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.