Monday, 18 February 2013

Brentford Town Centre - Calling for a Human Scale and Beautiful Regeneration

Petition Background (Preamble):

Five years ago the Brentford community came together with our award-winning vision for the future of our town centre. In 2010 Brentford High Street Steering Group co-commissioned with Ballymore developers a study by The Prince’s Foundation, to ensure a design brief of which future generations would be proud.

The town centre planning application submitted by Ballymore Properties in September 2012 does not deliver the world-class scheme Brentford’s historic town centre should be. Ballymore has submitted a plan for eighteen 6-11 storey high blocks with 929 flats on the south side of Brentford High Street.

Local residents have described the plan as: “aggressive, overbearing and underwhelming.” The high rise, bland buildings are totally inappropriate in Brentford – a town centre with Roman, Saxon and medieval archaeology and once home to Pocahontas.

In 2000 English Heritage recommended the site should be designated a Conservation Area.

As home today to respected innovative global companies GlaxoSmithKline and Brompton bicycles, employing hundreds of local people, Brentford High Street deserves an outstanding regeneration scheme.


We, the undersigned, call on Ballymore to work further with the local community to:

1) Reduce the massing (929 flats) and height (up to 11 storeys) of the development; and

2) Develop the architectural aesthetic to include traditional styles, as well as the restoration of old buildings and modernism currently included in the development.

The scheme must be in line with the Brentford Area Action Plan (local planning policy) agreed in 2009.

Please click here to sign the petition.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to the Brentford High Street Steering Group.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

You're Never Too Old to Embrace labour (that’s "labour", not "Labour"!)

Possibly one reason why I’ve never really connected with industrial politics, nor looked at the world primarily from a labour versus capital perspective, is that I had never, prior to a year or so ago, been a "worker" in the classic sense of the word.

That is not the same thing as saying that I haven’t worked. Those who know me well enough to be familiar with my work rate and are honest would giggle at the frequent invocations that I receive from my politico critics to "get a job" (it is a perhaps worth reflecting upon the ease with which politicians who profess to speak for the disadvantaged seem in reality to regard unemployment as a question of personal choice, but I digress).

What I mean, rather, is that I had never previously worked in a unionised, shop floor environment. The airfreight export industry in which I began my working life is, or at least certainly was, a union-free zone. As an airport porter, and later as a manager at the same company, hire 'em and fire 'em was very much the name of the game, although that changed dramatically once myself and my late friend, comrade and colleague Lance Newbigging had finished with them (see Goodwill, Bad Faith and the Politics of Scapegoating for the full story). For many years in later life I devoted myself full-time to my duties as a councillor.

At the Royal Mail most employees, including myself, are members of the union, and there are naturally ongoing concerns about reorganisation, competition, working conditions, the trend toward part-time and fixed-term labour, and the looming spectre of privatisation. I’ll not go on to discuss how these topics play out at my own place of work as there will understandably be confidentiality issues and I don’t wish to blot my copybook, but that the matters referred to are areas of concern is pretty much public knowledge and obvious besides.

The value of having a strong trade union to speak for the worker at the pointed end cannot be overstated. Sometimes unions get a bad press, and possibly at times during the 1970s this was not without justification, but having worked with and without the benefit of a union I know which situation I would prefer to be in.

I see little connection these days between being a good trade unionist and offering political support to the Labour Party, and this seems to be a view shared by many and probably most of my colleagues on the shop floor. In this respect I would suggest that the union’s leaders lag considerably behind their own membership. Where the Royal Mail is concerned, of course, it was Labour’s Lord Mandelson who first mooted privatisation.

Although as a relatively new employee on a fixed-term contract it would be neither proper not advisable for me to want to play any more than a passive, supportive role within the union, I value my membership and pay my dues (sans political levy) with a happy heart.

Ahmadiyya Muslim Association – a Force for Good in our Community

Last week Caroline and I had the pleasure of attending a Peace Symposium hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association at their prestigious Hanworth Park location.

In what felt like a throwback to our days as councillors we were honoured guests, attending alongside sundry elected members, the Leader of the Council, the Mayor and the borough’s two Members of Parliament, Seema Malhotra and Mary MacLeod.

The building is aesthetically substantial. Some would argue it is out of place in the residential, largely non-Muslim and almost exclusively non-Ahmadiyya Muslim community in which it is set. Planning permission was initially declined but was granted subsequently on appeal.

I can understand residents who instinctively react against the appearance of such an imposing entity in their midst. We humans take comfort from familiarity and often find ourselves feeling spooked by change, especially when it is sudden or on such a significant scale. People who resist such change are not all “racists” (although a proportion of them usually are) and it is unhelpful to dismiss them as such.

Nevertheless, the arrival of a devout community such as the Ahmadiyya seldom presents the difficulties that are anticipated. They are a moderate, peace-loving people whose desire is to be good neighbours and to enhance the spirit and ambience of the community in which they have settled, and certainly not to threaten it. They are, very much, a force for good.

I am reminded of a true story from some years back of a Hindu trust that was established on the very borders on a predominantly white neighbourhood which, rightly or wrongly, had a bit of a reputation for being – shall we say – a little unwelcoming of other cultures. There were objections, some of them quite strident, and when it was erected the Hindu users would have been forgiven for exercising some caution when attending their business at the building.

Then, one Sunday morning, something quite amazing happened. Young Hindu activists went out into the neighbourhood armed. Armed, that is, with litter pickers, bin sacks, brushes and anti-graffiti paint. The neighbourhood had been neglected by the council, and litter and debris was liberally strewn throughout the streets and green areas. Bemused white residents watched, bleary-eyed, from their bedroom windows as the young Hindus blitzed the place. By the time they had left it was spotless.

In one fell swoop a whole community’s fear and prejudice had been brushed aside, and the Hindus thereafter lived together in harmony with their initially reluctant neighbours.

I’m not suggesting, before anybody accuses me of such, that if minority communities wish to gain the acceptance of others they need to clean their streets. My essential point is that prejudice and suspicion can sometimes be better overcome by demonstration rather than by condemnation.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

LBH Twits Move to Silence their own Councillor

The London Borough of Hounslow has sent another shot across the bows of its outspoken Chair of Planning and community-friendly Syon councillor Theo Dennison by announcing a ban on members tweeting from Council meetings.

Councillor Dennison had recently introduced the simple but innovative concept of tweeting live from meetings of Borough Council to keep his readers and followers informed of what was going on, but it would appear this is too much to bear for the party he represents.

Meanwhile the Hounslow Conservatives have opened a Twitter account of their own at @LBHConservative to "hear from residents any ideas and/or suggestions they have for questions and motions".

Councillor Dennison is at @syonward.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Savings Without Cuts? Labour Keeps its Promise on Council Tax

Reducing the Council Tax in the London Borough of Hounslow was one of the five pledges the Labour Party made in its successful local election campaign in 2010.

After the way in which voters were conned by the "trick" pledge to introduce "100 new uniformed officers" onto the streets in "this area" (undefined) to cut crime, we could be forgiven for thinking a similar sleight of hand would be forthcoming in respect of the Council Tax pledge.

But, fair play to them, the Labour administration in Hounslow announced last week that it would be reducing the charge to residents by 0.5% - not a fortune, but it trumps the previous achievements of both their own party and of the Conservative/ICG coalition administration.

All the same one has to be careful about taking at face value the claim that this achievement will have been made without any cuts to frontline services. There is no rigid dictionary definition of a "frontline service", and it remains to be seen which service(s) not considered to be frontline will face the chop to accommodate this small saving to residents.

When the ICG was in office some of us were forever nervous about announcing Council Tax cuts or freezes before the books had been opened and the maths done. We were rightly fearful that once a commitment had been made to a figure it would be necessary for the sake of saving face to hit that target come what may. This, we believed, was putting the card before the horse.

But we supported the first three Conservative zero percent budgets of the 2006-2010 administration, some of us voting against the fourth only because our partners had somehow forgotten to consult us about its contents prior to it being brought to Borough Council. There were cuts, inevitably, but ones that were less severe in fact than many that had been imposed by Labour during its own prior term of office.

Not a lot of people know this, as Michael Caine might have said, but at one stage during the 2006-2010 administration there was a proposal by one prominent Conservative councillor to go for a reduction. After some discussion the ICG, and some Conservatives, rejected it. Interesting times.

It is good, of course, that people in the borough will henceforth be paying less Council Tax, but something will have to give as it invariably does. The administration claims it will not be libraires. Other community resources, worryingly, have not so far received a mention.

The ICG is determined that the infrastructure of our long-suffering communities will not be the sacrifice for a fiver-a-year, Tory-style gesture by the Labour regime at Lampton Road.