January 2017 Council Report

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Letting commuters know about Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan’s TfL fare freeze on the first day back to work this year

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas break and are looking forward to the first year since 2013 without any scheduled elections.

That doesn’t mean we won’t still be out campaigning and talking to residents about the issues that matter to them – far from it. We’re the kind of local Party that is in touch with people all year round, regardless of any upcoming votes.

As we work towards the 2018 elections, we are holding a borough-wide consultation with members and the public about our manifesto. A number of discussion documents are available to look at on the Ealing Labour website, along with a short questionnaire to feed in your ideas. Take a look and have your say at www.ealinglabour.com/manifesto2018

Council business

My final meeting of 2016 was Full Council, where the Tories once again showed what a pointless and ineffective opposition they are. Their motion attacking Sadiq’s TfL fares freeze was, essentially, a re-run of the arguments we had in May when London voted – and we know how that turned out.

I made a speech defending Sadiq’s promise to freeze TfL fares, and attacking the appalling record of broken promises from the previous Tory Mayor. Every time he promised not a penny of public money would be spent – on the cable car, on the garden bridge – he funnelled public cash into the project. Helpfully for my argument, it had been revealed a few days earlier that not only had Boris wasted money on water cannon that are illegal to use, but he’d spent £1,000 fitting CD players in them! Thank goodness he’s nowhere near any position of importance these days…

This week we also had OSC, where we had an update about changes to legislation following the Housing and Planning Act last year. The short update is that the government is taking its time deciding whether or not to actually implement the powers it now has on a wide range of topics – from bringing in so-called ‘starter homes’ (up to £450,000 in London) as part of developers obligation to provide affordable housing, to ‘flexible’ tenancies that would fundamentally change social housing.

We have previously had the power to introduce ‘flexible’ tenancies for new council tenants, but we have rejected this in the past in favour of offering lifetime secure tenancies as they are. Now it’s likely the government – under the guise of the ‘Localism Act’ will force councils to offer time-limited tenancies only. These would be a minimum of two years, and could be renewed – but remove the certainty that tenancies currently bring for those in social housing.

As yet there’s also scant detail on how the government will implement the forced sale of high-value council housing, and how we will be compensated for losing some of our most valuable housing stock, but ministers have indicated they will be pressing ahead with this in some form.

Finally, the beginning of the month saw the Council’s new landlord licensing scheme come into force. In Acton all landlords must be registered, and we hope the policy will lead to an improvement in the private rented sector – reducing anti-social behaviour like fly tipping and dumping associated with poorly managed tenancies, as well as bringing up the standards of properties on the market.

South Acton news

The terrible fire at the Aeronaut just half an hour into the new year takes one of the ward’s best loved pubs out of action. Thankfully, quick action by the staff meant no one was seriously hurt, and a number of people were rescued by officers from the police station next door rushing into the burning building to help. I’m really pleased to hear that Laine’s are keen to get the pub back in action as soon as they can, and have redeployed staff to other pubs so they can keep working and earning in the meantime.

Our next ward forum is on 22nd March – if there’s a local project you think could do with our support, or an unloved bit of the ward that could do with an injection of cash to spruce it up, let us know. The ward forum can recommend all sorts of projects to improve the ward so we’d love to hear your ideas.

November 2016 Council report

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Campaigning recently – we spoke to residents in Berrymead Gardens, Winchester St, Petersfield Road, Acton Lane and Gloucester Road

As always, we have a number remembrance services this month – unfortunately I’ve had to miss the first at Acton Care Centre due to family illness, but I’ll be at Ealing War Memorial this coming Remembrance Sunday. It’s so important to remember those who gave their lives in service of our country, and I’m proud to represent Acton at these events. This year I’ll also be attending the service at Acton High School.

Council business

Once again Full Council discussed the refugee crisis and Ealing’s desire to provide a safe home for children stuck in the Calais camp. Cllr Julian Bell gave a moving account of his visit to the camp, and there were sensitive contributions on all sides. The fact remains, however, that the Government’s delays in implementing the ‘Dubs amendment’ that offered help to unaccompanied children in the camp means that refugee children have suffered unnecessarily.

I’m pleased to say that as a result of our pressure, working with other Labour councils and campaign groups, we have finally been able to welcome a number of Dubs children to Ealing. They have fled the most terrible conditions in their home countries, and I hope our leafy borough will provide some solace for them.

Unfortunately I missed Health Scrutiny due to a clash with Planning, but it heard an important update about the NHS’s ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plan’ for north-west London. As ever the more innocuous the name, the more important the document. We and Hammersmith Council have refused to sign up to this Plan, which the Guardian covered in the summer, because it commits to implementing the downgrading of local A&Es and a loss of 500 beds across north-west London. At a time of growing demand for services, we can’t endorse these proposals, and with Hammersmith we have commissioned an independent review of the business case behind them: we will always stand up for our NHS and the vital local services our residents depend on.

In my role as a member of the Gunnersbury Museum and Park Development Trust, I’m also involved in fundraising for the restoration of the mansions and grounds at Gunnersbury Park. The wider funding climate for heritage is precarious and it is increasingly difficult to raise the large sums needed. As a result, Cabinet has noted a bid for additional capital investment of £900k – to be matched by Hounslow – to ensure works are completed.

South Acton news

One male has been arrested in relation to the incident on Winchester Street in mid-October. He has been charged with attempted murder. For obvious reasons further details are limited, but if I can share anything else I will keep you updated.

An encampment has appeared on the new school site in Acton Park. It’s just out of the ward but I know many residents are concerned this will lead to delays in building the new primary school – the children are currently co-habiting with Ark Priory on Acton Lane. As a result of a number of encampments over the summer the Council has a good deal of experience resolving these situations and processes are ongoing to secure the site.

We’ve had the results back from the second consultation on closing one end of Denehurst Gardens, following the successful scheme in Hillcrest. The first time round ended in an almost dead heat, so we felt it best to continue with the status quo so residents could see the impact on neighbouring streets before seeing if they’d changed their minds. The result this time is much clearer, and suggests we should go ahead with closing Denehurst at the junction with Uxbridge Road. A removable bollard is recommended for emergency access so there will be no impact on residents’ safety.

Finally, I’m pleased to say that the Education Funding Agency have responded to my request to meet with residents about the design of the new high school that will replace Acton college. There are concerns about how local roads will cope with any additional traffic, so hopefully these can be addressed at an early stage.

As ever, do get in touch with myself, Yvonne or Mik if you have any questions, problems or just want to chat!

With best wishes,
Josh, Yvonne and Mik

October Council report

Council business

I chaired Planning Committee in September, where applications ranged from a small development of four homes on an in-fill site on a residential street to a 24-storey tower at North Acton. We had a little excitement as protesters disrupted the meeting for a short while, and we also approved plans to bring Popefield playing field back into use for community sport.

At Health Scrutiny we had an update from West London Mental Health Trust following their very disappointing CQC inspection results last year. There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes to improve the Trust’s performance, and we’ll continue to monitor this. One problem they face is common across the public sector: the extraordinary cost of living in London and the continuing downward pressure on wages makes it hard to recruit the committed and skilled staff they need to perform well. Our continued investment in new homes in the borough – of all tenures – helps feed supply into the housing market, but we need Government action to really make a difference.

If you’ve been following the Heller House story, you’ll be pleased to hear that two alternative options for in-borough respite provision are due to be presented to Cabinet in November. Details aren’t yet available but this is thanks to the excellent campaigning of parents of vulnerable children who have spoken very movingly at OSC over the last few months.

Finally, work has started along The Mall as part of our ‘mini-Holland’ cycling scheme. This is going to cause some short-term traffic disruption until it’s finished, when we will have much better facilities between Ealing Common and Ealing Broadway. A huge proportion of all trips by car are under 2 miles, so providing safe infrastructure to encourage people out of cars and onto bikes is a real priority. The newly established Ealing Cycling Commission will be looking at further ways to make the borough more cycling friendly.

South Acton news

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Model of the current Acton Gardens masterplan, looking north from South Acton station

Work on the new estate masterplan has been finished, and the new version is now being consulted on with stakeholders before residents across the estate are updated on their new move dates and locations. The impetus for this work was feedback from residents that they wanted to remain close to where they already lived, that more residents were choosing to stay on the estate rather than move away, and general learning through the last four years of the current plan. If you’re affected, please get in touch and I can let you know more.

The Education Funding Agency has purchased the Acton college site to provide a new high school for Acton. This will be run by Ark as an academy, as local authorities are no longer allowed to open new maintained schools. Ark already run two primary schools – Byron and Priory – and feedback from parents is excellent. Opening in 2019, this will create much needed extra capacity to cope with a growth in the school age population that we’ve already catered for at primary level.

I attended the licensing service with Rupa for the new associate rector of Acton, Rev Dean Ayres, who’ll be based at All Saint’s with a remit to provide ministry to Acton Gardens. He’s well known in Ealing and has lived in Acton for a number of years already, so we’re looking forward to working with him.

As ever, do get in touch with myself, Yvonne or Mik if you have any questions, problems or just want to chat!

With best wishes,
Josh, Yvonne and Mik

September 2016 Council report

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Enjoying a fire rescue demonstration at the Acton Fire Station open day

While most of the media attention is focused on the current leadership election, we mustn’t forget the more important task of fighting for our communities and standing up to the Tory government.

I was particularly impressed in recent weeks with our Council leader Julian Bell visiting the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais, as part of an LGA delegation highlighting broken Tory promises on helping the ‘Dubs children’. These are children that, after a campaign by Labour peer Lord Dubs, the government promised to bring over the channel and unite with family already here. Very little has been done – and we as a Council are keen to do our part as soon as the government gives us a chance.

A Labour government would never make these vulnerable children wait a moment longer than necessary.

Council business

After a quiet summer, Council business is starting to get back to normal.

The final report from the Scrutiny committee on Child Sexual Exploitation of which I was vice-Chair is going before Cabinet, to consider our recommendations. As we discovered a lot of good work, these are light-touch but highlight the importance of continuing to work hard to discover, disrupt and prosecute CSE across Ealing, and work with partners both within and outside the borough as perpetrators (and victims) move around.

Our Children’s Services were recently inspected by Ofsted – you can read the full report here. All aspects were rated as at least Good, with our services for care leavers judged to be Outstanding. There are of course improvements to be made and an action plan is being drawn up to address these.

The first quarter performance indicators have been published, and we continue to do well at meeting important local objectives. Although not included in this tranche of statistics, it’s worth noting that we’ve seen another huge year-on-year increase in recycling rates in the second full month of the new waste arrangements.

South Acton news

The new Acton-wide 20mph speed limit has come into force, applying to all roads east of Hanger Lane except the A40. It’s a year-long trial and we’ll be measuring speeds and road casualties to help us decide whether to roll this out to the whole borough. Where this has been tried else where average speeds have dipped even without enforcement, as most drivers adjust to the new limit. This of course reduces the severity of any collisions – we all know that injuries are much less severe at 20mph than 30mph.

Officers are continuing to work through the flytipping issues and our new enforcement team are collecting lots of evidence to issue identified culprits with fines of up to £400. It’s a real shame that some residents don’t share our sense of neighbourhood pride and continue to litter – costing the rest of us money and resources that could be better invested elsewhere.

New FAQ documents have been produced for residents on the South Acton estate, clearing up some of the questions people have about the regeneration. These are available here but do bear in mind that everyone’s situation is unique, and for specific advice residents should get in touch with one of us or with Keith Mann, our independent residents’ advisor.

As ever, do get in touch with myself, Yvonne or Mik if you have any questions, problems or just want to chat!

With best wishes,
Josh, Yvonne and Mik

August 2016 Council report

Council business

August is usually a quiet month but it seems politics in 2016 doesn’t play by the usual rules!

The Tories called in Cabinet decisions on the redevelopment of Ealing Town Hall and temporary move from one side of Ealing Broadway shopping centre to the other for Ealing Central Library.

The Town Hall discussion focused mainly on access to facilities for community groups. Leader of the Council Julian Bell explained that we had secured a longer deal on low rates for community groups, that the injection of cash from a third-party would secure the building for future generations and there is no threat to the civic and democratic functions that would continue in a refurbished east wing of the building. All parties there supported the principle of development, and in the end with a steer to those negotiating the final deal that an even longer period of guaranteed charges for community users, the decision was allowed to stand.

Much of the discussion on the Library was held in private session, as it concerned the financial details of the deal with British Land to finance the move across the courtyard. The new location will be smaller, with fewer books – but with a much better layout, and stock focused on material that is actually borrowed, and at no cost to the Council, this is a good deal for a temporary move before a new library can be provided on the Perceval House site.

The first results of the new waste collection system have come in. In June we saw a year-on-year increase from 48% recycling to a whopping 55%. If we can continue this performance, it will vindicate the move to alternate weekly collection. As a reminder, the Tories believed it would have no impact on recycling whatsoever – despite all the existing evidence to the contrary. It remains to be seen whether they now accept we have done the right thing to save over £2m a year in landfill charges and other associated costs.

South Acton news

Despite the excellent new recycling rates noted above, the changeover to the new waste collection system has pushed a few existing issues to the fore. We are working closely with officers and our contractors to provide better waste management for flats (particularly HMOs and above shops), investigate and deal with some flytipping hotspots and littering across Acton.

Firstly, visits are being made where households aren’t currently conforming to the new service. This may be by leaving bins on pavements or presenting black sacks alongside bins, but these education visits are invaluable in making sure residents are aware of how to use the service.

Additional resource is being provided by Kingdom Security to identify flytippers by sorting through rubbish, and warnings are being issued. These can and will be followed up with fines for persistent offenders – up to £400.

The regular Acton Gardens Community Board had a useful update on rent levels following concerns from some residents that new homes would be unaffordable. Despite the Tory definition of “affordable rent” being up to 80% of market value, I’m pleased to say L&Q’s rents (L&Q are the housing association involved) are ‘target’ rents – based on income. Combined with housing benefit, this means that rents when residents move from council to L&Q properties remain actually affordable.

Finally, enforcement visits have begun on the problem HMOs in the Avenue Road area, after the period allowed to make adjustments to comply with our various notices has expired. There has undoubtedly been improvement, but feedback from residents is that there may still be breaches. These will be investigated and appropriate action taken – I’ve asked for us all to be kept up to date with findings.

As ever, do get in touch with myself, Yvonne or Mik if you have any questions, problems or just want to chat!

With best wishes,
Josh, Yvonne and Mik

July 2016 Council Report

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The stormy weather on 23rd June, seen from Barwick House – presaging the result?

A strong local result to Remain last month was overshadowed by the national picture – something to remind us of last May, I suppose!

It’s clear that many of the economic warnings before the vote about the risks of leaving the EU are coming true: a friend of mine runs a small business that is now at risk, and in my day job we face uncertainty about  future EU research funding and EU student recruitment.

As a Council we receive grant funding from the EU – and it’s obviously unclear if some of the infamous “£350m a week” will make its way back to Ealing: we may face further cuts to our budget. And as you know from my previous reports, by opening the borough to business and building new homes we’ve managed to freeze council tax and invest new money in services: this growth is now at risk, too, from the economic uncertainty.

On a sad note, I would like to pay a warm tribute to Jo Cox. I was in Tooting campaigning in the by-election on 16 June and the news as it came through was utterly heart breaking. She was a fantastic new MP, and will be much missed.

Council business

With the referendum purdah period disrupting council business, there’s not been as much happening for me this month as usual.

At Overview and Scrutiny Committee we discussed the call-in of the Parking Strategy and CPZ Consultation papers. As usual, the Tories were unhappy that we intend to ask residents their views.

The new CPZ programme will actively identify areas where there is high parking stress, through surveys of usage. Currently, we consult residents on an ad hoc basis as a result of requests. The new process will ensure limited resources are targeted effectively where a CPZ can make a real difference.

The Tory councillor who’d called in these items, however, left the meeting before we reached our conclusion – which was to reject the call-in.

Cabinet have agreed a developer for Ealing Town Hall, which will create a hotel in the unused and unloved spaces of the building while preserving the civic areas for future generations. Some parts of the interior are in quite a state, so to have someone other than residents pay for the work is a real bonus!

It was also agreed to implement the private rented licensing scheme that I’ve mentioned before. This will secure better quality of accommodation for renters, and ensure that some of the problems associated with HMOs can be more effectively tackled.

Next week, full Council debates the updated ‘corporate plan’ – essentially, the detailed implementation of our manifesto. We’ve made excellent progress in the last two years at fulfilling our political priorities even while the Tory government has tried to frustrate us.

In 2015/16, we built 158 council homes with 198 more on site or in contract; we helped hundreds of residents into employment, helped nearly a thousand gain qualifications and delivered 126 apprenticeships. The full report is here (PDF), and I hope to speak in the debate on Tuesday 19th. Having a Labour Council makes a real difference to people’s lives, and we must never shy away from emphasising that.

South Acton news

The ward is just as busy as ever, with good turnout at the ward forum the evening before the referendum vote. We inevitably discussed the wheelie-bin roll-out, which despite some teething problems as residents and collection crews get used to the new system is working well overall.

We met the local police team to discuss what’s been going on in the ward and updates on previous incidents. Theft from motor vehicles continues to be a problem, and the police have launched Operation Titan to combat it. Please make sure you keep valuables out of sight to reduce opportunistic smash-and-grab.

Drugs and anti-social behaviour continue to be a major focus of our neighbourhood team; recently they’ve supported the Council in evicting a household who had been causing misery for their neighbours.

Finally, we will soon be saying goodbye to Sgt Snaith who’s led the Safer Neighbourhood Team so successfully. He’ll be tough to replace, but we’ll be making sure his successor is as committed to the ward as he has been.

We continue to press the developer to move forward with the old library cinema plans; the old Town Hall development is progressing nicely; after Waitrose pulled out of the Oaks due to uncertainty in the retail market we’re waiting confirmation of the new anchor tenant(s) – a retailer of a similar profile is promised.

As ever, do get in touch with myself, Yvonne or Mik if you have any questions, problems or just want to chat!

With best wishes,
Josh, Yvonne and Mik

June 2016 Council report

 

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The LabourIN battle bus came to Acton this month

The clock is ticking in the EU referendum. It’s vital that we remain in Europe or risk huge damage to our economy. With fears of Brexit wiping £30bn off the stock markets – which harms pension funds and risks jobs – in just one day, it’s clear that a vote to leave will cause real pain for those who can least afford it.

Council business

The meeting of Full Council on 7th June was mostly uneventful – we approved a new licensing policy for the borough, but the bulk of the meeting were debates. We discussed Heller House again: everyone agrees that the site is unsuitable and better respite care can be provided. We are looking at the ‘third option’ of redeveloping the site to provide respite care in borough, but those currently receiving it would still need to access care elsewhere in the interim. We are working closely with families to ensure they have the care they need.

I had hoped to speak on our motion about our fantastic local schools and against forced academisation, but last minute advice was that my wife’s employment as a teacher in the borough meant I could have a pecuniary interest and should leave the chamber.

At Health Scrutiny we heard early plans for transformation of mental health services, including a new ‘single point of access’ that makes it easier to access care. The project is a collaboration between the CCG, WLHMT and the Council, and I was pleased to hear in response to my question that on our side we are being open and contributing well to the development of the plans. I did stress the need to work with all parts of the Council and not just Adults Services – others on the committee pointed out the excellent work that special schools do, so it’s about joining up as many dots as possible.

Our regular Planning training covered recent updates to legislation and neighbourhood planning. The new ‘starter homes’ – which could cost up to £450,000 in London – are particularly worrying, as we will have a duty to promote them as part of the affordable housing component of new schemes. We currently make sure that developers provide homes for social rent and some for part-ownership, but this new category makes  a mockery of the ‘affordable’ label and will in practice mean far fewer homes that ordinary working families can afford to live in.

Finally, we recently had a ‘peer review’ of the Council by the Local Government Association. The headline finding is that, despite the enormous pressure on our budget from Tory austerity, “Ealing is a high performing council…The council is doing great things for its community.”

South Acton news

We had a tour of some of the new homes being built as part of the South Acton estate regeneration, after one of the regular Community Board meetings. These are high quality new homes, and the latest planning application included more affordable homes than originally envisaged in the master plan.

The problems we’ve had with HMOs in the Avenue Road area have returned with a number of complaints about fly tipping, but we’re following up with enforcement officers to sort this out. I’m also dealing with a dumping problem on Fordhook Avenue which has been going on for some time.

Overall the introduction of the new collection scheme has gone very well. There have been a few glitches but the number of problems we’ve had to intervene to sort out has been minimal. Please do remember that food waste is still collected weekly from your brown caddy – this is the best way to minimise waste and ensure the system works smoothly.

Our next ward forum is on Weds 22nd June at the Armenian centre on Mill Hill Road, starting at 7pm. There’s plenty on the agenda and as always it would be good to see you there – the ward forum can suggest ideas for spending some of our budget on local projects.

With best wishes,
Josh, Yvonne and Mik