Devonshire Road – is it open or closed?
Last week's news was all about Devonshire Road. Out went the hideous concrete planters and the seldom-used green bike parking planters; in came white and yellow lines on the road surface revealing an even more bonkers scheme than anyone could have imagined – and you can be sure I have imagined. Given the sensible points made to me by the council's consultants commissioned to find a compromise, and the traders' wish to do the same, I can only assume that the council ignored their recommendations just as it ignores majority public opinion. It makes decisions from a comfy chair in its own cosy echo chamber.
Back in the real world, the signs at the top of the road, for anyone contemplating turning into it from Chiswick High Road by whatever mode of transport, show just how determined Hounslow council is to worsen divisions. As one person said, they are negative not positive. A bit like all Hounslow's policies – how can we hit people to force change, rather than how can we encourage people to change. It's not carrot and stick; it's only stick. Or, as a resident put it last week, we live in a Stalinist-Leninist state. Another used the word Kafkaesque.
Instead of installing positive signs explaining when drivers can drive through (and therefore when they can't), the signs at the top focus on only some of the facts. It is a cycle and pedestrian zone between 5pm and 8am – there is nothing to say you can drive down it between 8am and 5pm. Given that so many of its shops rely on customers who can park and that, regardless of cycling fanatics' fantasies, car drivers are not en masse going to become cargo-bike owners overnight, signs should be designed so that they don't treat information in a miserly Scrooge-like way. Soon after I was elected in 2018, someone (I can't remember who) said that if Labour can complicate something, they will. And they certainly have on Devonshire Road.
Why 5pm and other questions?
Even more negative is the way in which space for outdoor drinking and dining has been arranged, demonstrating with great clarity that the council hasn't a clue not just about how the road works and how Chiswick works but also how retail works. Space outside numbers eight to 22 has been blocked off for outdoor dining and this applies during the day and in the evening. That benefits only the cafes/restaurants along that stretch. Restaurants further along, or on the other side of the road, cannot use the spaces in front of them – even after 5pm when driving is prohibited except for access (still unexplained) and no-one is allowed to park. Empty spaces outside must remain empty – why? Because LBH doesn't want to implement a scheme that might work, that might unite rather than divide, that might support enterprise. The word used last week when I dropped in on various businesses and chatted with owners was, unfair. I know no-one ever said life would be fair but this incomprehensible control-freakery reaches new heights of unfairness. I have, or course, asked LBH to put it right.
Other questions remain unsatisfactorily answered including why after 5pm and not after 6.30pm. The council responded with "the restriction is based on widely accepted working hours ". Well, yes, in local authority offices where nine-to-five is the norm but, beyond that, businesses work later and on shopping roads 6pm is typical after which owners need to tidy up, close down, load their vans, set the alarm and leave. I believe that a compromise on the road of 6.30pm would have been welcomed by all. Instead, we have yet more anger.
C9T and calling-in Hounslow cabinet's decision
Anyone following, or dipping in and out of, the Brentford Today & TV Facebook page, will have seen the terrible coverage of the terrible overview and scrutiny committee (reduced to a farce worthy of the West End) at which three of us were treated to a slap on the back of our hands from nanny for using adjectives nanny didn't like. If you read the story on chiswickw4.com you'll know that Cllr Gerald McGregor was told off for saying the council was "trashing" Chiswick High Road but was allowed to say it was turning it into a "pigsty" though, later, this too was criticised; and that Cllr Ron Mushiso was slapped down for using the word "pressurised" because it was negative, but allowed to say "forced" which has no negative connotations in a Socialist borough. I was reprimanded for using the well-known and widely-understood term "loaded questions", the word "loaded" being offensive, apparently. Given that I was using it to describe a specific consultation format used by LBH in Chiswick last year, it was factual. After all, everyone who completed the Commonplace survey – whatever their views – knew its questions were loaded. Denying reality is how life must be lived in Hounslow.
Which brings me to next week's news which is about C9T (T for temporary, which we all know is a sham description). After the absurdity of the woke-fuelled scrutiny committee meeting, the controversial cabinet report on C9T was rubber stamped at a cabinet meeting which was attended by four of its 10 members (the quorum is three). It was no less full of self-praise than if it had been attended by all.
That decision has been called-in by Conservative councillors – a call-in being a device that allows councillors to ask for a decision to be reviewed by the overview and scrutiny committee. My Conservative councillor colleagues have called it in and for all six permitted reasons: inadequate consultation prior to the decision; the absence of adequate evidence; the decision is contrary to the policy framework; the action is not proportionate to the desired outcome; a potential human rights challenge; insufficient consideration of legal and financial advice. See the full details here.
Although previous call-ins have been heard by the full scrutiny committee, Hounslow council's new constitution stipulates that they are heard by a small sub-committee of five, one of them from the opposition. Have the other four been hand-picked not to rock the boat?
Spend, spend spend: £20 voucher for every household in the borough
The government is to give Hounslow council £2.3m to support local businesses. Having distributed many more millions of government (ie yours and mine) money in much-needed grants during Covid, this further amount is contingent on the council having distributed all the additional restrictions grant it was allocated in full and by last Friday, 30th July. It's been on spending spree, making surprise payments to some businesses so it can qualify for the extra money and I'm very pleased indeed for the businesses that have benefited. I'm saddened that the council refused to include our dry cleaners and travel companies in the list for these unexpected windfall payments; they were not mandated to close during lockdowns so did not benefit from the same grants as, for example, hospitality businesses. (On that point, please do take in your curtains, duvets, throws, blankets and anything else that could do with a clean; we need all our traders to keep trading.)
Assuming it's been successful, the £2.3m is to be distributed in vouchers of £20 a household throughout the borough – to be spent in local shops. Only shops that have signed up to the scheme can take part so the Chiswick Shops Task Force (run by Cllr Patrick Barr, Cllr Gabriella Giles and me) has been busy emailing the independent shops on our list encouraging them to sign up. I was told last week that twice as many shops in Chiswick had signed up compared with the whole of the rest of the borough.
So now it's over to you. You know what happens with vouchers. Most of us put them aside to use later – then forget, only to find them after the deadline wishing we'd remembered. The details haven’t yet been announced but do please, make a plan now so you are ready. What will you buy, where and with or for whom (yourself included)? What would a £20 boost make you do – shop or eat out somewhere you haven't been before, or love to go but haven't been because of Covid-19 or buy a treat you wouldn't otherwise buy? There's so much choice in Chiswick, don't let the voucher go to waste. Participating shops will display stickers and will be on a map on a council website (details to be revealed later). Without prescribing profligacy, I do encourage you to spend, spend, spend this voucher.
Brentford Football Club getting ready for kick off
Saturday saw a friendly between Brentford and West Ham providing a test for all that is involved in putting on a match. Councillors have had briefings – and briefed officers – which were revealing on many levels. Including a big clean-up of the surrounding area so that visitors see a beautiful borough – just as, as it is rumoured, organisations spruce up their loos when HM The Queen’s coming to visit.
Still, this equivalent of playing the ball wide, is at least a partial result for part of Chiswick. The fly posting on the site of the Chiswick Curve/Holly House on Chiswick roundabout has been cleared from the side of the roundabout that can be seen from roads/pavements. The fly posting on the side facing B&Q was not removed, nor was the graffiti on the side of 250 Gunnersbury Avenue facing Power Road. I reported both sites many months ago but Hounslow is negotiating a change in policy with Hounslow Highways (HH) – instead of HH removing fly posting and graffiti from wherever it is visible from the public network (ie not on private roads), it will only remove it from public property. It's a retrogressive step and explains why graffiti remains on the stalls outside Sainsbury's and on the Collins stall at Holly Road.
Fly tipping remains one of the aspects of HH's work that is, in my experience, extremely efficiently handled removing it within 24 hours, as stipulated in its contract. By chance, I bumped into two HH employees who were working out how to return a Lidl trolley when there isn't a Lidl in Chiswick and returning owned fly-tipping such as trolleys over a borough boundary is considered inappropriate. The fly tipping removal team consists of two teams of two people and two trucks though they can call on additional trucks if reports are higher than the two can cope with. Kevin and Roy, the team of two I met on Friday, do a terrific job with no sense of exhaustion or dulled routine in a job that never ends. Without wanting to burden them with more of this back-breaking but apparently not soul-destroying work, do report fly tipping to HH straightaway, adding a photo helps.
Councillor candidate selections
The Conservative party has been selecting its candidates to stand for election in 2022 and some very exciting new people have been selected to stand in Chiswick. At the selection for Chiswick Gunnersbury ward, which is what Turnham Green ward becomes in May 2022 when it takes in the whole of Gunnersbury Park and the residents along the south of Popes Lane and down Lionel Road North, I was asked an extremely pertinent question about why council life is so combative when, in business, negotiating a compromise is the norm. As I said, much of our work is done direct with officers and those relationships are often extremely respectful and professional; disagreements are discussed often leading to agreeable decisions. The back and forth of ill-feeling and worse is usually between councillors with inevitably opposing views on the most controversial policies. The nine of us have achieved many a compromise on non-controversial issues – but they don't make the news.