Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Serves you right, Miss...

I've just got back indoors after seeing my 12-year-old daughter Rosie off on her bus to school this morning (Caroline's turn tomorrow, hooray!).

At the bus stop with us was a girl of about eighteen. Suddenly, without warning and seemingly with total indifference to the fact that we were standing beside her, said girl proceeded to spit on the ground in front of her. I'll refrain from being too descriptive as we approach breakfast time, but it was no small spit. In fact it was a real gozza.

There then followed one of those "should I or shouldn't I?" moments. My public duty was to remonstrate with her over her disgustingly anti-social act. But in a short while my daughter would be on the bus with her and I'd not be there to protect her should the girl decide to take it out on her. My concern for my daughter's safety won the day, and I bit my tongue.

A minute or two later the girl produced a cereal bar from her bag. As she went to open it she dropped it on the ground. Right slap bang in her own spit!

The look on her face as her predicament dawned on her was a picture to behold. She shuddered and grimaced as she proceeded to wipe the wrapper clean (yes, she was that hungry) and she couldn't help but notice Rosie and I chuckling as she did so.

It's moments like that that make it almost worth getting up early for.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

It's a fair cop guv!

I've got the hump with my Community Group colleague Councillor Paul Fisher at the moment.

It was Paul who, acting in his capacity as Lead Member for Parking at the London Borough of Hounslow, introduced free parking for the first hour to the new car park in Brentford High Street. In doing so he made struggling businesses along the High Street more attractive to passing trade, a particularly needed boost during a time of economic hardship. Now drivers can stop to buy a newspaper, eat at a café, or even get their hair cut or do a bit of shopping without having to factor in the additional cost of parking their car in order to do so.

The problem for me yesterday morning was that, in a senior moment amid my eagerness to cross the road and distribute some leaflets to residents at Brentford Lock, I forgot to get a ticket from the machine which would have told the attendant at what time my free hour had commenced. As a consequence I returned to a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN), leaving me a cool thirty quid lighter for my empty-headedness.

Yesterday was only the third time that I'd ever received one of these damned violation things. On the first occasion an over-eager attendant ticketed me in a council car park which I was entitled to be in. On the second (in neighbouring Richmond) I entered a bus lane ever so slightly sooner than I ought to have done in order to effect a left turn. Both times I appealed to the Parking & Traffic Appeals Service (PTAS) and won my case. This time though it is different. It's a fair cop guv.

Under recent government legislation we as councillors are not permitted to interfere in the issuing and progress of PCNs to our constituents, much to the chagrin of many of them. Most weeks we are contacted by somebody or other who wasn't aware of the regulations, their ticket fell off the windscreen or whatever. Sometimes their challenges are clearly frivolous, at other times they appear on the surface to have some kind of case. All we are able to do is explain the appeals process to them.

I shouldn't be ungenerous. In Paul's hands the parking regime has become much more customer-focussed, more flexible and responsive to particular local needs, and less profit-driven. This is how it should be.

I hope the residents of Brentford Lock enjoyed our latest leaflet and, if any of them are reading this, please be impressed by the sacrifices we make to get news and information to your letterbox.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Thames Water tells councillors: "We won't speak to residents until we get our way over Section 106!"

Wednesday, 23rd September 2009 is a date that will be remembered for a long time to come in Isleworth activist circles. It was the date on which local politicians of varying hues, as well as not a few officers from the London Borough of Hounslow, were finally able to see for themselves what we in Isleworth have had to put up with for years in our dealings with the unrepentant pollutant that is Thames Water. Those who may have laboured under the polite misapprehension that we are perhaps a tad too militant, and distrusting, in our dealings with our neighbour from hell were at last given cause to understand it is why we and our residents adopt the stance we do.

Councillors Andrew Dakers, Ruth Cadbury, Barbara Reid and Brad Fisher joined their ICG counterparts Jon Hardy, Paul Fisher and myself at a meeting of the Thames-led Mogden Residents' Liaison Committee (the holding of which is a legal requirement under the terms of the Legal Agreement between Thames and the local authority following earlier court action) and witnessed for themselves the spin, the persistent sleight of hand manoeuvring and obfuscation of this wealthy public utility which prefers to fight its neighbours in court than dip even furtively into its own rather vast pockets to honour its legal and moral obligations.

Sadly Ruth and Andrew had moved on to other engagements before the piece de la resistance was delivered shortly before the close of the meeting. The Section 106 terms which were laid out by the council's Sustainable Development Committee on that night of shame in March have yet to be agreed to by Thames, and yet astounded members and officers heard Thames deliver its ultimatum - that until we signed off the agreement, on its terms rather than the ones approved by SDC, they would not send out any information to residents about what was happening at the site.

Meanwhile members of the press who had been asked by the Mogden Residents' Action Group (MRAG) to attend the meeting and witness events were refused entrance at the gate.

Despite the tight grip which Thames maintained over the conduct of the meeting, the councillors and members of MRAG were able to ask probing questions about the management of the site. As is so often the case, "new guy" was in the hot seat and his response to most questions, as was doubtless his brief, was that he couldn't answer them because they referred to matters and incidents which predated his arrival at the plant.

One could be ungracious and point out, as is certainly true, that some of the councillors who quite clearly took the residents' part at the MRLC meeting would have served those residents a whole lot better by not having capitulated to Thames at SDC in the first place. Nonetheless there was a definite sense about the place that the game was finally up. No amount of private briefing of senior figures on the council, as one member of the Thames party let slip at the meeting had taken place very recently, will change the fact that the residents are increasingly in control of the situation, and that in the long term resistance is futile.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Mogden - at last a politician speaks out!

Liberal Democrat councillor and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Andrew Dakers (left), backed by the respected Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham Dr. Vince Cable, has come out openly in support of local residents suffering the blight of Mogden Sewage Treatment Works.

Acknowledging the misery that has been ignored by politicians of many political persuasions and timeserving chief officers at the local authority, Andrew has called publicly for the covering by Thames Water of the six remaining storm tanks at Mogden by the end of 2010 irrespective of whether the wealthy utility company is permitted by OFWAT to raise the money from its own long-suffering victims as opposed to committing a tiny proportion of its vast profits towards discharging its legal responsibilities to its neighbours.

Presently Thames Water is quite brazen about its unwillingness to honour its obligations either to the surrounding community or to the environment in general by dipping into its own resources to enable it to function responsibly and within the law. Sadly it has fallen upon residents themselves to bring them to book, and at present 1,400 local people are party to a Group Litigation which seeks to compel Thames to comply with environmental legislation.

Andrew announced last week:
“I welcome the initiative led by Cllr Jon Hardy to establish a 24hr telephone line and mobile odour recording facility in the past few weeks.

“If the Council is to take further action to halt the odour problem it is now vitally important that residents report instances of odour to the hotline: 020 8583 5555 during office hours (Monday – Friday 8.45am to 5pm) and 020 8583 2222 out of hours (5pm – 8.45am Weekdays / all weekend).

“Residents should also ensure that all complaints are emailed to MRAG ( for logging and investigation.

“Given the continued impact of Mogden odour on the local community, I support (ICG) Cllr Hardy’s endeavour to serve an abatement notice on Thames Water.

“It would be great to see Thames Water take the lead in ending the odour blighting residents lives and bring this costly debate to an end, rather than leaving residents suffering for what could be at least five years.

“Only two of eight storm tanks are currently covered. Waiting another four or five years until the current expansion programme is completed to discover whether use of the storm tanks has lessened and the odour abated is not good enough. If your child can not concentrate on their homework because of the odour, as many residents have complained to me, then you have good reason for continued concern.

“Thames Water management should begin planning the investment immediately to cover the remaining storm tanks. This should no longer be considered dependent on a contribution by OFWAT but good management of the plant.

“My suggestion is that Thames Water focus on covering an additional three storm tanks by the end of March 2010 and, if the odour has not reduced substantially during next summer, the final three by the end of next year.

“We must not lose sight of the fact that relative to expanding the sewage works, covering the storm tanks should neither be considered prohibitively expensive nor a particularly lengthy build.”

Hopefully other politicians will now finally realise that there is a huge constituency of residents living around the Mogden plant who have been sold short and will be forthcoming with their own offers of support. Thames Water has lived for too long off the passivity and lack of respect for our community that has been demonstrated hitherto by so many who ought to know better. Let's hope Andrew's support will turn the tide in our community's favour.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Sri Lankan community united in Hounslow

Later on Saturday morning I joined my colleagues Councillor Paul Fisher (Lead Member for Communities - Engagement & Safety), Councillor Shirley Fisher (Chair of IBAC) and Councillor Andrew Dakers (Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group) as guests at the Inaugural Ceremony of the Sri Lankan Community Centre. Paul had been instrumental in working with organisers prior to the event on behalf of the local authority to ensure that it all ran smoothly.

The event, addressed by the Mayor of Hounslow Councillor Paul Lynch, heralded the opening of the first registered centre of its kind for the Sri Lankan community, in Hanworth, following the cessation of hostilities in the mother country. Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims participated in this enjoyable, entertaining and well-attended celebration of unity and peace. Speeches by the Mayor and the Sri Lankan High Commissioner were followed by dancing and an impromptu chat session hosted by a local Sri Lankan resident who entertained those present whilst the finishing touches were applied to the sumptuous feast.

For a useful pictoral record of the event please see below. Most of the photos are supplied courtesy of

Councillor Shirley Fisher is greeted with leaves by a young host...

...and lights a candle to mark the launching of the event.

The Assistant High Commissioner does likewise.

Andrew Dakers and Yours Truly listen attentively to the Mayor's speech. The High Commissioner is far right of the photo.

Paul and Shirley show their appreciation for the local impromptu entertainer.

A colourful display of dancing...

...from the youngsters too.

Together after the event.

Brentford Rededication Parade, Saturday 19th September

On Saturday morning I attended the parade along Brentford High Street to mark the Rededication of the Brentford First World War Memorial, which has been transferred from the churchyard of St. Lawrence Church to Brentford Library.

The project was made possible through the hard work and dedication of residents and traders led by local estate agent Julia Quillam, the Brentford High Street Steering Group, and the Isleworth & Brentford Area Committee (IBAC) which gave a capital grant of £25,432 to enable the relocation and restoration work to take place.

At the library the Mayor led a moving service which was well attended by local people, and by ward councillors from the two wards, Brentford and Syon, which the project involved.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Too far from (second) home?

I spent a very fulfulling afternoon today in Hounslow attending a birthday celebration of the twin sons of a good friend.

There were many people there with whom I was acquainted, including...the Indian Minister for Health!

And in his company, and doing the rounds, was no less than a copy of my blog article from yesterday morning!

No sign of Ann Keen though. Possibly a bit too far from home?

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Cast your vote and help rebuild ROSE Community Centre!

The London Borough of Hounslow has had a bid accepted for funding by the Criminal Justice Board for five community projects, rebuilding and redecoration of the ROSE Community Centre on the Syon estate which was hit by an arson attack last year.

The £4 million booty is being made available from recovered criminal assets.

We need your vote to ensure our local schemes go ahead. Go to Community Cashback, scroll down to Community Involvement Days, click on it to select, scroll down to the bottom of the page, enter your email address (optional), and then click on the 'Have Your Say' button. It isn't the simplest of pages, but your vote must be registered by Friday, 18th September.

This afternoon the ICG leafleted the estate to alert residents to the opportunity. Please give a few minutes of your time to cast your vote and bring this much needed-funding to Hounslow and to Syon.

It's a funny old world - Part three

To be honest there's not much funny about a funeral, but something that happened over lunch at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha following yesterday's service certainly gave me cause for reflection.

My guide introduced me to the Indian Minister for Health, who was eating beside me. "This is Councillor Phil Andrews, from Isleworth" he said.

To my surprise the Minister replied, smiling: "I know, we have already met".

We had been introduced at a function in a popular Hounslow restaurant nearly two years ago, organised by the Indian Overseas Welfare Association. To my absolute astonishment, he had remembered me from that event.

Anyway yesterday he, I and a couple of others had a brief chat before we shook hands and he went off to speak to some other attendees. And I was left marvelling over the fact that I would appear to have a more cordial and regular relationship with the Indian Minister for Health than with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the same portfolio area in the UK who is allegedly my own constituency MP.

You couldn't make it up, could you?

Balwant Kapoor

Yesterday (Friday) afternoon I attended the funeral of Balwant Kapoor, who sadly passed away following a heart attack on September 7th, aged 81.

President of the Indian Overseas Congress in Britain, Mr. Kapoor was remembered by many as a veteran freedom fighter, patriot and journalist.

He was awarded the Tamra Patra, and had lived in the UK for 45 years after having worked as a personal assistant to Rajumari Amrit Kaur, health minister in the Jawaharlal Nehru cabinet. He is survived by a son and four daughters.

Whilst I don't claim to have known him, it seemed a natural thing to honour somebody who meant so much to so many members of my community and to share in their grief on such a sad and moving occasion. A number of speeches were made by friends, dignitaries and members of his family at the well-attended service at Hanworth Crematorium.

Genevieve's support for accused student demonstrates compassion and courage

I have to admit I was quite scared when I learned that my colleague, Isleworth councillor and former Mayor Dr. Genevieve Hibbs, had put up a five-figure surety to support the bail application of a 19-year-old local lad who had been charged with the murder of his sister's tenant.

I wasn't that I at all doubted the correctness of her belief that he had acted in self-defence and was therefore innocent. It was simply the thought that any young man of his age, faced with the horrendous prospect of a hefty, even possibly life sentence if members of the jury were to be unconvinced by his evidence, must inevitably consider at some point the appeal of jumping onto an aeroplane destined for someplace else.

In the event I needn't have worried. The young man in question, Jahangir Hussain, honoured the terms of his bail as Genevieve had always insisted he would, and was duly acquitted of all charges at the Old Bailey where it was ruled that he had acted in lawful self-defence. The young man can now hopefully put his ordeal behind him and is free to get on with the rest of his life.

In my view Genevieve displayed extraordinary Christian faith and courage in supporting Jahangir throughout the time he was awaiting trial. I believe that as a friend, a colleague and a fellow human being she has done us all proud.

An ICG perspective on THAT article

It is not under normal circumstances the done thing to be discussing in public the internal business of the coalition which manages the London Borough of Hounslow. However when a magazine arrives through the letter-boxes of scores of thousands of residents that contains a story of major import with which this coalition partner would take fundamental issue it is rather too late to be having the discussion behind closed doors.

The article to which I refer was, of course, the full-page apologia in the local authority's house magazine Hounslow Matters for the policy of our coalition partners towards the proposed expansion by Thames Water of Mogden Sewage Works in Isleworth. That policy, as we know, is to give Thames Water carte blanche to turn an already mismanaged site into a larger mismanaged site, with all the potential for increased mismanagement which that must inevitably entail. Despite a lot of unconvincing and frankly half-hearted twaddle about the approval giving the local authority "more control" over Thames Water's activities (control which it already had, but has hitherto declined to use), the primary rationale for permission being granted was clearly a cost-driven reluctance to take on Thames Water at any possible appeal hearing. Having been unprepared to incur the displeasure of Thames Water, the resultant displeasure of the residents who are to be the victims of the decision then had also to be addressed. Hence the article.

As Leader of the Community Group, the problem with the article for me is that attempting to sell residents our partners' side of the story can only possibly be done by implying that our own take on the subject, which is completely different, must ipso facto be in some way or another erroneous. That the local authority's Communications team was willing to do this has effectively served notice on us that it considers itself to be working for one party to the coalition only.

Worse still, the article quite deviously attempted to associate the Community Group itself with the decision to grant approval to the expansion plans by only quoting the (ICG) Lead Member, and in such a way as to imply that he supported this quite appalling decision.

As a consequence of this latest development Community Group postholders will henceforth increasingly be liaising with the local media through our own channels of communication. And on the particular subject of Mogden we will be liaising with residents in the way that we have always done best.

It is my personal view that we in the Community Group have enjoyed a good relationship with our coalition partners and one which has flourished in an atmosphere of goodwill and trust. I see no reason why this should not continue. However we are increasingly of the view that there are some within the organisation who are taking us for fools and who feel they are doing our partners some kind of service by provoking us in an ever more brazen and obvious way as we head towards next year's local elections. Like everyone who has crossed our paths over the years, they will have cause to reconsider.

ICG raises the game on Community Engagement

A lot has been happening politically in the ten days or so since I last blogged, but probably nothing so significant as the Report carried through Executive by Councillor Paul Fisher on Tuesday which put the meat on the bones of the successful Motion on Community Empowerment put to Borough Council by the Community Group back in July.

The Report introduced the findings of the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) who had been commissioned towards the end of 2008 to look into Hounslow's general approach to the subject of Community Engagement. Engagement is, of course, one of those all-embracing buzz words that is used by councils of all political complexions but actually understood in its proper sense by few. To many it is an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction in which boxes have to be ticked before a piece of work can be done. What it actually is in its true sense however is a recognition that as members and officers our role is to offer the services to local people that they actually require from us.

Not wishing to cramp Paul's style I watched the meeting at home on the webcast and was amused by the tempered protests of one Executive member who complained that the Report had undertones of New Labour. Those of us who came together in an Isleworth pub in 1994 and who have been fighting ever since for our community to be elevated to its rightful place in the collective mindset of the local authority machine would not associate this project with New Labour, of all people, in a million years. Empowerment is about taking elitism and control-freakery out of our local politics.

There is a discussion still to be had about the developing role of Area Committees, which was lifted from the Report as it was felt it was a subject deserving of a separate discussion in its own right, however with this Report having been given the nod the dynamic is clearly for more local democracy, not less.

Paul's excellent Report was just the lastest manifestation of the Community Group's determination to have all the most significant aspects of its political programme incorporated into the process before the May 2010 local elections. Its passing was a massive development in the relentless onward march towards a people-focused council in Hounslow.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

And a great time was had by all...

The first resident-organised Isleworth Fayre (or Fair, if you prefer) passed off very successfully on Sunday afternoon, with groups and agencies from all over Isleworth and beyond mucking in to do their bit.

Local historian Eddie Menday served as Master of Ceremonies with backing from Radio West Middlesex, who provided the music. Isleworth Safer Neighbourhood Team and the fire brigade were there to answer questions and meet local people, a few fairground-type stalls, face-painting and rides were there for the kids, and tables were manned by the Isleworth Royal British Legion, the ICG, Delicacies Deli, LA Fitness, Hounslow Animal Welfare Society, the Mulberry Centre, Friends of Isleworth Public Hall, Brentford FC, the Cathja Project and The Isleworth Society (apologies if I've left anybody out). Former record-breaking cyclist and Isleworth resident Eileen Sheridan sold signed copies of her autobiography and Jon Hardy and myself endured several soakings in the stocks as residents were able to Soak a Councillor with wet sponges for a small consideration.

In the afternoon the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Barbara Harris, arrived and made a speech, then spent a whole couple of hours chatting to residents, enjoying the atmosphere and - finally - judging the tug o'war final in which the Isleworth RBL were defeated by a team from the Swan, cheered on by what had by that time become quite a crowd. It was also a pleasure to be joined in the afternoon by the Revd. Anna Brooker.

In the evening the IRBL laid on a disco and raffles, and the dancing went on till the end of the evening. A really fun time was had by all.

That this event was a great success was down to the fact that it was a real community event in which so many people pitched in, but special mention must go to our own Andy Sibley and to Linda Green from the IRBL. I would also like to thank Kate Manikon of Fusion for arranging the loan of the tables from Isleworth Public Hall.

Below are a few photos from the event:

Brentford mascot Buzz Bee arrives at the Fayre.

Isleworth's Safer Neighbourhood Team look on as Councillor Dr. Genevieve Hibbs holds court.

The ICG raffle and tombola raised over £100 for our election fighting fund.

The vegetable samosas from the Delicacies stall were amongst the best I have ever tasted. Not too keen on lollipops though.

Our own Iona London leads for the Isleworth Royal British Legion.

The Isleworth Society (TIS) signed up several new members.

Diving enthusiast Councillor Jon Hardy's wetsuit comes in handy.

Some of the bigger children at the Fayre. Linda Green (far right) takes a well deserved break from organising.

Historian Eddie Menday looks on as Deputy Mayor Councillor Barbara Harris makes a speech.

The Legion's tug o'war team takes the strain...

...but it's the Swan who eventually triumph. Councillor Harris holds the "cup" aloft.