Local election campaigns don't take precedence over residents' needs: Councillor Joanna Biddolph on the stark choice residents face on 5th May
The three of us in Chiswick Gunnersbury ward are heavily into campaigning for the local election on 5th May. Behind the scenes there's a lot of counting (leaflets to put into bundles by road to be delivered by us, our supporters, friends, family); digging out rubber bands (saved from jars, bunches of flowers and mostly the postman); and WhatsApp chats about who is going to do what when (so much faster than by phone call).
Our opponents are working the ward much harder than before - just think of the coup if they were to achieve a win by the cabinet member responsible for the disastrous and unwelcome road closures, the bodged and dangerous C9 cycleway, and the confusing and revenue-raising South Chiswick (un)Liveable Neighbourhood scheme in Grove Park all of which have badly affected residents in all Chiswick wards, as our email inboxes prove. Our manifesto pledge is to review these – and future – controversial schemes and work with TfL to revise and improve safer cycling infrastructure to ensure it works for the community. For the community – the many, not the few.
Yet more changes to come
Reporting for the many, word reached me last week of several encounters between local residents and Labour's Cllr Hanif Khan. Take note, please. What you see now is not what you will get. There's even worse to come. You think Turnham Green Terrace is safe from closure? Nope. Cllr Khan was very clear: Turnham Green Terrace would “have to be revisited in the future.” It's not just that Labour is determined to close it to traffic and remove all the parking, it wants to demolish the row of single storey shops that give it so much character and charm and build an identikit terrace of taller buildings (presumably to provide Labour's trademark shoe-box sized flats).
Devonshire Road is at risk, too. As revealed to a local last week, the current arrangement is to be reviewed immediately after the election in a consultation that will only, apparently, include residents and businesses along Devonshire Road – ignoring residents of the Glebe Estate. I will, of course, press for a professional and wider consultation not a limited survey.
It's clear. After over two years of divisive, dogma-driven disruption, what does Labour want? More of it. As Cllr Khan's Tweets reveal, "We are ready to bring the necessary change to Chiswick Gunnersbury"; "Together we can bring the change to Chiswick Gunnersbury"; "Change is coming for Chiswick Gunnersbury"; "Change brings opportunities for you. It's time to embrace that change."; and "It’s time for a change in this ward for a cleaner, greener & healthier Chiswick Gunnersbury."
He's not talking about a change in councillors; he's talking about imposing yet more changes in a town we moved to because we liked it - then stayed because we continued to like it.
A change in councillors would mean … more change to come and no voices speaking on behalf of the community. On that point, Labour appears genuinely shocked when it hears residents saying what we councillors have been saying. Unlike them, we do not promote our own views; we represent our residents' views.
As a reminder, this is the map showing all the low traffic neighbourhoods approved by the Labour cabinet and which we have no doubt will be implemented soon after the election. Nowhere in Chiswick, apart from our open spaces, is excluded.
Democracy is dead, bring back democracy – our manifesto pledges
Published nearly two weeks ago, our manifesto makes 50 pledges responding directly to residents' and retailers' concerns. I've lost count of the number of people who have said, "democracy is dead in Hounslow". We want to bring back democracy by cleaning-up local politics – reducing the number of councillors who receive extra, special responsibility, allowances (some new, others existed but now have enhanced payments, to shore up Hounslow Labour’s wobbly leadership); reviewing the strong leader model against the committee-based model; and putting residents and retailers at the heart of local decision-making by having more public forums. We'll publish casework numbers and meeting attendance, too – you need to know how hard-working your local representatives are.
Chiswick residents should have had our Chiswick Matters leaflet highlighting some of our 50 pledges; if you haven't, please let one of us know. Residents in the Gunnersbury Park area will soon have their bespoke leaflet. The full manifesto is here.
Working for you
Looking back to 2018 when all three of us in Turnham Green ward were elected for the first time, I see a council term of two halves: our pre-pandemic actions have been largely forgotten. From campaigning against massive developments including the Chiswick Curve then Holly House, the Fourth Mile at the B&Q site, 250 Gunnersbury Avenue opposite B&Q, the enormous Bollo Lane proposal and others; to tackling the slew of waste that greeted residents of the Gunnersbury Park Garden Estate (GPGE) most mornings; to calling for involvement of local residents in the management of Gunnersbury Park - all that early work seems very distant. We've provided a brief list of some of our successes on our Chiswick Gunnersbury ward website here.
Just as the three of us received what seemed to us to be a deluge of casework soon after being elected, it's flooding in again now – and, of course, it's being raised on the doorstep as we go round canvassing.
Worrying incidents of trips and falls because pavements are so uneven; streetlights that haven't worked for months and others that stay on 24 hours a day (think of the wasted money, as energy costs increase); anti-social behaviour and poor waste management at houses in multiple occupation (HMOs); families on benefits who can't afford to pay for the removal of household stuff such as mattresses, furniture, white goods even though charges to them are lower.
We have pledged to reintroduce weekly rubbish collections and improve the borough's stagnant recycling rates. I'm very much taken by Wandsworth council's mega skip days and would like to see a community skip service so residents don't have to live with heaps of waste in their gardens; these skips also reduce fly tipping. I see these as essential services, made more crucial since the Stirling Road centre was closed and which will be supported by the news last Monday (11th April) that the government is to stop local councils charging residents for getting rid of DIY and other waste in a bid to crack down on fly-tipping; this is very good news indeed.
The campaign and the count
Local election campaigns are driven by leafletting and canvassing - in truth, social media reaches very few and is, in any case, dominated by minority echo chambers rooted in nastiness trying to drive out all opposing views, stifling democracy. We want to listen to the voices of the majority face-to-face not behind a keyboard.
Working from home (WFH) has made it all the more complex. Before WFH, we would meet a few people at home during the day. If they were in they had what seems to me now to be flexible lives and answered their bells as normal. Now, many more are WFH and leading very structured lives. I know residents whose diaries are heavily scheduled with calls at 8.30, 9.30, 10.30 and so on throughout the day. We can't know whether people behind doorbells are WFH, all we can do is ring as we would always have done. Unfortunately, that means we do interrupt some people – unknowingly. It's awful when it happens; of course we apologise and disappear; it still leaves us feeling awkward and hoping we haven't left a bad impression from an inadvertent interruption.
The count for 2018 took place the following day; we arrived bleary-eyed after very little sleep. This time, it will be held overnight with counting starting at 10pm. Given that a candidate's polling day starts very early (in time for polling stations to open at 7am) and ends at the very last minute with knocking-up taking place at homes nearest polling stations, we will all be exhausted before we start watching intently as the ballot papers are sorted into heaps. As happened in 2018, there are no speeches when results are announced.
All three Hounslow Chiswick wards have changed. Chiswick Gunnersbury ward includes the whole of Turnham Green ward (unchanged) and welcomes residents who live along the south side of Popes Lane including The Pavement (a row of shops with flats above and a student accommodation block) and down Lionel Road North. The whole of Gunnersbury Park moves into Chiswick Gunnersbury ward, too.
Business as usual
Regardless of the election campaign, responding to resident's requests for help comes first, as always. Housing issues are the most heart-breaking with overcrowding of special concern. One family wants one more bedroom so the teenager currently sleeping and studying in the sitting room can have his own room; this would mean that the sitting room is not out of bounds to the family for relaxing, watching television, chatting. Their tiny kitchen is only big enough for a table for four at a squeeze; they have never eaten at home as a family of six. But the rule book says that the family should have four bedrooms; it currently has two (one of which is tiny). What would you do? Try to find a three-bedroom home that would instantly transform their lives and is all they are asking for, or carry on waiting for a fourth bedroom for who knows how long?
We have started the process of reviewing street furniture in various parts of the ward and, in particular, trying to get rid of redundant BT and other utility boxes that litter our pavements. I never forget that here in Chiswick, where residents are very engaged in their area, the arguments are significantly different from those in the west of the borough where, along many roads, residents don't routinely report everyday issues (fly tipping, graffiti, dumped or out of control waste) and therefore live in very different circumstances. As I repeatedly say, I want better for everyone; I do not want the same for all if it means lower standards for some.
Councillor Joanna Biddolph, Turnham Green ward