I bought my first home in Chiswick in 1983 (a flat on Devonshire Road, then in Turnham Green ward, now in Chiswick Gunnersbury ward). I moved to Bedford Road (just over the Hounslow border in Ealing's Southfield ward) where I lived for 22 years. I currently live in the Gunnersbury Park Garden Estate (GPGE) conservation area (in the north west corner of Turnham Green ward and in the middle of Chiswick Gunnersbury ward).
I’m a huge supporter of our independent shops, bars, cafés restaurants, beauty/health/wellbeing/service businesses, going out of my way to buy from them. They are, for me, what makes Chiswick Chiswick and special so it was inevitable that I would want to work hard to represent them, setting up the Chiswick Shops Task Force in 2018 specifically to support them through the then tricky retail climate before COVID-19 made it even worse. Since being elected in 2018 I have served on the planning committee (for one year); on the overview and scrutiny committee (OSC) on which councillors work non-party politically, in collaboration regardless of party politics, and its housing and environment scrutiny panel (throughout the four years); now in 2021-2022 I am chairman of the Chiswick Area Forum, changing the format and agenda to reflect the Chiswick community and give its many much-valued voluntary, charitable and business organisations a voice.
Given the many false accusations made about me, these are the facts (listed in alphabetical order rather than frequency of accusation and ignoring the daftest false accusations of which there have been many):
- Brexit: I confirm, as I have before, that I voted Remain. I am a member of the Conservative European Forum though not often able to attend its excellent events because of council commitments.
- Markets: I did not and have not objected to any markets. I did, months after it started, ask the flower market team if it could arrange other parking for its traders so that the Bond Street car park could be released for people shopping, not filled with vans (at its first market, the team had arranged for customer parking at a local school but said later that no-one had used it; I wondered if it could be used instead by the market traders). I also made this point when another market application was being considered but that team said it had no wish to block off the Bond Street car park.
- Tweeting about our local shops: Accused of favouritism when reTweeting, even of being paid to reTweet, and of ignoring our local bike shops: first, our two longest-standing independent bike shops are not on Twitter (no reTweets possible); second, Twitter controls what appears in our timelines (we see what Twitter wants us to see and I don't have time to check individual accounts); third, some retailers Tweet prolifically and others seldom (some appear much more often in my timeline and will be reTweeted more often); fourth, some have stopped Tweeting (I can think of one I used to see often but it hasn't Tweeted for nearly a year); fifth, many retail/hospitality/health/wellbeing etc businesses are not on Twitter (again, no reTweets possible); and sixth, I am not on Twitter all day long, I dip in and out and see what I see in a quick scroll down (then I check how many abusive Tweets are in my notifications list - sometimes hundreds a day, many of them making ridiculous accusations; twisting words and/or taking them out of context; some are just plain nasty). I am not paid by anyone to Tweet or reTweet; if I were asked to I would say no; it's incompatible with the work I do through the Chiswick Shops Task Force which supports all independents; and, besides, I would rightly have to declare it as an interest so everyone would know.
In my other life, currently limited as councillor life is so busy, I’m a self-employed reputation crisis management consultant having previously worked in politics, lobbying and corporate communications, and as an occasional journalist (for three and a half years I wrote the double page local issue feature, articles about local businesses, the kids’ corner column and restaurant and book reviews for Chiswick's popular local glossy magazine, The Green, which some residents might remember).
CAMPAIGNS AND SUCCESSES
Not long after moving in to the GPGE, and long before I thought of standing for election, I campaigned against speeding along the A406 Gunnersbury Avenue/North Circular and rat runs through our quiet conservation area, and for improved street lighting, safer road junctions (the junction of Princes Avenue and Gunnersbury Lane remains a live issue) and better pedestrian crossings. Since being elected, I have campaigned about:
- CS9/C9/C9T: Beginning in 2017 with our Stop CS9 campaign, the lobbying continues as C9T was installed as a Streetspace scheme during the COVID-19 pandemic, causing huge congestion on Chiswick High Road, delaying bus journeys and shifting congestion and pollution to other roads which are now often gridlocked - with no sign of modal shift.
- Turnham Green Terrace (TGT): I didn't stop campaigning to re-open TGT after its disastrous Streetspace closure that did so much damage to retailers along this road, known for its independent shops; it was re-opened in 2021 including parking and the popular free 30-minute stop-and-shop parking; the threat of unwelcome change still exists and I am ready to continue fighting.
- Devonshire Road: Another disastrous Streetspace closure scheme, amended incomprehensibly and against the outcome of the Chiswick Shops Task Force consultation, the only Chiswick consultation that adhered to Market Research Society (MRS) guidelines; I continue to campaign for retailers who want the road open for longer hours and more parking reinstated particularly as it is not used in winter months or bad weather; for owners of cafes/restaurants who want outdoor dining space in good weather months; and for Glebe Estate residents to be able to drive to their homes.
- Fishers Lane: Yet another unworkable Streetspace closure scheme, nominally operated by Ealing council on behalf of Hounslow council, this has affected many elderly residents of nearby sheltered accommodation and their carers, GPs, nurses, visitors, family and friends; people working at Chiswick Health Centre; residents of the many roads off Fishers Lane, increasing their journeys, increasing the consequent pollution and shifting congestion and pollution to other roads notably Acton Lane and South Parade.
- Gunnersbury Park management and its bowls club: Arguing for community involvement in decision-making through a local management consultative committee; protecting residents from the effects of huge festivals, such as Lovebox/Citadel, and other events; we achieved some improvement - reducing the impact of residents on the east of Lionel Road North of HGVs and other vehicles setting up, running and de-rigging events; trying to save the Gunnersbury Bowls Club which had been looked after so well by dedicated volunteers but is now to be turned into a crazy golf experience. New problems have arisen from the impact of the sports hub and because the park is no longer locked at night and is a magnet for drug dealing,
- The borough's second worst fly tip: Residents of the Gunnersbury Park Garden Estate (GPGE) had put up with a slew of filthy waste stretching down the top of Princes Avenue; the fight for better waste management was long before one large bin was installed, then a second bin arrived and the problem lessened but needs constant attention.
- Fishers Lane zebra crossings: This had been on Chiswick councillors' agenda for years, with no promise of funding from the council, so when Jo met the developers of the Chiswick Health Centre she asked if they could include these three essential zebra crossings in their plans; they agreed and they will be installed when the health centre is built.
- Princes Avenue and Gunnersbury Lane junction: Despite years of campaigning for safety improvements, achieving only minor changes, this junction remains a safety concern. I will continue to ask for changes that make it less worrying when trying to drive out of Princes Avenue.
- Our retail economy and the Chiswick Shops Task Force: Chiswick's independent retailers were struggling before COVID-19 made it even worse; Jo set up the Chiswick Shops Task Force specifically to give local independents a voice. The task force includes one councillor from each ward (Cllr Patrick Barr, Chiswick Homefields; Cllr Gabriella Giles, Chiswick Riverside ward; and me); our five point plan was suspended when, less than a year after publishing our major retail report, COVID-19 shifted our work to helping owners of shops, bars, cafes, restaurants and service businesses navigate the complexities of grants, lockdowns, closures and other restrictions.
- Substandard conditions in badly-run social housing: These issues can dominate a councillor's casework and can be particularly harrowing and moving. After numerous complaints about one national social landlord with housing across the borough, and inadequate responses from that landlord to complaints in housing in Turnham Green ward, I escalated the issue to the cabinet member and most senior officer. I met the social landlord for a straight-terms discussion. There were some improvements but problems persist. I am not taken in by responses that aren't then followed up by action; some cases take years to solve.
- Houses in multiple occupation (HMOS): Over half of the registered HMOs in Turnham Green ward are in the small Gunnersbury Park Garden Estate (GPGE) conservation area of around 480 homes. Residents believe there are many more unregistered HMOs in the GPGE. I initiated a campaign to persuade residents to tell me, confidentially, where they think houses are being used as HMOs without being registered. My concerns are, of course, about standards, safety and risks to tenants - based on experiences we have had of dangerous electricity supplies, inadequate plumbing, appalling living conditions including intense overcrowding and, in one case, a fire across two adjoining houses.
- Anti-social behaviour: There have been so many examples throughout the ward such as party houses and flats in the GPGE, one of which was only reformed after 15 years of disruption during which an elderly resident only ever slept during the day; appalling waste management at badly-run houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs); illegal car trading; and other community-disrupting activities.
- Big development: I spoke at the public enquiry into the Chiswick Curve and am keeping a very close eye on the current proposal, Holly House, the current proposal for Chiswick roundabout; have lobbied against the TfL Bollo Lane development; the development of the B&Q site into the Fourth Mile complex; the enormous Shurgard storage unit at 266 Gunnersbury Avenue; various proposals for 250 Gunnersbury Avenue; more high rises along or near Bollo Lane. The Sainsbury's site; Chiswick police station, Chiswick post office and the car park at Gunnersbury tube station are all identified for development.
- Empire House: As this huge site became an increasingly depressing eyesore, I met Lendlease to discuss what could be done while it was trapped in development limbo; Lendlease agreed to try to market the empty units and spruce up the way it looked by installing window decals and instigating regular window and shop unit cleaning. As soon as I learned it had been bought by Great Marlborough Estates, I asked its new owners if we could meet and learned about their strong commitment to community about which we should hear more as the development progresses.
- Cross party working during the pandemic: I became leader of the Conservative Group in 2019 and, shortly after the pandemic took hold, negotiated cross party working with Labour during the pandemic; this resulted in us having weekly briefing meetings with the council's Gold crisis team, holding Labour to account in private.
- Motion of no confidence in council leader Steve Curran: I suggested this motion, brought to a head by the damaging and divisive Streetspace road closure schemes; I seconded the motion. Given that Labour has a majority of 50 the motion was never going to succeed but we made important points and exposed the leader's very wobbly majority within his own party; he has since shored it up by introducing new cabinet assistant roles, with special responsibility allowances, buying support; we would abolish these new roles if we were in control.
- Fly tips, fly posting, graffiti, litter, road sweeping, potholes, trees, drug dealing, cuckooing, abandoned cars, housing repairs, re-housing, telecoms masts, noise plus, illegal traveller encampments, illegal car parking and, on the positive side, successfully asking for more EV charging points, bike storage and bike racks ... life as a councillor is extraordinarily varied and there is never nothing to do.