Weekly Update From Councillor Guy Lambert

Not resigning but making a mental note to calm down

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Gunnersbury cafe fire leads to unwelcome wake call from Steve Curran


Guy Lambertguy.lambert@hounslow.gov.uk

tel 07804 284948

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Somebody mentioned to me that it would be good to mention Freecycle in the context of recycling and trips to the tip. I have used Freecycle myself, including recently when I got rid of a carver armchair and a coffee table I’d always hated and an indoor drone (I kid you not) which someone gave to me as a gift and was fun for about 3 days. All of these disappeared with astonishing alacrity, in fact I had to fight off a few applicants (by email, not physically). Freecycle was closed for a bit but the ones covering Hounslow and Ealing, either of which may be relevant to locals, are going again with social distancing and all that jazz

Years ago we freecycled a dressing table. A young woman arrived one winter evening at about 9pm with her chum. “Do you have a car?” We asked. “No, I came from Bethnal Green (to Chiswick) by tube.” “How are you going to get this heavy thing with a detachable and very floppy mirror back to Bethnal Green at this time of night?” “No problem, my friend and I can take it on the tube.” Next morning I got a text: “Thank you so much for the dressing table. I have been brought up in council care and I’m just setting up my first independent home, and I just love the dressing table.” They’re not all like that but that had me smiling for days.

Anyway, back to the journal. Had my catch up with officers, which was the usual mixture of satisfaction and grumbling. I’m really delighted with the way recycling and waste has performed during the lockdown and equally, Hounslow Highways have been doing a very good job keeping the streets respectable, albeit it is getting much more challenging now with more people out and about (and McDonalds about to open). There have been particular issues with littering in parks recently: this is not strictly my remit (unless it’s in Brentford) but obviously I’m to blame. We need to work on getting bigger and more bins and having them emptied more often, given far more people are parking (and may also be parking, but we’d prefer them to walk or cycle). But of course there is another way, which is what was always ground into me ‘Take Your Litter Home’. It’s not hard, you can recycle more easily, and there’s almost certainly less than what you brought with you so carrying shouldn’t be an issue. The team are back to recruiting some extra people for enforcement against littering and other anti-social behaviours, using virtual interviews, which is a bit novel. Of course it won’t get any easier when they’re hired, because they will need to be trained.

In the evening it’s a meeting of Hounslow Cycling, of which I am a member. We discuss the very visible temporary cycle infrastructure that has been laid out with varying degrees of success in Hammersmith and Fulham, and the somewhat more cautious approach we have taken. We agree there is something to be said for both approaches, but we do need to act fast because London will very soon descend into gridlock if those who have been encouraged by quiet streets to walk and cycle are frightened off by increased traffic. As I write, I think the closure of Stile Hall Gardens and Wellesley Road to egress onto the South Circular is being implemented, though this might slip until tomorrow. There are many new initiatives coming, the majority of which will be implemented in June.

I want to say a little more about this, not least because I have been called upon to resign in a very angry thread on ChiswickW4.com forum. This was over my jocular remark last week to the effect that my giving an opinion of driving manners to a man in an Audi in Hammersmith could conceivably have involved droplets. I did wonder about it at the time, but decided it was unlikely that anyone would take offence at what seemed clearly one of my habitual lame attempts at raising a smile. But I regret it now, because it has merely fed something which I think is a most destructive online battle between those – including the Department for Transport, Mayor of London, all London Councils for example - who believe we need radical and urgent investment to support more use of bicycles and walking, and those who consider such measures will restrict mobility.

I’ve also made a mental note to calm down. In the past 50 years since I started driving there have been many occasions when I have silently (usually) resented the presence of cyclists getting in my way. On a cycle, where I’m generally more energised, there are examples more or less every day when I feel annoyance at behaviour of a driver – too fast, too close; sticking 3 feet of their nose out at a side road causing me either to stop or make a hazardous swerve; blocking the area reserved for cyclists at a traffic light; or just simply ignoring my presence, according me as much significance as a road user as they would a housefly. I frequently rage, almost always at thin air, and sometimes loudly.

But of course I have been guilty of every one of these calumnies myself whilst driving, and both sides of this argument really need to cut the other a bit of slack because, like it or not, there will be a lot more bicycles (and walkers), there will be significantly less of our circulation space devoted to motor vehicles, and cars and bikes will have to share space in most places. We should make friends and live better together. After all, many cyclists are also car drivers and vice versa, and we all rely on a transport system that has the capacity to serve our needs and the economy.

After Thursday comes – rather spookily - Friday and I get an early phone call from Steve Curran: there’s been a fire in Gunnerbury Park and the Café has been burnt down. They think it was arson, and that the building is damaged beyond repair, though the precious old carriages seem to have been saved and nobody is hurt.

It’s a sad sight, and not only because of the lost amenity – I hear it will take between 12 and 24 months to rebuild – but also because it was one of the very few remaining income streams which help keep the park maintained and beautiful. They have already lost the income from Lovebox and other major lettings and the prospects of income from weddings, filming, parties etc are seriously reduced. I learnt yesterday that they are launching an appeal to try and make up some of the shortfall. If you can find a few pounds to spare to keep it beautiful and to support the lovely staff who work there you know what to do.

The weekend unfolded in the normal manner, other than My Little Pony got an extended workout due to Pegasus continuing to suffer from unpredictable and, at slow speeds, sometimes alarming rear wheel steering. It always surprises me how decently I can get around on the little bike, and of course it contributes to the lightness of mood around and about as people fall about laughing

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On Tuesday morning, my regular West London Waste gig. These meetings are getting increasingly uneventful, as all boroughs are coping with what they are doing (some still not doing garden or bulky waste) and all with adequate staff. But now we have people with tablets at the council tips we’re beginning to get an understanding of what people are bringing in, and where they’re coming from, which will inform policy in future. We are also getting a lot of comparative data across the 6 boroughs which again will help us improve.

Straight after that I’m out for a couple of real meetings with real people involving actual flesh, and of course social distancing. The first is on the Haverfield estate, where we’re just rolling out the new waste and recycling facilities and some people are unhappy. We have what seems to be a constructive meeting between residents, recycling officers, caretakers etc and we will fine tune the design to take everybody’s view into account as far as possible.

Then the little pony canters down to Isleworth, opposite the Ivybridge estate, where one of our wildflower meadows is now blooming on what used to be a rather boring grass island. Hounslow Highways have also planted a number of trees there – they have donated one for each member of staff – 144 (I think) in all so this was a Beauty and the Beast photo-opp for Samia Chaudhary and me.

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What was particularly good was that the place was literally buzzing – with bees everywhere. Of course it turns out they are camera shy, but I managed to catch this big blighter. Doesn’t look so big – cheap phones for you.

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Next engagement (apart from my wheel fitting) was on Wednesday afternoon, when three lead members and the head of traffic get together to talk progress, strategy etc about moving forward our road repurposing agenda. There is a huge list of projects going ahead, some modest some more extensive and the team are still working on the consultation responses. Trouble is, there are far too few responses from the West of the Borough so more needs to be done to stimulate the imaginations of the Hestonians and Felthamoids.

Coming to Thursday and I have a one-off engagement substituting for Shantanu Rajawat at the Weekly Advice from the Hounslow Chamber Business Taskforce Zoom meeting. This is to keep businesses aware of what’s going on locally and at the moment is very focused on issues around COVID – when they can reopen, grant and loan availability, plans emerging to revitalise the economy etc. The main question for me was about the plans to restrict through traffic on Devonshire Road and Turnham Green Terrace in Chiswick, which are controversial but aimed at making these streets a more comfortable and safer shopping environment. These will be implemented on an experimental basis within a week or three.

Next, I attend a meeting of the newly constituted Borough Economic Recovery and Regeneration Board. This comprises most of the senior officers from Hounslow plus Steve Curran, Shantanu – the lead member for Finance – and me, and it is soon apparent that an enormous amount of work has gone into how we can try and mitigate the impact of COVID (and of course, lingering in the background, Brexit) on the Borough. It is likely to be very severe, because of the huge presence of Heathrow in our local economy with nearly 25% of employment in the borough linked to transport and storage, with Heathrow the major player. There will be other impacts than these though: for example, there is a shortage currently of construction timber and social distancing will have a negative impact on building costs at a time when house prices are at best uncertain and we have an ambitious building target. Plus nobody really knows what the impact will be on retailers and High Streets. We have to do our best to bear down on the risks and identify and capitalise on the opportunities. It will be a hugely challenging couple of years, even if the COVID beast is tamed.

I have Lampton board meetings coming up this afternoon so that’s all for now. Any bike rides today will be in the gloaming.

I’ll just leave you with this spooky image.

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Has Nessie migrated to Brentford? I wouldn’t dangle my toes in if I were you.


Cllr Guy Lambert

June 4, 2020

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