillor, and project manager in my 9-5 life, I have found this extremely interesting as the council is a machine for change management. Time and time again, simple principles seem to be missed so change is imposed upon us, based on a supposedly extensive consultation where it is praised if there is a 25 per cent response rate from residents. At any given time, the council is conducting some sort of consultation, whether it be on CPZs, proposed council strategies, or transport developments (not including the TfL consultations on bus routes or blinking CS9/CW9). You can check out the current consultations here.
Much of my professional life has been connecting people and ideas to come up with practical solutions. It has been frustrating at times that what may appear to be an obvious and simple solution, has not been considered – but the point is that each councillor brings different skills and viewpoints. Everyone, whether they be residents, council officers, councillors, associated local and council organisations such as Hounslow Highways or the local police, or voluntary organisations where I represent the council, wants to be sure that, as far as possible, what some may say are the obvious questions often go unasked and unanswered.
With that in mind, I have loved seeing the number of groups that we have in the area that do fantastic things locally, but we don’t necessarily hear of as local residents. Although I grew up in Chiswick Riverside ward, I had never heard of the Thames Landscape Strategy, an organisation that was set up 25 years ago to conserve, promote and enhance for the future, one of the world’s great river landscapes between Weybridge, Hampton and Kew. I have taken over former Councillor Paul Lynch’s seat on the strategy executive review board of this group. Here I was amazed to find out that, despite the best will of all involved, they were struggling with a structured fundraising and marketing strategy. As a former charity trustee I was able to bring that experience to TLS, working with its director Jason Debney, to develop a plan to put a tiered fundraising and corporate partnership approach into place. I was delighted to hear, at the beginning of June during its anniversary celebrations( pictured below, with Patron Sir David Attenborough), that they have secured their most recent corporate partnership. The TLS does some fantastic work, having raised £25m over the past 25 years, and with the help of volunteers, coordinated a phenomenal 350,000 conservation hours along the river on projects such as river litter picks, the mapping of the Thames Towpath and encouraging community engagement through a fostering and ownership programme. This is just one example of the extended roles that your councillors undertake in addition to their core responsibilities of attending council meetings, surgeries, meeting and speaking with local residents and raising issues via casework.
Gabriella on left with David Attenborough
I mentioned earlier that this year was a year of firsts – but by no means lasts. From being elected, and signing the oath of office, to the first time speaking in the council chamber, chairing a Chiswick Area Forum back in February, and inspecting the streets with Hounslow Highways on our regular quarterly wardabouts, the variety is extraordinary. Then there was coordinating a litter pick on Strand-on-the-Green (where I found out that there is a diligent team of local residents who go out regularly to tidy up the slipway by the blue pier), attending the Riverside ward police meeting (getting an opportunity to hear about the great work from Chiswick School), going out with the local Community RoadWatch (where we clocked an idiot driving 44mph in a 20mph zone on Sutton Court Road), and, most notably, proposing my first motion to the Council on climate change in June.
Unfortunately, this motion was stopped by the council’s bureaucratic process (only 30 minutes allowed for three motions) which meant that it was talked out; this is typical behaviour. If you ever have a spare couple of hours on a Tuesday evening on a full borough council meeting night, I suggest you come to the new Hounslow House to observe the council in action. I believe you would be amazed to see what happens – the fact that only a small number of Labour councillors speak, and that any proactive suggestions made by our group to work with existing campaigns or organisations are immediately shot down.
As I have quickly learned, these meetings are not the most important item on our agenda. Being available to residents, and listening to their needs, are vital aspects of our role. And on that point, I’ve taken up a number of issues from housing requirements, benefit allowance calculations, council tax issues, planning, electric vehicle charging points, bins, and of course potholes!
Litter picking with Sam Hearn
On Clean Air Day this June, along with Cllrs Joanna Biddolph, Patrick Barr, Michael Denniss and Sam Hearn, we were out on Sutton Court Road and Stilehall Gardens asking drivers to turn off their engines when stationary for a minute or more. It was extremely important for me to do this on Stilehall Gardens as we have heard time and time again from residents about how this road is used. During clear hours, drivers rush through (despite the 20mph speed limit) as if trying to beat some invisible race round Chiswick roundabout. During rush hour, cars are running, engines idling in those times when they are not slowly edging their way closer to Kew Bridge. This has only been exacerbated by the closure of Hammersmith Bridge.
I know there are some who argue that all of this will be avoided by the development of CS9/CW9 but, as those of us who have lived in the area for a while know, the junction at the bottom of Kew Bridge has been a nightmare for years. The revised plans for CS9/CW9 have done very little to rectify this and will only mean that the bumper-to-bumper traffic that we are currently experiencing in the area around Stilehall Gardens, Brooks Road, Regent Street, Wellesley Road, Oxford Road South will become the norm. The only access to these roads – Cambridge Road South, Oxford Gardens and Chiswick Village – by car will then be down a very narrow Brooks Road. Talk about using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. We’re renewing our campaign against this plan, so keep an eye out for our leaflets through doors and sign our petition. We will be out in person on Chiswick High Road but you can also sign online.
I understand that we need a modal shift on how we get around. Personally, I use my bike for 90 per cent of my journeys (I’ve done the maths) and do indeed find my journey times quicker than those in cars, especially at the moment. We need to ensure that the roads are safe for all users: pedestrians young and old, wheelchair users, parents with prams, blind or partially sighted people, cyclists, drivers, and even electric scooters (when legal to use on public roads) but putting it on the pavement, at the expense of walking, is wrong for residents and it’s wrong for the shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants on the south side of the High Road. That is why it is so vital that we have a plan that works for everyone, not just for a minority.
So there you are, a brief insight to the first year of a local councillor. It has indeed been eventful, fascinating and challenging. I am very much looking forward to building on what I have learned and making sure that this isn’t my last year as a councillor for Chiswick Riverside ward.
Dates for diaries
Borough Council: Tuesday, 23rd July at 730pm in Hounslow House
Chiswick Area Forum: Tuesday, 17th September at 7.00pm at Chiswick Town Hall
Chiswick surgeries: Every Saturday from 9.30am to 10.30am at Chiswick library, upstairs in the private room
Gunnersbury surgeries: First Saturday of the month from 10am to 11am at The Triangle Club, The Ridgeway, W3 8LN, usually a group discussion but privacy can be arranged.
Cllr Gabriella Giles
Chiswick Riverside Ward
Phone: 07976 704129
Clllr Gerald McGregor's blog criticises proposed 60% CIL increase
1st July 2019
Cllr Gerald McGregor on right, with fellow councillors
One long term issue, about expenditure on a road improvement near Turnham Green station, has achieved no result whatsoever at an enormous cost to the taxpayer. Drivers of the wonderful 94 bus find it very difficult to swing round the mini-roundabout at the junction of Bath Road and the top of Turnham Green Terrace. Our request for a change to the layout resulted in the wrong side of the junction being changed. I raised this at the Chiswick Area Forum on Tuesday, deploring the wasted expenditure and asking for the correct action to be taken. It remains on the issue tracking list – a system by which we can keep important items on the agenda so they don’t slip through the net.
Helping a constituent
Another long-term issue, supporting a Chiswick resident who is trying to get justice (or at least a satisfactory answer) concerning an NHS medical malpractice, and who has been waiting at length to have a meeting/interview with a local MP to discuss the case.
How long does it take to transfer a property under leaseholder enfranchisement legislation? I am now dealing with one group trying to buy out a freehold from Hounslow Housing and another applicant waiting in the wings. The legal team acting for Hounslow Housing (Hounslow Council by another name) appears to be delaying every element of agreement with the leaseholders despite high-level acceptance of the proposal. Perhaps they have never done a conveyance?
Other Chiswick leaseholders are now getting no change from the same organisation with regard to improvements to the common parts of a property, including enhanced security and sound-proofing. I am now advising them to buy out the council freehold to ensure their interests are protected.
The financial record of the current tired bunch of has-beens and never got theres who make up the Labour administration in their new £65 million headquarters in Hounslow centre is sickening. Budget targets missed, deficits at the end of the last financial year carried forward despite promises in February not to do so … it looks like Venezuela-on-Thames. The council reserves look very sick.
What will happen after Hounslow council’s proposed hike in the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL)? It will create more housing cost inflation in the borough – and especially in Chiswick. This levy is applied to developers of large properties specifically to fund the operation, maintenance, improvement or provision of local infrastructure. The council proposes to increase CIL, priced per square metre, from £70 to £75 in Zone 3 (the west of the borough); from £110 to £160 in Zone 2 (the central area) and from £200 to £320 in Zone 3 (Chiswick and Brentford). That’s a hike of 60% here in Chiswick. This will undoubtedly push up prices of homes making it even more difficult for people to get on the housing ladder – and will price the less well-off out of Chiswick. Ours is rightly a mixed community and should remain so. This change is wrong and I urge you to make your views known and respond to the current consultation.
The last round of the selection of the new leader of the Conservative Party has provided what, for me, is a clear-cut choice. Locals may disagree but I believe we have a choice between two great candidates both with a broad big-picture vision and strong records of public service. This is democracy at its best with a mandate to serve the nation and the people at the end of the process. A chance to end dispute and heal division is in sight.
Back to Hounslow
Meanwhile, as a councillor of 14 years’ standing, delivering solutions and providing support continue in casework of various types involving, as examples, housing need, parking issues and retailers needing relief just to stay in business. So, while Labour maladministers a borough – a picture repeated from the ill-managing London Mayor downwards into local councils across London promising a socialist ideology rather than answering to the needs of local people - it’s more business as usual for me.
Cllr Gerald McGregor
This week Councillor Michael Denniss writes about his work in the community
16th June 2019
It’s been a year since I was first elected councillor for Chiswick Riverside ward. Since the election I’ve been familiarising myself with new responsibilities and challenges and meeting residents and community groups. Hounslow council’s induction course introduced new councillors to its key structures and procedures and informed my work as a councillor.
I have spoken several times at meetings of the borough council. For instance I endorsed and voiced my support for the council’s acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s interpretation of anti-semitism (all nine of us supported it, of course). After several residents raised concerns about the complicated language in the council’s annual budget I asked the council’s cabinet to consider simplifying the language and to produce an accompanying document that summarised the key points. I do feel that, at all levels of government, transparency such as this provides legitimacy in a democracy.
I’ve have taken on several roles outside the council, on groups on which there is formal council representation. One of these is the board at Mortlake Crematorium which oversees how the crematorium is governed, how it manages its financial arrangements and how it forecasts future risks. It’s also a chance to ensure that the crematorium serves residents effectively. The Grade II-listed building is beside the Thames and is a stunning Art Deco design. The atmosphere there is entirely tranquil and provides enormous comfort after a long day in the office!
This year I’ve taken on new roles and am now a member of the housing scrutiny panel. This role will allow me to study and contribute towards the council’s plans for housing, ensuring that they are being run soundly and that they deliver value for money.
Another of my new tasks in the Conservative group is to keep abreast of and promote online petitions that affect residents in Chiswick. This is so that residents don’t miss out on adding their voice on matters that they care about. One of these is the current petition to oppose Transport For London’s proposed Cycle Superhighway 9 (CS9) which the council will vote on perhaps as soon as September or October. Last weekend I promoted the petition on Chiswick High Road at a stall with Shaun Bailey and Nicholas Rogers, the Conservative candidates for Mayor of London and the Greater London Assembly respectively. The petition is live until 3rd September and you can sign it here: http://petitions.hounslow.gov.uk/Stop-cs9/. The system only allows for one name for each email address so if you share an email address and would like a paper copies to complete, please let me know.
I’ve also attended meetings of local community groups such as the Grove Park Group Residents Association and the Strand on the Green Association. This is a chance for me to find out what these groups are planning and what their common concerns are. It’s really encouraging for me to see residents getting together and taking action on issues that matter, such as the Grove Park Piazza, local crime and rubbish collections. It’s great to have this focused understanding of the key topics and also to catch up with residents. The Conservative group recently hosted two large meetings with local and borough police in Chiswick which drew large numbers of residents. The other councillors and I met attendees and collected formal feedback on concerns about crime and how safe they feel in Chiswick.
Another key activity is regularly to walk around Chiswick Riverside ward, either on my own or with your other Riverside councillors, Gabriella Giles and Sam Hearn. These have the dual effects of learning about or better understanding existing problems and developments in the ward, and raising our profile amongst residents. We recognise the issues that residents have raised with us, for instance the number of cars driven to and left near Chiswick Station on a work day and the number of potholes, especially on Grove Park Gardens. We take different routes so that we cover the whole ward. I particularly enjoy the walk along the river between Kew Bridge and Strand. Chiswick Riverside is a lovely place to live in and I am lucky to have grown up in such an area.
If you have any comments about any of the issues that I have raised then please do get in touch.
Dates for diaries
• Hounslow Borough Council: Tuesday, 18 June at Hounslow House (papers are online now).
• Chiswick Area Forum: Tuesday, 25 June (papers will be published a week before)
• Chiswick surgeries: Every Saturday from 9.30am to 10.30am at Chiswick library, upstairs in a private room.
• Gunnersbury surgeries: First Saturday of the month from 10am to 11am at The Triangle Club, The Ridgeway, W3 8LN, usually a group discussion but privacy can be arranged.
Cllr Michael Denniss
Phone: 07976 703274
This time it's the turn of Patrick Barr to write about his week
9th June 2019
You’ve heard the news by now, Cllr Joanna Biddolph is our group leader and I was appointed her deputy, an absolute pleasure. We’ve had a year to settle in and are now raring to go. It's early days in our new roles, however three words spring to mind; change, fresh and innovative. We have hit the ground running thanks to the support from a superb team.
This week started differently. My husband and I flew back from Venice last Sunday, after a short break. We were waiting for the vaporetto (similar to the Thames Clipper from Westminster to Greenwich) to take us from St Mark's Square to San Marco airport, not aware of what had just happened - the collision between a cruise liner and a small boat. It was only when we received messages from friends and family asking if we were ok that we realised, relieved to learn that it could have been a lot worse and that there were no serious injuries. Friends and relatives who know you’re abroad always assume you were directly involved when an incident occurs. “I know you and Richard are away, there’s a hurricane in the Pacific Ocean. Are you all right?” I find it very amusing.
A shock on Monday morning as I returned to work. I like my job, however, I do leave promptly to get back to what I really enjoy: being a Chiswick councillor. I start replying to emails walking to the car, making and receiving phone calls on my way home to catch up on the day's events. My husband and I are, at times like ships passing in the night. Once home, we chat about our day over a coffee. I absolutely treasure these moments; love, married life, bliss.
On Monday evening I started to prepare a health question for borough council. I have been doing a lot of work as shadow spokesperson for adult health and social care over the past few months (attending meetings as a member of the Adult Health and Social Care Scrutiny Panel, other regular meetings including Healthwatch Hounslow, an observer on the Health and Wellbeing Board and the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny committee meetings, meeting with heads of health and social care as well as doing my own research). The fruit of the hard work is starting to come to fruition. I had a conversation with my four year old nephew and asked him what he wants to be when he grows up. He said he wants to be a nurse, I got a tad emotional in the moment as he would make a super nurse as he’s such an intuitive little lad, but I know his career choice will change several times before he decides what he wants to be.
On Tuesday evening I attended Whittingham Court for the Parochial Charities trustees meeting, I arrived to find it was cancelled due to too many trustees being unable to attend. I take real pride in my work as a trustee for this cause. For those of you who don’t know, Chiswick Parochial Charities consists of The Lying-In Charity, offering an annual grant to assist pregnant women in the London Borough of Hounslow, and the Educational Charities. It supports older/elderly people to prevent or relieve poverty through accommodation/housing. Whittingham Court, based in Chiswick Homefields Ward, is an almshouse for people aged 55-75 at the time of application who are in financial need. I am about to start my second year as trustee. I have had the pleasure of meeting most of the residents, all of whom have a story to tell. Although I mostly attend just for trustee meetings, it has an incredible warmth which comes from the staff and the residents.
As is the same with most evenings, on Wednesday I had time to follow up on nitty gritty casework, the most important part of being a councillor. Recently it's been dominated by housing issues, both local authority and housing association complaints. Although we are unable to obtain a case number for housing association issues, taking up all these cases is essential. The meetings we attend, the residents we meet, the time we spend on casework provide some evidence of the amount of work we do but those simple figures don't cover everything we do. I would also ask that you bear in mind that some of us have full time jobs, unlike some of our colleagues who are retired, don’t work, or work from home and can dip in and out of council related work in the working week. This is reflected in the casework stats that you will see from time to time.
On Thursday evening Jo and I attended a public meeting about the closure of Hammersmith Bridge. The meeting, arranged by by Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park, took place in St Mary’s Church, Barnes, so Transport for London could provide an update on the closure of the bridge and for the public to ask questions and express their concerns. We went to on behalf of Chiswick residents to understand what has been put in place to alleviate the gridlock traffic at peak times and the increased number of rat runs in Chiswick. You will hear more from us on this very current and important issue effecting us all.
Friday is a day I don’t go to work and use the time to focus on council work that needs more delving into, a chance to meet with residents whose casework isn’t as simple as just an email, and to go round Homefields ward looking for any obvious issues that need to be addressed. Friday is also a day I use to arrange meetings with heads of Hounslow Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), heads of social care, visits to nursing homes, GP practices, anything I was unable to do in the week.
I'm very much looking forward to Green Days; I hope to see many of you there. My next surgery is on 22nd June 2019 at the Chiswick Library at 09.30-10.30 am. As always, please come along and say hi, I'm really looking forward to seeing you.
Dates for diaries
• Community litter pick, A4 underpasses: Sunday, 9 June at 5pm (note time change, meet St Mary's School, Duke Road, contact Cllr Ron Mushiso)
• Chiswick Area Forum:Tuesday, 25 June (papers will be published a week before )
• Chiswick surgeries: Every Saturday from 9.30am to 10.30am at Chiswick library, upstairs in a private room.
• Gunnersbury surgeries: First Saturday of the month from 10am to 11am at The Triangle Club, The Ridgeway, W3 8LN, usually a group discussion but privacy can be arranged.
For casework please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07976 703263
Cllr Patrick Barr
Local Conservative Party group leader Joanna Biddolph writes about her new role
2nd June 2019
It’s a year since the nine of us were elected – three of us re-elected, six of us brand new – and what a year it’s been. I tell everyone who asks that I don’t think anyone could have described it in words that would have meant anything.
Overwhelming is one but understanding what it means in practice would have been impossible. Interesting? Of course. Busy? Unimaginably so. Worthwhile? Without doubt.
Residents and others don’t always know that being a councillor is not meant to be a full time job. It can take up as much time as being employed but it’s supposed to be fitted in around work. And the majority of us do work. An analysis by First, one of many local government related magazines that flop onto our actual or digital doormats, recently revealed that councillors spend, on average, 22 hours a week on council business the largest chunk of which (eight hours) is on council meetings. Some of us do more than that in an interesting interpretation of work-life balance. There isn’t much balance.
I’ve now come off the planning committee, only partly because it meets so frequently and can involve two days of scrutinising applications and visiting sites, not to mention long meetings. The record meeting end time this year was 23.47 and how lucky am I to live on the Piccadilly Line which runs till well after midnight midweek. We don’t all have such convenient journeys home from Hounslow House, the council’s shiny new office.
Being on the overview and scrutiny committee is illuminating. It’s totally free of political combat – we are all on it to hold the council to account, to ask critical friend questions and dig deep to see where weaknesses are, or which needs aren’t being met, and to break through PR puffery, as I call it. Having said that, all the new councillors on this important committee have said it’s taken us time to find our investigative streaks while getting to know and trust each other, and to understand the process and the effects of various options open to us. This is despite excellent training from the national external specialist Centre for Public Scrutiny.
This year, I’ve sat on task and finish groups (a term I struggle with – it’s incomprehensible local authority gobbledygook, isn’t it?) interrogating the council’s record on fly tipping (Turnham Green ward is host to the borough’s second worst fly tip and thanks go to Hounslow Highways for meeting its commitment to remove fly tipping within 24 hours of it being reported) and the council’s approach to contract management.
Cllr Patrick Barr, on the health and adults care scrutiny panel, has considered A&E targets, health integration and the role voluntary groups can play in prevention and early intervention. Cllr Ron Mushiso, on the children and young people’s scrutiny panel, has looked at knife carrying, increasing apprenticeships and enhancing provision for looked after children. Watch out for the committee’s official recommendations on these and other issues. If you think any aspect of the council’s work should be scrutinised, please let me know. We meet soon to discuss priorities.
It’s too early to know if every municipal year is the same but our first started with fewer committee meetings (evenings filled instead by an onerous and intensive training course) building to a crescendo with my diary full of council-related meetings every midweek evening, and visiting residents or following up their enquiries over the weekend, for several weeks in a row.
Now, at the start of our second year, the pace has slowed but I’m expecting it to build to a sprint. New commitments include councillor development training. I hope we’ll be asked for ideas of what is needed. If we aren’t, I’ll be offering suggestions. To be Rumsfeldian, we now know the known unknowns we wished had been uncovered when we were new – and we expect more unknown unknowns to come. All thanks to residents for raising issues that keep us inquisitive and enquiring. It has been surprising, and pleasing, discovering how much happens in Chiswick that enables us to contribute to discussions, about issues affecting other parts of the borough, with knowledge and first-hand experience.
Some wards are entirely residential without the extraordinary mix we have, here in Chiswick, of big international business, light industrial, retail, education, health, adult and child care, housing, poverty, leisure, open spaces, the threat of big development as well as the standard planning stuff of extensions, pollution, litter, recycling, waste, conservation areas, the river, major transport routes, rat runs and CS9. The list is exhausting, if not exhaustive.
Invitations flow in. We can’t accept them all and there will always be clashes with committees and allowing time for having a life outside the Hounslow bubble. Seven faiths or denominations are represented in Turnham Green ward and we are all aware that, although we were elected here in Chiswick, we have a wider responsibility to speak up for residents throughout Hounslow whatever their faith or none. Attending a community iftar last week, sharing the daily celebration of breaking the fast during Ramadan, was a first for me and deeply impressive. The welcome at the Hounslow Jamia Masjid was warm, inclusive, embracing, generous, kind and inspired. I kept my speech very short which suited everyone. My only regret … the choice of scarf to wear on my head. I learned it’s essential to wear one with texture; slithery will slither, as mine did repeatedly.
Left to right: Hounslow councillors Komal Chaudri, Javed Akhunzada, Afzaal Kiani, Sam Hearn, Hina Mir, Joanna Biddolph and Khulique Malik.
And now I have added another time-eater as leader of the Conservative group (the cake I baked for our first group meeting, held in the afternoon, went down well, the houmous made for the second, an evening meeting, not so much; everyone loves the Indian nibbles Cllr Ranjit Gill brings).
One immediate change is to this blog which will not be written every week by the same councillor. Instead the nine of us will take it in turns, exposing the full range of what we do. Divvying up our workload in other ways is crucial, too. If your instinct is to turn to long-standing councillors can I ask that you give new councillors a chance to shine? We are all here to provide a public service.
Subjects on my desk and at my finger tips this week
Traffic gridlock made worse by the closure of Hammersmith Bridge. Working with our ward police tackling shoplifting. Mitigation plans to reduce the impact on residents and businesses of Lovebox/Citadel in Gunnersbury Park. Offensive graffiti (four words, collectively best described as paying homage to the EU) it was removed very swiftly (thanks Hounslow Highways). A contentious planning application (I am now free to help, no longer constrained by being on the committee). Warning businesses of the risks of their land being used for fly tipping. Deterring drug dealing. A dangerous road junction. Alleged illegal trading. Parking infringements and enforcement. Visiting a resident foxed by conservation area guidelines. Nuisance neighbours. Supporting independent traders and continuing the work of the Chiswick Shops Task Force.
Dates for diaries
• Community litter pick, A4 underpasses: Sunday, 9th June at 2pm (contact Cllr Ron Mushiso)
• Chiswick Area Forum: Tuesday, 25th June 2019 (papers will be published a week before here)
• Chiswick surgeries: Every Saturday from 9.30am to 10.30am at Chiswick library, upstairs in a private room.
• Gunnersbury surgeries: First Saturday of the month from 10am to 11am at The Triangle Club, The Ridgeway, W3 8LN, usually a group discussion but privacy can be arranged.