April Update from Councillor Matt Harmer
Welcome to the newsletter from Brentford councillor Matt Harmer. If you haven’t received one before, then welcome, and if you have been wondering what has happened to these, then apologies. I haven’t been as well as I would have liked this year and they have fallen by the wayside. People have been complementary about these emails and I’m grateful for that. However busy we are as councillors, we shouldn’t forget to communicate as best we can.
As you probably know, there has been a great deal of discussion over what services have been reduced or cut entirely. I’ll try and deal by email with any particular enquiries that you may have, but one of the most talked-about proposals was the possibility that libraries, including Brentford’s, would be closed.
In the end, the money was found to keep Brentford library open for another year. Indeed, I was told by a couple of people that we never intended to close the libraries at all and that the whole thing was a smokescreen to make us look good when the ‘plans’ were scrapped. Well, I’m afraid to say that the plans were genuine and there are going to have to be many more tough decisions over the next three years. Without getting too bogged down, we have to find a similar amount of money to save this time next year, and then find a slightly smaller amount for each of the next two years.
So what will we do? For one thing, find ways of helping the staff at Hounslow Council do things better. They are good people and don’t deserve the criticism sometimes laid at their feet. I think we can speed up some of the work processes and do what we can to make sure that all staff members are used to the best of their abilities..
We also need to use the buildings we have better. Some buildings are in use from dawn to dusk most of the week, others tend to be empty more than they are in use. Things that the council does shouldn’t necessarily be wedded to one building. Frankly, we will need to sell some. And maybe there are services run by other organisations that we can use. Here’s one example for readers in Isleworth. West Thames College, near Isleworth station, has a really good library that was pretty much empty at 7.15 on the Thursday I visited. Of course there are problems – it doesn’t belong to the Council, are there security implications with non-students coming into the library and then getting access to other rooms – but we can’t avoid looking at these options.
We’ve also had approaches from voluntary groups wanting to run things, including libraries. It’s fantastic that they offer and we will take them all seriously. Again, there are questions – for one, how do we guarantee that the services will be properly run once the initial interest in taking over, say, a library has waned a little. But it’s our job as councillors not to hide from these options and these questions.
Finally on this, thoughts are with those members of staff who have had to leave the council’s employ. Good people, many of whom have helped readers of this email with problems that have been passed to me, have left the council. This email isn’t the right place to get into the rights ad wrongs of the coalition’s actions but I worry that the savings we have to make are being done a little too quickly and too deeply. My day job is in the private sector and I don’t see evidence that we can pick up the slack and I worry that we won’t get the growth that we need. My colleague Councillor Ruth Cadbury has started some excellent work on how we can improve the work we do for people in financial difficulty and it’s something that we will return to here.
* Some good news *
Sorry to drag us down a little. Some good news locally has been the good reaction to the new playground at St Pauls Park. This has been paid for by a government grant that wasn’t withdrawn (though other parts of the borough haven’t been so lucky). I’ve cycled past a few times now and the playground does seem very popular, which is really good to see.
One part that isn’t used much, however, seems to be the bike trail section. It’s got wooden ramps to cycle up and down but there is nothing obvious saying that the area is designed for cycling and is mostly used by young people doing sort of ‘free running’ up and down the ramps, which is fine of course. The last time I was there I was slightly tempted to take my bike up and down a couple of ramps to show the young people how it should be done, but I decided that the A and E department at West Mid were probably busy enough without having to stick me back together again. So if you have young children (or are a young child) and need a new place to cycle, away you go.
By the way, I know that a couple of the new pieces of equipment there have needed repairs and this should soon be complete. I also understand that more litterbins are needed and I’ll see what we can do about that.
* Parking! *
We couldn’t let one of these emails go by without talking about CPZs.
Last year, Hounslow Council, in common with other councils, introduced a new scheme which guarantees that petitions are acted upon rather than just left in the Mayor’s filing cabinet. Last month, we considered a petition to introduce controlled parking in Enfield Road, the road just north of the A4 that is home to the excellent Lord Nelson.
Now, we can’t just introduce controlled parking but we can consult on it. The trouble for me is that we have now done so twice and both times it has been rejected. That doesn’t mean to say that the same outcome would happen again, of course. Additionally, our controlled parking schemes (CPZs in council-speak) are fairly blunt tools.
So that’s why I am glad that it looks as though we will be able to study the situation in a rather more empirical way. WE plan to commission a study that will look at when pressure on spaces is at its highest and use data to see how long vehicles park and where these vehicles may be from. Hopefully, this will show that there are particular times when controls will be at their most effective.
Enfield Road is difficult because it’s narrow. Pavement parking happens and I get emails asking for a) this to be abolished so pedestrians get the pavement back and b) more pavement to be given over to cars. Again, previous parking proposals have tended to reduce the total space available for parking and we need to try and take a more imaginative approach here as well.
Oh, and if you are wondering who will pay for this, it will be our old friend s106, the funds that are available for this purpose, and this purpose only, following the development of the Glaxo and Paragon buildings.
And this doesn’t mean that we will definitely introduce a CPZ, only that we will consult on a better one. I imagine that residents of other streets will be interested in this (hallo, Hamilton Road!) and I’ll let you know how this turns out.
* Bidding up *
From parking to parks. Our bid for a significant sum of money (around £12,000,000) from the Heritage Lottery Fund for Gunnersbury Park is taking shape. A good team is being assembled and the early indications from the HLF are good, but we have a long way to go on this. It will probably involve making some difficult decisions on what we do with some of the 22 listed buildings in the park and the layout of some of the park, but it’s something we have to do.
The ownership of the park has hindered its development, owned as it is by both Hounslow and Ealing boroughs. Now that the weather is better, please do take a trip into the park – there’s plenty to see there but you’ll also see why we need to invest a considerable sum and do it quickly.
* What’s on *
Just one event for you; but it should be a good one. The team behind last year’s St Georges Day party in the High Street are back with a Royal Wedding party on, well, Royal Wedding Day, Friday April 29th. Starting at 2pm there’ll be stalls and music and all sorts of other good stuff. If you’ve a Brentford event I can help publicise, please let me know.
* Can I help? *
Finally, please get in touch if you think I can help, either by replying to this mail or calling 020 8560 7033.
In the meantime, thanks for reading.
April 19, 2011