Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Arcadia scheme killed!

The hugely controversial 26-storey plan for the Arcadia site opposite Ealing Broadway station has finally been rejected.

I'm delighted by this decision. It's fantastic news for Ealing and a body blow to the Conservative Council.

The hugely unpopular scheme was pushed through against strong local opposition showing how out of touch the Tories have become with local residents. The Conservative Council spent £100,000 to defend it at the Public Inquiry.

The planning inspector has considered all the evidence and has now firmly rejected it. The Secretary of State confirmed the planning inspector's view. The documents aren't yet up on the official website so I've uploaded the 166-page planning inspector's report and the rather more manageable 9-page decision letter.

The Council should now lead the development of the station site with a full bus/ rail interchange. And Glenkerrin should come back with a scheme that reflects community needs rather than just maximising profit. We need a real attraction for people to come to the town centre. We don't need to overdevelop the area beyond what local transport, schools and health facilities can support.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Gunnersbury Park has been saved!

The concerted campaign by local Lib Dems and residents to save the whole of Gunnersbury Park has been rewarded with a fabulous victory in the last 72 hours.  At this week's meeting of Ealing Council, I seconded a motion against building on Gunnersbury Park and all parties on the Council unanimously voted for an amended version including the words, "This Council is committed to improving Gunnersbury Park but rules out selling parts of the park to developers to help pay for it."

When I spoke to the Leader and Portfolio Holder subsequently, both confirmed that this meant that the administration has agreed to carry out the much-needed works to the historic buildings in Gunnersbury Park, but without following the scheme Ealing and Hounslow councils consulted on of building houses and flats on part of the Park to raise the money.  Neither were willing to be drawn on where the money would come from instead, but they indicated that Ealing's share of the funding was secure.  Now we just need Hounslow to find a way of coming up with its half!

I would like to thank everyone who expressed their concerns about this issue.  Whether at a public meeting, through Save the Trees in Gunnersbury, by signing our petition or by responding directly to the consultation document, everyone played their part.  It just shows what is possible when local people get together and draw a line in the sand (or grass in this case!) beyond which the Council leadership fear to tread.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Exclusive: Ealing Chief Exec Darra Singh to Quit

I've heard a rumour from a usually reliable source that Ealing Council's Chief Executive, Darra Singh, is resigning to take up a new post running Job Centre Plus.

Darra has been a very effective Chief Executive. Everyone agrees that he represented a vast improvement on his predecessor. It makes sense that a high flyer like Darra would get a high profile national job like this.

This will be a blow for Ealing's Tory administration as they will find it difficult to find someone else with Darra's skills.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Labour Government threaten Ealing Homes cash

Within the last 24 hours, I've learned that the Government is threaten to withdraw some of the 'Decent Homes' funding it gives Council's Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs) to bring former Council housing up to scratch. The Council's under threat are those with ALMOs that failed to get more than 1 star in their latest inspection, which includes Ealing's ALMO, Ealing Homes.

Ealing Homes has been bungling the Decent Homes programme from the outset, to the extent that the scheme had to be suspended and restarted, but withdrawal of the programme would be a huge blow for Ealing Homes' tenants, who had been expecting much-needed works to be carried out to many estates soon.

I will campaign vigorously for the government to reverse its decision. The management of Ealing Homes and the Council's supervision of them has been poor, but this is not the fault of council tenants. Hard-pressed tenants must not be punished for the failures of bureaucrats and politicians.

The one sliver of silver lining in the cloud is that many Ealing leaseholders, on the Village Park estate in South Ealing for instance, are currently being fleeced for huge amounts for works to their properties under Ealing Homes' decent homes programme, and presumably this would stop if the work ceased!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Giving the Gurkha's what they deserve

picture I took of Joanna Lumley and a Gurkha veteran campaigning outside Parliament
picture I took of Joanna Lumley campaigning for Gurkha Rights outside Parliament
I still can't quite believe that the Lib Dem motion on giving fair rights to the Gurkhas defeated the Government this week. A government defeat on an Opposition motion is big enough news whatever the issue - this is the first time this has happened since the dying days of "Sunny Jim" Callaghan's hapless Labour Government in 1978! But the issue in question is more important than the politics - if Gurkhas were prepared to die for this country, we have a moral duty to let them live here. The Government cannot ignore this clear signal and I am delighted that the Gurkhas will now be treated properly.

The issue is especially relevant in Ealing as we have a significant local Gurkha community, and at last week's Full Council meeting, councillors of all three Parties united to pass a motion, which concluded:

This Council believes that, given the exceptional service they have given to the United Kingdom, Gurkhas and their families should be given fast track eligibility for either the right to remain or citizenship.

This Council urges Ealing’s three MPs to support the campaign for Gurkha rights.

At the start of the debate, councillors gave a standing ovation for a group of local Gurkhas who were in the public gallery. This reminded me of when I was present at the Liberal Democrat Conference when a large numbers of Gurkhas attended in uniform and received a spontaneous and heartfelt standing ovation from everyone present. Fifty Gurkhas handed their medals to Nick Clegg in protest at the Government's shameful failure to extend British Citizenship to all Gurkha soldiers and their families - not just those who served in the last decade.

These are men who have risked their lives and fought bravely for our country, earning an unchallenged record of distinguised conduct. If someone is prepared to die for this country, they should have the right to live in this country.

Party politics aside, Steve Pound, the MP for Ealing North, did the decent thing by rebelling against the Government on this issue, but I sadly cannot say the same about the other two Labour MPs representing our Borough - Virendra Sharma and Andy Slaughter.

The position of Virendra Sharma is especially worrying. He has remained a Councillor despite being elected as MP for Ealing Southall in the by-election. There is nothing wrong with that. After all, I will be in the same position if elected to represent the new Ealing Central and Acton seat at the next election. But two things are wrong. One is that his Council attendence record has been dreadful since he became an MP - prior to last Tuesday he had not attended a Full Council meeting and had only avoided being kicked off the Council for non-attendence by attending occaisional meetings of an obscure sub-committee - but even more seriously, this week his stance in the Council chamber and his stance in Parliament have been diametrically opposed to one another.

Cllr Virendra Sharma, who due to the vaguries of the Council's seating plan sits in the seat next to me, spoke for the motion at the Council meeting, explained that the Government would sort this out shortly. He then voted for the Council motion above, which urges Ealing's MPs to support Ghurka rights. In my speech I specifically made reference to the fact that this included the MP sitting next to me!

A week later, Virendra Sharma MP shamefully voted against the Liberal Democrat motion supporting Ghurka rights.

Do Cllr Virendra Sharma and Virendra Sharma MP ever talk to each other? Sharma referred extensively to the Whips in his speech. Perhaps the simplest answer is that he blindly obeys the Labour Council Group whip when voting in Ealing's Council Chamber and the Labour Parliamentary whip when voting in Parliament, without giving any thought to the issue at hand. If that is the case, Ealing residents deserve better.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Crossrail benefits justify Interchange

A new study by Crossrail this week shows how much the economic benefit of the Crossrail line will be for each area. They reckon the Borough of Ealing will benefit to the tune of nearly £57 million.

The report shows the enormous benefits that will flow to our Borough from Crossrail, with stations at Southall, Hanwell, West Ealing, Ealing Broadway and Acton Main Line and I am keen to ensure it goes ahead. There will be a very large increase in the number of passengers using all these stations, and Ealing Broadway in particular is already one of the busiest stations in the country. These additional trips will have to be catered for. If we are to cut the number of cars on the roads, people will have to use buses and other means of getting to and from the station.

This highlights the urgent need for a fully integrated bus/rail/tube interchange over the underground tracks at Ealing Broadway. The total cost of this could be saved in a single year, if set against the benefits to the Borough as a whole. The Council should be pressing for immediate discussions to include this in the plans being developed by Crossrail and Transport for London, and should take the lead by appointing an independent consultant to examine how the whole of the station complex, including the empty Villiers House, should be developed as part of a comprehensive redesign of central Ealing.

Arcadia Call-in Latest

As many of you know, the lamentable decision by Ealing's planning committee to approve the appalling Arcadia scheme has been called in by the Secretary of State. This was fantastic - although unexpected - news!

A Public Inquiry will now be held in Ealing to finally decide the matter.

This post is to fill in some of the background.

Council officers are currently sorting out procedures with the Government Office for London and the Planning Inspectorate.

Once this have been completed, the formal notification of the call-in will be sent out to anyone who commented on the application. I understand that this will involve 7,000 letters as it will include all the local people who signed the Lib Dem petition I collected against the Glenkerrin scheme!

The Council's statement of case would be due for submission in the middle of March 2009. No date has yet been set for the Local Inquiry, but the Council anticipate that this would be June or July.

The Planning Inspector will be able to look at all aspects of the case during the Inquiry. The final decision will probably come out in late Autumn. The whole scheme is on hold until then.

The Public Inquiry will give residents a final chance to defeat this awful scheme that would wreck Ealing's town centre, so we must seize this opportunity with open arms and make the strongest possible case.

By contrast, the Secretary of State has announced that she isn't going to call in the Dicken's Yard scheme. So the only thing standing in the way of that other awful scheme getting permission is a decision by Boris, who in turn is waiting for revised documents from developers St George who seem to be dragging their feet rather. Unfortunately, I'm no more optimistic of Boris stepping in on Dickens Yard than I was of him intervening on Arcadia! Saying "no" to a Tory Council isn't his style.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Boris has failed Ealing

The decision letter signed by Boris yesterday has just winged its way into by inbox. Despite massive local objections, he has failed to use his powers to direct refusal of the Arcadia development.

I can't say I'm surprised. As I said at the Save Ealing Centre meeting on Tuesday,"The efforts to lobby the Mayor to say 'no' are worthwhile, but I am afraid that my faith in the likelihood of him interceding is limited. We can't just leave it to Boris!"

But I am disappointed. Earlier this week the Mayor flexed his planning muscles by refusing a central London scheme on the grounds that the developers didn't make a contribution to Crossrail. Why couldn't he have used those same powers to save Ealing from the utterly inappropriate development by Glenkerrin which is right across the road from Ealing Broadway station, which will be a Crossrail station?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Riding on the ghost bus...

I've been riding on the ghost bus today. It was rather a pleasant journey, meandering through the backroads of west and south London accompanied by friends, fellow Lib Dems, public transport exports and the world's press. The clerk in the ticket office at Ealing Broadway station was amazed that Wandsworth Road became one of the most popular destinations for a few minutes this morning.

But not one person on the bus was actually trying to get from Ealing Broadway to Wandsworth Road. We were all there in our various ways to draw attention to how absurd this once-a-week coach is, and how the sole reason for it is for Labour to avoid embarrassing publicity.

This backfired spectacularly today, as I was interviewed by the BBC, ITV London and even TF1 from France plus reporters from the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail, and used each opportunity to condemn government spinelessness on this issue. There is absolutely no way this much publicity would have been generated if the government had either retained the rail service or just taken the honest route of consulting over its closure. As Sir Walter Scott put it, "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Ealing Broadway's Ghost Bus

The Times (not the sadly demised Ealing Times) has this amazing story. My reactions are twofold...

How dare Labour remove the cross-London service between Birmingham and Brighton? The direction we should be moving in is having *more* train services that pass smoothly and conveniently through London for people travelling between the North and the South without disgorging their passengers onto the heaving tube network.

How dare Labour waste our money on this unused coach because they don't have the guts to consult people about axing this rail service? Ministers' efforts to avoid political embarrassment know no bounds.

Toran suggested a trip on the ghost bus from Ealing Broadway next Tuesday, which may not be a bad idea!