Pygmies Rule OK

A Lancashire lass from Upholland running EU foreign policy – it’s doesn’t get any better than that. And no-one from one of the big hitters of Europe actually becoming President of the EU is OK too. Thankfully war criminal, perma-tanned Tony didn’t get the gig.

At the Gilbert & Sullivanesque Royal Opening of Parliament this week two political pygmies made stunning speeches. Labour MPs Frank Dobson and Emily Thornberry made sincere, amusing and passionate addresses. These must have bought tears to the eyes of those Old Labour Party members, who have felt washed up onto the beach for years. During these speeches the Labour Front Bench couldn’t help but laugh at the jokes but one good look at Gordon and his cohort’s faces reminded us all why a tired and weary Labour leadership will not get re-elected. They already look like yesterday’s people. Dobson and Thornberry came across as believable – a label one couldn’t apply to any of the Labour Front Bench.

WEN is a pygmy too. Formed just four years ago this month, it is just 313 members out of a total West Ealing population of 30,000. However WEN has helped a lot of residents in those four years. We provide a local news and information service and we have quite a few ongoing projects. Our three year role in helping to save Ealing’s antique lampposts has been considerable. Our Abundance project anticipated by over 12 months the Ealing Transition Town initiative which formally launches this month. The work that has already gone into improving pedestrian safety at the Lido Junction has been considerable and we are prepared for a long battle on this front. WEN has invested significant resources in attempting, with others, to save the centre of Ealing. We are also trying very hard to ensure that a redeveloped Green Man Lane Estate is not a gated, densely populated version of what is to be demolished. And, if ever built, we are working hard to ensure that the new Crossrail West Ealing Station is fit for purpose.

Eric Leach
A Lancashire Lad

20th November, 2009

National Debt at £824.8 billion; Government Borrowing at £12.8 billion/month; is this really the time for ‘Development’ and ‘Growth’?

Put simply what our National Debt actually means is that every man, woman and child in this country ‘owes’ over £13,000. We found out in October that Green Man Lane Estate redevelopment will cost £137 million. The money appears to be coming from A2Dominion, who receive £150 million funding each year from the UK Government. My question is then that given this is our money (or more correctly money borrowed on our behalf by our Government) should we really be spending it in this way or at all? We can’t as a nation (or as individuals) carry on living on ever increasing debt.

Some more numbers (from the Office of National Statistics) to weep over – UK Government borrowing for this financial year will exceed £175 billion; our National Debt is 59% of the UK GDP; and public sector borrowing for the six months to September 2009 was £77.3 billion – the largest mid-year deficit ever recorded since records began in 1946.

Ealing’s new draft Local Development Framework Core Strategy paints a picture of 14,115 new homes being built in Ealing over the next 17 years. If GMLE’s 738 new homes are going to cost £137 million, it will cost someone £2.6 billion to build all these new homes. Just where will this money come from? Do the public and private sectors think they can borrow it? If so, from whom?

Peak Oil and Climate Change are impending, growing problems largely ignored by governments in all countries and at all levels. When the oil price reached almost $150/barrel last year, the price of fertilizer doubled. Pundits are now declaring that we have now passed Peak Oil (ie oil supplies are now diminishing) and are predicting a $200/barrel oil price in 2013. This is likely to treble current prices for fertilizers. Just think what that will do to food prices. It will also bring about a sharp increase in the price of all oil based products and services or oil fuelled manufactured products or services (covers most things).

And just suppose that the recovery from recession never comes….

Eric Leach
4th November, 2009

Ealing’s Local Development Framework, 27th October 2009

Last night I attended a well run and well attended Hanwell Community Forum (HCF) meeting. The only item on the agenda was Ealing’s LDF and Ealing Council’s Steve Barton was in attendance as main presenter. Steve, an Ealing resident, is Interim Planning Policy Manager for the Council.

HCF’s Carolyn Brown opened the meeting with a short overview on Ealing’s LDF draft Core Strategy. This was most useful to the audience and was sadly lacking from the four previous Council organised LDF Public Consultation meetings. Also well worth noting is that HCF, a volunteer run organisation, managed to attract over 40 resident attendees. This was in contrast to the resident turnout at the Council’s organised meetings in Southall (20 residents) and Greenford (32 residents) – both much larger towns. It does lead one to wonder exactly on what the Council spends its annual £3 million publicity budget.

Steve’s presentation has really moved on since his first stab at this on 9th September 2009. His speech was peppered with references to how the draft LDF Core Strategy would be rejected by National Government in its current state. However the irony of this failing document set being seemingly suitable for 240,000 Ealing adults to review is seemingly lost on him.

He still bangs on about it being a short strategy document at 150 pages what in fact it’s over 300 pages long. He still continues to be confused about the development sites for the 10,000+ flats 800 metres from Crossrail Stations being already ’approved’. Take the central area of Ealing. Here we have 19 acres of putatively ‘approved’ development sites at Dickens Yard, Arcadia and Green Man Lane Estate (GMLE). Of this 19 acres less that 5 acres is ‘approved’ – at Dickens Yard only. Arcadia is the subject of a Government Public Inquiry and GMLE is at least 4 months away from an initial Planning Application.

His line on existing housing estates was to ‘knock’em down before they fell down’. This is an interesting concept and one that residents can’t easily challenge. GMLE, for example, is only 31 years old and Copley Close is even younger. One can certainly a say that over the years the maintenance at these estates has been poor. My house like 1,000s of others in Ealing is 100 years old.

The failure to include any details of social and community infrastructure to support the new 25,000+ residents was explained away by saying that a background paper on the topic would be published on the Council’s web site in Spring 2010. He said later in the meeting that there is no Local Government cash available (see below) and made the laudable commitment to not build on open green space (see below). One is then left with a large slice of unbelief about the prospect of new schools, healthcare centres, Police Stations, sport, culture and community facilities in general ever being built.

Only 45 New Homes in Central Hanwell by 2026
However the elephant in the room soon made its presence felt. Ealing’s draft LDF Core Strategy is primarily about new housing in the so-called Uxbridge Road/Crossrail Corridor. Well Hanwell gets away almost completely unscathed with just 45 new homes being built in and around Hanwell Station/Hanwell centre.

Questions were raised about social housing and the answers from Steve were a bit wishy washy. He was very explicit about there being no Local Government money for almost anything and that all the money would have to come from property developers or National Government. (With the National Debt at £824.8 billion I kind of rejected the latter option and with property developers laying off 1,000s of staff and declaring big losses the former option doesn’t look great either).

Crossrail Might Be Delayed
He was a bit iffy about Crossrail – feeling that it might be delayed and confirming that if it was then housing developments would be similarly delayed. Complaints were made about only two Crossrail trains /day stopping each way at Hanwell Station. Not all Ealing Council’s fault but after all they are supposed to represent our interests so they must shoulder some of the blame.

There were some statements made about ‘designated frontages’ which appeared to be about confining retail to specific areas. There was some colourful geographic language about Hinterlands and north/south transport improvements but Steve cold showered the latter with ‘..but who will provide the funds’.

There seemed to be some consensus about the viable transport future being all about public transport, cycling and walking. Another elephant came into the room at this point – Peak Oil – but its name never got mentioned. A resident called for a Cycling Superhighway but Steve attempted to duck that one.

Climate Change was batted into The London Plan corner as though it wasn’t a local issue.

A retired Park Ranger resident described his dislike of ‘land swap’ deals, whereby public land is ‘swapped’ for possibly less valuable/usable private land. He quoted examples and said that the net loss had not been mitigated. Steve was silent on this point. The resident was also critical that Ealing Council was already one year late in carrying out its promised footpath survey.

Peak Oil Seemingly Not an Issue
Steve eulogised about the Ealing Tories’ commitment to retaining and possibly enhancing Ealing’s green space. Quite where new schools, health centres, Police Stations, cultural and sports facilities were to built – if not on green space – was not mentioned. If we have already reached Peak Oil I can see people suggesting parts of Hanwell’s large green spaces being converted to allotments to grow food well before 2026.

Local historian David Black was disappointed that Heritage considerations had not even been mentioned. This was especially unfortunate given the amount of Heritage in Hanwell. All Steve could do was apologise about this.

Finally, there weren’t any MPs, prospective MPs; regeneration Directors or Councillors at the meeting. Maybe these absences reflect Ealing Council management team’s level of interest in the future of Hanwell.

Feedback on the draft Ealing LDF Core Strategy will still be considered but it must arrive at Steve’s office by Friday 6th November.

Eric Leach
28th October, 2009

Ealing’s Local Development Framework, 22nd October 2009

West Ealing Neighbours (WEN) made its LDF submission on 16th October, 2009. You can read it on our Local Development Framework web page. There’s also a summary of our main points on our News web page. I submitted my own personal submission on 10th October 2009. The 159 questions and options I answered in hard copy form, as I couldn’t work out how I could submit my answers, option selections and comments on-line and at the same time generate my own copy. I delivered my response by hand to Perceval House. Twelve days later I still have not received an acknowledgement that Ealing Council Planning Policy has even received my response – never mind read or responded to it.

My free form text submission is just 10 pages long and if you’d like a copy just email me at eric@leachet.demon.co.uk.and and I’ll email you a copy. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have copies of the LDF responses from Kingsdown Residents Association, Save Ealing’s Centre and Ealing Transition. It doesn’t surprise me that all of these responses are very critical of the Ealing LDF draft Core Strategy and the LDF Public Consultation process as a whole.

Although we have passed the official deadline for Ealing LDF draft Core Strategy responses, Ealing Council’s Steve Barton is ever willing to talk to residents about the strategy. To this end, Hanwell Community Forum has organised for Steve to address Hanwell residents on Ealing’s LDF. The meeting is open to the public and if you haven’t yet attended an LDF meeting, try and get along there. It’s taking place on Tuesday 27th October 2009 at St Thomas the Apostle Church on 182, Boston Road, Hanwell W7 2AD starting at 7:45pm. I hope to attend and write up my notes on the meeting.

Ealing Council’s draft LDF Core Strategy got a boost on 7th October 2009 when Mayor Boris announced that he wouldn’t interfere in the Dickens Yard housing estate planning application that Ealing Council approved on 5th November 2008. Yes…. governments often work very slowly. So 698 flats (and 20 small shops) can sometime be expected to appear behind Ealing Town Hall and in the ‘Uxbridge Road/Crossrail Corridor’ so beloved by the Ealing Council planners and regeneration suits. So…only 13,417 more homes to build by 2016! One wonders whether property developer St George has the money (or can borrow the money) to build the 105 metre wide and 15 storey high housing monstrosity.

Eric Leach
22nd October, 2009

Ealing’s Local Development Framework, 6th October 2009

Ealing Civic Society’s (ECS) Judy Harris has just pointed out to me that there are two Comment Forms in the LDF document set. I’ve just downloaded the second ‘one’. It’s a feedback form on the Core Strategy itself (which LBE confusingly calls its Development Strategy. It’s 18 pages long.

So we now have in total 326 pages in the LDF document set and 159 questions to answer and options to review. Judy told me that it took her TWO WEEKS to complete the two Comment Forms. Quite extraordinary.

I attended a meeting today in Perceval House with ECS, WEN, Rydon (builders), A2Dominion (property developer) and Conran (architects). The meeting was about the regeneration of the 10 acre Green Man Lane Estate (GMLE) in central West Ealing. No-one from LBE’s elected or salaried Regeneration teams attended this meeting. Maybe they were worried that one of us would ask them to explain the comment about GMLE regeneration on page of 25 the LDF Development Strategy document – ‘…. contributing to the regeneration of the West Ealing Broadway’.

Just 10 days to go to the feedback deadline. I wonder if anyone else will answer/review all the 159 questions/options?

Eric Leach
6th October 2009

Ealing’s Local Development Framework, 1st October 2009

Last night the fourth and final 2009 Ealing LDF Public Consultation meeting was held in the hall of the Parish Church of St Mary’s in the centre of Acton. Around 40 local residents attended. Councillors Cameron, Millican, Seemar, Kumar and Rose attended. Angie Bray, who is highly likely to be Acton’s next MP, was also there. However the LBE big gun who surprisingly attended and participated was the Director in charge of the Property, Regeneration and Planning teams – Berkshire resident, Brendon Walsh.

LBE’s Steve Barton admitted to the whole audience that if the September 2009 Ealing LDF Core Strategy document set as is were to be submitted to the National Government’s Planning Inspectorate in Bristol, it would be rejected. He accepted that the lack of evidence and details on the new social and community facilities to support the 20,000 to 30,000 new residents over the next 17 years would trigger this rejection. (Later in our group session I pointed out the irony of the 308 pages being not fit for National Government but fit for Ealing residents to review).

The three groups of residents came up with similar conclusions to virtually all the groups at the previous meetings in Ealing centre, Greenford and Southall:

Residents are clearly uncertain as to why and how Ealing should entertain more residents. In fact why does Ealing have to house many more than Harrow, Hammersmith & Fulham and Hounslow? If this immigration into Ealing has to be imposed by Government why house these incomers in tall residential tower blocks in the heavily built up areas around Acton, Ealing, West Ealing and Southall stations? Residents don’t want these tower blocks. If new residents have to come to Ealing, build residential communities for them with social and community facilities built either before they arrive or as the homes are being built. Families need houses not flats. Shouldn’t Climate Change, Peak Oil and sustainability issues be at the heart of this Core Strategy – not something tagged onto the back of it? Why no definition of the height of ‘Tall Landmark’ buildings? Re-use empty properties instead of knocking them down. Why no evidence of alternative strategies having been entertained – and why no audit trail as to why these alternatives were rejected?

Acton issues highlighted include:

No mention of the 25 metre Green Corridor along both sides of Western Avenue. The car parking chaos caused by large numbers of Carphone Warehouse staff parking in residential streets fanning out from Gypsy Corner. The existing and likely worsening pollution for residents living close to Park Royal. Some of the plans for Park Royal look suspiciously just like what the Park Royal Partnership (of industrialists) want. We have plenty of landmark buildings in Acton – there’s no need for any more. Our GPs and schools are up to capacity already – there’s no way we can take more residents in Acton.

LBE’s Steve Barton admitted that LBE had failed to give residents who participated in the 2007 LDF consultation any feedback at all. He promised that this would not happen with this 2009 exercise. He conceded that the publicising of these four Public Consultation meetings had not been good.

As I appear to be that only Ealing resident to have attended all four of these meetings I’m well placed to make some observations. Even accepting that some residents attended more than one meeting, the total number of residents who attended these meetings is around160. Out of an adult population of 240,000 this attendance is very poor. We’ll never know just how many residents would have attended if publicity had been good. But let me give you all a local, recent metric to compare it with:

In 2006 the newly formed Save Ealing’s Centre (SEC) alliance organised and publicised a public meeting on town centre development In Ealing Town Hall on the 29th November. Over 300 residents came to that meeting.

If a bunch of volunteers can organise one meeting with 300 attending and a £billion public organisation can’t get half that number to four meetings – you begin to ask yourself whether the public organisation actually wanted lots of residents to attend these public meetings……

Soon we’ll publish on this blog my own personal set of comments on the 2006 Ealing LDF Core Strategy Public Consultation. I hope you get chance to read them and find them useful.

You still have till 16th October, 2009 to submit your comments. I’ll sure Steve still has some copies of the documents for you to purchase.

Eric Leach
2nd October, 2009

Ealing’s Local Development Framework, 26th September 2009

Ealing Council’s web site Home Page is featuring – as its main news story – an Ealing Council press release ‘Acton residents called up for Town Hall team’ (PR 19, dated 24th September, 2009). The story invites Acton residents ‘…to get involved and help shape the future of Acton’. These words come from the mouth of the Council’s Regeneration supremo Councillor David Millican. It is he who is the elected Member responsible for the Local Development Framework (LDF)

What the release does not allude to – incredibly – is the LDF Public Consultation meeting taking place in Acton in just five days time (7:00pm , St Mary’s Church, The Mount, Acton, Thursday 1st October) at which the future of Acton 2011 to 2026 will be publicly debated.

Doesn’t the Publicity Department talk to Cabinet Councillors? Doesn’t the Planning Department talk to the Publicity Department? Doesn’t the Regeneration Team talk to the Publicity Department etc, etc – you get the picture. It would appear that they don’t.

So far of out of 240,000 adult residents in Ealing, only 120 or so have turned up at the three LDF Public Consultation meetings. This is a publicity failure of massive proportions or – even worse – it suggests that Council bosses don’t want residents to attend these meetings.

Eric Leach
26th September, 2009

Ealing’s Local Development Framework, 25th September 2009

Unofficial estimates of Southall’s population are a staggering 150,000 people. Even the ONS 2001 census pegs the population at over 100,000. Life expectancy is lower than in any other part of Ealing; deprivation is not uncommon; and unofficial estimates of population density are typified by three bedroom homes each housing 7 to10 people.

Against this backdrop just 20 residents attended the Ealing LDF Public Consultation meeting held in Southall last night. I cannot believe that the other 70,000 or 100,000 adults in Southall are not interested in Southall’s future. This abject turnout must be blamed on Ealing Council’s failure to publicise this meeting either at all or certainly effectively.

Ealing’s elected Regeneration supremo Councillor David Millican and Southall’s Councillor Singh attended the meeting.

All the residents were very unhappy about the Southall Gas Works site Planning Application. The major gripes are about infrastructure and access. Many thought that if the application succeeded and the 2,618 home are built, it would ruin Southall forever. The 90 acre triangular site directly to the south west of Southall town centre could be home for over 18,000 people. However the site is ‘locked’ on its three sides by the railway, the canal and the massively congested town centre. A new road(s) is needed – before any homes are built – to provide access to and from Hayes. If access is only to and from Southall town centre then mayhem will be the result. Residents talked about asbestos and arsenic contamination on the site. The site has been the former home to three chemical companies and during WWII it contained an aircraft fuel storage depot.

We of course broke up into three round table groups.

In my group the point was well made that Ealing Hospital in Southall was built 30 years ago to serve 180,000 to 200,000 residents. It now attempts to serve over 300,000 Ealing residents. We clearly need an additional hospital. The amount of open space in Southall is small and more must be created. All four State Primary Schools in Southall only have tarmac playgrounds and no grassed play areas. The 5.2 acres Glade Lane space immediately east of the centre was highlighted. It is currently three feet deep in fly-tipped material. In 2004 it was estimated that it would cost £1.6 million to clear the site. If this site was cleared it might make an excellent site for a Park and Ride scheme. Poor North/South public transport was discussed as was the biomass energy plant. 1,600 wrote objecting to the plant Planning Application on the Gas Works site and Ealing Council turned the application down. However Council Officers seem confident that the Government will ‘call in’ that decision.

The summaries of another group questioned what contingency plans the Council had if the population increase estimates proved to be under-estimates. He also made the general point about current and future pollution levels exceeding European limits and attracting fines – beginning in just a few months time.

The summing up by the last group really hit the spot with me and other residents and caused consternation amongst Council representatives. I’ll paraphrase his tour de force:

‘Southall residents are interested primarily in improving their quality of life. Five years ago 250 residents sat in this very hall and loudly objected to attempts to sell them on an even bigger and denser Gas Works site proposal. Many Council proposals had been floated over the years but none of them have been implemented. We need more community facilities not fewer. Public facilities are being sold off to the private sector, and they should not be. Local plans should be drawn up by local people. Ask the people of Southall what they want and they’ll tell you. We’ve told you before that we want sports facilities, health facilities, solutions to the traffic gridlock, measures to reduce violence and drug taking, activity centres for young people…’ At this point Councillor Millican objected and said that the speaker was voicing his own views and not the views of the group…another resident disputed this…the original resident started up again and Ealing Council’s Interim Planning Policy Manager Steve Barton attempted to curtail the speaker.. but he went on…until he finally gave up. Residents clapped him.

Eric Leach
Vice-Chair WEN
25th September, 2009

Ealing’s Local Development Framework, 24th September 2009

Last night’s West Ealing Neighbours (WEN) monthly committee meeting was almost completely devoted to Ealing’s Local Development Framework Public Consultation. exercise.

Public Consultation Document Set ‘Grows’ to 308 Pages

On 8th September when I spent two hours getting hold of the LDF papers, one of the documents – ‘Background Papers 5: Community Consultation & Evidence Base Audit Trail’ – was 15 pages long. Last night David Highton, WEN’s Chair put on the table a document with exactly the same cover but this document was 91 pages long! This strongly suggests to me that four days into the formal Public Consultation period (starting 4th September) the full LDF document set was not actually available.

What it also means that the LDF is not as I first counted up on 9th September 232 pages long but is indeed 308 pages long.

The substantially ‘new’ 91 page document attempts to describe earlier Ealing LDF proposals; resident LDF responses; and Ealing Council’s reasoning and evidence for current LDF ‘thinking’.

I spent a couple of hours this morning attempting to read and assimilate the contents of this document. It really is impenetrable. It alludes to historical resident feedback evidence which is not made available and some of which is questionable.

In some sections under ‘Related Issues and Options’ there are SIXTEEN different document references to consult.

However a 19 line reference to Green Man Lane Estate on page 43 took my breath away. This entry doesn’t tell us that this is up to 10 acres of public land which the Council has decided to sell off to a development consortium. It does tell us that it’s going to be housing only and that all the West Ealing residents’ feedback is this is what they want.

WEN has publicly campaigned for two years for this land to be re-used to benefit the whole West Ealing centre community. We have endlessly proposed a mixed use development; involving the extension/relocation/rebuild of St John’s Primary School; and incorporating healthcare, law and order and a variety of social and community facilities. We have urged the positive involvement of the Islamic centre, the residents and traders in West Ealing; the grasping of the opportunity to re-purpose the roads on the northern border to eliminate regular road rage; and to constructively involving with Felix, Alexandria, Endsleigh and Eccleston Road residents. None of this gets a mention.

However, the most brazen statement reads:

‘This acknowledges consultation feedback that higher density development is appropriate in accessible, edge of town centre locations and the development industy’s identification of need for site-specific flexibility to respond to changing viability and market demand’.

I cannot imagine any resident mouthing the words ‘…higher density development is appropriate in accessible, edge of town locations….’ but the second half of the sentence has the dull thud of truth. They confirm my long held belief that the sector which wields the most power in socially re-engineering our lives is property developers.

LDF Documents not Available in Public Libraries:

On 22nd September I visited the opening of the refurbished West Ealing Library. It’s brighter; has more computer screens; and features toilets. I asked a group of four Library staff if I could view the Local Development Framework Public Consultation documents. They all had no idea what I was talking about and had no idea what these documents were and whether they had a set for viewing. As I wrote on September 14th a friend of mine had an almost identical response at Hanwell Library on 12th September.

Off to Southall tonight for the third LDF consultation meetings. I’ll probably pop into the Library first to view the documents….

Eric Leach
24th September, 2009