Local Councillors Give Views on Acton's Future
Opinions from Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem Councillors
Cllr Kate Crawford (Labour) East Acton Ward
Having represented East Acton for eleven years now and lived in Acton for more than twenty years, I know Acton as a unique part of London, blending character, tradition and history with a vibrant community. Throughout my tenure on the Council, regenerating Acton’s town centre has been on the agenda and I believe the regeneration project should not lose any of the charm and character that makes Acton unique. Any design should preserve the historic buildings that we walk past every day and should make the town centre a dynamic hub for retail, culture and leisure right in the heart of Acton, well served by transport links so that amenities are accessible to all.
The Acton library is a valuable service for people of all ages and from all walks of life. From the child learning more about the world around to them to a new arrival trying to learn the language, its importance should not be understated. The proposed cuts in the service would also threaten the Council’s commitment to lifelong learning and sever crucial links with the local schools. It is my belief that the library should remain located in the heart of Acton for ease of access, to benefit from the regeneration process, to link with the shops and business nearby and, if the library is still in the town centre, a number of visitors may stay in Acton to go shopping or use the local cafes and restaurants, which will stimulate the local economy.
Acton Baths has been a fixture in our community for many years now. It currently caters for all abilities of swimmer from those who are just learning to swim, to those who want to keep fit and exercise and people for whom swimming has become part of their daily routine. The Baths themselves provide a perfect opportunity for our younger generation, at a time when there are serious and well-founded concerns about obesity levels amongst our children, to enjoy a fun form of physical exercise and set them on a path to a healthy lifestyle. Indeed, free swimming lessons are now being offered at both ends of the age spectrum. To move the pool away from its existing site, would compromise the government’s plan for healthy living and, of course, take an existing form of exercise through the gym and exercise classes away from Acton residents. It should also be remembered that value-for-money opportunities to use high-class facilities are few and far between as the premier health clubs that have cornered the Acton market over the past decades have steadily increased their prices.
Neither of the two options proposed by the Council are perfect. It is disappointing to learn that the Cabinet have reversed a decision, taken by the Labour administration in 2005, to site a 50m pool in Acton in line with the recommendations of Sport England. The explanation given by Council consultants – that the project would be unachievable on financial and transport grounds – is questionable. The galas held at Gurnell do not adversely impact upon traffic and the long-term legacy of a 50m pool in Acton would be remarkable. Given that the financial costs of the two proposed plans are very high and that one of the aims of the regeneration should be to improve transport links, it is disappointing that the Cabinet have ruled out a 50m pool. It is also disconcerting to learn that the Council have misrepresented the views of Ealing Swimming Club who, far from endorsing the proposals, are upset at the lack of consultation and the jettisoning of the 50m-pool option. Consultation should be meaningful and take into account the public demand for keeping the swimming pool at the heart of Acton, where leisure and shopping facilities are in easy reach of residents and can help sustain local businesses.
The Cabinet report has very little to say about the future of the existing library, almost treating it as an afterthought. Serious consideration should be given to developing our library, rather than proposals to cut down on the space afforded to it in a new development to lessen the financial constraints. Acton residents should not be forced to travel into Ealing to visit a high-class library. Our library should be a place for learning and study and removing both the swimming pool and the library from the heart of Acton would seriously jeopardise the entire regeneration project.
Outsourcing leisure facilities has been a public policy disaster over the last couple of decades. The chances of raising the £2m necessary to finance this ambitious development seem scant in these economically challenging times. At a time when Sport England and UK Swimming have to be prudent about which programmes to support, the Council should think seriously about its plans and the impact they may have. Equally worrying are the proposals to build a four-storey housing development on the current Acton Town Hall site. If this proves a necessity then the setting back of the upper storeys is essential so that they are not visible from the street scene and residential properties of South Acton and ensure that there is no overlooking, particularly on the south side.
There are plenty of questions to be answered and the council must listen to Acton residents, the people who use these services.
Cllr Vlod Barchuk (Conservative) Acton Central
The editor asked me to set out a vision for Acton. I’ve spoken against enough planning applications to know what I don’t like. But knocking over other people’s sandcastles is always easier than building your own. So here’s some sand in the bucket.
Acton is essentially a Victorian town centre. Developments will need to respect this and live within it. The town centre conservation area is a given, not a negotiating stance. A ‘vision’ for Acton does not mean grand reconstruction. The town centre needs something more akin to a skilful facelift, nipping, tucking and cutting out some unwanted signs of tiredness and ageing.
Acton’s population spans the socio-economic range, and the town’s retail offering will have to reflect that. The trick is to create shopping spaces that can accommodate such a range and make accessing them all easier; the Oaks shopping centre should make a much better link between the High Street and Churchfield Road.
The faded elegance of many shop fronts requires restoration. Any restoration needs to be made to stick through serious enforcement of the conservation area. The Council is trying to kick start this through shop front improvement grants. Keeping the current town layout means accepting compromises; the narrowness of parts of the High Street will put pressure on traffic. However, even the tram Taliban balked at the detriment to the character of the High Street required to widen the road. The car is a given; make life difficult for motorists and they will disappear to Brent Cross or Westfield, so maximising parking places is a must.
The genius of Victorian engineering does not mean that everything can and should be preserved; their sewers have had their day and machinery is beyond the point where it makes financial sense to maintain it. Upgrading facilities is fast becoming inevitable, but the form of any replacements needs to take account of the best of the old.
Plans for redevelopment of the swimming pool, library and community centre are attracting some opposition from those who think we should maintain what we have. I think the facilities have had their best days and redevelopment is opportunity to provide more integrated services and think about what else might be appropriate – a hotel perhaps? But we have to resolve the tensions between modernisation and preservation and we need a public debate to do this. The redevelopment of the Mount is good example of a well intentioned project where issues (wind tunnels, lack of seating) could have been addressed if there had been more opportunity to question the vision of a mini Red Square. And if local people are to spend more of their money locally, it’s best if they feel they have some say in the infrastructure they are invited to use.
There’s lots of political agreement on where we should be going with Acton. The regeneration plans for the South Acton estate have involved the local Labour councillors, who generally support them. At a meeting of Acton councillors a developer’s early ideas for re-casting the Oaks shopping centre were presented. The entirely new shopping centre would have included much housing and a very tall building for student accommodation; councillors from all parties were standing atop a hastily built barricade, grimly clutching makeshift weapons, before I had had time to pick up my pitchfork. One Labour councillor met the proposal for a mid tier supermarket with a half horrified, half pleading cry: “Why can’t we have a Waitrose?”
Indeed. And therein lies something else. There’s long been a latent inferiority complex regarding our neighbouring towns, which is now being shed. I’ve met someone who left Chiswick because he preferred Acton. Toby Young accepts you don’t need to inoculate your children to enter W3 and the media are stealing our esteemed editor’s story ideas. It’s socially acceptable to look people from W13 and W4 directly in the eye. And if they have a Waitrose, we want one too.
Cllr Gary Malcolm (Liberal Democrat) South Acton
What Acton needs is a sustained focus from Ealing Council to develop the areas around Acton High Street so that it acts like a magnet for local people (not everyone who lives in Shepherds Bush will go to Westfields). The aim should be to attract a range of people doing a range of events. Something for everyone.
Sell, Sell, Sell – not what the Lib Dems would do
The town hall needs to become a focus for the community; it is a beautiful flag ship building. It should be used as a heritage and arts centre, containing space for a gallery, a small theatre, a youth centre and a cafe area.
Getting around Acton
The Council plan to allow cars to speed faster in some junctions such as at Acton Town tube station, at the expense of pedestrians is a sad mistake. The day when the lights are removed will, if anything, cause more danger to people. If there are any accidents at this junction I want the ward councillors and the Council leader to publicly apologise.
Liberal Democrats want the Heathrow Connect to stop at Acton Main line train station. Why should those living in North Acton suffer? Also the Liberal Democrats have pressed Transport for London to alter the 427 bus route so that it goes from Central Acton BOTH ways.
South Acton estate
The Priory Centre and the Pool
We need more emphasis on activities for children and teenagers. And an enhanced Priory Centre is crucial to bringing many of us together.
There is a dispute as to whether everyone, including the Ealing swimming club, wants a 50m pool in Acton. The council say it costs more – perhaps but our council has been very poor at getting money from lots of outside sources to fund schemes like this. I recall Ealing hasn’t approached the EU for any grants. It is important to improve and then maintain our sporting opportunities so that we all can play more, keep fit, socialise and avoid becoming obese.
June 11, 2009