Cllr Matt Harmer's October Newsletter
Welcome to the October email bulletin from Brentford ward councillor Matt Harmer.
* Time to spend *
I’m hoping that you help us spend some money.
The money I’m talking about is money that is provided to the council by developers to help mitigate against the effects of what they build. Regular readers will know that these are called Section 106 payments, named after the relevant section of the Town and Country Planning Act (I really should get round to finding out what’s in the other Sections one day).
Anyway, it works like this. The council and develop negotiate a package of financial payments and other agreements. Some of them go into a central fund. An example of this is the compensation for the additional school places that new residential development would bring about or, possibly, transport improvements that a new office development would bring about.
Others are for local spending. In the past, the funds have been acquired but never spent. It’s been a continual frustration in my short time on the council and I’m now in a position to try and do something about.
I’ve requested an audit of uncommitted and unspent funds for the four wards that make up the Isleworth and Brentford area and have asked councillors for the four wards (Brentford, Syon, Osterley & Spring Grove and Isleworth) to consult with as many people as possible and gather ideas together on how these funds might be spent.They are online at http://tinyurl.com/s106Spend - go down to Item 4 and look at the four documents beginning S106 Stocktake September 2010. Looking at the data for Brentford ward, the table shows that £997,551 is uncommitted to any project and that a similar amount is committed but has not been spent.
A couple of caveats. There are legal restrictions on what can be spent. Funds are specified as being for Highways improvements or Environmental improvements and we have to stick to theose restrictions. There are also geographical restrictions on where the money can be spent. Sometimes it can only be spent in the immediate neighbourhood of a development but for larger schemes the net can be cast wider. Generally, the money has to be spent on actually building something rather than the regular costs of running something. So we might be able to (for example) repair a community centre but not pay someone to provide services there.
And because spending is ongoing, some funds that might be shown as available may actually have been spent by now.
But putting all this to one side, there is money to be spent and your ideas on where it can go will be very welcome. Look at the ward data for the area you live or are interested in. (If you’re not sure which ward you live in http://gis.hounslow.gov.uk/hounslowexternal/Search.aspx?swd=wards will help you).
Ward councillors will be collecting all the suggestions and getting accurate costings on projects. The next meeting of what we call the Area Committee will discuss the suggestions and table as many proposals as possible. That meeting is on Thurs 2nd December and all members of the public are welcome. We can’t guarantee to be able to bring forward everybody’s proposal but we’ll do what we can and make sure that all the decisions are taken in an accountable way.
Given these deadlines, suggestions would be welcome as soon as possible. Good ideas are always welcome but getting suggestions by Oct 15th will really help. If you know who your ward councillors are, email them directly and if you don’t, email me and I’ll forward it on and copy you in.
* Pedalling jobs *
As a very amateur cyclist I was happy to be invited along with fellow councillors Ruth Cadbury and Mel Collins to the Brompton factory on the A4 adjacent to Carville Park. Bromptons are the folding bikes and it’s not widely known that they are made here in Brentford. And they are not just made but hand-made, with component parts crafted and put together in the factory. It’s good to know that skilled manufacturing still goes on today and the work that Brompton are doing in providing training is commendable.
Their order book continues to grow and they are beginning to outgrow their site. As a council, providing and maintaining jobs locally is a priority and Ruth, in her role as the councillor in charge of planning and regeneration, has since discussed how we can do everything we can to keep companies like Brompton in the area and ensure that the demand for sites for housing does not mean that we become just a dormitory borough for people to travel elsewhere to undertake skilled employment.
The visit was followed a few days later by an internal meeting that discussed future priorities for employment and regeneration. It seems to me that we can do more to involve the major companies that have sites in the borough. Are we doing enough to involve local schools and colleges with BSkyB, GlaxoSmithKline, IBM and so on? There’ll soon be a planning application to turn the old Gilette factory into a hotel (permission was given for this around four years ago but is about to run out of time). Should we insist through, yes, a Section 106 agreement that the hotel operator take a certain number of school leavers on trainee programmes?
These kinds of initiatives will be necessary if we are to increase and retain local employment in these difficult times. Hounslow isn’t really a borough with severe employment difficulties – the airport sees to that – but the kinds of jobs are important too. And it helps build sustainable communities. At meetings with GSK I have been told that the desire internally is that as many people as possible can walk to work. This has been discussed in the context of getting better housing, so that employtees would be more inclined to move here. But it works just as well the other way round – employing as many local people as possible in the first place.
* High Street latest *
A couple of bits of High Street news to finish with. Last week, we met with Thames Water to learn some lessons from the recent floods. The pipes are 120 years old and plainly there was a failure in identifying potential faults. The local water mains will be repaired or replaced over the next year which will, in itself, cause some problems and we will be doing what we can to minimise these works. We also discussed compensation and Thames Water know that they are under the spotlight in this regard. If you believe that you have a claim that TW aren’t dealing properly with, please let me know and I will pass on the communication to the appropriate people.
You may have seen that the High Street won an award last month. A think-tank called the New Econimics Foundation have been working for a while on urban economic regeneration and how High Streets can improve and thrive. They have generally taken a position where what they call ‘Clone Towns’ are frowned upon, that is, High Streets with a number of Chain stores.
Well, it turns out that Brentford comes top of their list of non Clone Towns and thereby should be congratulated. Botton of the list is Richmond, which apparently is full of chains. I will leave it to you to decide if an independent tattoo parlour is preferable to a Next or a Pizza Express, but it’s nice to win something. The report itself is worth a read and can be downloaded free of charge at http://www.neweconomics.org/sites/neweconomics.org/files/Reimagining_the_high_street_0.pdf
* Can I help? *
As a councillor, my first task is to try and assist residents with problems. Please get in touch if you think I can help, either by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 020 8560 7033.
In the meantime, thanks for reading.
In the meantime, thanks for reading and I hope that you are having a peaceful August.
153 Ealing Rd
Brentford, Middlesex TW8 0LF
020 8560 7033
October 4, 2010