Turnham Green Terrace nearly back to normal
You would expect any blog from me to include a plug for our local independent shops and the news that the business-damaging removal of parking from Turnham Green Terrace, our second most important shopping street with many independents on it, was to be reversed was welcomed with joy by its shop owners and residents. The u-turn was announced on Monday, 17th May and, following a commitment from Hounslow council to reverse the restrictions speedily, the wands and planters were taken away the next day with traders giving broad-grinned thumbs-ups to anyone who asked how they felt. The parking spaces were slow to fill at first but are now turning over almost as before. Habits change very quickly so, if you've switched to buying online or driving to another location since the parking was removed, do switch back. You can get a lot done during a free 30-minute stop-and-shop parking session.
Devonshire Road is still restricted access and without parking other than for loading bulky/heavy goods or for blue badge holders. The Chiswick Shops Task Force ran a consultation, which adhered to Market Research Society (MRS) guidelines, giving the survey to all 39 traders on the road and in Prince of Wales Terrace. Only two didn't complete it – a very high level of participation – and the results, analysed by a professional market researcher, showed not only that over half want the road returned to how it was but also that there is a high level of support for a compromise. Even business owners who support a change do so for only part of the year.
Regular critics of mine who comment on the forum were swift to pick holes in my description of the way the survey was conducted. For clarity, it was compiled and analysed by a market research consultant adhering to Market Research Society (MRS) guidelines. One resident commenting on the criticisms said, " The focus on semantics and loss of the actual issues at stake within politics as a whole is what turns so many people away" and I agree. That is what the counter-arguers want – to silence those with whom they disagree and to bully them into inaction. I wasn't elected to stay silent and do nothing.
Meanwhile, the council's interim review of its Streetspace schemes, published on Monday, 17th May, was notable for its small print which announced a consultation, though its description of the subject – "community-led public realm improvements" – leaves the sceptics among us worrying about what that is code for given that the access and parking restrictions have not been reversed. There are many businesses on this road whose customers will be buying bulky/heavy goods and I know some who have stopped spending here, transferring their custom to another business where they can park. And, yes, while many enjoy eating out in good weather, we tend to retreat indoors when it's wet, cold or miserable. Indeed, one day last week I noted that only two people were eating outside while raindrops dripped from the canopy above on to their legs nearest the road. It is important to note that, come rain or shine, retail outnumbers hospitality on this road by 3:1.
There is also the crucial point about residents living above the shops, bars, cafes and restaurants and what is acceptable from their perspective. Late night outdoor dining/drinking can be hugely disturbing. Before anyone leaps in with a comment that residents knew what they were in for when they moved into a flat above a shop (which is what I did with my first home in Chiswick, on Devonshire Road) yes, we all know what to expect. It's trading after licensed hours; loud music blaring across the road, whether canned or live, at unreasonable decibel levels; a blatant disregard of others' rights.
Having said that, what has struck me throughout this exercise is the reasonableness with which most people approach this tricky issue, whether they are businesses or residents. Everyone wants to have their say, to be recognised, listened to and heard – and to reach a compromise that works for all.
Misjudging the public
So, how did Hounslow council get it so wrong? In a 2009 council-commissioned survey, through Steer (the same consultant as is involved with Streetspace workshops, discussions, reviews, etc), Chiswick stood out as the area in the borough with the highest car free lifestyle and slightly behind the Osterley area as the most environmentally aware. It's what we've been saying all along. We Chiswickians already walk, cycle or use public transport and turn the key in the ignition of our cars only when necessary. [Link to the full document, as attached] Is it the absence of a corporate memory – or the deliberate obliteration of it – or the dogged determination to dictate dogma that is to blame?
What next for C9?
The judicial review of the temporary C9 cycle lane on Chiswick High Road, being brought by One Chiswick Limited, has been postponed until the autumn by mutual agreement between all parties. The announcement came in the middle of the OneChiswick fundraising campaign, dropping leaflets through doors encouraging donations to cover the cost of legal fees. Have you had yours? The amount raised keeps rising, as you can see from OneChiswick's GoFundMe page.
Council life returns slowly to life – what should we scrutinise?
Slowly our diaries are booking up with face-to-face meetings. The first for me was a meeting of the licensing committee, fully spread out in the largest configuration of the meeting rooms in Hounslow House, our voices muffled by masks as we forgot to take them off when speaking. The virtual refrain, "You're muted", applies just as much in person as it does online.
Unfortunately, the overview and scrutiny committee is proposing to meet virtually for its annual work programme planning meeting on 16th June. I have raised huge concerns about this not just because these work programme meetings rely on robust exchanges between members about priorities, with spontaneous comments leading to improved discussions and better decisions. Raising a virtual hand is far less effective, much more restrictive, and rarely conducive to good discussions - as we have all experienced throughout the last year-plus. If the committee is to do anything of value this year, we must get our work programme right. Highest on my list of subjects is, of course, the management of the pandemic and lessons to be learned. If you have suggestions for subjects we should scrutinise, please email me so I can put them forward, I hope in person not as a disembodied virtual voice.
- Licensing: Cllr Gabriella Giles, who is a member of the licensing committee, and I have both been trying to improve the licensing process, each of us making recommendations from different viewpoints. Whether it's the way applications are advertised (still on lampposts or trees rather than direct to neighbours … really?) or the information sent to inform those wishing to comment (why not attach the policies that apply?), there is still much to do to make this process work for those who might be affected. I've had some successes such as removing the requirement for drawings to a scale of 1:2500 which foxed many making humble and uncontroversial applications. Marking a sketch with measurements is all that is needed. There's a new overall policy which, among other things, sets borough-wide core hours within which applicants can apply; see the full policy here.
- Surgeries: We still can't meet face-to-face but we hope this restriction will be removed from 21st June. It all depends on the impact of the Indian variant and that depends on …
- Vaccinations and testing: On Bank Holiday Monday Twickenham Rugby Stadium (TW2 7BA) will be open from 10am to 8pm for all eligible residents to walk-in and receive their first dose. Although you don't need to book you can reduce your queuing time by doing so here. Complaints about long waits at the Welstead Way testing centre were taken up by Cllr John Todd; steps are being taken to rectify . I'm hoping that there is a fuller article on all the options for testing and vaccination – it's a very long list that I've sent to the editor.
- Freddie the seal: Have you signed the petition to protect seals against attacks, inspired by the sad case of Freddie Mercury in the Thames between Chiswick and Barnes? Please forward it to family and friends who live in riparian boroughs or on the coast – or anyone who might care about this appealing pinniped.
Councillor Joanna Biddolph