Cllr Mike Denniss - Virtually Planning the Borough's Future

Chiswick Riverside ward councillor Mike Denniss on his week

I wrote my previous blog just as the government's lockdown response to Covid-19 came into effect. I had not appreciated how long the lockdown would last, and had taken for granted seeing my family and friends, outside exercise and shopping. In the nine weeks since then I have placed greater value on these activities.

The chance to go without the burden and expense of catching the daily train to Vauxhall has been a real boon and I eventually managed to get my Oyster card refunded from TFL (see guidance here if you have not yet done so). However it has been a difficult period for many residents who have been furloughed, who are self-employed or who recently changed jobs and now do not qualify for a redundancy packages.

Council leadership

Although all council surgeries have been cancelled, councillors continue to fulfil their roles from home and have been able to attend certain meetings virtually. Each week the other Conservative councillors and I meet the senior staff from Hounslow council who are on the council's crisis team who answer our questions and brief us on the council's response. This provides us with an overview of the council's activities so that we can better advise residents. The Conservative group leader, Cllr Joanna Biddolph, has also led regular group meetings to discuss priorities and ensure that the council is able to deliver for residents in this difficult time.

Parks and leisure activities

The council has, to its credit, kept parks open for the public provided they follow the relevant social distancing rules. This has been particularly important for those residents with dogs who have not liked being contained in a property for such a long time. However, some parks are working with smaller teams. This week Chiswick House warned about the implications of this on litter and asked the public to be observant. Regretfully Gunnersbury Park has closed due to a fire at its café; I hope that the park will reopen soon.

Government guidance on social distancing

The government is easing restrictions nationally in certain areas and from 1st June groups of up to six people will be able to meet in public places. Please see the latest advice here

Shopping

Supermarkets have managed to meet the challenge of the extra demand with items noticeably present on stock shelves; M&S's sale of food and drink were at record levels nationally. What is also apparent is that staff have worked out a system of social distancing and gently but firmly asked shoppers to queue appropriately.

Our independent shops have worked hard to meet the extra challenges they face. Those that have been allowed to be open throughout, such as our corner shops and cafés/restaurants offering takeaway, have had a one-at-a-time or two-at-a-time policy with customers patiently waiting outside in a socially distanced queue. Others have put in arrangements for sales at the door with payment card readers strategically placed to accommodate social distancing. Those that will be able to open from 15th June are working out what to do and, more importantly, what the demand from customers will be. Will we stay at home out of caution or be keen to get out and shop in reality, catching up with shop owners and forming our new normal?

My council activities

•  Planning committee. Planning committee meetings, where I have a vote on planning applications that get called in, were temporarily cancelled as part of the council's reprioritisation efforts to combat Covid-19. However, they have now resumed albeit online and with fewer councillors, with attendance based on the current 5:1 ratio of Labour to Conservative councillors. The first such meeting took place on 14th May with Cllr John Todd as the representative Conservative councillor. The committee is not party political – we are all obliged to make decisions based on planning law and guidance – but representation on the committee must be politically proportionate. At that meeting an application to install high ball-stop netting at the Staveley Gardens north-western boundary of Chiswick Cricket Club was approved.

Next week I will hear two important applications: one to make a minor change to the original housing development at the large Morrisons on Brentford High Street, which will increase the proportion and quality of affordable flats in the plan. The second is to construct two, two-storey mews-type houses at 30-36 Chiswick High Road. Both will contribute to the borough's housing needs but I will need to look at an array of issues such as impact on neighbours. Please let me know if you have any views on these; the council officers have recommended both for approval. You can see these and the other planning applications here .

•  Homelessness. The Shelter Project Hounslow (TSPH), where several residents including me volunteer, ended its winter shelter earlier this year. The government is committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and ending it by 2027 through a combination of charities such as TSPH and national and local government. As the Conservative representative for homes and homelessness, I pressed the council's leadership on its long-term strategy in this area at one of our recent weekly meetings. The government had a few days before announced an increase to £433m of its fund to end rough sleeping which will build 6,000 long-term safe homes for vulnerable rough sleepers, 3,300 of those homes will become available in the next 12 months. Homelessness in Chiswick is of great concern to residents, and to us; we want rough sleepers to be properly housed.

Councillor Michael Denniss
Chiswick Riverside ward