Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Questions on cycling, cock-ups and crime

Tonight was the last full Council meeting of 2005 – and for once it was mainly useful (well even Millwall win occasionally). Given this, I’ll do separate posts about the more interesting parts of the meeting – firstly on question time.

Council question time is the most heavily choreographed part of the full Council meeting. There are seven questions for oral answer at every meeting – three Labour, three Tory and one Lib Dem – with two supplementaries allowed to each question. The Party Groups pick the seven questions, which consequently generally have a common pattern – Labour tend to ask about schools, the environment and regeneration ; the Tories major on the potential tram, other anti-Ken questions, and central Ealing issues ; whilst the Lib Dems concentrate mostly on parochial issues for the Southfield and Ealing Common wards that they represent (although I have to confess that I’ve done my fair share of parochial East Acton questions).

I had a question down to Cabinet Member Ray Wall : “Could the Cabinet Member for Transport and Planning Policy report on the recognition and awards given to the cycling promotion and development work of the Borough?”. I asked this question in order to raise awareness of the very impressive record of achievement by the Borough’s cycling team, and Ray outlined some of the praise and awards that they have won including :

- One of the 2004 London Cycling Awards (the ‘cycling oscars’) for the campaign to 'market cycling' in a multi-pronged approach to encourage cycling that includes free cycle training, installing bike parking in streets, and schools, providing cycle lockers on estates, and 'bike buddy' schemes to help commuters on their journeys. This has also been strongly praised by ‘Marketing Cycling’.

- Being rated by The London Magazine as the top London borough for the provision of cycle paths. In a poll of environmental performance, the magazine rated Ealing top for cycle paths and 7th out of 33 overall.

As a supplementary question, I asked about the potential impact of cycling of the proposed tram, and specifically how the Council was trying to ensure that TfL acted on the tram issues raised by the local branch of the London Cycling Campaign. Ray replied that “the tram scheme requires a comprehensive traffic management design for the whole corridor, and is an opportunity to take cyclists’ needs into account in an integrated way … I know that the TfL design team is working to identify the intended route for cyclists all along the corridor, and will be bringing proposals to the Ealing branch of the LCC in the new year.” This is welcome, but it’ll be important to make sure that TfL keep to their commitments – trams and cyclists can co-exist, but this does require good quality sensitive design by the transport planners.

This consensus on bikes was broken by a bizarre attack on cycling in a second supplementary question from an opposition Councillor. He claimed (to general incredulity – such ‘what have you been smoking?’) that promoting cycling means encouraging pavement cycling. To their credit even most Tories laughed at this nonsense, and Ray pointed out that he couldn’t really be expected to answer an incomprehensible question.

Another later question was inevitable – Tory Licensing specialist John Popham asked about the failure of the Council’s public halls to properly apply for licenses under the new legislation. This news had come out at the weekend, leading to endless obvious jokes about organising p*** ups in breweries. In their responses, both Laurence Evans (as Chair of Regulatory Committee) and John Delaney (as Cabinet Member) were admirably honest. John described it as an “indefensible cock-up … for which the people responsible should be held accountable”, whilst Laurence announced that he had made a formal complaint to the Chief Executive (Darra Singh) demanding an investigation into what happened and why. Still, it’s a classic ‘you couldn’t make it up’ moment.

Other questions mostly covered the usual suspects – schools results, car parking and the potential tram. However, there was uniquely one question each from the Tories and Lib Dems on the usually sedate subject of Gunnersbury Park (next to Ealing Common ward). The (unspoken) reason for this interest was obvious – Ealing Common is currently the only ward in the Borough with split representation (two Tories and one Lib Dem) and is already lining up as a battle royal of the leaflets between the two Parties, in the run up to next May’s local elections. We’ll now be on ‘Ealing Common watch’ at every question time.

The Council meeting had started with a very impressive presentation and question and answer session with Commander Colette Paul – the new(ish) Police Commander for the Borough. Colette talked about some the recent achievements locally – such as a drop of 14% in vehicle crime and of 7% in ‘theft and snatch’ offences. LB Ealing is now in the top five Boroughs in London for issuing ASBOs, and also has 55 ‘Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (ABCs) – a scheme that can be used to try to produce better behaviour without going to the lengths of a full ASBO. However, she was honest enough to recognise that some challenges remain – burglary is up over the last year, as is street crime. The recorded rise in street crime is no surprise here in East Acton, where there have been some noticeable problems recently that the local police safer neighbourhood team have been addressing.

Colette also said that the police were not seeing any impact from the new licensing system. I took this a cue to ask her a question about the police role in licensing - and in particular the concern of many of us that their central licensing team and their neighbourhood team colleagues don’t seem to always work together. The Borough police have regularly withdrawn objections to even long pub hours extensions, even where residents are reporting concerns from local police about anti-social behaviour. She said that she would look at the issues I raised, and accepted the importance of the police working in partnership and as a team. I’m writing to her to take her up on this offer.

Full Council Debates

My previous post on 2nd December gives the text of the motion that I moved at the Council meeting on Holocaust Memorial Day. Appropriately, the prayers at the beginning of the Council meeting were given by Rabbi Vogel – the energetic Rabbi of the Ealing and Acton synagogue – who spoke of the importance to all faiths of winter festivals of lights like Hanukkah.

In my speech, I started by saying that although I had moved the original motion proposing local commemorations some four years ago, all that I and others remembered of that debate was the speech made by former Cllr Joan Ansell. Joan was the first Jewish Mayor of the Borough, and as a young woman in the armed forces had visited concentration camps soon after their liberation in 1945. Her speech was one of the finest and most moving that I have ever heard in the Council Chamber in my twenty years there. Joan's speech was a perfect example of what Holocaust Memorial Day is intended to achieve – the use of memories and experience of holocaust to learn lessons for the future.

I outlined the background to the motion, and particularly stressed both the centrality of the Jewish experience to the understanding of Holocaust, and its relevance to other groups and nations before and since the Nazi period. For example, we have in our Borough one of the largest Armenian communities in Britain – and the Armenian diaspora in Turkey experienced what most would regard as a holocaust in the second decade of the last century. Hitler infamously sought to justify his holocaust by saying “who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" I finished by saying that Holocaust Memorial Day was ultimately about the moral duty of the Council to challenge and seek to defeat all forms of persecution including anti-semitism, racism, islamophobia, homophobia, and xenophobia – in Boroughs like ours we proudly celebrate our diversity, whilst also recognising our common humanity.

Unfortunately, Tory Cllr Tony Brown who had intended to second the motion was not able to attend. His place was ably taken by Tory Cllr Jason Stacey from Greenford Green ward, who talked about the relevance of holocaust to all ages and particularly those who have learnt it as history rather than as news. Labour Cllr Bassam Mahfouz (Northolt West End ward) outlined his experience of visiting Auschwitz as a school student – my motion specifically welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement of an extra £1.5 million to the Holocaust Educational Trust which will enable two sixth formers from every UK school to undertake such a visit. The all-Party support was completed by Cllr Harvey Rose on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, who described the Nazi holocaust as “a unique event of extraordinary cruelty”.

The motion was of course passed unanimously. I spoke afterwards with Jason and Harvey and we agreed to set up an informal group of members to oversee the arrangements for Holocaust Memorial Day 2006 (which will be commemorated nationally on 26th January as the 27th falls on the Jewish Sabbath). Darra Singh agreed to set up the first meeting of this group for early in January. Sorry about the length of this piece on the Holocaust Memorial Day motion, but it's an issue about which I feel passionately.

The Council meeting also had two other motions of a similar character. Labour Cllr Tejinder Dhami (Dormers Wells) moved a motion on the recent earthquake affecting Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, and spoke movingly saying : “natural disasters do not respect the boundaries of nations or religions … amongst the poorest people in the world have faced the wrath of nature.” Tory Cllr Glenn Murphy moved a motion commemorating the recent death in Iraq of pilgrims from the Dawoodi Bohra mosque in his Northolt Mandeville ward, which was agreed without debate despite a distasteful attempt by the Lib Dems to add party political comments to it.

All of this said, for most people, the best speech of the night was made by Labour Cllr Kieron Gavan (Northfield ward), in a debate about a recent auditors report into the ‘Response’ scheme. This report – commissioned by Leader Leo Thomson and Chief Executive Darra Singh – stressed benefits flowing from the ‘customer first’ Response programme, whilst criticising its governance by former senior Council officers. Kieron’s speech was a unique combination of thoughtful analysis and glorious rant. He said that there should be “no shame in the bold vision of the programme” but that there were “clear operational failures”. Warming to this theme he said of former senior Council officers “there are some people that I’d like to bring back just to sack them … particularly three former members of the corporate board … when I heard that they were going, I was sitting here thinking ‘whoopee’ while you lot (the Tories) were saying that it was a shame that they were going.” Kieron (just) avoided naming the people in question, but every Cllr knew who he meant.

Christmas drinks and mince pies afterwards in the Mayor's Parlour were very welcome - even if the London Pride was only in cans.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A Walk Through Acton Cemetery

Walked to the North Acton advice surgery at St Gabriels Church. More people attended than normal, given that it is one of the first local surgeries since we delivered the latest edition of East Acton Labour News in the area. This has got an unusually good reception, largely because it gave local residents the welcome news that the residents-only parking scheme has been agreed. I'd already had a number of phone calls during the week thanking us for the news, and four more people turned up at the surgery to talk about parking and traffic issues locally.

The first world war memorial in Acton Cemetery

I walked back via Acton Cemetery. The Cemetery lies between Park Royal Road and Chase Road in the ward, and is probably unique amongst London cemeteries in having a tube line run through it. The original cemetery dates from 1895, and includes a fine first world war memorial and an attractive chapel. It’s now largely closed to new burials, although there clearly have been a couple this year in plots bought before closure. The most notable grave for Actonians is probably that of Joseph Sparks – who was MP for Acton from 1945 to 1959, and an Acton Councillor or Alderman from 1934 to 1965. The old cemetery (south of the tube line) has many fine gravestones from the time when Acton was a suburb, whereas the newer section to the north has a number of unmarked graves. One of these is that of my great-grandmother Margaret Hunter Portwood, who died in 1933 in the house in which I now live.

The grave of Joe Sparks and his wife Dora - Mayor and Mayoress of Acton when I was born

I was impressed with the continuing high quality of maintenance of the cemetery. Back in 1992, the then (Tory) Council proposed to heavily reduce the maintenance, and I led one of the largest lobbies I have ever seen locally to defeat them. Ever since, I’ve kept a keen eye on this issue, given what the 1992 campaign showed about the affection and respect in which Acton Cemetery is held.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Remembering the Holocaust

Held my regular monthly surgery at ASDA from 11.00 to 12.00. This was again very successful, with people raising a wide range of issues including housing, youth provision, planning and even a health issue to take up with my PCT responsibilities. Only about half of the people seem to come from East Acton ward, but that’s more than enough to make this comfortably my busiest advice surgery.

All credit to ASDA for allowing me to do this – their only (very reasonable) condition is that I don’t say or give out anything party political. This is easier than people outside the Council might think – it’s a pretty sad individual who can find a lot of party politics in much of the byways of local government (although some do – no names, no pack drill – but we all know who they are).

When I went to their back office to register as a visitor, I was very impressed with the ASDA notices to their staff warning them not to sell alcohol to those underage. This has been a real problem, particularly in some off-licences. The Council have recently been running some ‘mystery customer’ test purchases at both large and small stores to test out whether they follow the law. In contrast to ASDA’s firm stance, at least one major superstore was caught breaking the law and given a warning (I’ll check if I’m allowed to name them on this blog).

Went on (still bikeless) to meet with Conservative Cllr Tony Brown, to discuss and agree a motion on Holocaust Memorial day that we’re putting to the next full Council meeting on 13th December. The fact that Tony and I are happy to work together like this is another example of where this Borough doesn’t let party politics get in the way of sensible partnership.

I was very concerned earlier in the year to see suggestions in some of the press urging that that Holocaust Memorial Day should be downgraded or changed in name. Thankfully, Charles Clarke as Home Secretary issued a very firm statement rejecting any such suggestion. Our Council was one of the first in British local government to organise a commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day, following a motion that I moved with all-party support. Therefore I thought it would be important for the Council to recognise and welcome what Charles Clarke had said, together with other recent developments, and to make a reaffirmation of our commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and the principles upon which it is based.

The motion which we’ve drafted, and which I will move and Tony will second, reads as follows :


The Council recognises its role as one of the pioneers of local government commemoration of 27th January as Holocaust Memorial Day, and strongly believes in its continuing importance.

We were consequently concerned about suggestions from the media urging a downgrading of the national status of Holocaust Memorial Day, and warmly welcome the statement made by the Home Secretary in a letter to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust that “The Government remains totally committed to the commemoration as an annual national event, and has no plans to seek a change in its name or nature.”

The Council welcomes other recent national and international initiatives to further recognise and increase the role played by Holocaust Memorial Day, including :

* The designation by the United Nations General Assembly of 27th January as an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust

* The announcement by the Chancellor of funding of £1.5 million to support the Holocaust Educational Trust's ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ course for teachers and sixth form students, which will allow the Trust to facilitate visits to Auschwitz for two students from every school in the UK

* Her Majesty the Queen becoming the Patron of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust

The Council agrees to continue to see Holocaust Memorial Day as an occasion to raise awareness that, whilst the suffering of Jewish people in the Nazi Holocaust is and must remain central to the commemoration of Holocaust, the experiences of the Armenian diaspora and more recently in Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo and Darfur are of crucial importance in understanding and preventing future holocaust. Above all, the Council recognises its moral duty to confront and seek to defeat anti-semitism, racism, xenophobia and all forms of persecution.

The Council resolves to continue to play its role in the commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day, recognising that events in 2006 will be centred on Thursday 26th January given that the 27th falls on the Jewish Sabbath”

Thursday, December 01, 2005

East Acton Pedestrians (now including me)

Tonight was the latest meeting of the East Acton Steering Group – which brings together East Acton Councillors, Residents Associations and Council Officers from across the LB Ealing/LB Hammersmith and Fulham boundary.

The really good news from the meeting is from the consultation with local residents about a much needed pedestrian crossing across Old Oak Common Lane from The Fairway to Fitzneal Street. I and local residents have been arguing for this for some time, and the money has now been made available by Transport for London. Residents have voted 86% in favour of the crossing, with a higher than usual response rate of 30%. This means that the works to create the crossing will start in the next few weeks, and should be finished by the end of January at the latest

Most of our work over the last year has been related to road safety works at the junction of Old Oak Common Lane and Du Cane Road. This has involve removing a mini-roundabout with uncontrolled crossings, and replacing it with traffic lights and light-controlled crossings. This scheme got over 80% approval on consultation, although has subsequently been subject to some complaints particularly about the length of the ‘green man’ phasing on the pedestrian crossings. Our ideal situation was to also have a pedestrian crossing roughly between the Iceland store and the Post Office – however Transport for London (TfL) would not allow this as it would be too close to the Western Avenue

At the recent Annual General Meeting of East Acton Residents Association, most people felt that the new arrangements were not perfect but better than the previous uncontrolled situation. There is a minority view against this, particularly from local businesses, although most people at the Residents Association meeting felt that the problem with local shops was with their quality and lack of choice rather than the traffic.

At the Steering Group meeting we moved on from the junction issue, to look at smaller scale improvements that could be made to the shopping area. This will include new bike parking stands at road level, new road markings to particularly assist buses, and environmental improvements.

Cycled off up Long Drive to get to Ealing Town Hall, and suddenly heard a painful crunching sound. The chain had come off its’ sprocket on my bike, and I couldn’t get it back on. Pushed the bike home in the rain, and rushed off to the East Acton tube station. Having not been able to cycle for over three years until July due to a knee injury, it’s very frustrating to lose the use of the bike even if only (hopefully) temporarily.

I was consequently late for the last meeting of the Flooding and Water Pressure Scrutiny Panel. We had a very useful discussion, making recommendations arising from our previous meetings (see previous posts), which I’ll summarise later when we agree our final report.

Went on afterwards for a chat with Paul Woodgate at the Kings Head. After Paul left, I went to the bar and suddenly realised that it was 11.15 and their new extended hours had come into operation. No bell at 10.50 had meant that I hadn’t rushed for my last pint. Something which I’ve spent a large part of the last year planning had happened without me noticing ! A leisurely and pleasant session followed, in total contrast to the Daily Mail image of mad binge boozing. Had to get the 207 home, which at least allowed me to inspect Bromyard Avenue at night, but I need to get the bike fixed for future later drinking.

The Kings Head in Acton (also known as 'Committee Room 3"
because of the number of Councillors who drink there)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Newsletter for the Leamington Park Area

I've produced a special edition of our regular 'East Acton Labour News' newsletter for the Leamington Park area. We'll be delivering it today. All four of us in the Councillors Team have written articles for the newsletter - mine is on the new controlled parking zone : "

Residents-only Parking Scheme Agreed after Local Campaign

We’ve persuaded the Council to agree to make the Gypsy Corner area a residents-only parking zone. This follows a large number of complaints that we received as your local Councillors about commuters and other non-residents causing parking problems in local roads.

A consultation showed a clear majority for the residents-only policy on the following roads which will now be included in the controlled parking zone —

York Road area : York Road, Rosebank Way, Leamington Park and Horn Lane ;
Leamington Park Estate : Seacole Close, Garrett Close, Lister Close and Jenner Avenue ;
Wales Farm Road area : Wales Farm Road, Acorn Gardens, Conway Grove and Victoria Road ; Playing Fields area : Noel Road, Balfour Road, Cecil Road, Cloister Road and Park View.

Cllr Philip Portwood says : “We have campaigned for this with great support from local residents, and I’m delighted that it’s been agreed by the Council. There should be no more of the problems caused by double parking and commuter blocking of parking places. This shows that local Councillors and local residents campaigning together really can make a difference.”

The residents-only parking scheme will start in the new year. "

Other articles include ones by Atallah Said on new street lighting, Kate Crawford on a new pedestrian crossing in Horn Lane, and Paul Woodgate on his scrutiny of flooding and water pressure.

If you live in one of the roads above in the area, and don't get a copy of the newsletter delivered today, please e-mail me on phil@east-acton.com and I'll make sure that one gets to you.

Keeping in touch with residents through 'East Acton Labour News'

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Housing visits before half term

An interesting morning today visiting residents in our neighbouring Acton Central ward, with twenty colleagues from across the Borough including Andy Slaughter. .

I visited Steyne House – a block of old Council housing where the flats are currently getting new kitchens and bathrooms thanks to the Government’s ‘decent homes’ funding. Residents seemed very pleased with this work – but were less pleased about the number of police deployed locally, particularly to deal with street drinkers. I gave them the good news that next year Acton Central will be getting six police officers dedicated to their ward – as East Acton has had to great benefit over the last year. There were other housing issues raised, which John Delaney has volunteered to take up as one of the Acton Central Councillors.

Excellent pints in the Kings Head afterwards. And now it’s half term, when there are no planned Council meetings, and I should get the chance to get away.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

40,000 pieces of chewing gum

I’ve spent most of the day at the Borough Labour Party’s ‘Manifesto Summit’. This was a Conference of Councillors, Candidates and party members which discussed the priorities that we might want to put before the electorate in our manifesto for the 2006 local Borough elections.

The day was opened by Andy Slaughter, our MP in Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush, who talked about the interesting comparisons and contrasts between our Borough and LB Hammersmith and Fulham – which Andy used to lead. The rest of the day was spent in workshops looking at issues like the street environment, education and young people, services for older people, finance, and community cohesion. A useful day, providing a chance to sit back from the immediate pressures of local government and think about the longer term.

Phil and Andy Slaughter in their mayoral robes when they were both Millennium Mayors

One particularly interesting statistic came out of the day – that we’ve managed to stop 40,000 pieces of chewing gum being tread in to the pavement. For the last year or so, we’ve been experimenting in Acton town centre with a unique approach in London to gum. Paper boards have been attached to lampposts, and people are encouraged to put their gum on these – rather than on the streets – by having fun quizzes and opinion polls on them. Some of the old fogies were against this experiment but we thought it was worth trying. Well, it’s achieved beyond our best hopes – those 40,000 bits of gum would have cost a lot to clean from the pavement, even when you can clean it off without leaving a mark. Mind you, I don't envy the person whose job is counting all this.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Street Lighting

I cycled in this morning's pouring rain to Dukes Road – the westernmost road in East Acton ward - to visit the depot of the Council’s new street lighting providers EDF Energy. EDF will be modernising all the street lighting in the Borough over the next five years – renewing and upgrading over 20,000 lights and lighted street signs. Five years ago the Borough had the worst street lighting in London, after decades of under-investment – by 2010 we will have probably the best and most modern street lights in the capital.

In just the first year of the EDF contract, East Acton ward is having more roads receive new street lighting than any other ward in Acton. The following roads in our ward will get the new lights :

Brassie Avenue
East Acton Lane
East Churchfield Road
Glendun Road
Horn Lane
Kathleen Avenue
Leamington Park
Noel Road
Park Royal Road
Park Royale (Service) Road
The Vale
Victoria Road

Replaced street lighting tubes ready for recycling

This follows some major improvements over the last three years – most notably the total replacement of the outdated street lights on the East Acton Estate, and new lighting for the Valetta Road area off Acton Vale.

The new EDF depot is a formerly decrepit and empty warehouse that has now been totally modernised by EDF to provide offices, a meeting room, and warehousing and storage for new fittings, equipment and parts. This should mean none of the ‘we’re waiting for the parts’ delays of the past. They’ve also created a design office with CAD printers, which means that design work can be undertaken in-house and directly informed by local knowledge. Overall, 24 EDF jobs are now based at Dukes Road.

They have impressive new computer software – mirrored at the Council – which can call up and map the condition and situation of every street light and illuminated sign in the Borough. This produces daily summary reports which show progress on repairs, maintenance and installation, and which form the basis of payments and/or penalties to EDF. The Borough is divided into 18 “scouting” zones for inspection purposes – given our size East Acton ward covers all of zone N and parts of zones 0 and P - and contrary to the urban myth, these inspections are made at night rather than during the day.

I asked the EDF project manager Richard Austen about two particular problems that we’ve faced with street lighting modernisation in East Acton – delays caused by the electricity monopoly connector (“jointing”), and Borough border roads getting missed out of schemes. Richard told me that they have a local contact and regular meetings with Southern & Scottish as the ‘jointers’ - and the contract gives EDF a strong incentive to chase them because payments are based on lampposts successfully installed rather than removed. The borders issue – which occurs because of the way highway authority responsibility is shared between Boroughs – is one that EDF and the Council will need to discuss further, but I’ll keep chasing. East Acton has the longest border of any ward, and it’s been really annoying that parts of roads like Old Oak Common Lane and Jeddo Road have lost out in the past because of this legal loophole.

EDF are undertaking a wholly new survey of the condition of street lighting in the Borough, and then this will be combined with police reported crime data to establish a new priority list for the five year programme. If you live in East Acton ward, feel free to contact me at phil@east-acton.com if you think a case can be made for a your road to be a high priority.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Questions to answer at St Gabriels Church

Advice surgery this morning for the East Acton Estate at the Old Oak Methodist Church Hall. Issues raised included planning enforcement, housing, and tree pruning.

On in the evening with former Cllr Steve Donnelly and Nigel Williams to the regular quiz night at St Gabriels Church in the ward in North Acton. We formed a team together with churchwarden Gill Brunstrom for this enjoyable event. Local minister Rev Keith Robus had a difficult job when he arrived at St Gabriels in following the much-loved former minister James Alcock – but has done superbly. The quiz nights are part of a very warm church community, and congregation attendances are I understand rising steadily.

St Gabriels is a much larger building than you’d expect for a church built in what was then suburbia between 1929 and 1931. The architect was Ernest Shearman who designed some interesting inter-war London churches. The website of Shearman’s St Silas’ Church in Kentish Town includes an article on St Gabriels of which the most interesting section says “The most unique items are the two fine low-relief terracotta panels by George Tinworth, which are placed on either side of the chancel / nave arch and were given to the church in 1930. They were exhibited in the Paris Exhibition of 1878 and were formerly in Sandringham Church, Norfolk. This church is truly fortunate to have two of his works.” The article also repeats the rumour that I’ve previously heard from local worshipers that the St Gabriels font was originally in Westminster Abbey. The website is at http://www.saintsilas.org.uk/section/107.

We came second in the quiz to the reigning champions – a team from the neighbouring Parish of the Ascension, led by their energetic minister Simon Reed. In 2002, the Ascension was the first church to be awarded a plaque for its environmental efforts, given by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland to recognise “the efforts made by the congregation to preserve their environment and save wastage.” I was honoured that they asked me to unveil the plaque at their Spring Festival in 2002. You can read more about their work on the Ascension website at. http://www.churchoftheascension.org.uk/

The quiz included fish and chips from the best chippie in Acton – Tony’s, just round the corner on Elm Park Parade in Horn Lane - and we followed it with a couple of pints of well-served Guinness at the Leamington pub . Now, that’s what I call a balanced diet.

Friday, October 14, 2005

From Cavendish Square to Macedonia

For the first time since I got my knee fixed in July, I cycled into central London. Fifty minutes door to door to the Kings Fund in Cavendish Square pleased me a lot - only about five minutes more than by foot and tube.

The Kings Fund is a major health charity which runs a very useful ‘Board Leadership’ programme that provides training and development for NHS trust board directors. Today’s session was on the implications of Foundation Hospitals, and particularly the Government’s intention that all acute hospitals will be in Foundation Trusts by 2008. The speaker at the seminar was Richard Lewis who has just completed a study of one of the early Foundation Trusts – the Homerton Hospital in Hackney. Having heard the evidence, I think it’s fair to say that most of us still felt “the jury was out” on the claimed benefits of foundation status. Richard’s report on Homerton can be downloaded from the Kings Fund website at http://www.kingsfund.org.uk/resources/publications/putting_health_1.html

Came back to the Borough for a meeting of the Council’s Constitution Review Group – better known as “the anoraks working party”. And yes, it is true that the group meeting would have been incredibly boring to anyone other than those of us who are sad enough to spend an afternoon looking at the Council’s constitution and procedures. However, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t important – an up to date democratic constitution is a key to ensuring that we Councillors can effectively represent local people and their interests.

I ended the night at the West London Trade Union Club (WLTUC), for one of our regular nationally themed evening. Tonight was a Macedonian evening, organised by one of the Club’s Committee members who comes from the former Yugoslavian republic. Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised that I was more interested in the macedonian beer than the arts and culture presentations.

Beers from Skopje (front) and Oxfordshire at the WLTUC

Got home to discover that the leaflets have now been delivered confirming the change of day for collection of the green boxes for recycling (see my post on 7th October). Unfortunately this was too late for a number of residents who had put their boxes out mistakenly this morning – but hopefully this is now the last week this will happen.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

East Acton, Elvis and the Clash

Today is John Peel Day – which reminds me of East Acton’s role in the punk and ‘new wave’ music that burst out of the blandness of the late 1970s.

Elvis Costello worked in the mid 1970s at the then Elizabeth Arden factory in Wales Farm Road, as a computer operator under his real name of Declan McManus. The story goes that he was the only operator on his shift, and therefore could use much of the time to practice the guitar, write songs, and work on this music career. Supposedly, Elvis lived at the time in Wells House Road, also in East Acton ward, although I’ve never been able to prove this.

The Elizabeth Arden factory has now been developed in to the very impressive and appropriately named ‘Perfume Factory’ – unfortunately Elvis didn’t take up their invitation to open it. The owners of the Perfume Factory, Sapcote, have proved to be very community minded – for example, funding high quality play equipment for the local John Perryn Primary School

Histories of perhaps the greatest of the punk bands – The Clash – usually talk about their being founded in a squat in West London. Well, that squat was at 22 Davis Road off Acton Vale in East Acton ward. Joe Strummer was playing in the 101s band, when he visited Davis Road, met Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, and created the Clash. Indeed there are punk fans who argue that Davis Road was the spiritual home of British punk, given that others who stayed there at some time included Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten of the Pistols..

Around 25 years later, Joe Strummer came back to Acton, where he played what proved to be his last gig before his early death at Acton Town Hall. This charity concert on 15th November 2002 marked the first time that Joe and Mick Jones had been on a stage together for many years. The Clash were a huge part of my student days - I’ll never forget listening to the Clash’s seminal ‘London’s Burning’ album in late 1979 – as a total rejection that all that the then newly elected Thatcher Government was planning for the country.

Went in the evening to the monthly Acton Labour Party all-members meeting. I particularly reported on current East Acton planning, licensing and environmental issues, and answered questions on Ken Livingstone’s proposed additional powers and some of the local failings of train companies.

However, it was particularly interesting to hear reports from four of our new prospective Councillors about some of the work that they had been doing. Theresa Byrne (Acton Central) talked about street lighting and ways to influence and support the Council's big new modernisation programme ; Attalah Said (East Acton) outlined fundraising plans and activities ; John Gallagher (South Acton) talked about current housing issues on the South Acton Estate ; and Abdullah Gulaid (Southfield) reported on heath issues, particularly in the Somali community.

Theresa Byrne (Acton Central)

London Pride flowed in the Kings Head afterwards, and we arranged quiz teams for two forthcoming social events.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


‘Liveability’ is one of the current buzz words of both local and central government. It describes an integrated approach to looking after and improving public places, parks and open spaces, and ‘the public realm’. Basically it’s the old concept of municipal pride with new jargon.

A couple of years ago, Acton Councillors agreed that the Council should bid for money from the Government’s Liveability Fund. This Fund is designed to : “test new approaches for tackling public space and local liveability issues that focus on and link service improvement, investment in innovative new parks and public spaces, and the sharing of good practice throughout the process”. We won £2.9 million for Acton from the fund – the only part of the Borough to get such funding. Although most of this money was for improving the street environment in and around Acton Town Centre, East Acton ward has got £200,000 funding for Acton Park and its pavilion. We’ve also benefited from using mainstream monies released by Liveability funding, on projects like the refurbishment of the North Acton Playing Fields pavilion (see 24th September post).

Today I went to an ALG Conference called ‘Liveable London 2005” which aimed to share information and ideas on liveability. The ALG (http://www.alg.gov.uk/) is the Association of London Government – and is the body which represents the London Boroughs as part lobbyist, part think tank and part provider of joint services for the Boroughs. The opening speaker was Cllr Mike Cartwright – the Chair of the ALG’s Transport and Environment Committee – and an old friend. Mike made some very important points about the public’s perceptions of these issues – everyone cares about the street environment because we all experience it, whereas only a minority of the population is using education or social services at any one time

The ALG Conference in the impressive Glaziers Hall at London Bridge

Over a break, I took the chance to talk to the ALG TEC Director Nick Lester - who is very much a key national expert on these issues. I asked about the future funding for ‘Operation Scrap It’ – the ALG’s Government-funded scheme which has delivered a massive reduction in abandoned and untaxed vehicles and the time they spent on our roads. The funding for this runs out next March, and will not be replaced until the responsibility passing to the car producers until 2007. Nick assured me that the ALG are very much on to the potential funding gap that this might represent – and indeed are meeting Government ministers again next week to lobby about it. The ALG really does punch above its’ weight.

I’ve not got space here to outline the four sessions and twelve speakers that were packed into a very full day. However, I’m writing a report for the Council on the Conference which I should finish over the weekend. I’ll try to find a way put this report on-line when I’ve finished.

Back to the Borough in the evening to chair a Licensing Sub-Committee meeting - considering the applications from the North Star and All Bar One in central Ealing for longer opening hours. We refused both applications, because they were incompatible with the Council’s special area policy for the central Ealing zone, in not demonstrating that they wouldn’t worsen the current cumulative impact of licensed premises in the area (see earlier posts for more details of this policy).

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Full Council farce

Full Council tonight, when all 69 Councillors meet together. This is in theory the place where major policy issues are determined, but in practice is usually a festival of boredom. Well, much of tonight’s meeting was not boring – but for all the wrong reasons.

The meeting culminated in pantomime-style scenes when a Tory Cllr shouted “you’re abusive” at a Labour Cllr who replied “no, you’re abusive”, and so on and on. I expected Widow Twanky to get up on a point of order at any minute. The Tories then tried to shout down a Labour Cllr, a past Mayor tried to move the expulsion of a Cllr (or Cllrs ?), and general farce ensued. This was part of a “debate” (using the term very loosely) on traffic in one road – when, against stereotypes, a Tory Cllr argued for more speed cameras and a Labour Cllr defended the role of road freight in the economy.

This followed earlier scenes when the usually forensic debater Tory Cllr Tony Young made unsubstantiated allegations, and found even fellow opposition members nodding when he was described as a “fool or a liar”. His one supporter on the Tory benches – Cllr Barbara Yerolemou – was then revealed not to have been at the meeting whose events were being disputed, blowing the credibility of her solitary defence of Cllr Young. Oddly, a Tory then sought to compare this issue their infamous ‘sweetheart’ contract in 1994 with BRETS/Cardinal (Kellogg Brown and Root – Dick Cheney’s company) when they sold them virtually all of the Council’s Technical Services. This is something that the more tactically astute Tories have assiduously avoided raising since, given that the contracts’ unpopularity is seen as one of the reasons for Labour’s big win in the 1994 local elections and since.

The BRETS and Young irrelevance was part of discussion on the major item on the agenda – a Scrutiny Committee’s report on their examination of the actions of the former Chief Executive (Gillian Guy), in taking expensive legal action against the Audit Commission without informing Councillors. This is a complicated issue, but raises important questions about accountability, transparency, and decision-making procedures. By common consent, the best speech came from Cllr Ranjit Dheer whose calm summary gently upbraided Cllr Young, stating : “it was right for opposition Cllrs to raise this issue initially, and we need to learn the lessons shown in the Scrutiny report … but there is nowhere else for this issue to go other than we move on and make any changes required”.

Other notable speeches were made by Cllr John Cudmore (the former Leader of the Council) who had been the only Cllr informed by Gillian Guy of her unsuccessful legal action ; former Tory leader Ian Green who stressed that “I do not doubt Cllr Cudmore’s integrity” whilst disagreeing on a political basis with the legal action ; and Lib Dem Leader Harvey Rose who gave his views from the unique perspective of the only Cllr present with legal training. However, the islands of reasonable debate were too often drowned out by rambling and abusive contributions.

It’s probably a good thing that there was only a notional attendance in the public gallery to see this meeting. There’s a new Council Chamber seating plan, which has put me and my old mate Cllr Steve Sears together in prime ‘heckling seats’ in the back row. I have to admit that when the nonsense broke out, Steve and I increasingly resembled the two old hecklers in the Muppets (Waldorf and Statler), grumbling, complaining and heckling the perpetrators of the worst moments.

Statler, Waldorf, Portwood and Sears

I did get the chance earlier to ask my question about cricket development and promotion in the Borough, which was answered by Leo Thomson as Leader, who outlined much of the information in my post of 7th October. In my supplementary question, I stressed the role that cricket (and sport in general) can play in community cohesion - “breaking down boundaries as well as scoring them”. I was helpfully supported by Tory Cllr Ian Gibb, whose consensual supplementary question gave Leo the opportunity to particularly stress the work being undertaken in schools in the Borough to promote cricket.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Housing and Community Cohesion

Labour Group meeting night, and the early part of the meeting was taken up with discussing the agenda for tomorrow’s full Council meeting. I was pleased that my colleagues agreed to support giving priority to my question on cricket development and promotion, so that it is certain to be taken for verbal rather than written answer.

However, most of the meeting was spent in discussion of reports from by Cabinet Members on their current work.

Cllr Liz Brookes (Regeneration) talked particularly about the good news that an external inspection of the Council’s housing management had been very positive – awarding a good “two star” rating with “promising prospects for improvement”. This means that LB Ealing is entitled to £207 million over the next few years to undertake major improvements – bringing all Council homes up to the Government’s new “decent homes standard”. We agreed to support a motion that Liz is putting to the Council tomorrow praising the work of Council staff in achieving such an impressive inspection result.

Cllr Ranjit Dheer (Deputy Leader) gave a very thoughtful report on ‘Community Cohesion” – a concept much talked about at the moment, but less frequently understood or acted upon. Ranjit’s key point was perhaps that “we need to keep in mind that our claims to equality are founded on the certainty of our common citizenship – on what we have in common, not our differences.” He was widely supported by Group members.

We also considered reports from Cllrs Karen Hunte (Independent Living), Sonika Nirwal (Children and Young People) and Ray Wall (Transport and Planning Policy). I went on afterwards to join Lou Kenton and some of his old friends in the pub, where I was able to give him the good news about cricket in the Borough.

The Labour Group leadership at the meeting - (right to left) Leo Thomson (Leader), Dave Bond (Chair), and Chris Payne (Chief Whip)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Steve Pound's post box

I spent the morning in Greenford Green ward, campaigning with Ealing North MP (and old friend) Steve Pound, and activists from Ealing Borough Party and elsewhere – one colleague even came from Ipswich to support Steve’s work.

Steve told us about an interesting case on which he’d recently won a victory. Residents of the Costons Lane area in the neighboring Greenford Broadway ward had complained to Steve that there was no postbox in the area. Steve took this up with the post office, and was told there was no pavement site in the area that could accommodate the large underground part of a post box. Apparently post boxes are like icebergs, and need a lot of space below.

The most famous post box in Greenford

Steve went back to the post office and pointed out that, elsewhere in his constituency, there was a postbox attached to a lamp post which avoided this problem. He showed them an old stump of a lamp post in Costons Lane in an ideal position. This worked, and he showed us the resulting post box – although I think local people thought we were mad, standing in the street celebrating and photographing a post box.

This is a really good idea for getting a public service where one wouldn’t otherwise be provided. If you live in East Acton ward, and do not have a nearby post box, please contact me on phil@east-acton.com and I'll put this to the post office quoting Steve Pound’s work as an example

Saturday, October 08, 2005

From the Brent to the Thames (via the Canal)

A great day cycling between civic heritage and sporting events.

I started off cycling down to Southall through the cycle paths in the Brent River Park – a lovely rural part of the Borough only a few hundred metres from both the Western Avenue and Uxbridge Road. Reminded of John Betjeman’s poem ‘Middlesex’ which local MP Steve Pound quotes on every occasion he can :

“Gentle Brent, I used to know you
Wandering Wembley-wards at will …
Parish of enormous hayfields
Perivale stood all alone,
And from Greenford scent of mayfields
Most enticingly was blown”

The Mayor gets to play engine driver

I’d been invited to the open day at the GWR railway society in Southall, where I joined the Mayor and Mayoress – Cllrs Mike Elliott and Julie Clements-Elliott – and Deputy leader Cllr Ranjit Dheer. The GWR are the only operation of their kind in Greater London, and were providing short train rides and displaying much of their stock and memorabilia. The engine providing the rides was a former AEC diesel shunter, which operated at the AEC factory in Southall next door to GWR (and upon part of which the PCT headquarters now stands). This is apparently a unique vehicle, built in 1938, and used in the past by the GWR to haul steam trains on the branch time from Southall to Brentford.

John Beeston, a leading member of the society, approached Ranjit Dheer and I with an interesting idea. Next year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Isambard Kingdom Brunel on 9th April 1806. Particularly as the Chief Engineer of the Great Western Railway, Brunel has had a major impact on the history and built environment of this Borough - the Wharncliffe viaduct in Hanwell and his famous Three Bridges in Southall remain as impressive monuments to his work. Ranjit and I agreed to see what the Council is planning to recognise the bi-centenary, and what more could be done.

“IKB” is recognised in East Acton ward in the naming of Brunel Road off Old Oak Common Lane. However, Brunel Road’s most prominent role was probably playing the exterior of ‘Sunshine Desserts” – Reginald Perrin’s workplace in the great comedy series.

I cycled through Brunel’s Three Bridges, and down the Canal towpath to Brentford, then through Syon Park to Isleworth, and along the Thames and through Old Deer Park to Richmond. Wonderful ride.

The Thames at low tide at Isleworth

I ended up at the Triple Crown pub in Richmond to meet mates before Ealing Rugby Club’s biggest game of the season – away at Richmond. Our informal ‘civic delegation' was me, former Acton Cllr Steve Donnelly, and Nigel Williams who is Chair of Governors at East Acton Primary School. Sadly Ealing lost, all be it to a Richmond team playing with two South African international players. I’m starting to feel like a jinx, having now watched three losing local sides in the last couple of weeks. We drowned our sorrows talking with Ealing supporters over pints of Deuchars in the Richmond clubhouse. We came up with the idea for a mayoral and civic visit to one of the big home games – probably London Scottish in January

Friday, October 07, 2005

Green boxes, green pitches and green (ASDA) bags

Looked out of my window to see a number of uncollected green boxes sitting in neighbours’ gardens. As I said my post on Monday (3rd October post), the green box collection day in East Acton changed this week from Friday to Tuesday. I knocked on a few local residents’ doors, and it’s clear that there had been a failure to deliver everywhere the leaflets that announced the change of day. I rang relevant people at the Council – to their credit they were already aware of the problem, and are taking action to distribute new leaflets and otherwise publicise the changes. Still, it’s annoying to have this happen with such as popular service.

Received an e-mail from Paul Hyman (Head of Active Ealing) with some more details about cricket development in the Borough, following up our phone conversation on Tuesday (4th October post) after Lou Kenton raised the issue with me.

This is really good news :

“New cricket pitches are being laid at :

* Shepherds Bush Cricket Club in East Acton

The Council are part-funding a new pavilion which will enable the club to start developing and growing. We see this club as important partners for local development of the game. It was as part of the negotiations with Virgin Active that this club was given a new home on the site and a new cricket pitch - the first to be laid in London for many decades

* The ex Liverpool Victoria sports ground near Acton Town tube station

This was formerly a private ground - but will now be a public pitch with pavilion. There is interest in using it from 4 or 5 teams including Gunnersbury ladies and Shepherds Bush Cricket Club (2nd team and juniors). This could be a major site for cricket development.

* A new Cricket Pitch at Elthorne Park in Hanwell

A new pitch is being laid in this park. This will be an outfield mainly for use by the Elthorne Park High School. It should be laid within 18 months.

In addition :

* Cricket Forum – The Council set this up and encouraging its development. The Middlesex Cricket Board (MCB) regard it as an example of good practice by local authorities and clubs.

* The new Southall sports centre is providing new indoor cricket nets - it’s currently used by the Ramgharia club.

* Local primary schools will be able use the new outdoor sports facilities at Dairy Meadow Primary School in Swift Road for cricket training.

* Schools cricket is being developed in partnership - the MCB work closely with both Featherstone Sports College and West London Academy to develop cricket in primary schools across Ealing. They have set up programmes that will involve primary school coaching, indoor leagues and outdoor mini-festivals. Inset Training for teaching staff will also be built into the programmes. Active Ealing's role is to support this partnership by continuing its work with local clubs through the Cricket Forum in order to provide exit routes for young cricketers in Ealing.

* Southall Cricket Club is working with the MCB as part of a national "grassroots"initiative based around the Community Club Development Fund – this combines facility development with junior cricket development at identified clubs.”

I’ve decided that I’ll ask a question about this work for cricket at the Council Meeting next week – in order to hopefully ensure that I can get all Councillors to support it.

Off to ASDA in Park Royal. I met Tammy, the new Events Co-ordinator, to set up my next advice surgery there . This will be from 11.00 to 12.00 on Friday 4th November, and I then intend to hold them at the same time on every first Friday in the month.

Clive Soley, as our MP until May, had originally set up these advice surgeries held in the Foyer of ASDA, and invited me and other local Councillors along - as many people had Council issues rather than just ones dealt with by MPs. This proved particularly useful for us in East Acton, as ASDA is in our ward and many of the local residents shop there. I’d previously held some advice surgeries in Park Royal at the Wesley Estate Community Estate and upstairs at the Fishermans Arms, but neither of these venues are now available. ASDA is now confirmed as our sixth monthly advice surgery held every month in East Acton – more venues than any other ward in the Borough.

Ended the day with a meeting with some residents of Wales Farm Road at the Castle. They were keen to ensure that the Gypsy Corner Residents Parking Zone would definitely go ahead to address the parking problems that they currently experience. I confirmed that the Acton Area Committee had agreed this, and that the final approval would be given by Cllr Ray Wall (Cabinet Member for Transport) on 18th October. They were well pleased, and I promised to urge Ray and his officers to implement the zone as fast as possible

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Yes, another meeting in a pub

Again a day dominated by licensing.

I heard in the morning that the Council have given planning permission to convert the former night club at the Park Royale leisure complex into a health and fitness centre. This should be good news – the former night club had a history of noise and other nuisance to those around it. I just hope that the health and fitness centre is a better neighbour than Virgin (see earlier posts), but then that wouldn’t be difficult.

I was invited in the afternoon to attend and speak at the Acton Pubwatch meeting at the Kings Arms, together with police officers from East Acton and Acton Central. This is part of a national scheme that encourages pub and club landlords to work together to solve common problems. The Acton Pubwatch has been recently reinvigorated by Colin Daniels – the energetic landlord of the Kings Arms in East Acton ward – and many of the pubs in Acton were represented. Colin has an impressive range of five real ales from Fullers on sale, and I had my first (tasty) pints of the year of their seasonal ale ‘Mr Harry’s’.

The statue in the back bar of the Kings Arms

It was encouraging to hear the landlords praise the work that the police and the Council have done to make Acton Park and Churchfield Road (East and west) safer. A dispersal zone has been introduced in Acton Park, and the police have stepped up their work in Churchfield Road – one landlord said “it’s been fantastic – Churchfield Road has been quieter”. However, most of the discussion at the meeting will have to remain confidential because it involved sharing intelligence on problem customers and incidents. There was a general welcome to the announcement that Acton Central ward would have a six-person ‘safer neighbourhoods’ police team from next April – matching those already operating in East Acton and South Acton wards.

In the evening we had compulsory training for Councillors on the Licensing Committee. Much of the discussion focused on the lessons to be learnt from the first panel meeting that had been held in the previous week (see my post for 4th October). For the next meetings, we decided to have a large notice on display listing the four legal licensing objectives - so that all who speak focus better on how their comments relate to these objectives, rather than wandering off to make wider and irrelevant points. Councillors on the Committee are now all devising their own acronyms to remember the objectives – preventing crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance, and the protection of children from harm.

After the training, I rang Sheela Selvajothy of the West Acton Residents Association (WARA) to check on what had been raised at their meeting this evening, given that I was required to attend the licensing training rather than be with them.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The BBC at Gypsy Corner

Sad to hear of the death of Ronnie Barker – his East Acton connection was that the Two Ronnies was rehearsed at the BBC Rehearsal Rooms in Victoria Road in East Acton ward. This is part of the Gypsy Corner ‘island site' (officially the ‘Park Royal Southern Gateway'), which has been under major redevelopment in the couple of years since the BBC ended most of their operations on the site.

Time was when you could go into the Castle pub next door to the rehearsal rooms, and regularly see the stars of BBC filmed programmes having lengthy liquid lunches. My favourite memory of the Castle in the 1980s is of a very drunk Les Dawson telling never-ending jokes, whilst he and Paul ‘Hi-di-Hi’ Shane bought drinks for most of us in the pub.

BBC memorabilia in the Castle

I cycled up there tonight to have a look at the latest changes. In the Council’s development plans, Gypsy Corner was identified as a preferred location for hotel development, given its excellent public transport links – opposite North Acton tube station, with five bus routes passing by, and an equidistant ten minute or so walk from Willesden Junction and Acton Main Line stations. This policy has drawn in two new hotels – a Ramada Encore (http://www.encorelondonwest.co.uk/) and a Holiday Inn (http://www.encorelondonwest.co.uk/). Sadly no real ale in either, but I had some stout in each and chatted to some of the staff. They seem to be doing reasonably well, and the noodle bar at the Ramada is apparently well recommended. This was followed by some excellent pints of Fullers Discovery in the Castle.

The redevelopment has included building a new Remploy factory. Remploy are the country’s largest employer of people with disabilities, and have had a factory in and around Gypsy Corner for almost all the sixty years since the company was set up, initially to provide employment for people injured in the Second World War. It now employs a significant number of local people, and one of their latest contracts is for the assembly of bikes for the excellent and prize-winning ‘Oybike’ scheme in our neigbouring Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (http://www.oybike.com/). The Queen opened their new factory last year, in the first official royal visit to East Acton ward since I greeted Princess Anne to open another factory in Park Royal in 1999.

Oh, and my favourite Two Ronnies joke is “And in news just in from the English Channel, a ship carrying red paint collided with a ship carrying purple paint. It is believed that both crews have been marooned”.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Pub extended hours refused

Tonight we refused applications for extended opening hours until 2am from O’Neill’s in Ealing High Street and Edwards in New Broadway, at the first Licensing Sub-Committee meeting under the Council’s new alcohol licensing powers. I sat on the panel with Cllr Laurence Evans (Acton Central) and the much-respected Tory Chief Whip Cllr Diana Pagan (Hanger Hill), together with a bigger than normal turnout of observers.

The key issue that we considered for both pubs was the implications of their applications on our agreed special area zone policy on cumulative impact, which applies to the particular ‘problem areas’ at the core of central Ealing (see my post on 6th September). This policy means that there is a general presumption against any new or extended licences in this area, unless it can be shown that they would not worsen the problems already being experienced locally with drinking and entertainment. We’re publishing our full decision in the next few days.

This is probably one of the first cases in the country where a council has refused applications for extended hours in an area with such a cumulative impact policy. Next week, I’m chairing a Sub-Committee meeting deciding upon two further applications for longer hours for pubs in the zone – the North Star and All Bar One.

Had a fascinating afternoon before hand talking to Lou Kenton – the senior Labour Party member in Acton (see my post on 22nd September). Lou is now 97, and I and John Delaney talked with him today mainly about sport. Lou is keen that the Council builds on the Ashes success to promote cricket in the Borough, and I agreed to talk to the Council’s Head of ‘Active Ealing’ (the sports development team) about what is happening. When I rang him (Paul Hyman) later on, he told me the good news that three new cricket squares are being created in the Borough this year – one in each of East Acton, Ealing and Hanwell.

John, Phil and Lou

Lou’s sporting experience covers an incredible range of 20th Century events. He was at the famous ‘white horse’ Cup Final in 1923 (the first to be held at Wembley) ; saw the great Jack Hobbs play cricket for Surrey as part of his 29 year first class career (the best cricketer Lou has ever seen) ; and took Emil Zatopek on his tour of Britain around the 1948 London Olympics. Zatopek won the 10,000 metres at London and then achieved his never-bettered ‘Zatopek triple' at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics – in my book, the greatest athletic achievement of the post war years. See more on Zatopek at http://www.runningpast.com/emil_zatopek.htm

We also talked football, and Lou recounted his experience of playing in a trade union tournament in Germany in 1932. Lou was playing for the British Workers Sports Federation, and their final game in Essen drew a crowd of 30,000. Lou and the other British players had to be protected from Nazis who invaded the crowd to disrupt the game. In the same period Lou played football in the Stepney Sunday Football League, which was chaired by the local MP for Limehouse Clement Attlee – later Britain’s greatest peacetime Prime Minister.

Beat that for a sporting lifetime.

Clement Attlee (left) with his predecessor as Labour Leader, George Lansbury - who my mum tells me was a friend of my great-grandfather John Phillips, when they both lived in Bow in the 1890s.

Monday, October 03, 2005

If it's Tuesday, it must be Green Box day

Tomorrow, the collection day for the green box scheme moves to Tuesday for the whole of East Acton ward (indeed for the whole of Acton). This is a change for many of the roads that are covered by what is officially called the kerbside recycling scheme. You still need to put your green boxes out before 7.30 am in order to ensure that they are collected. As before the boxes will take bottles, jars, cans, paper, aluminum foil, batteries, shoes, clothes, engine oil and yellow pages.

My green box in my (overgrown) garden

The green box scheme has been one of the great success stories of the local Council since Labour introduced it in 1994. One of the original pilot areas was the East Acton Estate, and I must admit that I was a bit cynical about whether it would work in a mainly working class area like this. However, in practice, East Acton’s beer bottles matched Acton Green’s chardonnay bottles, and Hanger Hill’s champagne bottles. Whilst there is a variation in take-up of the scheme across the Borough, and East Acton ward has one of the lower usages, affluent Ealing Common is a worse performer than us. The Borough now has a recycling rate of around 20%, compared to virtually zero before the scheme started from 1994.

The scheme was basically devised and managed by ECTR – a local social enterprise (the ‘E’ is for Ealing). It was their first contract in the recycling field, although they have subsequently grown to a multi-million pound operation. As I reported in my post on 8th September, ECRT now have the Borough-wide integrated ‘clean and green’ contract for street cleaning, refuse collection and recycling, and are also tomorrow starting the new food waste recycling scheme to our neighbours in Acton Central ward. The food waste recycling scheme is being rolled out ward by ward, so will get to East Acton in time.

ECTR’s website is http://www.ectgroup.co.uk/index.php?sa=2&sg=1&m_about=true

Unusually no meetings tonight, so I took the rare chance to catch the evening game at QPR. We lost 3 : 1 to Crystal Palace, with some defending as poor as a Tory election campaign – blue, leaky and disunited. I’ve also got a ticket for the Plymouth game in a couple of weeks, so I’ll save posting about the QPR-East Acton connection until then, when I’m hopefully in a better mood after a better result.

Drowned my sorrows afterwards in the West London Trade Union Club. I had some excellent pints of Wadsworth 6X – not normally one of my favourite beers – but my wine-drinking colleagues raved about the Fair Trade Cape Cabernet Sauvignon that they drank.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

St Dunstans Church

Went to the morning all-age service at St Dunstans Anglican church.

Given the size of the East Acton ward, it’s not surprising that we have a wide variety of places of worship – including two Anglican churches (St Dunstans and St Gabriels) , St Aidans Catholic, Old Oak Methodist (of which I'm a member), East Acton Baptist (Network), and a number of evangelical churches who hold their Sunday services in schools or warehouses. I try to attend each of them at least annually to keep in touch with the Christian community. In addition, I obviously also visit the local mosque, synagogue, gurdwara and mandir – although none of these are actually located in East Acton ward.

St Dunstans is the Anglican church covering the East Acton part of the ward, and a few years ago also merged with St Thomas’ which was the Acton Vale Anglican church. This morning was the Harvest Festival, and local minister Rev James Blandford-Baker turned it into a service inspired by the work of the WaterAid charity. An appropriate bible reading (Isaiah 41.17-20 - “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none”) was accompanied by a water-themed slide show , and the church was decorated with cardboard water droplets and a man-made river flowing over the pulpit. James talked about some of the stark facts upon which WaterAid campaign – such as that 1 in 5 of the world’s population lack access to a safe water supply, whilst Mozambique uses less than a tenth of the water per day of that consumed in England. An excellent service, which matched faith and community in proper measure.

'The water of life' over the pulpit

We also hold a monthly East Acton Councillors advice surgery after the service at St Dunstans, which today as usual was taken by my colleague (and Anglican) Cllr Kate Crawford, while I had useful chats with James and his curate Rev Maggie Davidge-Smith about local issues. St Dunstans was one of the first churches locally with its own website, which can be seen at www.stdunstanschurch.org.uk

Spent the afternoon in a Labour Party fund-raising social at my friends’ Amanda and Roger’s, and ended the day with a couple of good pints of Fullers Discovery in the Kings Arms in The Vale

Saturday, October 01, 2005

From Rats to Rugby

Advice Surgery at St Gabriels Church Hall in North Acton, and issues raised by constituents include refuse collection, rats, housing and the newly agreed Controlled Parking Zone for the Gypsy Corner area (which incidentally is so named because it used to the first place outside of London where gypsies were allowed to park their caravans).

The good news is that two of these issues were raised as praise for action that I’ve managed to get from the Council. One was a longstanding case where black bags were not being collected weekly from a house but now are being.

More significantly, I was told that the perennial problem of rats in and around Western Avenue is now under control, thanks to vigorous action from the Council’s pest control team. A couple of years ago, I had responsibility for overseeing the work of the Council’s Environmental Health officers, and we organised a ‘Rats Summit’ to look at why the rat population was increasing and what could be done about it. Some old fogies at the Council sneered at the ‘Summit’ approach, but it was covered positively by the BBC, and the new approaches, action and investment that came out of it now seem to be making a difference. That said there is a big ‘painting the Forth Bridge’ element to rat control, and as long as people chuck their fast food on the street with abandon, the rats are going to return to Western Avenue.

You can find out more about rats and their control at the local environmental health site at http://www.ealing.gov.uk/services/environment/pests+and+nuisance/25b9ad6c-4d02-4fda-9e75-dfeeee23c77d.asp

Went on to the big cup game against Hertford at Ealing Trailfinders Rugby Club. I’ve been associated with Ealing RFC since my Millennium Mayoralty, when I worked with them to achieve planning permission for their excellent new clubhouse – which I subsequently opened .
Ealing is one of the oldest rugby clubs in the world – founded in 1871. The story goes that the only reason that they weren’t founder members of the Rugby Union is that their delegate went to the wrong pub and missed the key meeting. For many years Ealing punched below their weight and history. That all changed with the arrival of Mike Gooley – the founder and chair of theTrailfinders travel company. Mike is a passionate rugby fan, and has brought money and enterprise into the club that has transformed it.

Phil's namecheck in the clubhouse (the pint of Ealing bitter is out of shot)

Ealing is now a thriving club, with sides for all ages and both genders, and large youth operation who regularly run big overseas tours. They are now based at the former GWR Sports Ground at Vallis Way in West Ealing – saved from housing development by my mate Cllr Steve Sears when he chaired the Council’s Environment Committee. The appeal of the rugby is added to in the clubhouse by the excellent ‘Ealing bitter’ brewed only for them by the Skinners brewery. Last season the first team were promoted into the London 1 league, and will now play some big name teams such as Richmond and London Scottish. Their website is at http://www.ealingrugby.co.uk/

An excellent afternoon spoiled only by the fact that Ealing lost 16-28. Nevertheless, they put up a creditable performance against a team in a national league, and for most of the game were only a converted try behind. Next week I’m going with a few mates to the big game of the season so far – away at Richmond, who Ealing beat in the last round of the cup.

Ealing (in the green and white) defend the line

Friday, September 30, 2005

Leo hits the big time

Heard today from our local Labour Leader, Cllr Leo Thomson, about her speech to the Labour Party Conference yesterday. It's a sign of how well Leo is regarded, even after only four months as Leader, that she was chosen to give the address to Conference on behalf of all Labour Cllrs in England.

The speech was going well until loud applause suddenly broke in the middle of one of her sentences. A perplexed Leo desperately tried to work out what previously anodyne buzzword she'd used to generate such enthusiasm. Thankfully she then noticed, through the bright TV lights, that the cause of the applause was the re-entry into the hall of 'Walter the Heckler' who an amateur steward had mistakenly removed the previous day. Presence of mind re-established, Leo continued and concluded her speech to a generous but somewhat smaller reaction from the delegates.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Healthy Living

Spent the day on NHS business for the Primary Care Trust. In the morning, I and colleagues met to look at the evidence upon which we can provide assurance about governance under the Standards for Better Health programme. Yes, I know the jargon is irritating – but it’s hard to under-estimate the importance to the health service of being as safe and secure as possible against risk. Indeed there are lessons that the Council could learn about the way in which the NHS have embedded a culture of risk management and assurance throughout the organisation.

At lunchtime I had a lovely bike ride down the canal towpath from Brunel’s famous Three Bridges in Southall to the Fox pub in Hanwell. The Fox is the current CAMRA Pub of the Year, and served up some excellent pints of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord bitter – the premier cru of Yorkshire beers.

In the early evening we held the public AGM of the Primary Care Trust. We’ve been looking for ways to make this a less formal and more informative session, and this year we had a number of stalls staffed by particular professional groups who could talk about their work. I had a really useful chat with the community nursing team about their work with young children and their parents – trying to establish healthy living as early as possible in life. They agreed to let me spend a half day work-shadowing them - I find that I can get a far better feel for the work done at the frontline by spending just a few hours work-shadowing rather than days spent in reading reports.

The AGM broke up into groups to discuss particular aspects of the work of the PCT, and my table had three of the team who run Meadow House – the local hospice, which is located on the Ealing Hospital grounds but managed by the PCT. Meadow House is a very well-loved facility in the Borough – every second or third pub will usually be fundraising for them. I was very interested to hear from them that the majority of people admitted to Meadow House are now subsequently discharged – the stereotype of hospices being predominantly places to die is somewhat out of date. I arranged to visit them next month to learn more about their current work – although I spent a deal of time there as Millennium Mayor, I haven't visited for a couple of years.

Discussion at the Primary Care Trust AGM

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Planning Committee

Well, we won. Planning Committee unanimously supported my proposal that they refuse permission for the "over the top" housing scheme at Goodhall and Stephenson Streets (see post for last Saturday). John Stack made a very effective speech as Chair of the residents association, stressing that the residents were very keen to have the old club used for housing - but with a scheme that was sympathetic to the Conservation Area and surrounding community. We were helped by a poor and unconvincing speech on behalf of the developers, who claimed that an independent expert had approved their plans in conservation terms - it turns out this was a consultant paid for by the developers.

The Chair (Cllr Peter Wicks) allowed me to be the first Cllr to speak. I outlined the problems with the design and scale of the proposed new building, but particularly stressed my opposition to their cynical attempt to evade the Council's affordable housing policy in linking the site to one at Mattock Lane in central Ealing. I concluded by saying "if you agree this tonight, it will give a green light to developers across the Borough to drive a coach and horses through our affordable housing policy. It may be North Acton tonight, but tomorrow it could be Southall, Perivale or Hanwell used to enhance developers' property values in central Ealing".

My fellow ward Councillor Paul Woodgate followed me, and we were supported by members of the Planning Committee from Acton, Hanwell, Perivale, Southall and even Ealing. Perivale Cllr Inderjeet Nijhar compared the developers tactics to those of Shirley Porter in Westminster, whilst Acton Cllr Kate Crawford described the Island Triangle as "a gem in its intimacy". All twelve members of the committee voted to reject the application, to the unusual sound at a Planning Committee of applause from the public gallery.

Later on, the committee agreed the application to refurbish the pavilion at North Acton Playing Fields - so 2:0 to East Acton.

Sadly, the debate on the Island Triangle was delayed by nasty scenes in (another part of) the public gallery. A couple of objectors to an earlier application tried to stop debate by disrupting the meeting, and made verbal threats to one Cllr of the "we know where you live" variety". Peter Wicks had to call the police to remove these bullies. This is not the first time we've had problems like this at a Planning Committee. When I was a member of the Committee I was once physically attacked by a developer for daring to oppose his application, and on another occasion white racists tried to storm the Cllrs' seating area when an application for a mosque was being considered.

I went on from the Planning Committee to the Kings Head, and was asked by Wesley Harcourt to join his quiz team for the night. Wesley is a Cllr for the neighbouring Hammersmith part of East Acton. To my surprise, we ended up winning the £100 jackpot between the four of us. Some days, you just can't stop winning.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Examing Licensing

I took an exam last month, for the first time in twenty-five years. As part of our training for the Council taking over alcohol licensing (see my post on 6th September), a number of Cllrs and officers agreed to take the multiple choice exam for the British Institute of Innkeeping Certificate of Licensing Practioners. Hardly a Phd I know, but I’m childishly pleased to have come top of the class (jointly with one of the Council’s legal officers) with a score of 93%.

A report to tonight’s Regulatory Committee reports this, amongst a lot of information from the first comprehensive look at the interest shown locally in extending opening hours. Only three-quarters of licensees had applied for new licence, even for their current hours, by the first deadline of 6th August. The remainder will now have to apply as if they were wholly new applications rather than renewals.

The excellent West London Trade Union Club in Acton High Street - whose licence I obviously can't decide on, as I was the founding Treasurer of the Club

Around 30% of licencees (182) have applied for variations to their licence – most of which are seeking longer opening hours, particularly at weekends. Unsurprisingly, nearly 90% of these applications have attracted ‘representations’ – which I think are mostly objections from immediate neighbours. No licensee is looking for anything approaching 24 hour drinking. Most seem to be seeking to stop serving around midnight in the week and around one o’clock at weekends. Around twenty want to sell alcohol until two in the morning, although the White Hart in Southall is uniquely seeking a licence until four o’clock.

The pubs in East Acton ward are seeking the following hours :

Castle in Victoria Road - 10am to 2am (all week)

Fisherman’s Arms in Old Oak Lane - No application listed

Goldsmiths' Arms in East Acton Lane - 10am-12am (Mon-Wed), 10am-1am (Thu and Sun), 10am to 2am (Fri and Sat)

Leamington in Horn Lane - 11am to 12am (all week)

Kings Arms in The Vale - 11am to 2am (Mon to Sat), 12pm to 2am (Sun)

Wishing Well in Old Oak Common Lane - 10am to 12am (Mon to Thu), 10am to 1am (Fri and Sat), 12pm to 12am (Sun)

If you live near one of these pubs, and want me to speak for you at the Licensing Sub-Committee, please feel free to contact me at phil@east-acton.com.

You can get more details, or check for other pubs in the Borough, on the Council's website at http://www.ealing.gov.uk/services/licensing/current+applications.asp

Monday, September 26, 2005

Acton Area Committee

Tonight was the latest Acton Area Committee meeting.

This was set up in 2000 as one of seven area committees – reflecting the seven towns of the Borough – as part of a move to devolve and share power away from the centre. The area committees were given decision-making powers on local transport and environment issues (within an overall policy framework) ; consultation rights on major issues affecting the area ; and a devolved budget to spend on additional local environment and transport projects.

Some of the pioneering features of area committees were a culture shock to the more staid of the Council officers. These included a three quarter of an hour “Open Forum” section of each meeting for local residents, and the introduction of the then novel principle that Labour gave up power in the area/s of the Borough where we are not in a majority – notably central Ealing.

Many positive things have been achieved by the Acton Area Committee – particularly in using our devolved funding. The Open Forum has been helpful in bringing new people into civic life, although some observers feel that it can be too dominated by the ‘same old faces’ at the expense of newer voices. That said, at this meeting, a first time speaker came along from Western Avenue (East Acton ward) and made good points.

South Acton Cllrs Yvonne Johnson, Liz Brookes and John Cudmore (far right) listen to the Open Forum at the Acton Area Committee

The principal East Acton ward issue on the agenda was the results of the consultation on the proposed Gypsy Corner Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) in the North Acton area of the ward. As I predicted in my post on 3rd September, the results showed that residents near the North Acton or Acton Main Line stations were in favour, whilst those further away were against. Consequently, we drew the boundary of the zone to reflect these votes – meaning that roads north and west of Park View will not be included, and neither will be Western Avenue. This will also crucially protect residents of the Leamington Park Estate from parking by employees at the next door Carphone Warehouse HQ.

The other main East Acton items were road safety issues. Following nine accidents in Wales Farm Road the last three years, we have persuaded TfL to pay for warning signs and anti-skid surfacing on the bends in the road. I also moved that money available to address speeding at the junction of East Acton Lane and Bromyard Avenue should be prioritised to anti-skid surfacing rather than signs – I’m convinced that physical works can do more for road safety than warnings and/or requests to speeding drivers. Frustratingly, a much-needed pedestrian crossing that we have agreed and funded in Horn Lane will now be delayed. The pelican crossing in Horn Lane, near its junction with Noel Road, cannot be finished until April 2006 because TfL’s Traffic Signal Services (who control all traffic signals across London) say they have a big back log of work.

The meeting also heard presentations on the new (Kitchen) Food Waste Collection Scheme, the massive new Borough-wide Street Lighting Programme (see earlier posts), and the ‘Acton Property Improvement Strategy (which only impacts minimally on East Acton). The Street Lighting presenter from the contractors EDF announced that their depot will be at Dukes Road in East Acton ward, and so I’m taking up an invitation to visit them there.

As you might guess, all this meant a huge agenda, and a meeting that didn’t finish until 10 o’clock. Not good news for the takings at the Kings Head.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Good and Bad Planning Applications

Site Visits were held today for the Planning Committee next Wednesday, with two of the sites being important for East Acton ward.

First, the Planning Committee visited North Acton Playing Fields, where the Parks and Countryside Service are seeking planning permission to spend £400,000 on a whole scale refurbishment of the currently unused pavilion and changing rooms. The Committee Members were a bit surprised, but pleased, that the concern of local residents who attended was that they should agree without delay – they are more used to residents’ opposing developments. The North Acton Playing Fields have not historically had the same attention as some other parks in the Borough, and therefore both we East Acton Councillors and our Acton Central colleagues have had to be a very organised lobby to get this welcome action from the Council.

I then cadged a lift with the Planning Committee members to their next site – an old railway club and neighbouring cottages and land on Goodhall and Stephenson Streets in ‘the Island Triangle’. You may not have heard of the Island Triangle, but you’ve almost certainly seen it – the northern-style railway cottages in the Conservation Area are regularly used as a backdrop for films, TV and adverts.

Planning Committee Members Cllrs Phyl Greenhead and Tejinder Dhami (right), Planning Officer Aileen Jones (centre), residents, and Island Triangle Residents Association chair John Stack (far left)

Local residents are keen that the club and building should be redeveloped for housing. However, they object (rightly in my view) to the overdevelopment and unsympathetic housing design currently proposed, and to a “fiddle” being tried on by the developers to get around the Council’s affordable housing policy. The developers also own a site in one of the highest house price areas of central Ealing - and are trying to avoid having other than token affordable housing there, by moving their affordable housing requirements entirely to the Island Triangle. This is a pretty cynical move by any standards, and in my view runs directly counter to the Council’s policy of encouraging mixed communities.

We’ve had a number of big planning issues recently in the Island Triangle - unsurprisingly, given that the ‘Island’ reference comes from it being another residential area surrounded by railways and industry. I’ve had the very frustrating experience of twice persuading the Planning Committee to reject inappropriate applications next to houses – a cement works and a waste plant – only to have other decision-making bodies give permission over our heads. We’ll see what happens on Wednesday.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Cloister Road Surgery

Chaired the Premises Panel of the Primary Care Trust, where we have an exciting building programme for new and improved health centres and surgeries, after years of under investment in the local heath service.

I’m particularly pleased that the first major project to be finished will be at Cloister Road in East Acton ward. This will be new premises for Dr Robinska’s very successful practice, which is currently a victim of its own success in its undersized and not purpose-built surgery on the corner of Eastfields Road and Noel Road. The practice recently got a superb satisfaction rating in a national survey of patients’ view of GPs.

The new premises are being built on formerly derelict land in Cloister Road, next to the existing health service provision at the former Acton Borough Council clinic which is now the Gunnersbury Day Hospital. The new surgery is due to open in February 2006.