Weekly Update From Councillor Guy Lambert

Seeking to avoid Wuhan's traffic problems in Brentford post lockdown


Guy Lambertguy.lambert@hounslow.gov.uk

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On Thursday we had a virtual meeting of the steering board for council companies. This is where we look at development of the companies from a strategic viewpoint, and also at the council’s arrangements for governance. Obviously we are dealing with some big challenges within the companies, different in each case, and some of the unknowns – eg how the property market evolves – are likely to present risks and perhaps opportunities at a level that nobody would have predicted 2 months ago. We think we’re on the right path, with strong management and an ever-clearer idea of what we want to do and how to monitor it, but like every path ahead from here it will be strewn with rocks.

Amongst Katherine Dunne, Hanif Khan and our head of transport we spend some time on Thursday talking of things we might do to the road etc system to facilitate distancing short term and provide for likely changes in road use as the lockdown eases.

I am rather haunted by this graph I saw about Wuhan, which shows that road traffic grew to its pre-COVID level within a couple of weeks of their lockdown being partially lifted, whilst public transport use was down around 80%.

We really can’t afford for that to happen in London: whilst it’s likely that traffic will be somewhat reduced ‘afterwards’ due both to the economy taking a huge hit and to home working becoming more prevalent, even a tiny increase in road traffic would grind the place to a halt. Public transport capacity will be vastly reduced by social distancing so there is no alternative to getting more people walking and cycling so that those who really need to use the roads are able to do so! Wouldn’t it be nice if we could also keep some of this lovely clean air and all get a bit fitter into the bargain (get out on a bike or Shanks’s Pony, Protect the NHS, Save Lives).

We agreed some short, medium and longer term approaches for the council to support this shift and we have started implementing them this week. Expect more developments over the coming weeks – later in May and beyond.

In the evening I attended a virtual meeting of Hounslow Cycling, where I could only allude to this in vague terms. As always this is a controversial subject: cycling campaigners think the council is terribly over-cautious whilst as a councillor I’m very aware that anything we do that helps cycling either directly or indirectly falls into the category that Sir Humphrey would describe as ‘brave’.

On Friday morning I made my first visit to the council Community Hub to do a bit of volunteering and get a sense of how they do it. I was sure I took a picture but if I did the camera has self-deleted, perhaps because it decided it was insecure to take pics in this top secret location. Anyway, I spent a couple of hours there, firstly putting a lettuce in each bag of goodies and then joining the egg production line. No, I have not turned into a chicken, but trays of 30 eggs from Holland have to be turned into half-dozens for food bags. This involves cutting up the trays into half-dozen sized chunks, loading some eggs, then easing the whole caboodle into a plastic bag to prevent it all falling apart and an eggsplosion. Having got through about 20 trays without a breakage, I managed to break my very last egg. The woman on the next table was not around so I pinched one of her eggs to make up the shortfall. She’s probably still wondering why she ended up with a tray of only 5 eggs.

In the afternoon Hanif Khan had asked me to do a slot on a chat show for the Voice of Islam radio station, to talk about the FoodBox. Hanif phoned me a few minutes before I was due on to ask me to cover the council Hub as well as the Hounslow Deputy CEO who was supposed to do it was busy at some other meeting. So I had to quickly mug up on her script and the stats within it. It was a very gentle programme, really just highlighting all the things that are being done in Hounslow and around and about to support people during this crisis. There was no John Humphries grilling – just Hanif feeding me easy questions. I wasn’t feeling very Priti on Friday so avoided suggesting that the Community Hub had delivered 300,034,974,000 parcels.
My diary remains pretty light although like many of us I’m trying to keep in contact with friends and family via electronic channels, and of course casework continues to arrive in various forms, and I try to keep on top of my emails. If I fail to respond, which I sometimes do, don’t be shy to remind me. Sometimes I have puts something in train and forgotten to tell you: other times the issue has gone into my ‘too hard’ tray and I’m either still working out what to do or have forgotten it. I do think it’s my duty to deal with everything that is directed at me, but I don’t have a foolproof system, which is a drawback if you’re a fool.

The next meeting I had was on Monday afternoon, where we further developed the ideas for emergency (and experimental) changes to highways and pavements with the head of traffic.
Then on Tuesday morning it was the West London Waste Authority. The hot topic is the potential reopening of those centres known in the trade as HWRCs – Household Waste and Recycling Centres – and known to humans as council tips, like the Hounslow one at Space Waye and the Richmond one at Townmead Road. We were told by the government at the start of this crisis to close them, to prevent non-essential travel and to support social distancing. They have changed their tune and have been harrying us to reopen them, and we were expecting an instruction during the week, though what actually later materialised was more ‘do what you can’ than an instruction. Different councils are in different states of readiness so there’s a conflict between opening each one as soon as feasible and a coordinated approach to avoid (EG) Chiswick people driving miles to Feltham or people from Hanworth driving miles to Mortlake. We will know later this week, and when they do reopen they’ll be of very limited capacity to allow distancing – so don’t rush there.

Tuesday evening, our regular cabinet update. Most things going as well as can be expected. Hounslow is now delivering 62000 items of PPE to 62 different locations every week. We have had 220 deaths from COVID in the Borough so far but the burden on W Middlesex is declining with less admissions and less deaths each week. Our care homes (council and private) are doing very well relative to the national and London record with ‘only’ 11 deaths, the lowest in London. All this remains horrible but I think Hounslow, and particularly our local social care, public health and NHS teams are doing an exceptionally good job, in a borough where with our Heathrow connections we might have expected particularly severe problems.

The council is increasingly turning its mind to ‘after’. We’re told we have been assessed (I think by the OBR) as the second worst affected borough in London – after Barking and Dagenham. In our case this is largely because of our reliance on employment directly or indirectly linked to Heathrow, where passenger numbers are down 97%. Perversely, we are also worried about labour shortages, particularly in construction where it seems likely that much of the immigrant workforce, especially from the EU, might depart. There is also likely to be a big impact on town centres, where people have made a step change towards online shopping and may not step back anytime soon (if ever). An awful lot of unknowns, and what is known is not encouraging. Meanwhile a Nottingham MP points out to our ‘Prime Minister’ that the city council has taken a £55M hit from supporting the public through Coronavirus and has had promises of only £19M to cover the pledge that the government will reimburse ‘whatever it takes’. Of course, he doesn’t answer the question but gives a bit of standard waffle about ‘fantastic council workers’. (They really are fantastic, most of them, but Nottingham is going to have to find £36M of savings from somewhere).

On Wednesday, a happier task – interviewing for a new manager for GreenSpace 360. Two excellent candidates and interviewing via Skype worked very well, except for a few moments when the dog ate the broadband of one of the candidates.

On Wednesday evening I give some thought to my current lifestyle, and come to a momentous conclusion: soups and salads are all very well, but there are times when a fellow just NEEDS a good quality burger and chips, so I ring up The Griffin and place an order.

Ahead of me in the queue is the head of Speak Out together with a young chap who I assume is offspring and as I leave, another two familiar faces heave into view – the person I know as head of Teapigs and his lovely ‘other half’. He tells me he is no longer a Teapig, having retired (does that make him Teabacon), and I tell him he seems dead lucky to me to have retired at what appears to be the age of 29. Just like policemen, it seems, pensioners are looking younger these days. Anyway, it was most pleasing to combine a bit of (distant) social with a bit of calorific and scrumptious grub. I asked for a can of Corona to wash it down – they need the business - but had to settle for San Miguel.

Cllr Guy Lambert

May 8, 2020

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