Saturday, November 22, 2008

Toeing the thin blue line

Earlier this week, everyone was asking me why I've been hobbling around on crutches, so I thought I'd better tell you as well, dear reader...

Last Sunday was the birthday of a friend of mine. I'd been in Lambeth with her and some of her other friends for a Thai meal and a film. After a couple of drinks in the pub, I got peckish again and we headed for a late-night McDonalds. It was quite late now, so the inside was shut, but the drive-through was open, so we ordered on foot at the drive-through window.

A woman driving a car (which we hadn't noticed) in the queue then got irate and started shouting at us, accusing us of queue jumping. I was apologetic, but the birthday girl was rather less so. The woman in the car then got out, ran over to my friend and proceeded to viciously punch and kick her. I pulled the assailant off. Her boyfriend then got out and pulled me off. So far so bad, but no great harm done.

The couple got back in the car and I got out my mobile and called 999 to report the assault on my friend, while I stood in front of their car to stop the culprit getting away until the police arrived. Unfortunately, when I read her number plate out to the 999 operator, the woman reacted by driving straight into me and knocking me over resulting in 1 broken toe, loads of bruising to the rest of my foot, a small graze to the elbow and a cut finger.

She then drove off. The police haven't caught her yet - they went to the registered address of the car later but she was lying low elsewhere. However, the police are taking the incident very seriously, so much so that the case has now been transferred to the GBH unit of Lambeth police, so I'm confident that she'll be arrested in due course.

Since Thursday, I'm now off the crutches and am walking again - with a special shoe for the next couple of weeks.

I'll close with three random thoughts relating to this week's events. The first is that combining this and being mugged just a few weeks ago, there is a large and growing mismatch between my personal experience of crime in London and the reassuring statistics. Overall, I've been the victim of three violent incidents in the last couple of years. And many people I speak to around London also have similarly sad tales to tell. How can the statistics show crime falling while Londoners' experience is of crime - especially violent crime - getting worse and worse?

Secondly, the few days I spent non-weight-bearing on the injured foot, that is hopping with the aid of crutches, gave me renewed insight into the difficulties people with disabilities face all year round. Making my way up the steps of Ealing Broadway station, for instance, was agony. I'd been aware of the complete lack of disabled access at Ealing Broadway for years - and indeed wrote a letter about it to the Chief Executive of First Great Western at that point, resulting in a very disappointing reply that nothing would be done until the new Crossrail station is built! Briefly feeling the physical pain of the current situation, just underlines to me how pathetic that response is.

My final thought is that everybody says McDonalds is bad for your health... I guess I've now learnt that lesson!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ealing remembers

Yesterday's Remembrance Day service at Ealing's war memorial was the first to include the names of A.H. & A.J. Robinson, two local brothers who lost their lives in World War One. Their names had been omitted when the memorial was installed outside Pitzhanger Manor in 1921 for unknown reasons, but the Council has now put this right by engraving the names at the request of their nephew.

This example of a case where Ealing Council has done the right thing was in Around Ealing and was picked up on today's BBC London lunchtime news and will probably be on the evening bulletin which starts shortly. It can be currently viewed here (about halfway through) but only the latest bulletin is shown, so you'll only be able to see it today. News isn't available on iPlayer for some reason.

I think it is important to remember the sacrifices made by the dead both from the two world wars and from recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan, and I make a point of attending Ealing's annual remembrance service - in fact as a humanist it is the only religious service that I attend most years.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The sincerest form of flattery

We've seen numerous examples of everything that Vince proposes being copied by the Government - a rapid example was the suspension of short selling introduced days after Vince suggested. This weekend the Government is flying the idea of delivering big tax cuts for those who are struggling. It took them a while to read Make it Happen, didn't it?

Why doesn't Brown just sack Darling, offer Vince the chancellorship and cut out the middle man?

While mentioning Vince, I'm pleased to plug his visit to Ealing to preside over our fundraising auction and answer our questions. Details are here. If you live in or near Ealing, why not come along and have your questions answered by the man who warned of the current recession while the rest of the body politic accused him of scaremongering?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

What the Dickens?

Last night I spoke out against the proposal for a massive development in Dickens Yard, just behind Ealing Town Hall at Ealing Council's Planning Committee meeting. There was huge puublic interest in the application, but there was (in my view unnecessarily timid) concern about moving it to a larger venue, so it was held in the Council Chamber with a video and audio relay to a larger hall for the members of the public who didn't fit into the cramped public gallery. You can read what I said here so I don't need to repeat all the arguments, but suffice it to say that I think it is a totally unsuitable scheme for central Ealing and to add insult to injury only 30% of the nearly 700 flats will be affordable for local residents.

Unfortunately, the Planning Committee largely ignored my views, those of English Heritage and those of the thousands of local residents against the scheme and voted by an 8 vote to 2 majority to grant approval for the scheme. In political terms, all the Tory members on the panel (except for the Chair who would only vote in the case of a tie) voted for the application and the Labour members split down the midddle. How about the Lib Dem? Well, I had already ruled myself out of being on the panel to decides Dickens Yard because I'd been campaigning against. But in the event, advice was received that because of the campaigning that we'd done as a party, Lib Dem councillors who weren't quoted in the leaflets and hadn't personally expressed a view on this issue were also disbarred, so there had to be an empty seat where the Lib Dem councillor should have been.

It wouldn't have made a difference to the result - the Tory majority on the Council and hence on Planning means that no application can be refused unless at least one Tory votes against it - but it sets a dangerous precedent that entire parties rather than merely individual councillors are gagged to this extent on campaigning on some of the key local issues.

The Dickens Yard decision was a wasted opportunity to make the developers St George come back with a better scheme that would provide more affordable housing and proper community facilities, in a package that fitted in better in design terms with Ealing.

Anyway, the Dickens Yard scheme will now by referred to Boris and objectors are also looking at ways of either getting it referred to the Government or to a judge through judicial review, so the story isn't completely over, but eyes are now turning to the application by property developers Glenkerrin for a scheme with taller blocks next to Ealing Broadway station.

Sean O'Gorman, the Director of Glenkerrin responsible for their UK operations turned up in the public overflow hall and was apparently clapping the pro-Dickens Yard speeches. One resident who was there described it as the sound of one hand clapping. After the meeting, I was by the Town Hall doors when O'Gorman left with a sweep of his Byronic locks declaring to the assembled disgruntled residents that the result was wonderful news for Ealing, and seeming to positively revel in his unpopularity. At that point he ought to have disappeard in a puff of smoke like a pantomine villain but sweeping out of the Town Hall doors had to suffice.

So does the decision indicate, as O'Gorman's glee no doubt implies, that the Glenkerrin decision will go the same way? Luckily, there are a number of differences. The sheer height (even after they dropped the 40-storey 'Leaf' skyscraper) and impact of the Glenkerrin site is greater. It would be there for all to see opposite the Station and overshadowing Haven Green rather than parts of it being tucked away behind the Town Hall, Gordon Road houses and existing shops as in the Dickens Yard scheme.

While there would no doubt be a substantial section 106 contribution (a payment to the Council to make up for the harm of a development), Glenkerrin already own the land they propose to build on so unlike Dickens Yard there will be no capital receipt to the council. That should not be a factor in a planning decision, but it is difficult to completely remove the thoughts from the back of councillors' minds that rejecting the Dickens Yard scheme would have driven a coach and horses through the Tory Council's spending plans.

Finally, affordable housing provision in the Glkenkerrin scheme is even more pitiful - a mesely 15%. Excluding the retail at the bottom, it's a pure and simple luxury flats development.

So I'm sad at the Dickens Yard decision but hopeful that it still leaves the way open for a rejection of the Glenkerrin scheme, which would be even worse for Ealing.

Hello (again)

Following lots of requests from a few people, especially Jennie, Toran, Helen and Mat, I'm resurrecting my blog. The point they made was that I've been writing Facebook notes and posted items that are effectively blog posts so I've been persuaded by popular demand to drag myself blinking and stretching from the cozy burrow that is Facebook back into the blogosphere.

Let's see how it goes.