Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Public Meeting to Discuss River Crane Pollution - Twickenham Library, July 11th

Whilst we're on the subject of Thames Water, a Public Meeting is to be held at Twickenham Library on Wednesday 11th June, starting at 7.30pm, to discuss the recent sewage spill and its devastating effects on the River Crane.

Representatives from Thames Water, which is being prosecuted by the Environment Agency for the sewage release, will be present at the meeting to answer questions. Friends of the River Crane Environment (FORCE), who have organised the meeting, are hoping for big public support. Please come along if you are able.

I Won't Say I Told You So

That's how the song goes anyway.

It could, of course, have been written by the ICG for those mugs who voted in support of an application by Thames Water to expand its stinky Mogden operation back in 2009 on the grounds that (a) it would "reduce smell" and that (b) the London Borough of Hounslow would be able to exercise "more control" over the selfish, relentlessly profit-driven activities of the water utlity through the watered-down and thoroughly useless Section 106 agreement that Thames condescended to sign as part of the approval process.

The ICG told the sorry shower that comprised the Sustainable Development Committee that the grounds were flawed on two counts. Namely (a) it wouldn't reduce the smell but would increase it, and (b) the London Borough of Hounslow has never had any intention of exercising any kind of control or restraint whatsoever over Thames Water, which imposes its odours on the surrounding community with absolute impunity.

Guess what happened?

The following is an excerpt from a letter written by the resident-led Mogden Residents' Action Group (MRAG) to Isleworth councillor Ed Mayne on June 10th:

"Residents are thus astounded to learn that, without any consultation with MRAG or community groups, the Council elected of its own volition, to remove the out of hours call centre for victims to ring so that Environment Officers can take 24/7 H2S readings and thus build a case to enforce Abatement Notices. Residents were led to believe that this call centre and the associated costs for Council Officers to investigate complaints is funded 100% by Thames Water as a pre-condition of the S106 agreement and it was agreed that this would remain in place until 2013 when the upgrade of Mogden is completed. Why then, and on whose authority was this vital function removed just before the summer months when odour escaping the Mogden premises is at its most severe?

"You will also be aware that residents requested, and were granted GBP 150,000, within the S106 agreement to enhance and beautify the environment around Mogden in residential areas most affected by Mogden's mismanagement and negligence over the last 14 years. We have repeatedly requested information on when consultation with residents will commence in order to define how the £150K will be spent, but we have received no response."

So there you have it, so supportive is the Head of Environment at LBH of the residents who pay his not unsubstantial salary that he has withdrawn an important facility that was provided as a condition of acceptance for the expansion project at no cost at all to the borough!

And what have the elected members, who are supposed to be running the council, done about it?

Well, Councillor Mayne has offered to facilitate a meeting between residents and the new Lead Member for Environment, Councillor Colin Ellar, and this offer is in the process of being responded to.

We can only hope that Councillor Ellar and his administration will take the necessary measures that we would have taken had our coalition partners backed us post-2009 to sort out the utter disgrace that is Hounslow's Environment department for once and for all.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Cameron's Big Cut "Idea" Will Only Backfire on the Tories

By Polly Toynbee

Attacking the under-25s might help poll ratings for now, but the real causes of high housing benefit costs lie elsewhere

Behind in the polls, David Cameron cleaves to his one truly popular policy: cutting welfare. Pollsters say people want it cut even more. His speech hits every button, stirring up those on quite low incomes against those on very low incomes, dividing and ruling, distracting from the lifestyle of the rulers. With the rottweiler tendency on his backbenches growing restless, he throws them the vulnerable to chew on – all those luxuriating in the "culture of entitlement" on £71 a week unemployment pay. Politically, it works well – for now.

A red mist of despair poured from children's and disability charities, stunned at yet another assault on those they try to defend. Already the £18bn benefit cut is "without historical or international precedent," according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Cameron's 17 "ideas" may not all see the light of day, but another £10bn will be cut: housing benefit and US-style benefit time limits yield the big money.

Few people realise that 88% of benefit cuts are still to come, with two thirds of disabled children to lose large sums. Housing benefit cuts, driving thousands of families miles from their homes and children from their schools, have only just begun. Without yet knowing the perverse effects of these cuts, with chaos about to engulf the Department for Work and Pensions on the work programme and universal credit, Cameron shoots from the hip.

He sounded plausible, and his sweeping tour of benefits seeming common sense to many. Every system since the Poor Law faces the same dilemma – how to help the needy without weakening work incentives, how to tell a "sturdy beggar" from a hard-luck case and give them enough to live but less than a low-paid job. There are no satisfactory answers – but Cameron's "ideas" are the harshest ever proposed. How knowingly he misled in almost every example he gave, as he pitted "those who work hard and do the right thing" against those on benefits, deliberately disguising that these are mainly the same people. Most of the poor drawing benefits are cleaners, carers, caterers – the 62% living below the poverty line, working hard yet needing benefits to survive.

Cameron's focus on the ever-rising housing benefit bill omitted key facts. The Smith Institute reports that 95% of the £1bn rise in housing benefit this year is paid to people in work. Only one in eight people drawing the benefit is out of work; the rest are low earners. The cost is not about feckless people but the housing crisis, the failure to build social, rented or private housing over the last three decades. Shortage makes rents rise faster than earnings, and faster than price inflation. Cameron's plan to peg housing benefit to prices, not to inflation, will be devastating. Shelter reports that if prices rose as fast as rents since 1971, a chicken would now cost £47.51. Nor is there any sign housing benefit cuts will cause rents to fall: rents are still rising as landlords turn away benefit tenants, easily finding others in this starved market.

 "Labour spokesmen's lack of visceral indignation on this was dispiriting. Confronting popular prejudice with facts is politically dangerous, but bravery wins plaudits too."

In a familiar litany of charges against the workless, single mothers, drug addicts (only 4%), he summons up a familiar portrait of the multi-child household, beloved of television documentaries, seeking worst cases to be entertainingly put right by Ann Widdecombe. Every society will always have enough of those to keep the cameras happy. But the dull lives of cleaners juggling childcare and jobs make bad TV, as do dull statistics that give the lie to the idea that moral turpitude drives the escalating benefits bill.

Low wages and lack of housing are the root cause. A living wage would lift the burden off taxpayers and put it on to employers. Regulated rents and a great housebuilding programme are the way to cut the housing benefit bill. The government prefers mass removal of the workless to low-rent areas with no jobs.
Cameron's plan for the under-25s to stay at home springs from his own social milieu, where empty nesters rattle around in echoing home counties mansions, easy for returning children to commute to first jobs. But take housing benefit from 380,000 young people, and what does the student from Middlesbrough College do at the end of their course if they can't move to where the jobs are, get a room, get started? Stay at home and be unemployed for ever. Even in work, the 205,000 under-25s with a child will have to separate, each to move back to their parents. With benefits as well as wages cut in depressed areas, the north-south divide will gape yet wider, with no chance of moving.

Let's hear no more from Cameron about social mobility. If this proceeds, Alan Milburn should resign as social mobility tsar, since nobody will be going anywhere. Bright but poor graduates will be sent home and everyone will stay where they were born. Labour spokesmen's lack of visceral indignation on this was dispiriting. Confronting popular prejudice with facts is politically dangerous, but bravery wins plaudits too.

The dumbfounding spectacle of this wealthy prime minister kicking away slender supports of the weak will be an abiding image of the man and his party. In the longest recession, with 2.6 million out of work and 1.4 million part-timers desperately seeking full-time jobs, the sheer effrontery of suggesting over-generous benefits keep them out work is beyond belief.

Cameron may saw with the grain of public opinion now, but by the next election, enough of those now clamouring for cuts will have seen their effects at first hand. The British Social Attitudes Survey records how public sympathy for underdogs ebbs after Labour benefit increases – but soon rekindles under Tory harshness.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to The Guardian on Facebook.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A Celebration of Community

As I think I said in a previous post I am not a flag-waving type nor a particularly fervent monarchist.

Nevertheless I did venture out to the Jubilee celebration party in Isleworth's Chestnut Grove, partly I guess to support my father who had been involved in helping to organise it and partly because it was the road I grew up in.

I'm glad I went along. For a little street of some 40 or so dwellings the turnout was incredible, fortified as it was by the participation of some neighbours from Cleveland Road and Twickenham Road and some moved-out former dwellers.

Back in the 1960s and early 1970s Chestnut Grove had been a typical suburban, owner-occupied, semi-detatched residential neighbourhood. Typical at that time, of course, meant Sunday roast-eating, Crossroads-watching, "respectable" - and white. It won't have been the only street in England, nor even in Isleworth, in which the news that an Asian family would be moving in was met with a certain amount of fear and trepidation. Not hatred nor even hostility per se, but an intangible feeling that this development would be in some indefinable way "bad" for the neighbourhood and that things would somehow never quite be the same again.

Fast forward to 2012 and the moral triumph of the integrated society was as evident in Chestnut Grove as it could ever possibly be. The well-intentioned but ignorant fears of yesteryear had well and truly given way to a new, inclusive sense of community, the bonds that join it every bit as united and as powerful as they had been back in the sixties and seventies but with the old concerns - what I have called "the fear of difference" - replaced by a new and very real sense of togetherness.

This was not "tolerance", a word that suggests putting up reluctantly with others for the sake of a quiet life, but a real unity that pervaded the whole street. I chuckled inwardly as I watched some quite elderly people, those very residents who had been so concerned by the prospect of demographic change all those years ago, dancing to the bhangra bearing expressions of real celebration and joy.

The other emotion induced within me by the occasion, and not a little by the sangria, was one of real anger at the knowledge that communities such as this are still not trusted to determine their own destinies. Still considered in constant need of steering and guidance by self-appointed political elites who for some undefined reason believe that only they know what is best for them.

Those local politicos would have been welcome at the Chestnut Grove street party, but as individuals wanting to join us not as politicians wanting to direct us.

I recall a street party in Orchard Road, Brentford back in 2006, shortly after the local elections of that year which had seen six ICG councillors elected. If I recall correctly we all attended, but as members of the public going along to support an initiative by fellow residents. We didn't have our impending presence announced with a fanfare of trumpets. It was their activity - the residents'. Not ours.

Whatever the occasion may have been about officially I like to think the Chestnut Grove street party was above all a celebration of community. An audacious flaunting of our unbroken and unbreakable spirit. Communities such as Chestnut Grove need no controlling or directing. We are free spirits, and that is the way it will always remain.