August Bulletin from Councillor Matt Harmer
Matt's comments on money troubles and other issues
* Money troubles *
I know it’s August and we are supposed to be taking it a little easier, but a potentially problematic issue has come up and I think it’s worth discussing. It starts a little drily, but stick with it if you can.
Here’s the background. When a developer has a major planning application approved, it makes an arrangement with the council and other interested parties in order to make financial amends for the impact that the building and its uses will have. If the development includes housing, there’ll be a need to pay some money to the council’s education department to pay for the costs of providing extra school places. If it’s a hotel, there may be road improvements to pay for.
These payments have a name – Section 106 payments, after the part of the relevant Act. They are quite targeted – they have to result directly from the building, and there’s a time limit to spend them. If the council don’t spend the money, the developer can say that the money isn’t/wasn’t needed and can ask for it back.
As local councillors, we’ve made an effort to make sure all this money is spent. For example, the new street lights in Boston Park Gardens came about after I identified some unspent funds from a nearby building and the zebra crossing in Windmill Rd came about by Ruth asking officers to add together contributions from around five different schemes.
To do this, we need to know that the money is available and this information has not always been forthcoming to us as councillors. There used to be a member of staff devoted to this task but he moved on and hasn’t been replaced. So you can imagine how surprised we were when we discovered, last week, about funding from the GSK development that hadn’t been spent - a little over £213,000 unspent.
The trouble is, the legal agreement says that the money needs to be spent by Sept 14th. Not allocated, but spent, with receipts. After this date, GSK can claim it back. So our job now is to ask council officials to renegotiate with GSK.
The importance of doing this becomes clear when we think what the money could be spent on. My first thought was that there was scope to do some work on the A4 crossings – make the crossings and central reservations safer and better-lit, for example. Other councillors have suggested other ideas – cycle lanes elsewhere in Brentford, for example.
In time, we need to find out why councillors didn’t know about these funds. But first, we need to pull together and try and renegotiate the deadline. I’m pleased to say that we have cross party agreement on this. I’ll let you know how we get on.
* Blogging rethink *
As you may know, I set up a blog site earlier this year at www.mattharmer.com. It’s taught me one thing. I’m rubbish at blogging. So I’ve changed the site into a place to store these bulletins.
I’m gratified by the response I get to these emails. Many readers reply and the views and questions make interesting reading. Please do continue to send them. However, it occurs to me that you can leave comments on the web site and other subscribers will also be able to read them. You don’t need to register and don’t have to leave your name.
To try this out, go to www.mattharmer.com and go to the foot of the copy of this article, click ‘Comments’ and away you go…
* Gunnersbury goings-on *
A couple of dates for your diary if I may. In reverse order, there’s the dedication ceremony for the war memorial formerly outside St Lawrences Church at its new home alongside other memorials outside Brentford Library on Saturday 19th Sept at 10am. Afterwards, join us in the Inverness Club.
Before that there’s the Brentford Festival in Boston Manor Park. If you’ve been before you won’t need me to tell you that this has become a top day out, with the added bonus of being able to meet Cllr Ruth Cadbury and I on our stall. Sunday 6th September from 12 noon. If you’d like to take a stall I’m sure the organisers would like to hear from you: http://www.brentfordfestival.org.uk for all the details.
This Sunday [Last Sunday now], it’s the Mela in Gunnersbury Park. I know that this view isn’t universally popular around the park but I’m a big fan of the Mela (http://www.londonmela.org) and I’m glad that we host it. Local residents have done well to bring to our attention problems in organisation and execution but on balance I’d say the event comes out on top. For one thing, it brings people into the park from across Hounslow and Ealing boroughs. All residents of both boroughs pay for this park’s upkeep and it’s right that there’s an event to bring people in.
But this is an important time for Gunnersbury Park. Built as a plaything for the Rothschild family it’s been run - many would say run-down - on a municipal budget for years and something has to give.
Earlier this year, consultants were engaged to look for a forward plan. They are now consulting on their suggested outcome. At the start of the process, claims that this would involve building housing on part of the park were decried as political mischief-making. Anyway, the plan now out to early consultation involves reviving the mansions, providing a sports hub and…building housing on part of the park.
All local councillors are awaiting the outcome of this process with interest. It’s still unclear exactly how the numbers will add up and we are a long way from any building taking place. But I really hope that all readers of this email can take a moment to look at the consultation document and answer the questionnaire. The final decision will be taken by the leadership of both councils and you can be sure that I will be looking for evidence that all other options have been examined.
For more details, go to www.hounslow.gov.uk/gunnersbury where you will find the link to the survey about half way down the page. It will take a few minutes but will send a clear signal to the two councils as to what the local community want to see.
* Still around *
It may be summer but if you have an issue that I may be able to help with, please do get in touch. I’m still getting calls about the recycling service and I’m told that some more bags and crates have arrived so let me know if that would help. I can’t promise to do everything but I do promise to try.
To catch up on a couple of things we’ve talked about previously:
*The 65s are still not good and we’re looking for improvements once Ealing Rd re-opens. A correspondant on www.brentfordTW8.com reports that the new 65s have what might be a design flaw – a gap between the seats that could be designed for pickpocketing opportunities. As ever, keep belongings secure.
*We had a very helpful initial meeting regarding Watermans park moorings. Still a long way to go but ‘calling it in’ got all parties around the table for the first time ever.
*There are tiny signs of life in the High Street development saga, with the developer beginning to talk in terms of getting something together. However, many shops are still struggling and we know that there is still a lot to do. It looks as though some Section 106 money that is still safe may be spent on providing a Town Centre Manager, who can help develop the area and work with the traders.
*Anything to report?*
Councillor Matt Harmer
August 26, 2009