Sunday, May 21, 2006

Old Oak Methodist Church

One of the ways that politics (at least of the Labour variety) can interfere with your life, is that most Sunday mornings tend to be devoted to knocking on doors and talking to residents. While I always enjoy talking to people about East Acton (as you may have guessed), these Sunday sessions mean that I don’t often get to the weekly service at my local church – Old Oak Methodist. Today, given that it’s only two weeks from the last elections, I decided to go to church rather than do politics.

My family’s history has been defined by Old Oak – my parents were married there as was my sister, my dad, my sister and I were baptised there, and my paternal grandparents had their funerals there. I was moved by the service, rich with these memories, and particularly when looking up at the cross above the altar which my dad made from beams of the former Old Oak Church which burned down in 1977.

The church site in The Fairway is eighty years old this year, although the church name comes from its original site (from 1922) on the Old Oak Estate across Old Oak Common Lane in LB Hammersmith and Fulham. The current modern church building was built after the fire, with the neighbouring sheltered accommodation being created on the site of the old church hall.

As with many free churches, the congregation these days is not as big as it was when I was a more regular attender, but the welcome was as warm as ever. That said, it was a little spooky to be described as ‘little Philip’ by ladies who remember me from my childhood.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Somerfield Return to The Vale

Some good news for Acton Vale – I’ve had it confirmed that the Somerfields store will be reopening in 2007.

The store was originally closed a few years ago as part of housing and redevelopment proposals, and there was a real doubt whether it would be replaced. This caused understandable concern locally as it was the only significant store in the area, with the alternatives being having to go into Acton or Shepherds Bush town centres.

Therefore I and my fellow East Acton Councillors persuaded the Planning Committee that the new development would have to include a decent-sized replacement store. Despite this planning condition, it has been unsettling for local residents to have heard nothing since – so I and colleagues have been chasing the issue up.

The Council have now confirmed from the developers (Shepherds Bush Housing Association) that completion is scheduled for January 2007 which will be followed by a fit-out period which would typically be expected to take three to four months.

This is a really welcome victory for using the planning system to benefit the local community.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Dzien dobry, Dwa piwo, Dziekuje, Do widzenia

Today was the annual civic mass at the Polish Catholic church in central Ealing (Our Lady Mother of the Church).

I’m a regular at this huge event, which celebrates Ealing’s position as the largest Polish community in Britain, and saw again this year a number of old friends in the Polish community. They stressed that the community is going through a dramatic period of growth, following Poland’s entry to the EU two years ago – the new chair of the parish said that the church has added two new masses every Sunday in the last year to cope with the demand.

After the service, the Mayor and Steve Pound MP respond every year to a speech of welcome from the community, and Steve’s speech is always a highlight. He first did it as Mayor in 1996, when he spoke entirely in Polish with (I am told) an impeccable north Warsaw accent. This year he stressed the benefits of the new Polish immigration, whilst reserving his greatest praise for the quality of their doughnuts.

As Millennium Mayor, I was the first LB Ealing Mayor to visit Poland in my year of office, and hence had a lot to say in my speech to the civic mass. However, I was reminded on Sunday that I had admitted then that my working knowledge of Polish is largely limited to the sentence in the title of this post – “Dzien dobry, Dwa piwo, Dziekuje, Do widzenia”. But then what more do you need to say than “Good morning, Two beers, Thank you, Goodbye” ?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Health Provision in East Acton

I was invited tonight to represent the PCT at a meeting of residents’ associations which considered health provision in East Acton. The original trigger for the meeting was the apparent decision by Hammersmith and Fulham PCT not to go ahead with the proposed relocation of the Old Oak Surgery to a site in Armstrong Road in our ward. (see my post on 24th January). However, it was helpfully widened to consider generally how the local community could get better involved in planning decisions about health made by the Council, and in the premises strategy of the Ealing PCT and our neighbouring PCTs.

I and Baljeet Ruprah-Shah (the Acton Neighbourhood Manager for the PCT) talked about the feasibility study that the Ealing PCT is undertaking on what we could do to deal with the impact of the Old Oak Surgery on/off move. I stressed that this feasibility study is complicated by also needing to assess the likely extra demand for local health services from planned or possible new residential developments in the area.

Baljeet and I also talked with residents’ representatives about the way in which we at the PCT wanted to involve these kind of local meetings in the review of our premises strategy in our Strategic Servives Development Plan (SSDP). Residents present were (relatively) understanding of the position in which that Ealing PCT found itself, but were angry at the lack of communication from Hammersmith and Fulham PCT – who are currently responsible for the Old Oak Surgery.

As a group we held very useful discussions, led by Carmel Cahill of Ealing Community Network and Anita Longworth from the Council’s Planning Policy team, about the way in which the community could be involved in pre-application discussions with developers about the local impact (including on health services) of planning proposals. It’s the pre-application point that is really key to genuinely effective community involvement – it’s very much more difficult to effectively change things at later stages.

In the past, the Council have not always even consulted the PCT about the health implications of major developments – which has sometimes meant us often having to try to play ‘catch-up’ unsatifactorally at the end of the process. This has thankfully now changed, and we are regarded as a key player in the new Local Development Framework (LDF) process, which is replacing the former Unitary Development Plan (UDP) system. Whatever else changes, there’s always new alphabet soup to learn whenever you talk to planners.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Planning News

This is the first of regular updates that I’ll be giving on planning issues in East Acton ward.

First some good news – following objections from myself and a number of local residents, the Council have refused permission for an over-the-top development at 96 Western Avenue. This is a site with what lawyers might politely call a ‘troubled history’ of planning problems and enforcement, which would have been exacerbated by the now refused proposals.

Another property with big planning enforcement issues is 26 and 28 East Acton Lane, where the Council has been forced to the unusual step of imposing a ‘stop notice’. This is designed to prevent illegal development work being carried out until a planning application has been considered by the Planning Committee. There has been a great deal of concern locally about an apparently enormous and unneighbourly redevelopment, and the developes have now finally submitted a planning application on which consultation can be undertaken.

In Acton Vale, the Council have agreed permission for the former ‘Curtain Mill’ store at 2 The Vale to be converted into a wine bar. This is the sort of proposal that normally generates opposition, but the local Oakvale Residents Association wrote to support it - in order to provide more local facilities for the growing population of the area.

New proposals could create a further residential expansion in local housing in and around The Vale. The developers of Bromyard House (the former pensions building) want to add another 60 odd flats within it, rather than the office space that is planned to provide a mixed development. They are also consulting locally on their planned redevelopment of the neighbouring site, that they euphemistically call ‘Home Office land’ – the houses and flats owned for the use of prison warders at the nearby Wormwood Scrubs prison – with a net increase of hundreds of ‘housing units’. However, even larger than these proposals are plans that are said to be about to be submitted to Hammersmith and Fulham Council. These are at the former Prestolite factory in Larden Road, which literally borders onto East Acton ward, with some five hundred flats being talked about being provided on this large site.

For all these Acton Vale developments, there is one key question – is this all too much for the local social, transport and environmental infrastructure to bear ? And if it is, what might be the alternative acceptable levels of total housing ; what is the proportion that needs to be genuinely affordable to create mixed communities ; and what is the contribution required from the developers to provide the new facilities required to make the infrastructure match the current and new populations ?

If you want any information on planning issues, proposals or developments in East Acton ward, please feel free to contact me at

Monday, May 08, 2006

East Acton, Ice Cream and 'Little Italy'

There’s a story in today’s papers suggesting that an amendment will be moved to the Education Bill to give powers to ban ice cream vans from parking near schools. Now, I’m the last person to usually oppose either new Council regulatory powers or action against obesity (in both cases I’d be guilty of hypocrisy of a Gallowayesque character.)

However, this does seem a bit heavy handed – I agree with the dietician who is quoted saying that “this is the kind of blanket ban that gives the health lobby a bad name … most choices from an ice cream van would provide fewer calories and fat compared to a free choice from a newsagent”. I’m writing to the Council to see if the’re going to use these new powers to ban ice cream vans, or rather I hope leave ice cream rationing for parents to decide.

That said, I’m biased, given the long East Acton connection with ice cream.

In 1922 the Walls sausage factory at The Friary (on the borders of East Acton and Acton Central wards) started using spare capacity in the summer to produce ice cream. Their ice cream took off in a big way, helped by a famously innovative marketing campaign led by salespeople on tricycles using the slogan “stop me and buy one”. This was so well known as a catchphrase in the inter war years that supposedly condom use was promoted to the armed forces with the line “buy me and stop one”.

By 1956 the whole of The Friary was given over all year to ice cream production - and even in the early eighties Walls still employed hundreds of local people, including many of my schoolmates in holiday jobs. However, by the late eighties the factory was closed, and the site is now the Friary Park social housing estate.

The other ice cream connection in East Acton comes from our status as the ‘Little Italy’ of Acton – and indeed the Borough. Nearly 1% of our residents were born in Italy, and growing up on the East Acton Estate it was not unusual to hear Italian accents – we had a great impromptu street party in Carlisle Avenue when a Paulo Rossi-inspired Italy won the World Cup in 1982.

Many of the East Acton Italian families have made their living from ice cream and the tradition is still kept going locally, particularly by the local Bonito family. Stop them and buy one if you see them around, and tell yourself that you’re celebrating East Acton history rather than just having a treat.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

58 votes

I lost my seat as a Councillor for East Acton by just 58 votes in the local elections.

East Acton saw the lowest swing to the Tories of any key Labour ward in the Borough, and we managed to save the seat of my East Acton ward colleague Cllr Kate Crawford by 43 votes. Indeed one local Tory said to me after the result was declared “I’m sure you’ll be back in four years time”. Whilst all of this is short-term consolation, it is galling to get so close to being re-elected in a marginal ward in a Labour meltdown year nationally, and fall short by just 58 votes.

I will work to be re-elected in 2010, and I’ve always believed that you haven’t got to be a Councillor in order to fight for your community. East Acton is and always will be my home, and I’m not going to go away and sulk just because I lost an election for national rather than local reasons. I also been very chuffed, and bit humbled, by the number of local residents who've contacted me to urge to stand again next time.

I also intend to keep this blog going. Apologies that it hasn’t appeared for a month or more, which is due to a mixture of computer problems and then pressure of election time.

Friday, February 03, 2006

West Acton Primary School

I’ve recently been elected as a governor of West Acton Primary School, and this afternoon made my first official visit in this new role. West Acton includes about one sixth of the East Acton ward population in its catchment area – the area between North Acton Playing Fields, Horn Lane and the Western Avenue.

Infact, East Acton ward is so large that it includes all or part of the catchment areas of six primary schools – all of East Acton and John Perryn, and parts of Derwentwater, Southfield, West Acton and West Twyford. In addition, a number of local Catholic parents send their children to St Vincents Roman Catholic Primary in Acton Central ward.

Headteacher Sue Brown took me on a tour of the classrooms at West Acton. I was impressed with the warm atmosphere, and a clearly enthusiastic staff seeking to get the best out of the children. Like all Acton schools, West Acton is a wonderful mix of national backgrounds, and in particular has probably the largest proportion of Acton’s Japanese community. The school is currently having an impressive new hall being built, which should be finished in the spring. This will provide very welcome extra space in a school which was originally a first (infants) school but now caters for children from nursery age to eleven.

Some of the work of the West Acton art class promoting a football match with South Acton's Berrymede School

West Acton has an interesting history, as a pioneer of the Montessori school system. Acton Borough Council’s Education Director in the 1930’s – J Ewart Smart – was an enthusiast for the Montesori method – and my dad remembers it being around when he was a pupil at John Perryn School at the time. Smart made sure that Acton had a national reputation for employing Montessori-trained teachers, and Maria Montessori herself visited Acton schools at his invitation. Our local history museum at Gunnersbury Park have a collection of Montessori teaching materials and equipment from West Acton, from its opening in 1937, as well as photographs of classrooms with it in use at

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

East Acton's Canadian Connection

A constituent has emailed me after my post about the Canadian elections last week (24th January), asking why Canada Road and Canada Crescent in East Acton ward are so named.

Canada Road was named in 1925, following the building of company houses there by the Canadian company Mond Nickel (now Inco). These houses were for employees at their precious metals refinery opened the previous year in Bashley Road in Park Royal. The Inco refinery still thrives on the same site (also in East Acton ward), employing around 120 local people. It’s now one the one of the world’s major refineries of platinum-group metals – platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium and iridium, as well as gold and silver. I know from reports at the Park Royal Partnership that it is now also increasingly involved in recycling.

I posted last week that none the Canadians towns called Acton elected one of the 29 MPs for Labour’s Canadian sister party, the New Democratic Party (NDP). However, Ealing in Ontario did. Ealing is part of the London Fanshawe constituency gained by the NDP’s Irene Mathyysen. The story goes that the town is called Ealing because it’s roughly the same distance from the centre of London Ontario as Ealing is from the centre of London (Charing Cross). The Ealing Public School has a brief history of the school and town at

Monday, January 30, 2006

£4,339 per pupil

Labour Group in the evening - mainly discussing financial reports on the Cabinet Agenda for tomorrow.

The Council revenue budget numbers are a lot smaller than in previous years, as the Government has now removed schools funding into a separate ‘Dedicated Schools Grant’ (DSG – another acronym thrown into the already over-flowing sea of acronyms in local government finance). Previously schools’ spending made up over half of the budget. The good news is that this funding has seen a 6.8% increase per pupil (£4,339 per pupil, or the equivalent of 4.7 pints of London Pride a day)

The less good news is that non-schools grant has only risen by 2% - the “floor” or lowest possible rise for a Council this year. About half of London Boroughs get the same minimum 2% increase, although Hillingdon, Lambeth, Kensington and Chelsea and Camden have got over 3% (at least you can’t accuse the Government of political bias – only one of these four are a Labour Council). It could have been worse without the ‘floor’ system – changes to the formula for calculating Government grant would have cut £5.2 million in grant without the 2% minimum increase.

However, in the immortal words of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t Panic”. The savings that I’ve posted about previously (see 9th January) will mean that the Council can live (however grudgingly) with this low grant increase, without needing further sudden cuts or a tax increase above last years’ 4.8%. Indeed the work being undertaken to squeeze out extra efficiency will hopefully produce an increase lower than this.

There’s also a report on the Cabinet agenda of the results of scrutiny of the draft the budget by the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee. One particularly interesting proposal they make is that the Cabinet should consider the future investment needs of the CCTV service, and in particular officers should look at the potential for contributions from partners. I and other supported this recommendation, and Cabinet Finance member Cllr Martin Beecroft is going to look at the options for future CCTV funding.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

'East Acton Labour News' for Acton Vale

Supported again by colleagues from across the Borough, our ‘listening surgeries’ moved to the Avenues – and we combined it with delivery of a special edition of ‘East Acton Labour News’ for the Acton Vale area.

This edition of ‘East Acton Labour News’ includes articles on :

- Magistrates agreeing the gating scheme for the Avenues (see post on 19th January)
- New Street Lighting agreed for the Vale (see post on 21st October)
- Controlled Parking Zone – Consultation results
- Old Oak Surgery (see post on 24th January)
- Planning applications in the area (including the new application to convert 2 The Vale - the former "Curtain Mill" - into a 'wine bar').

"The Curtain Mill" at 2 The Vale - proposed to become a wine bar

The only one of these issues that I haven’t featured on this blog is the Acton Vale Controlled Parking Zone consultation. What we’ve said on this in the newsletter is :

“The first results of the recent consultation on the hours of the Acton Vale Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) seem to show that most local people want to reduce the hours. Around 70% of replies to the consultation want to reduce the current 9am to 9pm seven days a week controls.

However, there doesn’t seem to be the same level of agreement about what any new hours should be—with around half supporting 9am to 5pm and half supporting later hours.

The final results, including a road-by-road listing of views, will go to the next Acton Area Committee on 28th February. Any decision they take to change hours, either in all or part of the zone, would have to be agreed later by the Council’s Cabinet.

Cllr Paul Woodgate says “As local Councillors, we have always said that local people should decide. We will look at the results road by road to make sure of this.””

The biggest issue raised in the listening canvass was the proposal by Berkeley Homes to create a further 86 flats in addition to the hundreds already being built in the conversion and redevelopment of the former Government pensions building next door at Bromyard House. This concern was linked to concerns about the short-term implications for parking and the street environment of the current works being undertaken at Bromyard House. However, we also found very real delight that the alley gating scheme could now go ahead, and strong evidence of the support shown in the early consultation results for some reduction (but not removal) of the current CPZ hours.

I also put some local history on the newsletter. The Avenues – First, Second and Third Avenues – were named as streets in 1903, and built in stages thereafter. However, a map of 1910 shows that the original intention was that there should be nine Avenues rather than just three – makes you think what value local estate agents would have put on houses in 5th Avenue W3.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Green Waste, Orange Bags and Red Rubber Bands

We’d arranged this weekend for colleagues to come to East Acton to support us in some ‘listening surgeries’ knocking on doors to talk to constituents. This is something that we generally do monthly to supplement the efforts of our local team. It means that we can knock on the door of every household of the 14,500 residents of the ward about once every two years or so.

Today we visited the south-east corner of the ward – Davis Road, Elizabeth Gardens, Jeddo Road, Oldfield Road and St Elmo Road – whilst other colleagues telephoned people in other parts of the ward. This part of East Acton looks as much to Askew Road and Shepherds Bush as they do to Acton High Street and Acton – indeed the boundary with Hammersmith and Fulham weaves around within it, sometimes confusingly splitting streets between the two Boroughs. This also means that residents of ‘border roads’ have the interesting opportunity to compare the two Boroughs’ performance.

The main issues that came up were unsurprisingly environmental – problems with fly-tipping, (encouraging) praise for “the local bin men”, and a lot of enthusiasm for the expansion of recycling. Some residents preferred our ‘green box’ scheme of recycling collection, whilst others liked the Hammersmith ‘orange bag’ system. One resident of a border road (“the 49th Parallel” as another resident called it) admitted that she used both Boroughs’ systems at times depending on which suited best !

I stressed that East Acton would get the new food waste recycling (composting) service later this year. It’s being piloted by Cllr John Delaney (the relevant Cabinet Member) in his own Acton Central ward - what ‘Yes Minister’s’ Sir Humphrey would have called “ a brave and courageous decision” because John would get the very direct blame locally it if went wrong. Thankfully, the reverse is true and the pilot schemes have proved very successful with a 43% participation rate (double that expected). John is now also looking at a possible timetable for the introduction of cardboard kerbside recycling, after the food waste schemes goes Borough-wide. You can read about how the food waste recycling scheme will work when it reaches East Acton at

One resident raised an interesting issue that has been annoying me – the littering of streets and paths with red rubber bands that are discarded by the Post Office when delivering letters bundled with them. He had recently been to Edinburgh, and said that the City Council there was threatening the Post Office with £50 fixed penalty fines. I said that I’d take the issue (and the Edinburgh approach) up in a question to John Delaney at the next Council meeting on 7th February.

In the evening we had a big fundraising quiz night for the Acton and Ealing Central Labour Party, with both Andy Slaughter MP and Steve Pound MP leading quiz teams. The winners (only by one point admittedly) were the East Acton team – largely because of our unashamedly nerdish knowledge of capital cities throughout the world.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. Following my motion at the last Council meeting (see previous posts), the Council had organised a memorial tree planting outside Perceval House in the Uxbridge Road. The intention is that this should be the start of a regular tree planning on every Holocaust Memorial Day. Leo Thomson as Leader introduced the brief ceremony and Mike Elliott spoke afterwards as Mayor.

Leo, Mike and Darra planting the tree

There was a very good attendance from both members of staff and the local community. Obviously, this was particularly from the local Jewish community, including Rabbi Hershi Vogel from the orthodox Ealing and Acton synagogue ( and Rabbi Janet Burden (who I met for the first time) from the Ealing Liberal synagogue (
However, it was also very positive that there was also prominent representation from the Armenian, Christian and Hindu communities.

To follow-up Holocuast Memorial Day, there will be a commemorative exhibition inside Perceval House, whilst a number of schools have also organised events. To his great credit, Darra Singh as Chief Executive sent an email to all staff this morning about Holocaust Memorial Day, which concluded “We must never forget the heroism of those who put themselves at risk to help Jews and others avoid almost certain death in the concentration camps. And we must never forget that we can all make a difference in the future by opposing discrimination whenever we encounter it.”

I went on in the afternoon to chair a meeting of the PCT Premises and Capital Planning Panel. We reviewed the progress on a number of our key new developments of GP premises and health centres. These include a new modern surgery premises at the Grand Union Village development on the Northolt/Greenford borders ; a much-needed high street health centre in Southall Broadway ; a new neighbourhood surgery at Jubilee Gardens in northern Southall ; and the replacement of the overcrowded Mattock Lane health centre in central Ealing. In and around East Acton ward, we have the new Cloister Road surgery opening next month (see previous posts), expanded surgery provision at Dr Sinna’s surgery on the Western Avenue, ideas for possible primary care provision in Park Royal, and plans for new modern premises in Southfield Road.

I raised the issue of the Old Oak Surgery, and the potential implications of it and the wider Hammersmith and Fulham PCT premises strategy, for demand on Ealing PCT services in East and eastern Acton. It was agreed that we would look at this issue, and consider options for expanded provision if that proves necessary

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Licensing in East Acton ward

Today was the licensing hearing for the Leamington Arms pub in East Acton ward, so I thought I‘d outline the current licensing position of the pubs in East Acton ward (see 27th September for earlier information).

Remember that any objection to a variation of hours or other licensing element will mean that there will have to be a hearing before a Sub-Committee of Councillors (on which a local ward Councillor could not serve). Conversely, if there are no objections, the Council is obliged to grant what is being sought by the pub.

Castle in Victoria Road – They applied for 10am to 2am (all week). They had a hearing on 16th January, with one resident objecting, and I understand (though the minutes are not yet out) that they were allowed to sell alcohol until 12.00.

Fisherman’s Arms in Old Oak Lane – They applied for 10am to 12am (Sun to Thu) and 10am to 1am (Fri). However, as they applied after most pubs, any hearing will not be until April at the earliest (the deadline for objections closed in November).

The Goldsmiths Arms - now applying to serve until 1am on Fridays and Saturdays

Goldsmiths' Arms in East Acton Lane – They originally applied for 10am-12am (Mon-Wed), 10am-1am (Thu and Sun), 10am to 2am (Fri and Sat). This generated a petition objecting signed by a large number of neighbouring residents, and individual letters from others. This has led the Spirit Group (who own the pub) to recently submit a new application which asks for a hour less than before from Thu to Sun – that is 10am to 12am (Sun to Thu) and 10am to 1am (Fri and Sat). Consultation is still open on this new application, and any objections or representations need to be sent to the Licensing Team at the Council by 9th February. Their email address is, and you will need to give your address to show that you live in the vicinity of the pub

Leamington in Horn Lane - 11am to 12am (all week) applied for, and the decision of today’s Sub-Committee is awaited. However, there were no valid objections from residents.

Kings Arms in The Vale – They have applied for 11am to 2am (Mon to Sat), and 12pm to 2am (Sun), and have their hearing on 28th February (the deadline for objections was September last year).

Wishing Well in Old Oak Common Lane – They applied for 10am to 12am (Mon to Thu), 10am to 1am (Fri and Sat), 12pm to 12am (Sun), and have a hearing on 29th March (the deadline for objections ended in July last year).

In addition, a planning application (but not yet licensing) has been received this week for a proposed "wine bar" at 2 The Vale - formerly "The Curtain Mill".

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

St Saviours Deaf and Deaf Blind Church

Went with the Mayor (Mike Elliott) to the St Savours Deaf and Deaf Blind Chapel and Centre in Old Oak Road in East Acton (ironically next to the previously proposed site for the Old Oak Surgery - see yesterday). This was for the ‘commissioning’ of Rev Anne Richardson as Chaplain amongst Deaf and Deaf blind people in the Diocese of London.

St Saviours was originally founded in Oxford Street in 1875 as the first deaf church in Britain, and moved to Acton in 1924 under the aegis of the Royal Association for Deaf People (RAD). You can read more of the history of RAD and St Saviours at The Acton St Saviours was one of the first churches designed by the famous architect Sir Edward Maufe, later architect of Guildford Cathedral and the architecturally important local St Thomas church in Boston Road Hanwell.

Downstairs at St Saviours is a social club and administrative centre for RAD, and also serves as the polling station for the Acton Vale area. Upstairs is the lovely chapel, in which I held the first civic service for the deaf in my year as Millennium Mayor. The chapel is built with a sloping floor, so that the congregation can see the signing from the preacher and choir.

The sermon signed by Fr Fletcher

The formal commissioning of Anne (who is actually a fellow Methodist) was conducted by the Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent. I’ve known ‘Bishop Pete’ (as everyone calls him) since the 1980s, when he was a Borough Councillor in Islington and we met at London-wide Councillor events. The service was a really warm and friendly occasion, with a sermon in British Sign Language from a deaf Jesuit priest Fr Paul Fletcher, and wonderfully expressive signing of hymns by both choir and congregation. It was also nice to meet again and be remembered by many of the congregation who I met on my previous visits as Mayor or local Councillor.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Old Oak Surgery

Went on the web first thing to look at the results of the Canadian General Election. Good news for Labour’s Canadian sister party the New Democratic Party ( who went up from 18 to 29 seats, and can be key players in the new hung parliament. Sadly a great campaigner, NDP candidate Marilyn Churley, narrowly missed gaining a Toronto area seat - if you want to hear the best song ever written about a local politician, check out ‘The Signature of Marilyn Churley’ (inspired by her time as a regulatory committee chair in Ontario) at

Unfortunately for an Acton parochialist like me, none of the three Canadian towns called Acton elected an NDP member. Acton Ontario and Acton New Brunswick re-elected Conservatives, whilst Acton Quebec stayed with the separatist Bloc Quebecois (the constituency is 96% French speaking). I’m hoping to visit the major American and Canadian Actons this summer or next.

I received an email this afternoon from Julia Hunt of the Bromyard Avenue Residents Association about the future of the Old Oak Surgery. This is a GPs surgery which is in Hammersmith and Fulham but has a number of patients from East Acton. They had advertised proposals to build a replacement surgery on a vacant site in Armstrong Road, but this is now advertised for sale, and patients have been told that the surgery is moving to White City.

I emailed Julia back to confirm that the surgery and hence its patients (wherever they live) are the responsibility of Hammersmith and Fulham PCT. Therefore all I know in my Ealing PCT role is second hand. I understand that the EPCT asked H&FPCT at the time we heard about the proposed move whether this meant that they proposed to transfer the surgery and patient list to us, and was told not.

Their decision to move the surgery is not unique to Old Oak (indeed I should declare a personal interest as my GP's surgery in East Acton is also likely to be affected as it comes under H&FPCT's remit.) Hammersmith and Fulham PCT have decided to move over time their W12 practices to a new state of art health centre in the White City development. This is amongst the first developments in London of a new approach to primary care, and will include I understand a wider range of out-of-hospital services than ever before including a breadth of specialists and day surgery capacity. You can make comments about these issues to Hammersmith and Fulham PCT via the relevant section of their website which is

It's a more radical approach than we at EPCT are undertaking, and in Acton in particular I'm not convinced that the White City model would be appropriate given the geographical distribution of communities. That said, we are looking at options for major improvements to Acton Health Centre to provide some of the sort of extra facilities that White City will provide.

The building of the new Cloister Road surgery for Dr Robinska next to the Gunnersbury Day
Hospital (this photo was taken last year - it's now virtually finished)

Locally at Ealing PCT we’re investing in nearby replacements of overcrowded surgeries, rather than general centralisation. The first example is the new and expanded North Acton surgery opening next month in Cloister Road in East Acton ward (see 23rd September post).

On in the evening to the Performance and Audit Panel of the Council. The principal issues we discussed were ICT procurement, delivery of the audit plan, counter-fraud work, and means of income collection in the Springbridge and Herbert Road car parks. I stressed the importance of increased anti-fraud action and publicity against the increasing evident levels of bogus accident claims against Councils. Nevertheless, what you could politely call an important but unexciting meeting.

Monday, January 23, 2006

From "the Axis of Evil" to "Stage Six"

I turned up today for the latest Licensing Sub-Committees expecting a long morning – the first case was the Townhouse in Ealing Broadway, which has been a very controversial pub locally. A local resident’s association chair called it “the axis of evil in central Ealing”, at an earlier Licensing Panel.

However, the Townhouse’s lawyer asked for an adjournment hearing because their relevant management were not free to attend the hearing. I wasn’t sympathetic, but we agreed to the adjournment after the residents’ representatives supported the delay because “we have a lot of questions to put the managers.” Look like they have a heavy time in store for the Townhouse when the Sub-Committee reconvenes on 9th March.

This unexpectedly free morning led me to catch up with some local government websites, sad anorak that I am, and discovered some interesting (to me) statistics.

The Department of Education and Skills have recently published analysis of school results for last year at
The ‘value added’ figures measure the actual improvement achieved by schools and education authorities, rather than just raw ability - and the table for key stage 4 shows that LB Ealing schools have the third highest value added performance in the country (with only LB Redbridge and the very small and untypical Isles of Scilly doing better). This is a really great result, and a real tribute to all educational professionals in the Borough. Thinking I’d discovered something new, I emailed the education team at the Council, only to discover that they’d already noticed and were preparing a press release.

I’ve pointed out before that East Acton ward has more businesses than any other ward in the Borough (see post for 20th September). I found proof of this in figures on the Office of National Statistics website which show the number of businesses in each ward in the country at
On this count for 2005, East Acton has 1,225 businesses – over 350 more than in the next largest Borough ward (Ealing Broadway). This is 12% of all businesses in LB Ealing – whilst for businesses with over 20 employees, East Acton has nearly one in five in the Borough

My meeting tonight was cancelled, so I cycled down to the Red Lion opposite Ealing Studios for an intended quick pint before going to the Ealing Central Library for a local history talk. However, by chance I met an old friend and former Acton Councillor – Margaret Payne who was there with her partner Phil. Margaret was the Borough’s first Councillor of African-Caribbean background and, as I told her after the third or fourth pint, probably had more impact in her four years as a Councillor than many who serve for eight or twelve years. As a Councillor, Margaret represented us on a visit to Acton Massachusetts (the second biggest Acton in the world), and we talked about ways to rebuild the links she made with them. We and Phil had a very congenial few drinks combing nostalgia and political gossip, and I never made the local history lecture (but it is apparently being repeated).

I ought to point out that the Red Lion is one of the pubs that I’ve excluded myself from hearing at a Licensing Sub-Committee because I visit it regularly. Given its proximity and links to Ealing Studios, it was known as "Stage Six" (see the plaque outside) – there’s a good review of the pub it at

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Farewell to Rev James

I was pleased to be invited this morning to the final service (and a celebratory lunch after) of Rev James Blandford-Baker at St Dunstan’s with St Thomas’ Church in Friars Place Lane ( I’ve posted before about the great work that James has been doing (see 3rd October) since he came to East Acton in 1996. He’s now been appointed to the parish of Histon and Impington in Cambridgeshire.

The service included a ‘drama presentation’ covering some of the history of St Dunstan’s. It was built in 1879 on land donated by the Goldsmiths Company, whose member John Perryn owned most of old East Acton. John Perryn, his birth in Bromyard in Herefordshire, and the Goldsmiths are commemorated in school, road and other names locally. They subsequently gave land to set up St Thomas church in Bromyard Avenue in 1915 to serve the growing Acton Vale area, but the church closed in the 1980s and the site is now the Canterbury Court housing development. However, I have fond memories of the former St Thomas church hall as the venue of school discos when I attended Faraday Comprehensive School (now the King Fahad Academy in the 1970’s.)

James Blandford-Baker presiding at the service - the biblical extract above the aisle is Thessalonians 5 16-18

The church was packed with the many friends James and Katherine have made in their time at St Dunstan’s. The gospel reading for the day was the wedding at Cana (Jesus turning water in to wine – John 2.1-11), which James joked in his sermon was appropriate given the way wine flows at St Dunstan’s (cue for much knowing laughter). This was confirmed in the lunch later, which was a triumph of logistics in feeding over a hundred people with salmon, vegetarian alternative and wine. I talked over lunch to Rev Maggie Davidge-Smith about her work in the hospital chaplaincy service – and particularly at the Meadow House hospice, which I’m visiting again soon in my PCT capacity.

Chatting to James afterwards, I particularly thanked him for his work in the community as a governor of local schools – he currently chairs John Perryn School governors (my old school) and has also been an active governor of East Acton Primary. It’s a tribute to James that a number of other local ministers turned up to celebrate his work, and I took the chance to chat to Revs Mick Drake from Acton Baptist and Alex Afriyi from East Acton Baptist (London Network Church) about local issues.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Backland building blocked

This morning was my East Acton Estate advice surgery at Old Oak Methodist Church, and was a chance to give some good news to residents. The planners confirmed yesterday that they would be refusing an application to build a house on the back garden of 10 St Andrews Road. Neighbouring residents had contacted me, rightly concerned that this would be an overdevelopment, and I’d taken the issue up with the planners. The planners were admirably robust in recognising that building like this would be a clear breach of Council planning policies. I also popped a letter with the good news in the door of the main objector, who could not make the surgery, and he was nice enough to leave me a message of thanks on my answer phone (not a common phenomenon).

This application was the latest example of a growing phenomenon of ‘backland development’. Driven by the booming housing rental market in West London, developers are increasingly seeking to build ‘infill developments’ in these kinds of small landlocked sites. In a number of cases, they have built (or converted) without planning permission, and the Council is having to take planning enforcement action.

We had a similar ‘backland’ problem locally in the early 1990’s, worsened by a weakening of the Council’s planning policies on backland by the then Council. I and others campaigned for tougher policies, which we introduced with the change of Council administration in 1994. However, the main weapon against inappropriate building now has got to be effective enforcement, and this is currently being examined by a scrutiny exercise being expertly led by Cllr Tony Brown (Ealing Common). The scrutiny documents should be on the Council’s website at

Incidentally, although I live in St Andrews Road, I was able to talk about it this site because I live hundred of metres away at the other end of the road and am personally unaffected. If I’d been a near neighbour, I would have been unable to object or get involved as either a Councillor or resident. When people sometimes claim that “action would be taken if this was next door to a Councillor”, the reverse is true – Councillors lose their civil rights to object to issues affecting them with which the Council is dealing when they have a direct “prejudicial interest”.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Gating the Avenues alleyways

Over the last few of years, we as local Councillors have been working with a group of enthusiastic residents and Council officers on improving community safety in ‘The Avenues – First, Second and Third Avenues and associated roads off Acton Vale.

The key concern for residents was the use for anti-social behaviour of alleyways that run between The Avenues. The obvious solution was to introduce a ‘gating scheme’ to control access to the alleyways – which has had a major impact when used elsewhere. We’ve got together the funding for a comprehensive gating scheme. However, for reasons that aren’t clearly understood, these alleyways had been adopted as “public highways” by the former Acton Borough Council before 1965, and had to have this status removed before the gates could be installed.

Today was a formal hearing at the Acton Magistrates Court of the Council’s application to “unadopt” the alleyways and enable their gating. This should have been in December, but a cock-up at the Council meant that it was deferred to today. There was surprisingly one objector to the proposal, but having heard both him and the Council evidence, the Magistrates ruled in favour of the application “to extinguish the right of way”. There’s now a formal period that has to be left for a potential appeal, and we can then finally get the gates installed.

I couldn’t attend the proceedings in Court because I had to attend a PCT meeting with our Professional Executive Committee and leading PCT staff. We were discussing the local implications and implementation of one of the keystones of the Government new health reforms “Practice-based Commissioning” (PbC). This is designed to put the commissioning of hospital and other health services in the hands of either individual GP practices or groups of them, rather than the current “service level agreements” negotiated direct by PCTs. In LB Ealing, the emerging position is that GPs appear to be getting together into three local commissioning groups – one based on Acton and central Ealing, one based on Southall, and one for the rest of the Borough.

We’re still working in a bit of a vacumn because key government guidance is still awaited, but agreed some early action to try to allow flexibility for the new arrangements to reflect both local and Borough-wide issues and concerns. Like much of the new NHS changes, there’s much here to welcome in identifying problems, but more uncertainty about the solutions that they are prescribing.

Monday, January 09, 2006

New Year, New Budget

The first Labour Group meeting of the year – and as usual in December/January dominated by discussing next years Council budget.

The Group has committed itself to proposing a tax increase no bigger than last year’s 4.8% - and ideally lower. This means making significant savings, given that the cost pressures of providing services tend to rise faster than the increases in Government grant. In addition, Leo Thomson as our new Leader is looking for improvements in a number of key services and areas, which will mean finding further savings that can be recycled to fund these higher priorities.

Leo Thomson promoting 'Book Week' - the Council spends £5.7 million per year on libraries

We’ve agreed to support savings of £21.6 million of which officers estimate that 86% are efficiencies, 8% are extra income, and 6% are cuts in lower priority services. This leaves an estimated gap of around £8 million, depending on the final Government grant settlement, decisions by other bodies on their charges (such as waste disposal), and on the feasibility of other savings options that officers are examining.

The highest single saving is £1.3 million of extra income from Gordon Brown’s Local Authority Business Growth Scheme, which gives local Councils a share of the extra business rates income that they generate for the government by their regeneration activities. The full list of agreed savings can be seen on the Council website at

The final budget and consequent Council Tax level will be set on 7th March, although we’ll be considering further growth and savings all through January and February. However, the key decision is out of our hands – the government grant announcement due in late January/early February. It’s important to remember that nearly three-quarters of Council income is from grant and payments from the Government rather than council tax. This means that even small changes in the Government formulas are likely to have big effects on LB Ealing’s finances. If you see David Miliband, put in a word for us ...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Two Full Houses

My second day back from the Christmas break (yesterday was my ASDA surgery), and I cycled up to St Gabriel’s Church Hall for an unusually large turnout at my North Acton advice surgery.

This turnout followed the delivery of the latest ‘East Acton Labour News’ in late December - as a special edition for the area around North Acton Playing Fields which voted not to go into the new Gypsy Corner Controlled Parking Zone. Unsurprisingly, much of the casework related to the parking implications of this – such as disabled parking facilities – which included the first request to extend the zone. This will be something that can be considered when the zone is reviewed – normally after six months.

The most encouraging part of this is the evidence that constituents actually read the ‘East Acton Labour News’ newsletter – most of those attending said they came along because it had reminded them of the regular surgery. What I tend to do is produce special editions for specific areas of East Acton ward, rather than try to cover all 14,500 often far distant residents in one document. This means that I can be unashamedly very parochial, and let people know the sort of very local news that doesn’t reach the local papers.

I cycled on to Ealing Rugby Club to a full house for the biggest home league game of the season so far. This was against London Scottish – a famous old rugby club founded in 1878 (albeit seven years after Ealing) – but now our competitors for third place and possible promotion from the London 1 league. Sadly, a full strength London Scottish team were very impressive winners 54-17, including a quite brilliant individual second half try from their full back Matt Dowling.

Ealing win a line out

At my suggestion, the Club had invited this year’s Mayor – Cllr Mike Elliott – to make a civic visit to the club to watch the match. Mike was first elected as a Councillor on the old Ealing Borough Council in May 1958 (the same year I was born – as I always remind him) and now has uniquely held at some time since all of the leading civic Council posts – Leader, Deputy Leader, Deputy Mayor, Mayor’s Consort and now Mayor. To his credit, Mike spent most of the match on the open grandstand with the Ealing fans rather than in the (much warmer) clubhouse bar. After some excellent ‘Ealing Bitter’ during the game, I warmed up with a few pints of Bass in ‘Duffy’s’.