Chiswick Gunnersbury ward councillor Jo Biddolph reports back on her week
Cllr Jo Biddolph
Although it seems a long time since the local election (thank you to everyone who voted for the three of us in Chiswick Gunnersbury ward, we’re back in keen action) we’ve had very little time to recover. The count took place overnight (wholly unnecessary for a local election) with official counting staff becoming more and more tired and more and more inaccurate. It’s not easy living through recount after recount with eyelids and sugar levels dropping and without, for some unknown reason except perhaps to put us in our place, enough chairs for candidates to sit on. We had been standing since 6am, getting up for our dawn raid leaflet delivery at 7am, before spending the day racing round our wards encouraging our supporters to vote, with five minutes lying in a quick bath before heading to Twickenham rugby stadium for the results. Taking it in turns to sit briefly on unforgiving chairs felt unnecessarily mean. The café closed early, too, so we couldn’t even prop ourselves up with caffeine.
The result for our ward was announced sometime in the sleepless murkiness between 2am and 4am. Around noon I received the first abusive message (on the Chiswickw4.com forum) of the new term. So much for a fresh start. One well-known local troll continues to wag his finger at me with increasing desperation (as I see it) or increasing inventiveness (as I imagine he sees it, with every twisted tall tale). Some have gone quiet which always happens before they make an announcement (I’ve been tipped off about it).
After a first day of signing of acceptance of office (no less daunting second time around), queueing to have our photos taken (marginally less unflattering than in 2018) and a tour of Hounslow House (always worth doing as there are no direction signs and looking for room 5.02 or whatever reminds me of trying to find my way round the Barbican Centre in the 1990s) we were launched into an intensive training programme with sessions as often as four evenings a week, some of which are compulsory and others that bring us up to date with policy or organisational changes following the pandemic.
Value varies. It’s been fascinating hearing the whitewash – sucked up by Labour councillors and cynically received by us knowing reality will be revealed to them as soon as a resident brings a case that challenges the glossy presentation. I’ve heard several times that Labour councillors respond to residents who question the status quo by saying “what do you want me to do about it?”. The point is, the resident wants something to be done, the councillor knows what can be done and should advocate, even if it is uncomfortable seeing the failures of their own policy being played out in their residents’ lives. Casework is so much more than a numbers competition (though we continue to press for numbers to be published – an incomplete measurement is better than a hidden measurement).
Planning call-ins – like London buses, they come in threes
I’m not on the planning committee (one year was more than enough) but three local applications were called-in by me just before the election and had to be held over until afterwards. The first was rather significant but the significance didn’t wash with the committee, though Cllr John Todd abstained indicating a degree of concern. The significance is that much of Chiswick is in flood risk zone 3a, as designated by the West London strategic flood risk assessment (SFRA) which Hounslow council supports.
The SFRA’s aim is to limit the number of properties that are at risk of flooding, categorising dwellings as “more vulnerable” to flooding and stating that basements in zone 3a should not be allowed. Hounslow’s own policy states that basement applications in zone 3a should be refused. Yet, the committee report recommended approval. Some basements have already been built, as we know, but basements inevitably displace water which increases the overall risk of flooding.
In addition, homeowners need sump pumps to extract water from their basements; this is not good for climate change – or noise. One resident with a deep knowledge and understanding of the SFRA argued against a neighbour’s application for a basement, looking at the effect of more basements on Chiswick as a whole and in the context of Hounslow’s own policy. This was not a NIMBY objection; it was a well-rounded explanation with more than a one-road view. The committee didn’t get it. It’s a policy that will, whether we like it or not, haunt Chiswick and I wonder how much of the resident’s expert knowledge will make it into the council’s new flood risk strategy.
Two call-ins at the next planning committee meeting (this Thursday) are about infilling on council land, replacing single-storey garages with blocks of flats. For both, it’s a given that everyone wants more affordable housing but the balance between new-build and available land, and the effect on privacy and light, aren’t right. And if only the proposed homes were affordable.
Call-ins take up a huge amount of time – for applicant, objectors and the councillor raising it. It’s nerve-wracking, too. A councillor’s aim is to guide residents through the complexities, help them make the best possible case, and understand their chances of success.
I didn’t expect them to be like London buses and come in threes.
Planning and licensing – a postcode lottery for Chiswick
The way planning committee meetings are structured makes objectors, in particular, frustrated. They don’t feel heard and leave feeling that the system is heavily weighted in favour of developers, even when there are significant and justified reasons to refuse or amend an application. Here in Hounslow, objectors speak first and might be asked questions. They then cannot speak again at any stage – not to clarify misunderstandings, enlighten lack of understanding, correct errors. Time after time they hear applicants being, at best, economical with the actualité and councillors getting the wrong end of the stick yet no interjections are allowed, not one word can be spoken. In this nonsensical bureaucratic straitjacket are crucial decisions about our town and our lives made.
In one case some time ago, a well-meaning planning committee member suggested a compromise. Other councillors fell on it. Such a good idea. That solves it! It was a worse outcome than the awfulness of the original application. There was nothing the objector could do to explain, to say no thanks it’s worse, I’d rather keep it as proposed. Once spoken, silenced.
Licensing panel hearings are similarly badly structured with decisions often made by councillors who have never been to Chiswick or know it at such a shallow passing-through level that their decisions are almost certain to make objectors livid. Applicants can have an unnecessarily rough ride, too. It seems to be based on catching people out, not making good decisions. It’s horrible for everyone.
I’ve asked the monitoring officer (local authority speak for the council’s senior lawyer, a statutory post also known as the section 5 officer) to review them both. I’ve made many suggestions about both committee processes since first being elected (including, for licensing, that any relevant policy should be sent with the consultation notice - a link is all that’s needed, it’s not that hard to do). Residents, businesses and applicants will have recommendations based on their experiences, too. Other boroughs do it differently – and better. Why shouldn’t Hounslow?
Gunnersbury Park – residents still feel disregarded
Boundary changes for the former Turnham Green ward mean that the new Chiswick Gunnersbury ward incorporates the whole of Gunnersbury Park as well as residents of Popes Lane (south side), residents and businesses of The Pavement Popes Lane, and residents of Lionel Road North. It includes over 300 front doors, about half of them leading to gardens that back onto the park.
The consensus is that of course the park needs to hold events to raise money to maintain it; and it’s never looked better. But why is so much space taken up by huge events, with barriered-off sections made inaccessible for months, and why oh why are the same community-insensitive decisions made again and again?
From portaloos installed close to homes or gardens (I will never forget the stench experienced hundreds of yards away from the loos, including urinals with no doors, down Princes Avenue during Lovebox), to lorries rumbling back and forth overnight behind houses (no build/derig should take place at night) to overbright lighting that floods into gardens and bedrooms (this is now being worked on), it seems residents’ quality of life is an afterthought. Residents further away from the park see these complaints as selfish nimbyism. I know, from the very measured way in which they were raised with us on the doorstep during the election campaign, that residents’ are being reasonable and want a reasonable compromise.
Festivals this year are smaller than the massive Lovebox/Citadel that caused so much concern but they are still regarded by many as too large and the park has recently applied for a blanket cover-all licence for events up to 29,999 people. I wonder how that licensing panel hearing will go.
Festivals you can book this summer include Secret Cinema, Gunnersbury Live! and Waterworks. Only Soho House members and their guests can attend their private festival which, based on the briefing held a couple of weeks ago, will be a very classy affair.
Chiswick Terrace to be redeveloped
It’s been whispered about for a year or more and now the proposals to redevelop Chiswick Terrace have been published. There are plans to demolish the unprepossessing building that runs from the back of the Old Packhorse pub (Fuller’s) to the corner of Essex Place and includes some well-loved local independent shops: Chiswick Dental, Chiswick Camera Centre, Chiswick Security, G-Force Hair, Planet Solutions, Tree of Life Framing, The You Clinic and national bathroom chain CP Hart.
It means even more years of construction turmoil, noise and filth for nearby residents as this area has been under development for over a decade (several large blocks of flats and Empire House). Some feel driven out.
Devonshire Road – another inadequate consultation
Councils are not supposed to initiate controversial or politically sensitive actions during an election campaign yet yet-another consultancy began yet-another consultation on Devonshire Road in April. In May the new council leader, Cllr Shantanu Rajawat, announced that he wanted to run a listening council. The problem? This consultation was started on previous consultation principles (the equivalent of “sorry, I can’t hear you”, as one Labour councillor repeatedly said to me the other day when I asked an awkward question) and was limited to residents and businesses along the retail section of Devonshire Road. It did not include residents of the Glebe Estate, residents of Brackley Road, residents on and off the lower section of Devonshire Road, and others who used to shop there but now avoid it – all of whom have been adversely impacted by the restrictions. I hope there isn’t any doubt about my reaction. Chiswick Gunnersbury councillors have been invited to a Teams meeting to discuss broadening the consultation. I’ve reminded the council that Devonshire Road is in two wards and that Chiswick Homefields councillors should be involved. I’d prefer a face-to-face meeting, too, for a more rounded discussion.
Meanwhile, a stunning mural has appeared on the side of Prince of Wales Terrace. Please visit it – and why not do some shopping in this special part of Chiswick?
A new mayor and an incident of polio
The first borough council of each term is largely ceremonial – to thank the outgoing mayor, and introduce the new mayor, with the mace paraded in, out and in again as they swap roles. This year’s mayor-making meeting was more moving than most. I’d noticed that the new mayor, Cllr Raghwinder Siddhu of Bedfont ward, walks with a slight limp. I didn’t know he’d had polio as an infant. We were all moved when he explained why he would be supporting Polio & Children in Need Charity.
It is especially pertinent, therefore, to be writing this as news breaks of the emergence of vaccine-derived polio in the UK. I still remember the bitter taste of the vaccine, administered in a sugar cube, when I was a child in India. I remember, too, the effects of polio which were hauntingly present all around me. Unlike me, millions there would not have had the vaccine. I hope the mayor’s fundraising is hugely successful.
Everyone is struggling with the cost-of-living increase; if you can, please donate to Polio & Children in Need Charity.
Councillor Joanna Biddolph
Chiswick Gunnersbury ward
SURGERIES IN CHISWICK AND GUNNERSBURY
We are back to our usual routine of holding face-to-face surgeries in Chiswick and in Gunnersbury.
Chiswick: Every Saturday from 9.30am to 10.30am at Chiswick Library (the eight Conservative councillors take this surgery in turn).
Gunnersbury: First Saturday of the month from 10am to 11am at The Gunnersbury Triangle Club, Triangle Way, off The Ridgeway, W3 8LU (at least one of the Chiswick Gunnersbury ward councillors take this surgery).
DATES FOR YOUR DIARY
Thursday, 30th June at 7pm: Planning committee
Tuesday, 5th July at 7pm: Cabinet
Thursday, 14th July at 7pm: Planning committee
Tuesday, 19th July at 7pm: Borough Council
Tuesday, 1st September at 7pm: Overview and scrutiny committee
Tuesday, 13th September at 7pm: Chiswick Area Forum
Chiswick Homefields ward
Cllr Jack Emsley firstname.lastname@example.org 07977 396017
Cllr Gerald McGregor email@example.com 07866 784821
Cllr John Todd firstname.lastname@example.org 07866 784651
Chiswick Riverside ward
Cllr Peter Thompson email@example.com 07977 395810
Cllr Gabriella Giles firstname.lastname@example.org 07966 270823
Chiswick Gunnersbury (was Turnham Green) ward
Cllr Joanna Biddolph email@example.com 07976 703446
Cllr Ranjit Gill firstname.lastname@example.org 07976 702956
Cllr Ron Mushiso email@example.com 07976 702887
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June 27, 2022