Missive from Acton's Political Front Line
Cllr Vlod Barchuk volunteers for planning committee and behaves like a meercat
Off to planning committee to speak against a couple of applications, most notably Barclays’ proposed development at the corner of Rosemont Rd and Steyne Rd.
I was going to a dinner afterwards, so was in my DJ, which I tried to pass off as a sartorial expression of my opposition to the application (should be addressed up as the grim reaper perhaps). Councillors on the committee had a good debate on it and then voted 6-5 in favour, with one of the Labour councillors who spoke against it supporting it.
Two residents attending the meeting asked me for the name of this councillor; the following weekend they turned up at his surgery and gave him a hard time for his lack of brain/hand raising co-ordination. That’s democracy; you may not get the result you want but you can haul someone over the coals for it.
I’ve volunteered to go on the planning committee. I won’t be allowed to decide on applications in my own ward, though I can still speak on them. Having spoken about 10 times at planning committee, it will be interesting to be an impartial arbiter on other applications.
A Matter of Life and Death (nearly)
The Council has enormous responsibilities: the care of the elderly and the mentally ill, let alone the heavy burden of protecting potentially abused children. Yet, in 3½ years as a councillor I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of time anyone has contacted me about these matters.
I don’t compare parking and social services to belittle those who raise concerns about parking. And perhaps there are so few issues raised about care because it’s so good in the borough; though social service receive glowing reports from external inspections, this doesn’t seem to me to be the whole story. It’s just that, inevitably, issues raised with councillors reflect the concerns of the most articulate and well informed residents, not necessarily those most in need of assistance.
December is no different, with the torches lit and pitchforks clenched over the results of a CPZ consultation around Horn Lane. Residents were consulted and there was a small majority in favour of a CPZ on a respectable, though not large, turnout; there’s nothing like a clear message and this wasn’t it. At the Acton Central ward forum meeting, councillors decide to recommend creating a CPZ, this decision being a little easier to justify than not implementing one.
Labouring the Point
To the December full Council meeting. Council meetings are purely for the politically certifiable, but the madhouse spews forth announcement of great import. We announced a zero Council Tax increase for next year, £5M to support Gunnersbury Park and £12M for the regeneration of Acton Town centre.
Labour looked glum. The £50 cashback left them in a right tizzy, complaining about what the money could have been spent on, but still voting in favour of it. Julian Bell, Labour group leader, tried to claim the Council Tax freeze followed his pressure for this at the previous Council meeting, but that was too much chutzpah even for him. Leaked minutes from a Labour councillors’ meeting show they didn’t know what they wanted on Council Tax: below inflation increase, a freeze, a cut. One of them suggested the best strategy was not to talk about tax; very sensible – when you’re in a hole, put down the spade.
Beware residents! The unexpected knock on the door may not be some harmless Jehovah’s Witness, but a politico canvassing your vote. It’s something councillors have been doing over the last year, but it’s going to get more intense as election fever mounts and we break out in spots and boils reflecting our political hue.
Canvassing is about finding your supporters (not as easy as it may seem) and making sure when the election comes they remember to vote (not something to be taken for granted). It’s also an excellent way of talking to residents who don’t volunteer their opinions.
Out with fellow councillors and Angie Bray, our parliamentary candidate, we came across the everyday (missing plastic recycling sacks), the inevitable (parking!) and the new (aggressive dogs on public green spaces – something which has been mentioned more frequently over the last six months, and has been raised with police).
The elections are in councillors’ minds if not those of normal people. At the ward forum I saw one of the Labour candidates for May’s council elections at the start of the meeting and kept a close watch on him. Another Labour candidate sneaked in half way through the meeting; like a meerkat, I was bolt upright, eyes fixed, sniffing the air. Lots of undignified scrambling, scratching, biting and territory marking to follow in the months ahead.
January 7, 2010