Liveable Neighbourhood Scheme - A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

Chiswick Riverside ward councillor Gabriella Giles on her week


Cllr Gabriella Giles

First, I would like to thank all of you who have emailed me since I last wrote the councillor’s blog, back in June, and which, admittedly, was quite technical. As each new road change is unveiled, it would appear that the levels to which Chiswick is being experimented on is increasing and, understandably, the level of frustration from local residents is also growing.

I would like to reassure you that your nine Hounslow councillors in Chiswick are working together to persuade the powers that be in the Ivory Tower which is Hounslow House, that we need to come up with suitable schemes for residents and traders. Unfortunately, for anyone who has logged onto the various public meetings from Hounslow and the Labour group, it would appear that the administration has very little insight to the eastern part of the borough, which Gerald McGregor alluded to last week as being the other side of “the Berlin Wall of West London”.

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Back in June I mentioned that the funding for the South Chiswick Liveable Neighbourhood scheme had been stopped, and that the scheme would now be funded by the COVID-19 response appearing under the category “a rose by any other name”. I then had hopes that, regardless of the name of the project, the execution would remain true to its original six aims:

  • increase levels of walking, cycling and public transport use
  • reduce car use in the local area, in particular for short journeys and those centred around the school run
  • improve road safety and reduce collisions
  • improve personal safety and security
  • improve air quality
  • help local businesses and the area’s economy to thrive

Unfortunately, the more this project develops, the more disappointed I become. I had hoped that there would be some significant measures that would make the area I know as Chiswick Riverside, but we all know as Grove Park and Strand on the Green, a safer, more liveable neighbourhood. I had great fun suggesting to officers in October ideas that included the introduction of play streets, the possibility of School Bike Buses or trains, and even maximising the use of the Thames to get people out of their cars and onto other modes of transport. How about a water bike anyone?

Of course, there were more serious discussions, such as the junction of Hartington Road and the A316, the need to look at the cycle path on this road, the danger of crossing Sutton Court Road and the A4, the speeds I had observed as part of the community roadwatch team on both Staveley and Sutton Court Roads, and of course that horrific junction at the southern end of Grove Park bridge. None of which have been covered as part of this project, but are on the list either to be requested for action by TfL or relegated to the longer term priorities (surely an oxymoron?). Taking all of this into account, what we are going to see is a series of measures implemented across the whole of Chiswick that don’t pay due notice to how we, the residents, use our local area.

Don’t get me wrong, I do realise that due to a certain virus, our lives have changed, and there is a need for urgency. But surely this shouldn’t mean that ambition and innovation should go out of the window? (Just because ANPR is new to Hounslow, doesn’t mean it is innovative.)

Under the guise of the COVID-19 statutory guidelines, the leaders of the council are steamrolling through plans which don’t do much to achieve the aims I have mentioned, but seem purely set on making life really very awkward for residents of an area that is so poorly served by public transport that even Transport for London rates it at “1b - Very poor”.

Great Haste makes Great Waste

To be fair, in discussions with officers, we have been told that the easiest thing to do would be to create hard blocks across the area so that residents only have access to their nearest A-road, and be done with it. I, for one, am very grateful that this is not the current plan of action, but what we have seen so far leaves a lot to be desired. I appreciate that there are budgetary constraints, that in order to secure more funding the measures have to demonstrate success, however, the project manager in me can’t help but feel that in the rush to secure additional funding, this project is not getting the buy-in that we would expect if the process had been followed properly.

This is by no means an attack on the lead officers involved . The guys are doing a great job (and I’m not being unconsciously biased, those we have been speaking to are male), working to a really tight project timeline, managing a lot of stakeholders and a huge amount of correspondence. I’ve been there, it’s tough, and they have my full support.

I just can’t help but feel that, if the process - as detailed by the Project Centre for a Traffic + Parking webinar on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods above - where the steps labelled 2 - 6 (Feasibility Design, Public Consultation and Detailed Design) were not just rushed through, we could have had an active engagement on a number of different, safety-audited measures, and potentially save a lot of time and money in the long run.

Safer Cycling?

Instead, we see Harvard Hill closed with no prior warning, following designs that did not pass the initial security audit, creating havoc for a road that in the run-up to the closure saw 60-vehicles an hour at peak hours. How do I know this? Along with residents, we went to count the cars at 8am and 5pm. From our observations, the majority of these vehicles were delivery or labourers’ vans. Of the cars, most of these clearly displayed a Hounslow CPZ badge. This was not a perfect data collection process, but do you know any that are?

Apart from my frustration at the fact that the “anti-rat-running” measures seem to be starting from the last line of defence (you wouldn’t build a winning rugby team around your full-back), I am still struggling to see how these road closures will support the initial aim of the scheme to “Increase levels of walking, cycling and public transport use”, when the construction of the first measure makes the cycle path along the top of Harvard Hill more tricky to traverse. I mean, if you look at the actions rather than the words, does this instill trust that the rest of the measures across Chiswick will be suitable for use?

It’s not all traffic, but there’s a lot on the go!

For the casual observer, it may appear that my life has become all about traffic, and while it can feel like a fair chunk of my time is taken up by these issues, the regular case work continues. Overgrown trees, investigations into wood-burning stoves, and working with officers to support residents are still very much part of the day-to-day. Meetings with Chiswick Pier Trust, the licensing committee and the Thames Landscape Strategy (TLS) are still ongoing. I would like to ask that, if you have rediscovered your appreciation of the Thames, please look at the fundraising initiative from the TLS – a new camera obscura tent to help educate about the environment of our beautiful, amazing river – the true lung of London.

Cllr Gabriella Giles

Chiswick Riverside Ward