Weekly Update From Councillor Guy Lambert

"The public assume we have something to hide"


Guy Lambertguy.lambert@hounslow.gov.uk

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Thursday morning I met with Steve Curran and the Tory leader, Sam Hearn, to discuss street lighting. A few weeks ago there was a violent attack perpetrated in a park in Chiswick and the concern was raised that lighting was inadequate there and questions about the recent decision we made to ‘dim and trim’ street lighting across the borough. In fact we reacted quickly to the specific problems in the park and we are in the process of upgrading lighting across our parks to the modern LED system we use on streets. There is always a debate about lighting in parks anyway, with some taking the view that lights encourage dodgy characters to hang around because if you’re running a skunk shop it helps to have a bit of visibility, whereas others say skunks prefer to operate in the dark where prying eyes can’t see them. Anyway, we were able to say that we have not had a single complaint about our dimming regime (unsurprising as the dimming is not discernible to normal observation) nor any complaint from the police but will continue to respond to any concerns that emerge. The lights are now centrally controlled and can be quickly adjusted.

In the afternoon, my regular update with the MD of Lampton360. Operationally things are going well but I’m cranking up the pressure for financial improvements now all the services are stable and established, plus we still need to sort out various matters of governance. We also discuss their role in improving the street cleansing performance, and it’s heartening that all parties recognise that there are improvements that can be made and are willing to play their part. Time will tell.


Early evening the Melvinator and I meet with the new local housing manager, together with officers and people from the Brentford Towers Residents Association. This is in connection with a bid we are planning to make for a ‘Cruyff Court’ on the Brentford Towers estate to install within the play area there. Back in the day some romantic decided this play area should be called The Pit and it occurs to me that a rebranding might be in order. The ladies from BTRA didn’t know too much about Cruyff so Mel and I grabbed a ball and demonstrated the Cruyff Turn. Readers should remember that I’m a politician and feel the need occasionally to lie, but at least I admit it when I do (this was such an occasion). Anyway, when old Cruyff abandoned Total Football for Total Harp Playing he left behind a Foundation which is promoting and part-funding this idea of Cruyff Courts – essentially artificial pitches managed by a local partner with fairly strict rules – and there are now hundreds of them around the world. The UK is one of their focus areas and we are really hopeful that we will get one of these in Brentford – they seem a fantastic idea to promote outdoor activity and the rules around them will ensure the court is properly looked after and remains both open for anyone to use and a focus for specific competitions etc, with our local professional club hopefully also involved.

One of the problems of modern working, where I do much of my councilloring at home, is that I’m not very good at switching off, especially as I live alone these days and have nobody to remind me! So from time to time I just want to head off overseas, plus I still have loads of British Airways frequent traveller points accumulated during my previous career and I fear that after March 29th they will only get me to the Isle of Man, splendid as that sceptred Isle may be. So I whizzed off for a tourist weekend in Berlin – books, bier and bratwurst – on Friday afternoon and didn’t come back till Monday lunchtime.

Monday evening we had a session on the Great West Corridor local plan in the council chamber, with a variety of officers and members from around the piece. An enormous amount of work has gone into this and there’s still plenty to do before the plan is submitted later in the year. There is lively discussion about transport (and health and school) infrastructure as well as building heights, impact on air quality and improving the public realm. There is loads of detail on the slides and I must find an hour to go through it properly because we couldn’t do it full justice in the meeting.

Tuesday I spend mainly catching up, but in the evening I have a mysterious ‘Communication Review’. It turns out that the council has engaged some specialists to review the way the council communicates both internally and externally and we spend an hour going through a series of questions. I think the council is slightly schizoid in its communications: on the one hand we put a lot of effort into doing it right – Hounslow Matters, frequent news releases, a much improved website – but on the other there are some ingrained practices that hinder communication. One of these is the standard written communication which in my opinion defaults to very formal/borderline hostile in tone and contrasts with the friendly style of council officers when you actually talk to them. Another is an unwillingness to blow our own trumpet – it took me about a year to extract the evidence that our roads and pavements are independently assessed to be equal best in London with only Westminster comparable (there is now a third borough equalling us – can’t remember which one), and that it is sometimes really difficult to get hard data, much of which should be published as a matter of course. The public assume we have something to hide, but it’s as least as likely we are hiding something we should be proud of. Anyway, I’m hoping we’ll make further improvements out of this study.

On Wednesday I have a day at Lord’s Cricket Ground. A bit soggy for the Noble Game so instead it was a conference (you’d think I liked ‘em) on Local Government Commercialisation. I figured I might learn something which might help with my role overseeing Lampton360 and indeed it was a stimulating day encompassing a sparkling young woman from Hartlepool enthusing how she had used funding from Sport England to enthuse children from their (predominantly) highly deprived borough to get out and have fun doing exercise – not sure that quite fitted the definition – to councils buying shopping centres and warehouses with the sole ambition of making money in the property market. This includes Greater Manchester councils which jointly own Stansted Airport. Which is not all that near to Manchester.

There were also some examples much closer to home – a District Council that has successfully turned round its business waste service, and various councils that invest in housing, either by building or buying.

Warrington slide
This slide from Warrington is an example of the leading edge (we used to call it the bleeding edge in the IT industry) where they have started a bank to support small business, made loans to Housing Associations, built some wind farms and started Lampton 360 Development and Investment style subsidiaries. Don’t ask me what LAMS means because I’ve forgotten (can’t have been very interesting) [Local Authority Mortgage Scheme, Ed]. Food for thought, and they are a proper Labour council driven by a desire to fill needs that the market doesn’t address satisfactorily as well as generate surpluses to feed back into protection of services.

On the way home an extra-soggy few minutes in Hamilton Road with a resident family who are having troubles reconciling their housing needs (and desire to stay Brilliant) with the constraints of planning policy in a Conservation Area. Not sure if there is a solution, but one can but try.

Back to Thursday and I was thinking of going to a Joint Action Day outside the shops opposite Gillette where (you’ve guessed it) there’s a problem with mess, but I still have some catching up to do (and a ruddy blog to write, and to find some pictures for the voracious editor) and a meeting with my lead officer to prepare for so I give it a miss this time.

Cllr Guy Lambert

March 8, 2019

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