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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Why the London 2012 Olympics is such a great event

When I heard I had gotten a ticket to see the archery at Lords I was well chuffed. In part because I love watching the cricket at Lords and the more obvious reason that I could see some international competition near to where I live.

I had first seen archery when I was at university and didn't try it out then. If I was twenty years younger I would certainly have a go. Not sure my eyes are up for hitting the board never mind the bullseye!

When I got to the ground and got through the airport-like security I sat down. The weather was v nice and I was ready for the first women's team quarter final. The experts in this sport come mainly from Asia and they had four of the 8 spots covered. Sadly Team GB were knocked out earlier in the day.

Then the rain descended and I sort of expected the 'umpires' to stop due to the bad English weather. They didn't and the competitors kept on hitting the board, only missing the 8, 9 or 10 area a few times. With the wind and the rain the performances were amazing.

The rain started and stopped about 100 more times but the nearly full audience didn't care. As the competition got the semi's there was quite a lot more tension and a few more mistakes. The Russian Federation at one point rose to the occasion when they won a tie break situation. But Korea won the final by a single point.

As the medal ceremony started it was a wonderful moment. I had no direct connection with any of the medallists or their countries but I felt proud for them as they really gave it all. The picture below shows what a wonderful place Lords was converted into for the archery. An amazing day and hopefully the Olympics will bring people together from different countries as they each respect each countries abilities in different sports.
Korea, in white, cheering, with their gold metals.


Thursday, 26 July 2012

What happened at Ealing Council's cabinet meeting last night?

The agenda for tonight's meeting was huge - not just in paper but the number of items (twenty four). Cabinet meetings are normally held on Tuesdays but with the Olympic flame coming to Ealing it made sense to delay it by a day. My blog post of the "Flame Coming to Ealing" is here

Later in the meeting I had a visit from fellow Liberal Democrat Councillor Andrew Steed who passed on some great news. The Council's Planning committee had deferred discussing a proposal to convert St Albans  Church into ten expensive flats. They needed more information about a number of possible community uses for the site. More background can be seen here

As for the Cabinet meeting a summary of some of the main points was:
  • School Expansion - The expansion of Drayton Green Primary School and invitations for tenders as to who would do the work, was agreed.
  • Ealing Hospital - a proposal was raised for the Council to fund a campaign to stop four local hospitals closing. I stated on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Group that we would support this initiative. We await more information about how large the fund will be and the details of what it might be spent on.
  • Domestic Violence Grant - I supported a Council move to offer two types of grant to help reduce domestic violence and the consequences of it. One in a generalist grant open to all (including men) around the borough. The second is a specific grant for those who are from a Black Minority Ethnic group who suffer more than most from figures show to Ealing Council. The interesting point on this is the Ealing Conservatives have a history of not wanting to focus this grant to those who are most in need or ensuring that the Council can proactively go to groups who know those who suffer from domestic violence. I made a number of points but stated that having two smaller grants (than one larger one) means it will be important to review the use of the grant so that people are getting use of the two grants, rather than one grant being over subscribed and the other not used.
  • Parking Services - I raised points about the need to cap any future voucher or CPZ permits but the portfolio holder again said "No" to the sensible suggestion. So residents are not going to be confident as to whether next year the prices might be hiked again!
  • Housing Allocations policy - This policy relates to a coalition government policy which allows Councils to promote certain groups to more ensure they get a chance of Council housing. Ever since Margaret Thatcher introduced the "Right to Buy" scheme it has meant Council lose about 2 percent of their housing stock each year leading to large waiting lists. The policy agreed tonight means that those who are not going to qualify for Council housing are not added to the list (so they are not given a false sense that they are likely to get housing); suspending applicants who bid three times for a Council home and then keep refusing reasonable offers of homes; Prioritising those who are currently under-occupying (which will free up empty rooms); need to have a local connection to Ealing. During the discussion I asked that the Council reviewed this in a special meeting about this subject as there might be some hidden consequences which may require some of the rules to be altered. My request was agree to.
  • Customer Care (or a lack of) - I said that Ealing was increasingly very poor at responding to residents calls (a very large proportion waiting for more than 30 seconds to speak to the operator). I suggested that the Council had cut call-centre staff before many of the IT improvements were working or optimised. This was denied but the number of staff has been cut and the waiting times have risen. Judge for yourself!
  • Ealing Cinema - At last Ealing Council is now to take tougher steps to ensure that Ealing Cinema will be built. It is to take a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to obtain the land owned by Empire who have promised but never built the cinema they said they would. Fellow Lib Dem councillor Harvey Rose said this action should have been taken. He first mentioned it at a meeting a few years ago. Glad Ealing Council has now cottoned on at last. Better late than never. The interesting point here was that when I was asked by the Leader of the Council whether I supported this approach I said "Yes". However the Conservative Leader was less sure - he made some excuse about a map in the Council report and did not appear to want to see the cinema built in Ealing. I hope he doesn't want flats instead of the cinema?
  • Neighbourhood Planning - Ealing Council approved a set of procedures so that should mean the two interim neighbourhood forums in West Ealing can be set up and make use of the money it has been given by the Government. I also asked whether any other areas had said they were interested in setting up neighbourhood forum - I was told that there was interest in Hanwell and Acton.
The meeting ended at about 9pm.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Wow - Ealing's Olympic Torch Event Was Fantastic

Tonight in Walpole Park for the lighting of the torch was an amazing end to the day. It appeared that there was more than 8000 people in the main area on Walpole Park. With a large number also watching the large screens it reminded me of a music festival Sunday.

When Tom Thacker ran through the park many nearly missed the event - he was running pretty quick - and then he lit the torch to end a great day where many families had so much fun in Walpole Park as well as the many thousands of residents who lined Ealing's streets.

The hot weather made the day perfect. A real moment to treasure. Myself and some friends got a photo with a fake Olympic Torch (we can pretend we held the real one!). A friend's son had his photo taken and so I hope for them and the many other kids that the day will be remembered. Lots of fun, music, food and other entertainment.

A well done to those who organised the event.

Some of the many thousands of park visitors

Some of the musical entertainment

Me trying to smile despite the sun in my eyes!

Tom Thacker Lighting the Torch

After Tom had lit the Torch

Me with a torch (not the real one sadly)

Monday, 23 July 2012

We are looking forward to the Olympic Torch Relay in Ealing

Tomorrow (Tuesday) will see both hot weather, touch wood, and the Olympic Torch Relay when it makes its journey through Ealing tomorrow afternoon.

Christopher Bury holding the Olympic torch
About a year ago myself, leaders of the other two political parties and the Mayor of Ealing, selected those to carry the torch. I was very proud to sift through the applications and select those residents who have given so much to Ealing. The torch bearers will be Brentside High School pupil, Sydney Richards and Southall charity worker and volunteer, Tom Thacker. I hope they have a great day.

The Torch Relay moves at approximately 4 mph and the torch bearers are accompanied by a convoy of vehicles from the Olympic Games organisers, sponsors and the police. Ealing Council have stated the approximate timings for the relay route through Ealing:

17:00: Northala Fields
17:16: Leaves Northala Fields
17:19: Kensington Road
17:25: Lady Margaret Road
17:47: Southall High Street
17:50: Uxbridge Road A4020
18:05: Hanwell
18:15: West Ealing
18:32: New Broadway A4020 (Ealing Town Hall)
18:34: High Street B455
18:37: Ealing Green
18:39: St Mary's Road
18:44: Church Lane, Ealing
18:45: Culmington Road
18:47: Lammas Park Gardens
18:48: Walpole Park

An evening of free family entertainment will be held at Walpole Park to celebrate Ealing being one of only six London boroughs chosen to host the Olympic torch in an over-night stopover. Ealing Council has arranged for a giant screen to be set so that people without tickets will be able to watch the action from the stage. The screen will be in a different part of the park and although no tickets are required to get into the area capacity is limited to 6,000.

Gates to Walpole Park will open at 4pm. Music, dance and other performances will begin at 5.30pm. The Olympic Torch will arrive at approximately 6.50pm and the event is due to finish at approximately 7.30pm.

Get there early [practice for when the Olympic Games starts] and have a great evening if you are going.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Why Ealing Council needs to Defer the St Albans Church Planning Application

In the past week we have seen the planning report and today we had the site visit by Ealing Council's planning committee who will decide whether to convert St Albans Church into ten luxury flats.

There were lots of residents who wanted to ask questions about why the site cannot be used for community purposes.

Residents at the St Albans Church Planning Site Visit (21st June)
Sadly the report about this matter contains a number of errors and it also not does contain a fair balance of viewpoints from those who have come up other community uses for the site. To many residents I spoke to today, things smelt wrong. The main points of criticism are:

  • The report was written BEFORE the consultation period had ended!
  • The last site visit lasted over an hour but this one (remember there are many new Councillors who are different) lasted only about 25 minutes.
  • No report from the Council's Conservation Officer so the planning committee will not be aware of all the salient issues.
  • There are three alternative (and community) uses for the site but these are not detailed properly. Details of the viability of alternative uses are not show so the planning committee will be given a fair impression about the alternative schemes.
  • Opposition comments from organisations like large Residents' Associations are NOT PRESENT in the report.
  • The report states that a nursery will be present however the Council have strangely said they are not to enforce a condition so that a nursery or equivalent would be guaranteed to be present in a few years time. What is likely is that if approved a nursery would appear and then that use of the proposed two storey building would alter to allow for expensive rented property.
  • A number of statements, including one on page 24, from the developer about the non viability of community use are given as being fact when that isn't true. This gives the impression that everything coming from the developer is true and everything coming from the community is omitted. Not good democracy. 

The planning committee on this matter need to ensure that NO possible community use is possible before they can allow a change of use for housing. This clearly isn't the case and I detail some of the errors in the planning report. It does appear that the Council are actively omitting documents from Residents Groups or other bodies who have come up with viable alternatives such as a Theatre and a church at the expense of assuming everything is factually true from the developers statements.

So in summary, the report should be re-written and postponed to a planning committee in August or September. Anything else and the planning committee are not being given the correct and fair set of facts to make a decision about this important site.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Southfield Police cycle marking event - Sat 28th July

The Southfield Police Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT) are holding a cycle marking event between 11am and 3pm on Sat 28th July on Acton Green Common.

If you have a bike they will mark it so that if it is ever stolen then it will be registered and then if recovered the police can get it back to you. This is done using a marking system that is invisible to the eye. My bike has a similar DNA type of marking so if nicked then the criminals can be more easily arrested and charged with theft.

Go along, even if just to see the police team who are friendly and can give you lots of crime reduction tips. For free!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

An open letter to the top boss of Transport for London buses

Today on the bus home from my cricket game, was another disaster, from a customer perspective. I got the 607 at about 9.30pm from outside Shepherds Bush tube station and sat down then part way home it stopped and waited, then waited and waited at the bus stop.

The people who were getting on had done so and no-one was getting off. There was no communication from the driver via the microphone or him getting out of his cabin. It then turned out that the bus had hit a vehicle in front of him. Doh!

So after about 10 mins we set off for part two....and I got home in one piece.

Last week again coming from Shepherds Bush and there was a loud bang. This time the large left side wing mirror had literately fallen off! This time all the passengers were forced to get off and struggle to get on other 207 / 607 buses.

Bus this is only two recent examples. I have lost faith in TfL buses. I think that all their drivers should be retested and be trained so they know how important communication is with passengers especially when things go wrong.

Here are my main gripes:

  1. Bus drivers being rude when a customer's Oyster card does not appear to be read correctly by the reader
  2. Drivers not wanting to give instructions to tourists who are not familiar with which bus might be the best for them to get to where they are going to
  3. Wing mirrors falling off. Who is inspecting the buses each night or week? Sounds like no-one is.
  4. Drivers stopping to allow for a gap between buses when clearly there is a large gap as I have missed the last one over 30 minutes ago! Perhaps these drivers are having a rest without wanting to say so?
  5. Drivers crashing in to other vehicles? How often does this happen? I saw one bus driver touch a cyclist to its left and luckily the cyclist was pushed towards a car which it used to avoid toppling over.
  6. The same driver in the fifth comment also (about 5 minutes earlier) allowed a lady put her bag on the bus, but then when she and the small child she was holding, were trying to get on the bus it drove off! It took a persistent passenger to get the driver to stop. The driver was then rude to the passenger. People like this who endanger the lives of cyclists should not be driving.

That is just 6 that come to mind. I can probably think of about 100 more if I had more time. So this open communication to Transport for London buses is clear. Train drivers so they communicate properly with customers and get rid of those who are causing accidents.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Tory and Labour coalition who are against Lords Reforms

In a recent vote on Lord's reforms we saw a large number of Conservative MPs join the Labour party to stop any real chance of reforming the house of Lords.

In the vote, the MP for Ealing, Central and Acton (Angie Bray) showed that she is not in favour of democracy by voting against Lords Reform. I suppose she thinks it is better for politicians to be chosen by Prime Minister or take their role because their mother or rather passed them the baton. Shame on her.

After the vote she was sacked as the Parliamentary Private Secretary (bag carrier) of Francis Maude. What she doesn't appears to understand is that only if you have a more representative Lords can democracy really have the respect of voters. I feel lucky to have been voted in three times running by the residents of Chiswick and Acton. I see them as my employers.

 The key to a good Lords is one where it is made up of people who are expert in certain areas and are different from those who are in the Commons (MP). This will promote debate and scrutiny. Having more elections would also more ensure that Lords were thinking of the voters when they do their job.

Despite Labour always having a go at the current coalition they forget that this week they made a coalition with the Tories to stop Lords Reform. Shame on Labour and the Conservatives who voted against the reforms.

Liberal Democrats want to see power more devolved instead of being restricted to a small number of rich families which are not representative.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Review of Theatre Studio West's Romeo and Juliet

I am no Shakespeare expert but when I was asked if I wanted to go to see Romeo and Juliet at Ealing's Questor's Theatre I said yes straight away.

The person who created this production, Julie Saunders, is someone who has oodles of energy and she really is someone who gives it all to making something work. I wasn't disappointed!

Questor's Theatre, Ealing

Just before the show started a number of teachers were checking all the kids, who had been invited, to see they were present and seated. Julie is someone who works with many local groups involving many kids and teens.

She really is someone who puts in so much to those who will follow her as the next generation.

I understood this would be no normal portrayal of Romeo & Juliet. When the lights dropped the music spoke volumes.

The steel drums game away a cultural influence that makes something safe into something that is more dynamic and lively.

The costumes were fantastic; bright, colourful and shone through. The age of the actors and actresses who spoke was as low as early teens to adults and it gave a real "tick in the box" that Ealing has so many good and young artists.

What came across was a different perspective of a story most people have seen or heard about, but the different language use, the youthfulness of the cast and the accents used to add humour to a serious subject, made the night well worth while.

If I was a judge on a TV entertainment panel show then I would give them 9 out of ten!