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

You can get more details, or check for other pubs in the Borough, on the Council's website at

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.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Getting Slaughtered (corny puns volume 2)

A puncture in my bike’s front tyre meant I was late getting to a PCT away day in Teddington. I’m generally cynical about away days, which too often turn out to be the bland leading the blind. However, this was very useful, as it focussed on the coming changes in the NHS structure and policy and how we should respond to and deliver the change required by the Government. The West London situation will be much clearer after 15th October, when the Strategic Health Authority are due to produce their proposals for local implementation.

On in the evening to a Labour Party members meeting for the Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush constituency (which we all call EASB for obvious reasons). Being without the bike meant that I was again running late, and missed the main item at the meeting – a debate on the future of Heathrow Airport, with speakers including our former MP (and now Lord) Clive Soley and Hanwell Cllr (and Planning Committee Vice-Chair) Phyl Greenhead. Clive's much-praised blog can be seen at

Andy Slaughter MP gave a witty MPs report, talking about the anachronistic administrative arrangements for newly-elected MPs. Andy has spent much of his time since his election on 5th May holding meetings on local issues with key people in the Constituency, and dealing with individual casework – much of which is inevitably dominated by immigration and nationality work. He has made the (very sensible) decision to only intervene in Parliamentary debates on issues that particularly have a local perspective – for example, Crossrail, the future of the BBC, and government funding for our local Councils. You can see Andy’s maiden speech at whilst his speech on Crossrail is at

I was delighted to see Lou Kenton at the meeting, and have a drink with him and Clive Soley afterwards in the Kings Head. Lou is the senior local Party member - well over 90 years old – and has lived a life that reads like a history of the left in the twentieth century. He was at Cable Street in the early 1930s when the East End fought the Mosleyite fascists ; served in the progressive cause in the Spanish Civil war ; and had to leave Prague in 1968 when the then Soviet Union invaded to suppress the democratic reforms of Alexander Dubcek. Lou has also been very much of a mentor to me, giving me sound advice whenever I ask for it, and sometimes when I don’t realise that I need it.

Lou and Clive in the Kings Head

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Wilkinson Sword

Following yesterday’s good news for Park Royal, I was sad to hear today of the closure of the local Wilkinson Sword factory. Although, I understand that they now only employ 14 craftspeople, the company is very much a part of local and national history. Wilkinson Sword only moved to Brunel Road in Park Royal in the 1970s, but was based on a big site on Southfield Road from around 1905.

In 1908, they sold their playing grounds next door to Acton Urban District Council. This followed a campaign by Cllr Fred Shillaker – one of the first Labour Councillors in Acton and later our first Labour MP. Fred Shillaker proposed, and the Council agreed, to turn the land into the Southfield Recreation Ground – which it remains to this day. Only last month, I joined John Delaney at the opening of a new children play area in the Rec.

John Delaney opening the play area (clue - he's the one with the tie)

Possibly Wilkinson Swords’ most famous ceremonial sword was the Sword of Stalingrad. This was made by the company in 1943 to celebrate the heroic stand of the people of Stalingrad during their long siege by the Nazis, and was presented to Joseph Stalin by Winston Churchill at the Tehran Conference later that year. A copy of the Sword of Stalingrad apparently toured the country during the war to big crowds, and I understand is still in the ownership of the company.

Wilkinson Sword also made the Sword of Acton – which some claim to be similar to the Sword of Stalingrad (although this may be apocryphal) – to be part of the civic insignia of the Acton Borough Council. The Sword of Acton can now be seen on public display at Ealing Town Hall, together with the mayoral chain and badge of Acton. As Millennium Mayor, I arranged for the Sword of Acton to be carried at the head of the civic procession at the annual civic ‘Crayle Service’ at St Mary’s Church in The Mount – for the first time since the abolition of Acton Borough Council in 1965.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Investment in Park Royal

Most of Park Royal - London’s largest business park - within our Borough lies within East Acton ward. This means that I have more contact with, and casework from, the business community than most Councillors. For most of the last ten years, I was a Director of the Park Royal Partnership – one of the longest standing public:private regeneration partnerships in London – and I’ve tried to ensure that the Council and business work together to benefit both local employment and the environment of residents. Park Royal Partnership’s website includes a comprehensive business directory, and is at Their programme of investment in projects in this financial year in Park Royal totals over £6 million.

Tonight’s meeting of the Cabinet agreed the Council’s contribution to the latest set of Park Royal improvements for which we have been lobbying. These include unsexy but important projects like the second phase of a project to upgrade roads and sewers in the industrial roads of Sunbeam Road and Cullen Way ; a study to produce improvements to the key junction of four roads called Central Park Royal ; and backing for the encouraging corporate social responsibility (CSR) work of Park Royal companies. This CSR work has produced very welcome support and investment in local schools such as John Perryn Primary School.

However, residents in Park Royal will also benefit from funding agreed tonight for an alley gating programme on the Wesley Estate. This is a residential enclave within the predominantly industrial estate - and indeed was originally built as company housing for the Harold Wesley company, who made stationary and plastics and at their peak employed over a 1000 people in their factory next to the houses. This location, isolated from other residents, means that they suffer disproportionately from ‘enviro-crime’ such as fly-tipping and abandoned vehicles and from anti-social behaviour.

Consequently, local residents have been working with myself and my fellow local Councillors, on a scheme to gate the alleyways on the Estate which are the location of most of the problems. Some money had already been found from our Acton Area Committee budget and other sources, but these economic development resources agreed by Cabinet should complete the funding package for consultation and gating to go ahead.

The Cabinet report can be seen at

Monday, September 19, 2005

Development and Design

The night of the monthly Labour Group Meeting, preceded as ever by a number of presentations.

This included presentations by each of the four companies who have been shortlisted as potential developers of the key 400,000 sq ft Dickens Yard site between Ealing Town Hall and Christ St Saviour church. The four teams all had plans that involved new public spaces, shops of a character that aren’t currently attracted to Ealing, and new housing with a large proportion being affordable for local people. However, there are also very clear differences of approach – particularly in design terms – that make for a real choice between the four – Barratts West London, Centros Miller, Helicon Exemplar, and St Georges.

At the Labour Group, we heard from GLA Member Murad Qureshi and Iqbal Vaid of the TGWU about the Gate Gourmet dispute at Heathrow Airport. Many of the employees unilaterally sacked by Gate Gourmet are residents of the Borough – particularly in Southall. We agreed to make a donation to their funds, given the hardship they are suffering.

The major item at the Group Meeting itself was as usual the agenda for the following night’s Cabinet Meeting. There’s a particularly interesting report (at least to a local government anorak like me) on draft new urban design guidance for the Borough. There is a legacy in this Borough of some very good design, but also some terrible tat that was allowed to be built - particularly in the 1960 s and 1970s. The document looks in some detail at achieving good quality and consistent design, and I particularly welcome the emphasis on uncluttered streets with well designed street furniture that puts people rather than vehicles to the fore. The summary report can be seen at

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Eric Sykes and East Acton

For some unfathomable reason, tonight's Melvin Bragg documentary on Eric Sykes failed to mention his link to East Acton. In Eric's longrunning sit-com with Hattie Jacques, their address was frequently given as "24 Sebastopol Terrace, East Acton".

There is of course no Sebastopol Terrace in East Acton, but Eric Sykes didn't stop there in his promotion of the town. He jointly wrote a number of the episodes of 'The Goons' with Spike Milligan, and regularly threw in joke references to East Acton. Examples that a friendly Goons fan gave me include :

"In order to learn more I went straight to the East Acton Geographical Society" (The Yehti)

"We present an ancient Chinese play translated from an old Greek soup recipe found engraved on the seat of a dustman's trousers in East Acton" (China Story)

"Clear the floor for the East Acton Working Man's Club Crazy Cabaret" (the Sinking of Westminster Pier)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Africa Comes to Acton

I've complained for years that the Council's free magazine 'Around Ealing' has never been delivered to the East Acton Estate, or some other parts of my ward to the east of the A40. This was apparently because the delivery contractors refused to come here. Finally this week, a copy of the newly revamped magazine was delivered to (I hope) every household in the ward, including details of all Councillor advice surgeries. Today, this led directly to a gentleman visiting my advice surgery at the Oak Oak Methodist Church Hall on the East Acton Estate with a number of local issues he had been waiting to raise. Nice to know that my moaning eventually paid dividends.

I was the Millennium Mayor of the Borough, and therefore often get asked to represent the Borough if the Mayor and Deputy Mayor are not around.

Today I was asked to lead the welcomes at the African Market that was held in King Street in Acton Town Centre. This is one of a series of markets which the Council is funding through the Acton liveability project - which has brought £2 million of extra Government money in Acton.

The African Market was a really buzzing event, and the picture shows the traditional African dance of blessing. Other photos that were taken can be seen at

Thanks are due to Ola of African Markets, and to the team at Action Acton for their organisation of the event.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

East Acton Steering Group

Went to a meeting of the East Acton Steering Group at Old Oak School. This is a joint body that unites Councillors, residents associations and Council officers to try to co-ordinate the work of LBs Ealing and Hammersmith and Fulham in East Acton, given that East Acton crosses the Borough boundary.

A new traffic scheme has been introduced recently and created some concern, particularly because of the inadequate “green man time” in the pedestrian phase of the new traffic lights. We are pressing Transport for London (TfL) to create more time for people crossing, and also agree improved pedestrian access generally at key crossing points. Inevitably the discussion focussed on very local environmental issues, such as pavement improvements, toilet facilities, and landscaping, where we agreed the next stage of action that is required.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Residents take on Virgin

I chair the Audit Committee of the Primary Care Trust, and this morning attended a very interesting meeting with the other Audit Chairs of West London Primary Care Trusts. Many common problems and challenges were identified, and some possibilities for joint work will be taken further. We are particularly collaborating on anti-fraud work.

Back to the Virgin Inquiry in the afternoon, to hear the very effective and heartfelt evidence of local residents Julia Hunt and Jill Ross. Mr Lockhart-Mummery tried to tie Julia in knots, but she very ably stuck to her guns and didn’t let him intimidate her. It’s now down to the Inspector – Stuart Reid – to decide on the issue. Incidentally, I was told that Mr Farragher-Thomas’ response to the regular problems caused by irresponsible Virgin parking was that he would take a “stern tone” with their members. “Ooo, matron” as the late great Kenneth Williams would have said.

"Infamy, Infamy ... the've all got it in for me"

Appropriately, I followed the Virgin Inquiry by sitting in for a colleague at a meeting of a scrutiny panel looking at planning enforcement. I made the point that the lesson of the sad history of the Virgin case is that, however vigorously the Council try to use their enforcement powers, the system is not as helpful to the victims of developers as it should be.

Finished with a useful discussion over London Pride in the Wheatsheaf with the team who will be delivering the Council’s massive new street lighting programme – this is unalloyed good news, which will make local street lighting probably the most modern in London

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Virgin on the ludicrous (corny puns volume 1)

The twenty first anniversary of the day I was first elected to represent East Acton – 13th September 1984.

Spent the morning at the Virgin Planning Inquiry. The Virgin Leisure Centre are appealing against the Council’s refusal of their application to weaken the planning controls upon their site in Bromyard Avenue. They want to impose additional parking, in clear breach of the Council’s planning policies. Virgin have been consistently bad neighbours to the residents of Bromyard Avenue and the Vale Estate next door, and I’ve lost track of the number of occasions residents have needed to complain to my colleagues and I about their conduct. I was criticised a couple of years ago by some of the old fogies around the Council for repeating publically residents’ view that Virgin are “scumbags” - but I’ve rarely had more supportive comments for anything I’ve said in the Council Chamber.

The Virgin case was led by the luxuriantly named Christopher Lockhart-Mummery QC (yes, really) supported by the equally double-barrelled Ross Farragher-Thomas. However, the most revealing of Virgin’s comments were attacks made on cycling and walking by their transport advisor, the surprisingly single-barrelled Mr Bowman. On cycling, he said “you can’t expect families to cycle together” to the Virgin centre, and claimed that “a ten minute cycle ride is not reasonable”. On walking to the site he said “twenty minutes is out of the range for members to walk, and ten minutes is questionable in winter”. Remember, that these are people coming to a self-described “health and fitness centre”. Virgin’s representative concluded by describing East Acton as “such an inaccessible place”, to the laughter of local residents who were present.

To the credit of the Council, their barrister Richard Ground put up a very effective defence for the refusal of planning permission, as did the experienced Council planner Peter Causer. Left with some confidence that the Council had a good case, which had been well made.

Monday, September 12, 2005

I'd rather have been at the Oval

Performance and Audit Panel tonight concentrated on scrutinising the Council’s performance on collecting debts (particularly social services income) , managing street trading, and delivering a pilot scheme on improved commercial waste collection.

Not I appreciate topics that will exactly draw the crowds – a Geoff Boycott of a meeting rather than an Andrew Flintoff. Drank afterwards with the President of the Chamber of Commerce at the Haven in celebration of the Ashes being reclaimed

Saturday, September 10, 2005


I organised a special advice surgery this morning, because a constituent needed to see me urgently about a housing problem. East Acton doesn't have as much housing casework as wards that are more characterised by Council housing - like South Acton - but when I get them, they tend to be serious.

Rest of the weekend to be given over to watching the cricket.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Licensing and Kitchen Waste

Spent most of the day with one eye – or at least two ears - on the Oval.

In the evening, we held our monthly all-members Labour Party meeting in Acton. The early part of the meeting was spent discussing local Acton issues – I particularly talked about the licensing position, and reported the concern of East Acton residents about the proposal from the local Goldsmiths Arms to open until two in the morning.

Wartime Poster for Kitchen Waste

We also talked about the improvements that the Labour Council are introducing in recycling. From October, our new ‘Clean and Green’ contractors – a local social enterprise called ECTR – will be rolling out household recycling of kitchen and organic waste. This will start in Acton Central ward and, if the pilots are successfull, will subsequently reach East Acton ward from 2006.

Our guest speaker was the new leader of the Council, Cllr Leo Thomson. Leo(nora) is the first woman to lead the Labour Group of LB Ealing, and has really hit the ground running since her election in May. Leo led a discussion that ranged through social services, education and environmental issues, and as ever the discussion continued after the meeting in the Kings Head round the corner.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Primary Care Trust

My main public role outside of East Acton is as non-executive director of Ealing Borough NHS Primary Care Trust (PCT). Today was our Board meeting – with a very substantial agenda, dominated as is usually the case by financial and performance issues. The good news for the Primary Care Trust over the summer was that we achieved a two star rating from the Heathcare Commission – up from a previous no star rating. This big jump in rating reflects very real and visible improvements in local GP services over the last few years.

However, ironically, this will be the last set of star ratings, and we now have to prepare for a new set of measures called Standards for Better Health (SfBH). This is part of a wide agenda of planned change in NHS structures and systems, designed to give more power to doctors to commission healthcare and for patients to have more choice in their care. The principles appear to be sound but making all this work will be a real challenge. The Government's approach is outlined in “Commissioning a Patient-Led NHS”, which can be seen on the Department of Health website at

The biggest difficulty currently facing the Primary Care Trust is the extreme pressure on local maternity services – particularly at Ealing Hospital – which reflects a significantly increasing birth rate and a relative shortage of relevant medical staff. This is less of a problem for us in East Acton, given that Hammersmith and Queen Charlotte’s Hospitals are on our doorstep.

On a very positive note, we agreed proposals to create a ‘one stop shop’ to combine services that both the NHS and the Council provide for children with disabilities. This will be in a building with very good bus links in West Ealing. Crucially, this will end the understandable frustration that parents experience when being sent from pillar to post or rather from Town Hall to clinic, by ensuring that in future they can get all the help they need in one place.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

From Alcohol to Water

A useful meeting today with colleagues to plan next year’s “Responsible Host Scheme” in the Borough. This is an scheme which LB Ealing pioneered six years ago – and which other Councils and the Government are now copying – which encourages better management of licensed premises. Much credit for this is due to my mate Cllr John Delaney (Acton Central ward), although the real strength of the Scheme has been a genuine partnership between Councillors, Council officers, the police, residents groups, and other key players.

Phil (left) and John Delaney (right) launching
the 2004 Responsible Host Scheme

Much of my time over the last year has been taken up with Licensing (process as well as consumption). The Government have transferred responsibility for alcohol licensing from magistrates to local councillors amidst a range of other changes – of which the headline is the option for extended hours for licensed premises. There has been much lurid nonsense in the Daily Mail and their ilk about “24-hour drinking” – for which virtually no pub in the country is applying – and indeed in my view much of the current problem with alcohol in town centres can be laid at historic poor decision-making by unaccountable magistrates rather than locally elected Councillors. That said, the civil servants at the relevant Department (DCMS) have made a pigs ear out of a good idea, with too much national prescription and too little local flexibility.

I chaired the Committee that agreed LB Ealing’s licensing policy last year, and also led some of the lobbying of Government on behalf of London Boroughs. Against the opposition of much of the alcohol industry, the policy we agreed included a pioneering “cumulative impact” special policy zone for the Haven Green and Ealing Green areas in central Ealing. This 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.

My next few months will also be dominated by Licensing. I and my colleague Cllr Laurence Evans (Acton Central ward) will be the core of the team of Councillors considering applications for new and changed licenses in the Ealing area. This is likely to be the area of the Borough with the busiest and most hotly contested agenda of licensing issues. The first hearing is now set for 4th October, when we’ll consider proposals for extended hours at the O’Neills and Edwards pubs in Ealing Broadway. Summaries of licensing applications can be seen on the LB Ealing website at

After the Responsible Host Scheme meeting, I went on to the first meeting of the Water Scrutiny Panel. This was a scrutiny exercise that I suggested (so I could hardly refuse to be a member), particularly following a series of floods and burst mains in Acton, and concern across London about Thames Water’s policy of reducing water pressure in higher-rise blocks of flats. We had a useful framing discussion, but the meat of the work will come at future meetings, and particularly at a public hearing we will hold in Acton later in the Autumn - to be chaired by my ward colleague Cllr Paul Woodgate.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

North Acton Issues

Advice surgery this morning – given the size of East Acton ward, we hold five advice surgeries every month. Today’s was at St Gabriel’s Church Hall, and is aimed principally at residents of the North Acton section of the ward. Issues raised include individual problems with a street light and rubbish collection ; progress on a controversial planning application ; and the latest situation on the consultation being undertaken on the option of a residents controlled parking zone for the Gypsy Corner area. This is a very typical set of advice surgery complaints and queries.

The proposal for a controlled parking zone arose from strong lobbying from local residents, who are suffering increasing parking problems caused by commuters to North Acton and Acton Main Line stations and the (welcome) redevelopment of old employment sites in the area. My impression is that enthusiasm for the zone generally depends on how close people live to the stations, but we’ll see when the consultation results come in. The Council has a deliberately ‘pick and mix’ approach to controlled parking, so that individual roads can opt in or out of the zone through their votes in the consultation . This means that it is possible to address very distinctive local problems in different ways, within an overall policy framework, without any risk of a narrow majority imposing their will on others.

Friday, September 02, 2005

You're never far from an Acton connection

Shameless Acton partisan that I am, I used part of my summer break to visit a couple of places of Actonian interest. Most parochially, whilst in Suffolk, I visited the village of Acton – between Sudbury and Lavenham - as seen here. A good pint of Greene King Abbot in the Crown in the village, although not a patch on the Fullers London Pride in our local Kings Head.

By my count, there are five other Actons in England, thirteen in the USA, three in Canada and three in Australia. Acton Massachusetts is the largest outside London – and even has an outlying village called East Acton.

I later spent some time in the East Midlands, and took a ride on the new Nottingham tram system. Transport for London are proposing to build a tram around 2015 along the Uxbridge Road from Shepherds Bush to Uxbridge - which would pass along Acton Vale in East Acton. Some of the central Ealing opponents of the tram claim that Acton High Street is too narrow for trams to pass through comfortably, but as my picture shows, some of the route in Nottingham is along narrower roads than ours. The tram stop shown here is Shipstone Street – next to the sadly closed and much lamented Shipstone’s Brewery. Overall the tram seemed popular with local people, and was certainly well used.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

From Dead Man's Alley to Pensions

Two varying meetings tonight, that show the diversity of the work of a Councillor.

Firstly, the very local issue of Dead’s Man’s Alley” on the East Acton Estate – at a meeting with local residents, fellow Councillors, and a Council officer. Dead Man’s Alley has a history of anti-social behaviour (the clue is in the title), and local residents and I have been trying to close it for some time. New Government legislation now makes this far easier, but Council officers are instead seeking to spend money encouraging the use of it - against the opposition of local residents. I and the residents insisted and the meeting concluded that the dangerous part of the alley should be closed, but also agreed that feasibility work and consultation are undertaken on a possible safer alternative path. A good result overall, but it’ll be important to ensure that the Council keep to it.

I went from this to the Council’s Pension Fund Panel, where we have some key decisions to take in the next few months about the £400 million fund. The Local Government Pension Scheme has nationally-decided pension levels and benefits, but is funded and administered at a local level. The core funding comes from employees’ contributions (6% of their salaries) and income from investments, with the Council’s budget having to make up the difference between this income and pensions paid. Therefore, the better the fund’s investments perform in generating income, the lower is the cost to the local taxpayer.

LB Ealing is one of better performing Council pension funds in the country - in the five to ten percent best performers over the last five to ten years - and winning awards for topping the ‘league table’ in some investment categories. However, the investment strategy and fund managers are now due for a review, and as Trustees we are looking to further improve income in order to minimise Council Tax levels. We had the first debate tonight, and will look to make the key long-term decisions at our next meeting later in the Autumn.