Search This Blog

Thursday, 28 June 2012

What's the Impact of Alcohol in Ealing?

Last night I attended the scrutiny panel meeting which will be discussing alcohol, the problems is causes and how Ealing Council and other bodies can reduce the problems or effects.

At the meeting were officers from Ealing Council covering the areas of health, enforcement and policing. A number of interesting discussions led to following:

  • The Redback pub in Acton which shut a few months ago following years of bad management is due to reopen shortly as the Acton Arms. The Redback we were told had led to a lot of violence in or near the pub. It appears the new owners are being constructive and active in putting in measures to reduce alcohol problems.
  • The Pub Watch scheme which is a way for pubs, the Council and the police to liaise and reduce problems. Pubs that sign up to the scheme tend to have less violence and problems from what we heard. The committee also heard that in Southall very few pubs are signed up to Pub Watch and so they will look at this to see why.
  • We saw there were two main peaks of alcohol related violence (at 4pm and nearer 10pm). I asked whether these were two separate types of people which might require a different approach to solving. I also requested information to show whether the times of alcohol related violence has changed over the past three years.
  • Of the 1000 or so licensed premises in Ealing 48 are a concern for the police. Of those only two are better shops. One is considered RED on the status report which means the Council and the Police take a more active approach to try to ensure that the management play by the rules. 

The meeting ended by discussing a number of "fact findings" visits to gain information about issues such as:

  • A 2am visit to a town centre near you! 
  • Speak to Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Speaking to St Mungos
  • Liaising with street pastors

Do let me know if there are any issues you think the committee should look into...

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Ealing Council Approves Liberal Democrat Recommendations about the Rubbish fiasco

Tonight was the third meeting in the last two months where Ealing Council has discussed April's non collection of household waste.

The discussion started at about 8.30pm and I spoke up about the reasons why my party, the Liberal Democrats, got the item added to the agenda:
     1. There are many questions that still need to be answered
     2. Enterprise, the contractor, have been present but not been able to say anything publicly. It is crucial that we hear what they have to say on this issue.
     3. And probably the most important we need changes in processes so that the same fiasco cannot occur again

I likened this to the IT disaster a few years ago when the Conservative Party were in power in Ealing. The problems occurred because they failed to invest in the Council's IT. That cost the Council £1.1 million pounds of extra spending!

I presented the scrutiny panel with three suggested recommendations. The aim was to prevent a future problem with any new contract to collect waste. When I presented the recommendations it was commented that the proposals were "forward looking". The three recommendations that I presented were agreed by all three political parties were:
     1. To ensure that key messages are collated more quickly so that the most important messages can be disseminated more effectively to residents and councillors
     2. To increase the communication with residents’ associations and other similar community bodies so that they can be informed of information that will help residents have more information when difficult situations arise.
     3. That the relevant officers and portfolio holder publish in advance of the start dates of new and large contracts (like the Enterprise waste collection contact):
  • Details of any changes from the previous contact
  • Modelling conducted by contractors and the Council to show that these changes in contractual operations are not likely to cause problems
  • Details of fall-back plans to cover eventualities when a contract commitment is not completed
The Conservative party had also wanted to discuss the issue but sadly they did not offer any proposals and appeared to use the discussion as a chance to act rather "party political" and not put forward any recommendations like I did.

In fact when I spoke towards the end of the meeting it was clear that even the Conservative Councillors on the committee did not seem to think the Conservative councillor who raised his issues was worth supporting. When it came to voting, the scrutiny panel agreed to my three proposals. The Conservative who raised his issues, shrunk and disappeared quickly when his viewpoints were not accepted.

Opposition is not about slagging off the administration, even if they are doing a bad job. It is the role of opposition to come up with alternative plans as the Liberal Democrats did today.

The meeting today uncovered a new set of facts and views especially those from the contractor Enterprise. It was a Liberal Democrat idea to ensure that they were not only present but could speak and be asked questions. The result of them being present and taking part in the discussion meant that we learned more about the issue and heard from all sides.

Some of things we learned were:
  • The contractor knew about 7 to 10 days before the start of the contact (April 1st) that things were not  going well. Their green status had gone to something like an amber status as problems occurred behind the scenes.
  • Ealing Council officers did not scrutinise the feasibility of the new (larger) collection rounds that the contractor's vehicles would be working to. This caused problems and so I think Ealing Council should have taken a more proactive approach.
  • When the staff from the old contractor were 'converted' to being staff for the new contractor they did this over a 2 week period. They admitted tonight that they should have done this over four weeks to allow for any slippage. I quite agree. I do not think that is rocket science.
  • The new vehicles they are expecting should be all in place by the end of July. We wait and see (hope!)
  • In some of my closing remarks I thanked the contractors, despite them messing up so badly, as their presence allowed us to gain some new insights.

Overall we heard a lot more of the background as to why the fiasco occurred. But at least Ealing Council is now looking to learn from the situation and move forwards with proposals to avoid the same thing happening again.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

When I rode home with a Labour Cabinet portfolio holder...

Tonight's write up of the short Ealing Cabinet meeting started dead on time. I think the Leader of the Council had a football match to watch!

If you want to see the reference about a Labour cabinet portfolio holder please skip to the last paragraph.

The main item concerned the Council finances so I will list the main points from questions I asked or the discussion itself.

Council Tax Discount for a Second Home
The Labour administration have now seen sense and are to introduce a Liberal Democrat plan to scrap the 10% Council Tax discount for those owning a second home. My Lib Dem party put this forward in the last Council Tax budget as an official amendment but they turned it down.

So a Labour U-turn. At least they made the right decision, eventually. The money this would save should be used to reduce the effects of any cuts that are planned to harm services for the vulnerable in Ealing.

Garden Tax
I asked about the £40 garden tax and how they only have about 11,500 residents who have subscribed so far when they need about 25,000 to break even. This means that next year the £40 tax is likely to rise to £50, £60, who knows. So they either need to promote the heck out of the scheme and raise some money in the latter part of the year or put the price (sorry tax) up next year. The cabinet member in charge of Recycling Services stated they were "ahead of target".

Not sure if he understand the math. Even if they sign up lots more people towards the end of the year it will mean that they only get a partial year's worth of money from those residents. Perhaps the Ealing Labour party think 1 + 1 = 3. Perhaps I should bring in Countdown's Rachel Riley to the next Cabinet meeting.

Housing Benefit
Without realising, the Council may be facing two ways on changes to automating the Housing Benefit system. A lead Council officer briefed the Liberal Democrat group recently about changes that would save money and not cause any loss or downgrade to service, by enabling some residents who are applying for Housing Benefits to do so online. This could be cheaper and cause no issues but there are significant numbers of peopel who do not have access to or use the internet.

During the discussion a number of Labour councillors slated the plan because the IT aspects of it would not cope with the demand. It is not obvious which of those views are correct but it seems the Labour Councillors have not been liaising with their officers who appear to be confident things will work. Time will tell.

The meeting after that was relatively rushed due to the England football team who were playing in the Euro 2012 tournament. Given the meeting was finished it made sense to see if England could triumph. I took a lift in the car of a Labour portfolio holder with another Labour councillor.

The conversation was entertaining and despite politicians usually slagging each other off most only do that occasionally. The ride home was welcomed and I only missed about a quarter of the game.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Still no official apology from Ealing Council

If you saw my blog post on how Ealing Council provided me with my Freedom of Information request not just late, but apparently with the wrong figures, you will wonder why, after another three days, Ealing Council still has not written to me to apologise for what looks like a mistake.

See my initial blogpost on this subject.

The more time that passes by without a proper response the more it appears that Ealing Council is hiding away from the truth of what happened.

I wrote to Ealing's Chief Executive and said the following: "I now have to wonder whether any of the data produced [by Ealing Council] is correct. I am sure that  Ealing Council is not withholding information inappropriately or producing mis-information, but I at the moment am less than reassured."

All I can do it wait...

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Thames Tunnel Meeting in Chiswick

I attended the Thames Tunnel meeting earlier this evening. It was organised by the local Southfield Park Triangle Residents'Association and had three representatives from Thames Water. Myself and fellow ward Councillors Harvey Rose and Andrew Steed attended to listen to their views from residents.

The Thames Tunnel project is to build a new and large sewer, to hopefully stop the Thames from the pollution of sewage we currently have to endure in London. Thames Water say: "The project will tackle the problem of overflows from the capital’s Victorian sewers for at least the next 100 years, and enable the UK to meet European environmental standards."

If you have not heard about the consultation then please see this website.

In basic terms the plan from Thames Water is to use parts of their existing pumping station and storm water tanks site (adjacent to Canham Road) for this construction work. They also want to build a ventilation chimney on the site.

At the meeting there was nearly 50 residents and after the three Thames Water staff spoke about the current plans, residents had the chance to ask questions. During the discussion a number of points were made:
  • Thames Water's plan is to build construction shaft adjacent to Canham Road.
  • The construction time for the proposed Thames Tunnel is 4 years and it would probably finish in 2022
  • Planning permission from the Planning Inspectorate will be sought in early 2013.
  • A previous report for noise caused by Thames Tunnel showed it would negatively affect Greenend Road
  • Thames Water stated that they plan to do some (for about 6 months) of the works 24 hours a day
  • The proposed ventilation chimney would be 5 stories tall (and seen from neighbouring streets)
  • Thames said that the air will not smell, coming from the ventilation shaft
  • One resident thought that the Thames Tunnel ventilation tunnel could be made into a feature.
  • Thames Water said they will consider replacement parking given their vehicles will reduce residents' parking provision (but no details of how this might work were quoted)
  • Thames Water have pledged to ensure that security during construction of Thames Tunnel will not allow people to breach the fencing

When the meeting ended obviously a lot of residents were not convinced about some of the promises made by Thames Water.

Personally I feel that Ealing Council (who only got involved in this late into the day) need to really ensure that if planning approval is given for the works, then it must ensure 100% that Thames Water so not flout their promises about any noise their work and equipment might cause.

There will be opportunities for residents to give their views on the latest proposals and this was said to occur later this Summer.

Watch this space!

Update from the Southfield Ward Forum meeting (13th June)

Last night's meeting was held in the Acton Green Church Hall, Cunnington Street and we discussed the following issues:

1. Southfield Recreational Ground - update
  • It was announced that that up to five fitness-related items of equipment will be installed in the coming months. The park ranger said these items are sturdy and are commonly used even in Winter!
  • The works to install new lights for two paths across Southfield Recreational Ground are scheduled to start at the end of June and are expected to be finished in August. The lights will have timer devices so that residents can get between Acton to Chiswick early in the morning and in the evenings after work.

2. Controlled Parking Zones
  • We agreed to make some changes to a number of the ward's CPZs. Please see a summary of the changes that will be made.
  • We also agreed to spend £500 so that the residents of Dordrecht Road and Valetta Road can be consulted at some CPZ changes that were made about 2 years ago. Your Liberal Democrat Councillors have been in liaison with the three East Acton Councillors as part of the CPZ is also in East Acton.

3. Southfield Road parade improvements
  • It was announced that the ward had won a share of Ealing Council monies so that the parade near the Zebra crossing on Southfield Road near to Brookfield Road will have improvements made so that hopefully it is easier to access the area and encourage more use of the parade.

4. Other spends to improve the area
  • Installing lighting in the area of Fishers Lane near the bridge
  • Removal of yellow lines that are not needed and possibly replacing them with CPZ bays to reduce parking issues (Ivy Crescent and Priory Road are two locations selected)
  • A traffic survey to the part of Acton Lane near to the 94 bus terminus
  • New signage for Evershed Walk as it appears large vehicles are commonly trying to enter Evershed Walk from Acton Lane. Evershed Walk is a no through road so the signs should help to reduce the number of times vehicles are entering the road.
  • Planting eight trees on Southfield Road, Rusthall Avenue, Acton Lane, Wilkinson Way, St. Albans Avenues, Ramillies Road, Vanburgh Road and Marborough Crescent.

The next meeting takes place on 20th September at the Carlton Day Centre, Carlton Road, W4 from 7.30pm. All invited.

Councillors agree to CPZ changes for Southfield

Last night at the Southfield ward forum there was a lot of interesting debate about a range of issues. The most important item that was discussed was the results of the re-consultation that myself and two fellow Liberal Democrat Councillors persuaded Ealing Council to conduct.

Over the past couple of years a couple of parking and CPZ issues have arrisen and we looked to see what could be done to improve things. The things we agreed were:

Zone R (Southfield CPZ) - based in the North-eastern side of the ward

  • Retain the CPZ for the same days of operation
  • Change the hours of operation to one hour in the morning and one in the afternoon so that more visitors can stay without having to buy visitors vouchers (that are very expensive)
  • Investigate the conditions of use of the stop and shop bays to see if changes might be made to promote more use of the shopping parades in the area
  • The Eastern section of Southfield Road, which is often  not frequently used, will become duel zoned which will mean that it can also be used by those in zone B (Whellock Road for example)

Zone B (Bedford Park CPZ)

  • No changes were agreed to this zone so the days of operation and times of day will be retained
  • A decision was taken not to move Montgomery from zone B to zone M.

Zone M (Acton Green CPZ)

  • No changes will be made so the days of operation and times of day will be retained
  • Investigate the conditions of use of the stop and shop bays to see if changes might be made to promote more use of the shopping parades in the area

For the zones where changes will be made it agreed to monitor the changes in about 6 months time from when the changes occur, to monitor whether the changes have had a positive effect.

The details of when changes will take place is not known yet as it usually takes a couple of months for the legal changes to be made.

If you want to read about the other discussions and agreement at the ward meeting last night please click here.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Why should I trust any figures from Ealing Council?

At a meeting last night I was asking the Ealing Councillor Bassam Mahfouz, about the number of meetings he had attended with the new contractor Enterprise.

Nothing strange you think but previous to the meeting I had a Freedom of Information request sent to me detailing 32 meetings that had occurred involving Ealing Council and Enterprise, the contractor who failed miserably in April to collect our waste when the new contract started.

Of these 32 meetings it stated that Councillor Bassam Mahfouz had only attended three of them and they were only in the last month before the contract started which gives the appearance that the administration was not hands-on enough to ensure the contractor was set up and ready to do what they needed to when the contract started.

Councillor Bassam Mahfouz made a statement that he had attended a meeting not in my Freedom of Information request. So two possibilities:

  • Either Councillor Bassam Mahfouz said he attended a meeting he did not (but he appeared sure of himself); or
  • Ealing Council had produced inaccurate figures on this crucial matter.

Which of those is correct? Well I can only guess but which ever it does not make Ealing Council look trustworthy. To add insult to injury the Council is meant to get the information in my Freedom of Information request within 20 working days - it actually took much longer. So are Ealing Council hiding something?

I await to get a full apology from either Ealing Council or Councillor Bassam Mahfouz...

Watch this space.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Success for the Local Southfield Safer Neighbourhood Police Team

We all want the police to be more proactive instead of just waiting for the crimes to occur.

I am a member of the Southfield ward police forum which is made up of the local police team, residents and the three Liberal Democrat councillors for the area.

We heard some good news from the police sergeant recently. After a recent spike in all crimes everything is reducing again.

Good News Story 1: 
Firstly a large scale High Visibility Operation was conducted recently encompassing Acton High Street. PC Harrison arrested four subjects and recovered a large amount of Cocaine, Cannabis, Cash and also arrested them for possession of an Offensive Weapon and Going Equipped to steal. All of these subjects have previously been of limited interest but have stepped up, they also show themselves to be dealing within the ward catchment area. Well done (part one)!

Good News Story 2: 
Secondly, the local police team have been trying to arrest a person for a recent spate of Robberies within the Vale area of Southfield. This was a lone male targeting vulnerable lone females during the commuting periods.

The police team joined with the East Acton Ward officers to target a variety of locations. In a further operation within an hour the suspect was arrested and looks to be responsible for a large amount of these offences. Well done again!

Click the link to contact the police

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Conservative councillor wants unhealthy people removed - so his house rises in value!

Many people get annoyed at NHS postcode lotteries, but a Conservative councillor has come up with a proposal which would essentially mean that if you drink, smoke or are obese should be told to shape up or leave the borough.

See the website describing the draconian proposals.

Conservative Councillor John Butcher (from Surrey) has stuck the knife into the back of the NHS in an email to Council officers, describing our health service as both “a Marxist organisation” and states that it [the NHS] is “bound to fail”.

He went on to call for health policies to be altered so to bring about polarisation between those who live healthier and less healthy lifestyles, hoping that those who live healthier lifestyles will be increasingly attracted to areas such as Surrey and those who live less healthy lives will be driven to live in other parts of the country.

Perhaps we should publicise his home address so they can live in his nice, healthy garden!

We then got to the meat of why he thinks what he does. He went on to talk about more healthy people moving into Surrey and "that would push up house prices”. I see this Councillor wishes to destroy the NHS so we can ensure he can sell his home for a bigger profit.

He is clearly not deserving to be a Councillor. I hope he is due to stand for election shortly so those who he labels as being "unhealthy" can vote him out!

Why London's Mayor Must Act on Colonial Drive

I have already written to the Mayor of London about the Colonial Drive development that Ealing Council recently accepted. The Mayor of London should stick a spanner in the works. Fellow ward Councillor Harvey Rose has certainly come up with a pearl of a letter to Boris:

"I write as one of the three councillors representing Southfield ward, which is situated in the southeast of the London Borough of Ealing, on the border with the London Borough of Hounslow.

Southfield ward is an area of high density. Many of the roads are tree-lined. Nearly all the properties are residential. Very few are over three storeys in height. Most were built at the end of the nineteenth century or earlier. There is very little amenity space in the ward apart from Southfield Recreation Ground a mile away to the north and Acton Green on the southern border.

It is worth noting that there are very few tall buildings in the "Hounslow" part of Chiswick to the south. Reference is made in the papers to the Gunnersbury Triangle Nature Reserve which is bounded on all sides by rail tracks and is thus an ideal location for the preservation of wild life, even in an urban setting.

The Reserve is situated entirely within the London Borough of Hounslow, who were duly consulted in advance of the hearing of the Planning Committte on 16th May. Reference is also made to an adjacent development at 2 Bollo Lane. This occupies a much smaller area but is in my view highly obtrusive. The building of this development is nearly complete.

Virtually no parking provision has been provided. It was largely for that reason that the Planning Commitee (differently constituted) rejected that application, but when it went to appeal the Inspector permitted the development. The building is now nearly complete, but so far unoccupied, so it is too early to assess the impact of the additional population and the lack of infrastructure provided.

The present application was said by the Planning Officer (in her report placed before the Committee) to be "finely balanced", but you will see from the minutes of the Committee held on 16th May that the overwhelming arguments were in support of the residents. Many of them are already upset by the decision on 2 Bollo Lane and the frequent congestion in the vicinity of Chiswick Park station.

I concluded my speech by quoting from the observations of the Hounslow planning officer: "The excessive height, length and bulk of the development, combined with the close proximity to the boundary shared with the triangle would result in a development which would have an overbearing impact on the Gunnersbury Triangle, significantly detracting from the amenity, value and open character of the nature reserve." These are words of a planning officer, not disgruntled residents.

This application should be rejected."

Quite right. I hope Boris that you do the right thing.