During what seems to be a far more depressing and difficult lockdown, everyone needs a bit of a lift and mine came this week with the High Court's ruling about a new bus only route through Bishopsgate which the judge, Justice Lang, said treated London's black cab drivers unfairly and should be abolished. I'm a big fan of black cabs and contacted the LTDA (London Taxi Drivers' Association) shortly after Turnham Green Terrace was closed, concerned about the potential impact on the taxi rank outside the tube station. Black cabs have given me and others many a lift and losing this taxi rank would have been significant. They were already on it so all was well. But back to the High Court judgement …
Justice Lang went much further than the Square Mile of the City and ruled that London's Streetspace scheme (which includes all the road changes in the heart of Chiswick) was "seriously flawed" and "took advantage of the pandemic" to push through "radical" changes to London's roads. She also spotted what we all believe but which Hounslow continues to deny (while crossing fingers behind their backs, I imagine): "The scale and ambition of the proposals, and the manner in which they were described, strongly suggest that the Mayor and TfL intended that these schemes would become permanent, once the temporary orders expired".
We all hear the lack of conviction in the voices of Hounslow cabinet members and officers when they say that the Chiswick schemes are temporary. Although the schemes are daft enough to seem as if they were sketched on the back of an envelope after too many beers and a prawn cocktail sandwich, they've been on TfL's and Hounslow officers' desks for years just waiting for the moment to impose them on us.
We, the nine Hounslow councillors for Chiswick, responded to the High Court judgement and you can read part of our statement here on Chiswickw4.com.
The fight against these discriminatory and unwanted (except by a tiny minority) schemes continues with OneChiswick preparing for the application for judicial review hearing on 12 February which will determine whether there is a case for a judicial review of C9. The cases of four other London boroughs (Croydon, Ealing, Hackney and Lambeth) will be considered at the same time, as explained here, a story in the Daily Mail with a photo of Turnham Green Terrace before it was re-opened.
Evidence and data
All Hounslow's Streetspace "engagement" sessions have now ended. Some were extremely poorly attended which tends to happen when residents receive letters about them dated and delivered on the day they are due to take place, as happened in Brentford where plans to restrict access to Swyncombe Avenue are being criticised. But not here where Hounslow Council was forced to hold two more events, one each for what it defines as Chiswick North and Chiswick South, because so many wanted to have their say.
Anyone who attended will have squirmed at the way we were presented with incomplete data, fobbed off with platitudes and presented with impossible to believe claims. As the strength of local feeling began to hit home, with new names and faces emerging at each session to object, Hounslow's position shifted – but not in a good way. We learned that it would now be taking representations from "anyone, anywhere", presumably because so many Chiswick residents responded against the schemes saying what the council doesn't want to hear; and that consideration of the schemes would be "evidence-based". Given the way "evidence" is at best manipulated and, at worst and more often, made up to suit an agenda my heart was not lifted but sank.
The results of the Commonplace survey into the future of Chiswick Town Centre are clear, though, as seen from the analysis done by OneChiswick which found that 97 per cent of respondents oppose the changes to Turnham Green Terrace; 95 per cent oppose the changes to the High Road (the C9 scheme); and 82 per cent oppose the changes to Devonshire Road. The summary of that analysis is here.
Disadvantaging disabled people
We know from our own experience s just how discriminatory C9, the Streetscape schemes and the South Chiswick Liveable Neighbourhood LTN are. As soon as anyone offers anecdotes – let’s not forget they are examples from real life – the other side screams for data. Well, here's the data.
Transport for All is a pan-impairment organisation that believes that all disabled and older people have the right to travel with freedom and independence; it is the only disability group in the UK to focus exclusively on transport. The results of its survey on the impact of LTNs should make all local authorities stop and think. Among other points, it found that 83 per cent of participants felt strongly impacted by LTNs; three in four criticised how changes were communicated to them; and 77 per cent reported an increase in journey times. All these points have been raised with me by older, infirm or partially sighted residents so the report, Pave the Way, seems to me to reflect the reality accurately. You can read it in full here.
Drinking the Kool-Aid
Did you log in to watch the most recent cabinet meeting?
We seldom see new thinking or fresh ideas from Hounslow's Labour cabinet, just more policies picked from a catalogue of bland left-wing sameness. It is currently hooked on the concept of a 15-minute city (which originated in Paris and argues that people enjoy a better quality of life if they are within a 15-minute walk or cycle ride of amenities) as essential to a green recovery. What horrors they have in store for Chiswick – which is already a 15-minute city - are hard to imagine. But they will already be on the back of another envelope.
The whole thing made me think of cults with everyone nodding in unison to one person's proposition. Or, to use the more modern millennial message, they have all been drinking the Kool-Aid.
Watch the follow-the-leader self-congratulating cabinet comments (they couldn't be considered discussions and certainly not debates) here.
Whelk stalls … Breweries …
One topic on the Cabinet agenda was the safer communities strategy 2021-2024 but, rather than seek approval from cabinet, this will instead go to the "next appropriate borough council meeting". Why "appropriate" I wondered? It is the case that one meeting a year, in February, is specifically set aside for the council's budget-setting debate but the others are not defined. We now know why. Because the next borough council meeting, due on Tuesday (26 January), has been cancelled supposedly because there's a lack of business to be discussed (we had tabled questions and motions). And guess what. We hear rumours that the budget setting meeting is also to be postponed. Whelk stalls ... Breweries …
On being "aggressively neutral"
Gunnersbury Park isn’t in Chiswick but it borders Turnham Green ward and I've been an outspoken critic of its management. If I've learned one thing about CICs (community interest companies, and the park is run by a CIC) it is that they are just like TfL – unelected, undemocratic and unaccountable. I've asked repeatedly for a community consultative committee to be established to contribute to discussions about the future of, and changes in, the park so decisions take into account local opinion and local need but the CIC (like Hounslow council and TfL) isn't listening. And it is especially not listening to the voices of older residents who would like to continue to play bowls there, to ease their creaky knees and enjoy the camaraderie of being in a club – specifically, the bowls club.
The bowls club members had maintained the green with commitment and enthusiasm voluntarily, costing the CIC nothing, but the club was evicted from its clubhouse and green a year ago. It missed the 2020 season only to see the green deteriorate and become a dumping ground. What a profligate attitude to a community asset. An application to turn the clubhouse into a café and convert the green to a pitch-and-putt mini golf course was on Wednesday's planning committee agenda, called-in by Cllr Guy Lambert who has written of the merits of the commercial (if it is that) option while appearing unconvinced about the community value of a bowls club. He appeared at the committee with impressively out-of-date information on the bowls club and a lot of conjecture. As he's a long-standing member of the planning committee I'd expected more of him.
The committee members sitting that day were as confused as I was about his muddled presentation and asked him for a view. After some unconvincing waffle about wanting both sides to be aired, he described himself as "aggressively neutral".
Supporting Chiswick during lockdown
I don’t know about you but my email inbox is full of e-newsletters from online shops tempting me to buy. Beautiful photos, enticing descriptions, enviable lifestyles. I look at them all, remembering that I can buy everything right here in Chiswick using click-and-collect (if I want to combine exercise with shopping) or delivery. Please shop local whenever you can. Owners of our shops, cafés, and restaurants really need our support to get them through what, for them, is a much harsher lockdown. We are ordering significantly fewer takeaways, and doing significantly less shopping here in W4. If you need some inspiration, do look at my road-by-road list.
On my desk
Emails from retailers desperate for the grants due from before Christmas. Graffiti which has exploded around the site of the potential Chiswick Curve on Chiswick roundabout and on our fruit and veg stalls. Litter picking. Housing. Management of waste and recycling at blocks of flats. Streetspace, Streetspace, Streetspace.
Cllr Joanna Biddolph