On March 4th Hounslow Council's Sustainable Development Committee infamously gave planning permission to the water giant Thames Water to expand its foul-smelling Mogden sewage plant, allowing for a massive increase in capacity.
At that meeting, officers of the London Borough of Hounslow recommended approval of the application on the grounds that to so do would give the local authority more "control" over Thames Water's operation and in particular would enable us to challenge the company's notoriously dismissive attitude towards the protests of long-suffering local residents. Whilst doing so they omitted to explain to Committee members that the local authority already had all the power it needed to exercise such control as a result of Abatement Notices which it had secured previously, but lacked the will or desire to enforce.
There followed a presentation by the officers and some slick patter from Thames, who misled the Committee by quite falsely claiming that it could not agree to residents' requests to cover its storm tanks - a necessary precondition of meaningful odour reduction - because it required permission to do so from the water regulator OfWAT. Despite knowing this to be completely untrue, officers at the meeting chose not to point out to members that Thames was not telling them the truth.
When the officers and Thames were done a well-briefed duo of New Labour councillors rushed forward to respectively propose and second approval of the officer recommendation. At first other councillors resisted, even at one stage voting for refusal, but after being subjected to a relentless and unprecedented barrage from Thames, the Labour duo and council officers the majority, with the honourable exception of ICG councillor Jon Hardy, cravenly relented and gave the Thames Water bullies everything they had asked for.
Reassured by Hounslow's moral cowardice Thames' next move, rather than thanking their luck and getting on with the job, was typically to stall for even further concessions. But, having procrastinated over even the useless conditions attached to the permission given to them on March 4th, they created a problem for themselves by so doing because they had effectively talked themselves out of the deal, and consequently the whole application came back to SDC yesterday evening.
During the intervening period we in the ICG have done much to try to raise the profile of this whole disgraceful episode. Following idiotic comments to the effect that as the Mogden Residents' Action Group (MRAG) had only send one speaker to SDC on March 4th the wider public were therefore not bothered by the proposed expansion, MRAG and the ICG called a Day of Action on April 1st during which thousands of leaflets were distributed in Isleworth, Hounslow South and Whitton and close to 100 protestors came out at a few hours' notice to demonstrate the public's disgust over the conduct of the SDC.
Perhaps more significantly, we forced the appointment of Councillor Jon Hardy to the specific portfolio area of liaison with Thames Water.
Traditionally, dealings with Thames Water had fallen within the general remit of Environment. Aware that we had been getting nowhere back in 2008, we informed the Leader of the Council at the time that we would like Mogden to become a specific responsibility under the leadership of an ICG councillor, and Councillor Paul Fisher was duly appointed to the role. Within hours of hearing the news, officers had lobbied the Borough Solicitor who pointed out, perhaps not unreasonably, that as a participant in the residents' litigation against Thames Water Paul could be perceived to have a conflict of interest, and was thus effectively neutered. The indecent haste with which Paul's appointment was scuppered however gives some indication as to how relatively protected senior officers had felt under the previous set-up.
This year things were different. Jon is not a litigant and as such his appointment to the portfolio cannot be challenged. Nevertheless, there was the small matter of the planning application which was now being brought back to SDC, giving those who had been played for mugs at the previous meeting an unusual second opportunity to get up off their knees and strike a blow for the residents of Isleworth and neighbouring areas.
Sadly it was not to be. Deja vu all over again - officers recommending approval, New Labour members of the Committee proposing it and the Muppet Show giving a virtuoso repeat performance after a few worthless token words of disapproval about the excesses of the plant's operation. Thames Water must be laughing hysterically, but the residents are unlikely to see the funny side.
Residents of Isleworth, and their delegates in the form of the ICG, have once again been served notice that we stand alone. Increasingly cocky officers who think they only have a few months longer to put up with us find common cause with "allies" whose interest in Isleworth wanes with every day closer we get to the end of our term of office and opponents who, just as they did when they held sway in Isleworth, simply seem to derive some kind of perverted pleasure from making our residents suffer.
Councillor Hardy, who has already proved to be a fearsome campaigner for the rights of the Mogden residents, takes a very gentlemanly approach to fighting these battles. At the end of yesterday's meeting he even thanked the Chair of the Committee for giving him a fair hearing. Our civility and manners cannot be held against us, and our response now and in the future to the hammering that we continue to receive from friend and foe alike over Mogden should not be taken personally by anybody concerned.
But anybody who doubts that that response will be a very, very vigorous one indeed had better open their coffee jar and take a deep, deep sniff sometime extremely soon.
LATEST - Today's Hounslow Chronicle (12th June 2009) has wrongly reported Councillor Paul Fisher as having voted in support of the expansion of Mogden. This is completely untrue. Paul is no longer even a member of the SDC, and has made it clear he would have supported the residents by opposing the recommendation had he been in a position to do so.
The Chronicle has agreed to print a retraction in its next issue.