Julian Bell challenged after failure to notify ambulance service of LTNs
Ealing council leader Julian Bell at an LTN barrier
October 4, 2020
Ealing Council leader has survived a no confidence vote among local Labour party councillors by a single vote this Monday evening (28 September).
According to a source in the Labour party the councillors voted by 27 to 26 against the motion.
The vote was called following the revelation that the council had failed to consult with London Ambulance Service before the controversial Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes (LTNs) were imposed in the borough. Cllr Bell had given councillors in the affected wards assurances that all the emergency services had been informed of the plans. It is understood that many of the councillors in wards in which LTNs are being implemented backed the no confidence motion. Cllr Bell had also attracted criticism for saying in a Labour party meeting that the council should ‘take advantage of Covid’ and look to press ahead with more traffic schemes to bring funding into the borough.
Cllr Bell and Mik Sabiers, the councillor with responsibility for transport in the borough, were forced to apologise after it came to light the London Ambulance Service (LAS) was not involved in talks at the same time as the Metropolitan Police and London Fire Brigade over the logistics of the council’s road shake-up.
Labour councillor Gareth Shaw, of Walpole ward, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that he proposed the motion of no confidence at the party meeting.
He added. “The majority of colleagues disagreed with it. The group will come back together, it is not acrimonious. We have had the discussion and will move forward from it, [focussing on] the important policy issues that the residents of Ealing want.”
A Labour councillor at the meeting, who voted in support of Cllr Bell’s leadership, also told the LDRS that there was a “lengthy discussion” over differing views but backers of Cllr Bell felt he was a “strong leader” of Ealing Labour who has delivered electoral success over a long period of time as well as navigating the council through austerity and other policies.
“Obviously the view that Julian was a capable leader…carried the day,” they said.
On opposing views, they added, “Most of the arguments centred around the implementation of the LTNs and that has been difficult, but it is a policy that the Labour council believes in and I felt personally that it would be wrong to remove a leader on the basis of a policy that is still being worked around.”
The councillor also believed some among those seeking to oust Cllr Bell were motivated by their “personal interests” who were “using this opportunity to advance their own careers”.
And in the midst of a pandemic and pressing issues such as delivering the budget and an adult social care crisis, the councillor said it was “absolutely the wrong time” to be having the discussion.
“Loyalty is actually something people should remember in these times,” they added.
“I think we got a result last night and the group had confidence in Julian. I hope that is the end of it for now so we can focus for now on the key issues for residents rather than having a debate about personality, I’m sure that is what residents would want.”
Meanwhile, messages sent out on social media from local campaign groups suggest cabinet member for housing Peter Mason resigned from his top role following the vote.
Low Traffic Neighbourhoods – traffic-calming schemes where temporary road blocks and diversions are being actively trialled for six months across different areas in the borough – have started going live since July and August.
The controversial schemes had faced a backlash from some residents who accused the council of creating chaos on the borough’s roads, and concerns were flagged over emergency services being unable to reach people in need because of the blocked off roads. Earlier on the same day of the no confidence vote, residents blocked council contractors attempting to install barriers for a new scheme saying that the council had failed to follow the proper legal procedures to introduce the changes. We have asked the council for comments on these claims but they have not responded.
Northfields Tory councillor David Millican said the Labour councillors should “hang their heads in shame” over the “incompetence”, and cited how residents in his ward had shared concerns with him over delays of ambulances reaching their homes since the road changes have been implemented.
He said speaking to ambulance staff based at Hanwell station that when the schemes started “they knew nothing about it”.
But he added, “Several people have contacted me concerned about it, fortunately they were fine, they got taken to hospital, nobody died as a result of it.”
Lib Dem opposition leader Gary Malcolm blasted the revelation as “truly shocking”.
The council previously assured residents that all the emergency services had been consulted on the plans, and that they had received no objections from LAS, the Metropolitan Police and London Fire Brigade.
But on Friday, September 25, Cllr Bell and Cllr Sabiers admitted a “mistake” that the ambulance service had not been included in the initial talks.
It is not clear how long the delay was in consulting the ambulance service compared to the talks with the other agencies.
In a joint statement they said, “Ealing Council works closely with all the emergency services in our borough and the safety of residents is always the council’s first priority.
“There has been ongoing engagement with all services regarding the implementation of low traffic neighbourhoods.
“We have used feedback from these discussions with colleagues in the emergency services to adapt and improve plans as quickly as possible…
“Regrettably, the London Ambulance Service was not consulted at the same time as the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire Brigade.
“Although delayed, feedback from the London Ambulance Service on all of Ealing’s low traffic neighbourhood schemes including those for two schemes (Loveday Road, LTN 30 and West Ealing North, LTN20 ) due for implementation by the end of September has now been given and taken on board. We are reviewing our procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
The councillors added that no formal objections have been made by emergency services over Ealing’s LTNs but that certain road changes have been redesigned based on their feedback.
This included the installation of some Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras to enforce the changes instead of physical bollards, and using standard London Fire Brigade keys to unlock bollards.
They added, “We deeply regret this mistake and the council has apologised to the London Ambulance Service. The London Ambulance Service has acknowledged that since this issue came to light the constructive way in which we have engaged with them and taken on board their recommendations could serve as an approach to follow.”
But opposition leader, councillor Greg Stafford has said the mistake was “beyond disgraceful”.
He said, “The LTNs were introduced without any consultation with residents, but Ealing Labour Council have long shown scant regard for residents’ views. But to fail in their legal obligation to consult with the London Ambulance Service on the implementation of LTNs is beyond disgraceful; there are serious repercussions when dealing with life and death situations where time is of the essence and to totally disregard this, is gross negligence.
“The recent removal of some bollards and their replacement with ANPR cameras is a tacit admission that the scheme hindered the proper progress of emergency vehicles and therefore endangered the lives of local residents.
“The council leader Cllr Julian Bell, who has been so instrumental in forcing these rushed measures through, and his transport spokesman Cllr Mik Sabiers must resign.”
Ealing Central and Acton MP Rupa Huq said the mistake “could have been fatal” and urged for a full investigation over the error.
The Labour parliamentarian has been pressing the council for answers over the LTN scheme, having written a letter on 10 September concerned that its introduction in the borough was “poorly thought through and rushed into place without prior consultation”.
She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service, “It is extremely unfortunate that London Ambulance Service was not consulted prior to the implementation of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods across the borough. In the wrong circumstances, this mistake could have been fatal. I call upon my colleagues at the council to fully investigate this, so that lessons can be learned.
“I am still waiting for a response to the questions I put to the council in a letter earlier this month, which were designed to get transparency and clarity on issues related to the LTNs.
“Like all other borough residents, I want to know: what the timeline is for the LTNs, the evidence and criteria the council will be using in making their decision, whether impact and risk assessments were carried out, why the council has invested in expensive ANPR cameras before the consultation period has finished, and so on.
“LTNs are, in theory, not a bad idea, but as I said in my letter, I fear that the implementation of the LTN scheme here has been rushed and poorly thought through. The failure to notify the ambulance service only seems to confirm this.
She added, “The scheme is creating divisions between motorists and cyclists – only recently was I sworn at on my bike, with the nearby bollards being cited as the reason for his abusive language.
“The council needs to heal the divisions by being transparent with the public, and listening to their legitimate concerns.”
Ealing Council leader’s office has declined to comment.
It is understood that LAS welcomes the recent changes to Ealing’s LTN schemes and is working constructively over the reforms.
A spokesperson for London Ambulance Service said, “As the busiest ambulance service in the country, our focus is on achieving the best outcomes for ill and injured patients and ensuring we reach them in response times set by the government.
“Changes to road layouts, traffic management schemes, and road closures all have the potential to impede our response to the most critically ill people and could delay life-saving treatments or conveyance to the nearest emergency department.
“This is why we continue to work with Transport for London (TfL) and local authorities, including Ealing, to ensure emergency vehicle access is properly considered, and the impact of any changes monitored.
“We will continue to discuss these issues at the emergency services group, made up of local authority traffic teams and TfL, as well as make representations at a local level where necessary.”
Written with contributions from Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter