It's been a traumatic week for anyone who appreciates and values low-rise leafy Chiswick including this councillor.
Ninety years felled
Have you seen the video of the felling of the 90-year old tree on Chiswick High Road, chopped down never to grow again to make way for temporary experimental adjustments to the temporary experimental C9? Hounslow Council's policy on removing trees, as explained by the Hounslow Highways arborist I met during two recent meetings with residents, is that the council will not remove a tree unless it is dead, dying or diseased. Or, it seems, if it wants to be wilful.
The left hand turn across the cycle lane into Chiswick Lane was identified very early on as a safety concern that needed urgent intervention. We don't know what options were considered, if any; Hounslow Council appears simply to have defaulted to the original C9 scheme – putting the cycle lane on pavement – to direct cycling away from turning vehicles and making people on bikes more visible to drivers. Many residents have commented about the council's double standards; the vastly reduced pavement space for pedestrians, yet again at the bottom of the active travel list; and questioned whether the scheme is temporary, particularly as Tweets from Hounslow Highways and Hounslow Council described the activity as "permanent works" (later described as a genuine error).
So that's it. The tree has gone.
Another wholly inadequate consultation, this time about trees on Turnham Green
There have been plenty of references, over the last 22 months, to #Cherrygate – the postponed planting of trees on Turnham Green. Discussions followed, emphasising the reasons for the postponement: the need to consider the type of trees, their location and the long-term ecology and biodiversity of the green, then consult the Chiswick community on the options. The fuss that followed led to a review of the constitutions of groups, such friends of open spaces, and numerous rewrites by others of what actually happened and why; the facts are here.
In between there has been a lot of silence. And now a consultation has emerged – not announced, not press released, not promoted, just emerged. And definitely not in the spirit of what we thought had been agreed. It didn't feel right and it isn't right. Digital only, I was told. Not good enough, I replied. Paper copies will be available in the library and people can ring, was the retort. Then the proposal emerged. It's the worst consultation I've ever seen.
The intention was to map and list the existing trees, identify gaps such as trees that were destroyed in lightning strikes or have died, suggest options to fill those gaps and others, then consult. The guiding principle was: the right tree in the right place – right for the green and its setting, right for the setting of the Grade II listed Christ Church, and right for safeguarding the open aspect of the green, all three determined by Hounslow's own appraisal of the Turnham Green conservation area.
The map shows only the trees being proposed. There is nothing else; it's a flat plan with a few coloured shapes, areas identified for planting, and no context. No list of the names and numbers of each existing tree. This is the same as cocking a snook at Chiswick. Did I reply with a long list of flaws? You can find out here.
Have I had a reply? At close of business on Friday afternoon, just as I was about to press send to the editor of Chiswickw4.com, an email arrived. Introductory information on the council website has improved slightly but it raises more questions than the answers it gives and there is the usual council double-speak. I'll keep at it.
By chance on Tuesday, I switched on BBC R4 and heard the word "trees". Costing the Earth's programme "Seeing the Wood for the Trees" looked at the importance now, with climate change in all our minds, of ensuring the enduring health of our trees and the urgent need to improve the ecology and bio-diversity of all settings. It included an interview with a specialist from Kew Gardens who spoke enthusiastically about the need to save trees that are under threat of extinction - nearly 17,000 species worldwide and, yes, we have one threatened genus here in the UK: Sorbus, of which 33 species are threatened including Angelica. Should the planting plan suggestions include one or more Sorbus Angelica?
I've had two meetings in the last couple of weeks with one of the Hounslow Highways arborists and been impressed by his knowledge. There is no evidence (because the consultation lacks important background information) that options for Turnham Green were discussed with him, or with a specialist from Kew (just a bridge over the Thames from our borough), and considered against this fourth dimension – threatened tree species – to identify the right tree in the right place.
Given all the controversy around the so-called consultations held during the pandemic, I'd have thought the council would have tried hard to get this one right. It said it would. Yet the promoters of this option could not have got it more wrong.
As an example, the form doesn't require an email address or any other limiting factor. Does that mean respondents can complete it more than once, I wondered? I tested it and yes it does. I stopped at four and have of course asked LBH to delete three of them (I had added my role and email address, to be transparent, so identifying my responses should be easy). I could have done many more.
I'll leave you to decide whether to respond once or hundreds of times. I had asked for the survey to be withdrawn and revised so we can take it seriously but that hasn't happened.
B&Q/Fourth Mile – a massive over-development
I'm writing this moments after arriving home from attending Thursday's planning committee meeting and a decision that will have a profound effect on Turnham Green ward and Chiswick – the first huge development in a Hounslow ward to be approved of the many looming over us. The plans for the B&Q site – to create the Fourth Mile – was approved.
Reaching a decision was not without drama. A first vote, to defer the decision so the developer could work on it to make it more acceptable, failed. A second vote, to approve the application, resulted in a 5:5 tie. Just as happens with Strictly Come Dancing, the chairman of the committee – this year's head judge is Cllr Corinna Smart – has the casting vote. She had given the committee the benefit of her views – that an innovative technology centre would be a huge asset in the borough, overriding all the negatives – so it was obvious which way she would vote.
There was no disagreement over the technology centre – the word "exciting" was used by many, even though it is currently a concept with no confirmed participants. The main worries were shoe-horning affordable flats into inappropriately high-rise blocks with single-aspect windows that don't open; providing so many small flats when local demand is for family homes; and the open area, Hudson Square, for visitors to the technology showcase, hotel and shops but nothing exclusively for residents other than what the developers called the "buffer zone", a narrow verge along the west, south and eastern boundaries of the plot. My mind saw a queue of people crammed between the buildings and the A4/M4, A406 Gunnersbury Avenue North Circular, and Larch Drive, all breathing in pollution while puffing out smoke and turning this long, lean sliver of land into an ashtray.
During the height of the pandemic we learned how small spaces impact negatively on mental health and relationships, and that working from home requires more space. So, a development that brings 34 studio flats, 93 one-bedroom flats, 43 two bedroom flats, only 18 three-bedroom flats and no – that's right, no – four bedroom flats showed me that the developers and planners are out of date and out of touch. The development is expected to last "in excess of 100 years".
Marie Rabouhans, of the West Chiswick and Gunnersbury Society, and Tony Firkins, a recent Green Party candidate, made the most of their six minute speaking time, inadvertently extending it by at least one minute when the officer in charge of the stopwatch was distracted by the chairman.
"Patronising," some of us muttered, when the developer told us that "change can be difficult". None in their three-strong team presenting to the committee acknowledged Chiswick's community which left me wondering, again, why developers don't want to work with the communities they will be invading and, instead, seem to get huge pleasure from working against them.
Large sums of money were mentioned for improvements to Gunnersbury and Kew Bridge stations and, judging by comments around me, it was clear I'm not the only one to be cynical about community infrastructure levy (CIL) payments, worrying that the motive for councils to approve enormous developments is because they bring in higher payments. No-one asked if that funding would do all that's needed to upgrade the stations or if bankrupt TfL would need to chuck in some cash. If the latter, would you like to guess when the work might be done and how long those CIL pounds will sit in a bank account waiting to be spent?
The proposal now goes to the mayor, Sadiq Khan, to consider.
Infilling garage blocks proves controversial
The garage blocks beside several of our Hounslow housing properties have been advertised for development by housing associations. Also on the agenda at the planning committee was a proposal for six flats at Manor Gardens, Devonshire Road (in Chiswick Homefields ward). With controversial proposals for two garage blocks in Turnham Green ward, staying for this discussion was a must-do. Common factors are ugliness; no regard for the road's character; cramming the space; building inappropriately higher than neighbouring properties; and poor consultation, with many residents saying consultation letters never arrived. At Manor Gardens, an external staircase looks anachronistic and is certainly peculiarly in the wrong place and at the wrong angle. It was approved.
Borough council postponed because of the death of a councillor
The unexpected and sudden death last Monday night of Labour Cllr Javed Akhunzada, representing Bedfont ward in the west of the borough, sent many of us reeling. The borough council meeting due the next day, on Tuesday 30th November, was immediately postponed. Javed had been Labour chief whip and his death will have had a profound effect on Labour councillors. Immensely kind and thoughtful, with a smile that always lifted my spirits, he made friends across the political divide.
Having invited me to a mosque and seen my embarrassment as the scarf on my head slid off over and over again, he texted me a few weeks later asking if we could meet as he had something for me. He handed me two scarves, from his home country Pakistan. I've been waiting to wear them on another visit to a mosque, with him. We've just (Friday afternoon) been told of his funeral arrangements. The scarves will be worn, with even greater poignancy, in a mosque on a significantly different occasion than I had been expecting.
Trying to solve problems lies at the heart of what we councillors do. Unswept leaf fall; problems of over large trees; inadequate or failed street lighting; noisy neighbours; licensing applications; council tax muddles; problems at houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) … there's never a shortage of variety including at our most recent community clean up, last Sunday, on and around Turnham Green (fewer cigarette ends; a rather lovely grey, cream and silver cocktail dress partly buried under leaves; several unopened bottles of chocolate milk). I'm most pleased, though, about the consequence of a resident leaving our two recent area forums early because the microphones clashed with his hearing aids so he could not understand anything. The council's portable induction loop has been found, dusted off and will be set up routinely before every meeting.
Councillor Joanna Biddolph
Turnham Green ward