Starter for 2021
I don’t know about you, but as I write on the penultimate day of the first month of 2021, it feels like January has flown by. Traditionally, the start of a new year has been like a clean slate, new diaries bought with clean pages, where we can write out our plans, ambitions and resolutions for the year ahead.
However, this year feels different. More of a continuation of what happened last year, the issues that we faced in December are still here – COVID-19, social isolation and the accompanying issues, the road changes in Chiswick – still a concern and worry for many and, if anything, we feel the ongoing stress a bit more acutely. Much like how we have been encouraged to keep our Christmas lights up until 2nd of February, January has felt a bit like a hangover from 2020, with little rays of light shining a ray of hope for the rest of the year.
In past years, my council diary of events in January has been pretty consistent: the Strand on the Green AGM; group meetings to prepare for Borough Council; Borough Council; meetings of the Chiswick Pier Trust, Thames Landscape Strategy and the Riverside Police Ward Panel; a networking event at the Arts Ed; Holocaust Memorial Day; and even Burns Night celebrations. Most of these events still took place this year, albeit in different formats, and included a few more, resulting in my diary looking anything but an easing into the new year. Not that I’m complaining. With the current lockdown, and needing to stay at home, it has meant that my evenings have been an awfully lot more productive than re-watching Bridgerton and other shows on Netflix (like most of my contemporaries outside the council!).
Consultation, Consultation, Consultation
Since June, Cllr Sam Hearn and I have been asking the council for a full and proper consultation on the South Chiswick Liveable Neighbourhood (SCLN), and the promised six-month review of measures introduced over the summer finally started this month, along with the other “consultation events” for the Streetspace initiatives in the borough.
The first round of engagement sessions from Hounslow Council about the Streetspace changes started on 17th December and ran until 18th January. Unfortunately, due to some inexperience within the council in using the Eventbrite platform, the messaging about what would be discussed in these meetings wasn’t clear. In regards to South Chiswick, a lot of residents were left disappointed on hearing that the only measures that would be discussed would be the closures of Stile Hall Gardens, Wellesley Road, Harvard Hill and Dan Mason Drive. I still find it a bit disingenuous that Stile Hall Gardens and Wellesley Road were included in the South Chiswick scheme to begin with as they were originally part of the CS9 plans.
In the same vein, I do understand that, like the acceleration of the SCLN project, when TfL declared it was short of funds last year, Hounslow Council was asked to implement this project on its behalf. Possibly a bit of a technicality, but to me it just reinforces the ongoing obfuscation (perhaps unintentionally) in relation to the changes that are happening across our town. Based on what I had experienced, and feedback from residents, I have met with officers to discuss this very issue. Unfortunately, I had to relay the message that the way these events had been set up, communicated and promoted meant that for many, it appeared like the council was either going out of its way to be underhand or just simply incompetent. I’m not one hundred per cent sure which is worse.
I have asked for these events to be re-run with clear expectations of what would be discussed defined at the outset to ensure that there is better alignment between the council and the people it is here to serve. I’m not holding my breath but I live in hope that this will be done properly for the next round of consultation events.
Talking of consultations, there are currently three live on the Hounslow website. The Streetspace feedback consultation closes today, 31st January at midnight so, if you have any thoughts on what has been done in Chiswick as a result of the COVID-19 response, get clicking and responding!
The second, a Coronavirus Pulse Check survey, closes on 7th February and is asking residents for feedback on how the pandemic is impacting your life. Personally, I find this very interesting as, since March, I’ve been supporting a number of friends, family and residents, whose lives have been massively impacted by the repeated lockdowns. This support appears in very many forms, feeding cats because their owner isn’t able, doing the shopping for people who can’t leave their homes, and sometimes just being available for a friendly chat.
Incompetence or Obfuscation?
Well, having told you about what is on the Hounslow Council website in regards to consultation, what is not transparent is that there are seven further consultations that don’t appear on the council consultation pages but on the Hounslow Engagement Hub hosted by the controversial organisation Commonplace.
It is not clear why the council has two separate locations for consultations, especially as the latter website isn’t easily accessible from the council’s home page. As someone who has built their career on identifying and creating efficiencies, it just doesn’t make sense. Either way, I would thoroughly encourage you to take a look at the Commonplace site, especially the Hounslow Character and Design Study which closes on 5th February. In this, we are asked:
- How would you define the area you live or work in?
- What do you think makes it special and how could it be improved?
- Where do local people meet, eat and shop?
At the Chiswick Area Forum held on 12th January, my fellow councillors raised the issue about the digital divide, and there are numbers for people who don’t have access to the Internet to share their thoughts. The irony of the survey being promoted online to people who don’t access information online is not lost on me. It’s an easy mistake to make, I did it myself at the Chiswick Area Forum where I highlighted the number for people to call, on an online meeting, which is stored online. So, my plea is: if you know anyone who doesn’t have access to the Internet, but would like to share their thoughts, please let your councillors know so we can facilitate the engagement process.
Events and Local Groups
Given the number of meetings I have had this month, it would be remiss of me not to share with you some of the topics discussed and highlight some dates for your diary and information.
- Chiswick Pier Trust – their spring talks are going to be taking place this year, with the first event on 23rd February over Zoom. Tickets will be available via Eventbrite, the link isn’t live just yet, but I would recommend signing up to their newsletter.
- Riverside Police Ward Panel – sign up to OWL the online neighbourhood watch service from the police. Chiswick House and Gardens is struggling to enforce social distancing given the number of visitors. This issue is also a concern on the towpath of Strand on the Green, along with cyclists who either don’t understand the Highway Code, or simply choose to ignore the signs.
- Licensing committee meeting on 20th January – there has been an increase in applications for street trading licences, and all members of the committee (myself included) have been asked to scrub up on the council’s street trading policy. The next meeting will be held on 8th February.
- On 26th January, a number of us attended a Holocaust Memorial Day event hosted by the Hounslow Friends of Faith. Always a moving event, this year the guest speaker was Holocaust survivor Dorit Oliver-Wolff who recounted her experience. A recording of this event will be made available online soon.
- On Wednesday, I joined a COVID-19 Business Support session, and would encourage any local business owner to join future events. Rob Meldrum from the council joined and gave an update on grants, stating that if you have applied, they are working through the applications, and don’t call because this will distract the team and delay things even further.
- Last Thursday I took part in an awareness session run by the organisation Empowering Deaf Society which was really fascinating and reminded me that, although the power of video calls is fantastic, for those who can’t hear we need to do more.
- Lateral Flow Testing is now available in Hounslow for residents, and you can get tested even if you’re not symptomatic. My parents tried it out at Hounslow House and said the process was flawless.
- Having said that, there was a slight glitch with my mum's vaccination booking. Last week she was contacted by text asking if she wanted to book her vaccine. She replied texting "book" and then heard nothing. On Friday, my dad was asked the same and had confirmation that same day. As a result, my mum called the health centre only to be told she had missed her appointment. She explained what had happened, and now they are both booked in to be vaccinated on Monday. We all know glitches are inevitable, and the operation to inoculate people is phenomenal, but if you don't hear back after confirming, please call your GP to confirm your appointment.
- Councillors now attend weekly briefing sessions, and this month’s topics have included the upcoming Census, the COVID-19 response and vaccination updates. We have been told that you may be asked to travel to a different part of Hounslow to receive your vaccination, due to ensuring priority groups are vaccinated in a timely manner.
As always, casework continues to be processed, with common themes including flooding properties, unresolved cases and graffiti.
Cllr Gabriella Giles
Chiswick Riverside ward