Weekly Update From Councillor Guy Lambert
Trying to save the children of developers from starvation
There were just two applications at planning committee. One was for National Air Traffic Services to replace three small telecoms masts with one big one near Heathrow, coming to committee only because it’s in the green belt. As it’s just a replacement it’s not really controversial beyond the usual ‘it’ll fry your brains’ objections and we quickly approve it unanimously.
The other is for two blocks of flats in Feltham, on a plot that was once a care home, long demolished. Objections from neighbours who say the 3 or 4 storey blocks are out of keeping/overlooking concerns etc and complaints from the cross-party grumbalition (is that how you spell it?) of Cllrs Todd and Lambert about the paucity of affordable housing. Developers are wringing their hands, as developers will, about how their children will starve if they have to provide the policy amount of 40% affordable rather than the 24% they are offering. The council’s viability consultant agrees about the starving waifs, saying there is only 14% net profit to be made as opposed to the official benchmark of 20% to keep the wolf from the developers’ doors. Most commercial companies get by on 4 or 5% but of course bricks and mortar are so much riskier than (say) launching a new car and building a factory to make it. Hounslow have a slightly cunning policy of at least clawing back half the excess profits if the developer does better than expected and the grumbalition secure that we’ll get half the profits over 14% rather than the 20% originally offered. I can’t bring myself to vote in favour because I think we should demand better, but I’d like it built nonetheless, so I abstain, as does John Todd, and it’s approved 4 votes to nil. It all gets just a touch testy and ends with the local representative saying ‘see you in court’. At least brown envelopes weren’t mentioned as they sometimes are in fractious planning meetings, though the only brown envelopes I see contain council papers without portraits of Her Maj included.
All this meant that I missed the ward police panel where I’d hoped to meet our two PCs for the last time: each is going on to new jobs, one as a Sergeant. We will miss them a lot, as in their very different ways they have done a very good job for the ward. Anyway, I would have missed them anyway as they also couldn’t attend. Hoping to meet their replacements very soon meanwhile I’ll rely on bumping into our PCSO, Angela Mirzai: our bicycular paths cross fairly regularly and I get all the copper goss. Well, I don’t really, but we swap gossip about the ward.
My only engagement on Friday is another of my star media appearances as a recycling spokesman on a phone in to the Voice of Islam radio station. Basically they want to ask me what happens to our recycling after it’s picked up, a subject on which I’m quite well-informed. (For those at the back who have not been paying attention, nothing goes to landfill, nothing is dumped, it is either sold to approved recycling contractors or, if black bag waste, incinerated to make electricity).
Later, I cycle up to Harvard Hill in Chiswick, where I’ve heard reports of people ignoring the barriers and signs telling them not to exit to the A4, as this has been stopped. I find a few people doing it and explain to them it’s not allowed. The lady in the grey car (you can see her front wing, was explaining that her sat nav had sent her that way. Meanwhile the white car mounted the pavement on the wrong side and made a valiant attempt at a head on with the black car entering (quite legitimately) from the A4. One gentleman in a large Mercedes addressed me very politely “thank you for the information. Now F*** Off” before proceeding to the A4. Please obey traffic rules. Ignoring them is dangerous and will likely lead to a fine or worse.
No more engagements until my Tuesday morning date with West London Waste. Not much to report on waste, which continues much as before with waste volumes up everywhere, recycling prices very volatile and booking systems gradually going into all the ‘bring’ sites like Space Waye. (Why are there many roades in Hounslowe called Waye?). We have a discussion about climate emergency actions which happen at Borough level, West London level, all London, the whole of England and the whole UK. You might think that’s a complicated hierarchy, but this is the UK so it’s much more complicated than that: Richmond are in West London Waste but not the West London Alliance; Hammersmith are in the West London Alliance but not West London Waste. I could go on. You’ll be happy to hear that I won’t. Still, we all seem to be pulling in the same direction so that’s encouraging.
Later on Tuesday we have our cabinet briefing, where we look at business for the September cabinet meeting prior to publishing papers. It’s quite a heavy agenda including a couple of reports from me (for the avoidance of doubt, they are not all my own work. In fact they are not at all my own work) but it’s all pretty upbeat and we get through the agenda OK.
I had booked for a seminar after that - but sometimes a fat man needs his dinner and I thought I could catch it later. It doesn’t seem to be online yet but lots of other good stuff on that website.
Coming to Wednesday and the phone rings. It is the unmistakeable call of the Melvinator, who announces himself imprisoned on a 65 bus. He is firkling off somewhere to sow some mayhem, as Melvinators do, when his bus gets caught in a closure of the Ealing Road. He’s heard that the road has been closed as a result of a fire in Great West Quarter, but he knows no more and they won’t let him off the bus. Normally I’d be off out to investigate but I’m booked for a meeting of the Green Recovery Board.
This is where we (well, officers) pull together the work of the various iLabs, talk about the projects we have already started and ones which are in the pipeline. This was really well attended by external academics etc and it’s very heartening to hear how enthusiastic they are about what we’re trying to do in Hounslow. They are engaged personally and via their institutions in several things we’re starting and this can only help us to be successful in our endeavours. I don’t think the blog about this is up yet but lots of good stuff about the programme here.
During the meeting I get an update about the fire, which is in a flat in Sperry House. It seems one flat has been seriously damaged and the occupant in hospital with burns – not sure how serious, but apparently not life-threatening. A couple of other flats have been seriously affected by smoke or water damage and there are minor problems with about 5 others. Some work has been going on dealing with the cladding at GWQ but it seems this building has not yet been treated, but fortunately the fire didn’t really spread, though some of the cladding has clearly been damaged as I can see when I cycle up there later to take a look. Lots of activity with our Director of housing, the Housing associations that run the block, managing agents, Barratt who built it, Steve Curran, Ruth Cadbury MP and of course the London Fire Brigade.
Thursday comes around, and I have an early start (for me) at 9am with the Economic Recovery Board. This is covering similar themes as the Green one, with a wider brief and everything is quite well coordinated. The data, compiled by Oxford Economics, is really worrying with unemployment in the borough expected to go from 3.8% to over 10% - that’s over 8000 people losing their jobs. Surprisingly, they think the worst hit sector will be Information and Communication with Warehousing and Distribution, and Wholesaling and Retailing also heavily affected.
In the middle of this my incredibly loud door entry system goes off, and a large parcel is delivered.
After the meeting I liberate the elephant, and a fine-looking beast it is. By the way, the name is to identify the machine, not the rider. Somebody asked me yesterday what I was going to call it. It does not get a name by right, it will have to earn a it , so we’ll see.
I receive a phone call from a mother who lives in Sperry House with her children. The little ones (in particular) have been really traumatised by the fire and are quite distressed. It is easy to forget that accidents like this spread their horror beyond the people whose lives are physically disrupted. I will try to help and call on the council team to offer support.
Lunchtime I have my monthly update from the environment director and her assistant. All the Cleaner Borough initiatives are getting going again and there is progress on various fronts. I’m always complaining about pace, but I am hugely impressed by these two and their team, who collectively are playing a huge part in the COVID response as well as keeping these ambitious initiatives going. They have another massive project going on too, which I can’t talk about just yet so we’ll be keeping them plenty busy through the autumn.
More next week, as Dennis The Menace used to say.
Cllr Guy Lambert
August 28, 2020