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Thursday, 13 November 2014

Lynne Featherstone: one of the most successsful ministers since 2010

We were lucky to have a special visitor at the Ealing Liberal Democrat AGM meeting this week. That of Lynne Featherstone who is now a minister at the Home Office.

She told us about the work she had done when first in the Home Office, back in 2010. All of us are so proud of the work that Lynne had done to bring in equal marriage.

Lynne Featherstone speaking
Lynne was also instrumental in ensuring that DNA is not indefinitely retained. This arrangement was brought in by the Labour party who encouraged the storage of bio data, despite the enhanced risks (can be used within the insurance sector inappropriately) that can occur if data was stolen or misused.

Lynne then spoke at length about the work in government, after a move to DFID (Department for International Development).

She talked about the kidnapping of many girls in Nigeria, problems in Mali and Democratic Republic of Congo.

One campaign which she set up and has gained much international credit was in relation to Female Genital Mutilation which occurs both abroad and in this country. Money has been set aside and actions are taking place so that this horrible crime can be stopped. Often victims are afraid to speak up about it and so people's pain can go unheard. Lynne certainly has given some hope in this area so that more people can be stopped from taking part in this cultural act of bodily mutilation.

Lynne finished with a Question and Answer session which was very lively. An upbeat meeting with a great update of the work that a Lib Dem minister gets up to.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

101 (nearly) reasons why Ealing Council needs to totally revamp its planning service

Over many years residents and residents' associations have been outraged by the planning decisions made by Ealing Council.

People have been annoyed about the process people have had to follow and how they have been treated when trying to make their voices heard. It was agreed to set up a committee which would look at this and last night I vice-chaired the meeting which listened to the views of residents from Ealing.

We intentionally did not invite any planning officers so that people could raise their views in the most candid way possible.

Only two comments were made that were positive (relating to the fact that Ealing holds site visits so that the planning committee Councillors can better see the result of a planning proposal)!

Clearly with about hundred comments Ealing Council will need to look at these comments at the Scrutiny meeting that takes place at 7.00 pm on Thursday 11 December 2014 in Committee Room 3, Ealing Town Hall. This will be a great chance for us to grill the officers and get them to commit to making changes that put residents first.
One side of my notes during the meeting!

Please post comments and experiences you might have about this matter on this blog and I will be able to raise these at the meeting in December.

The main areas which residents in the meeting had concerns were:
  • Poor or a lack of communication
  • Problems with the Planning website
  • Planning Committee meetings
  • Issues regarding Planning officers
  • Issues regarding Councillors
Detailed comments made by residents in the meeting are listed below (some comments were made by more than one person)...

Poor or a lack of communication >>>
  • Distribution of letters to inform residents of a local planning application goes to the wrong people, especially when a planning application relates to the corner building, and misses out people, is this intentional? x2.
  • There needs to be better information from Ealing Council about the planning committee.
  • Needs to be an enhanced communication from Ealing Council about site visits.
  • The Council should be more proactive with advanced notification of planning applications.
  • Council needs to ensure that when a group who monitors the effect of a large area like the surrounds of the Brent river that it consults groups properly rather than the odd planning application. The council has a database do why does it not use it?
  • Why did the Council not consult users when they are going through the process of changing the new planning website software?
  • Why has there not been a meeting of the Planning Services User Group which could help discuss issues that residents have?
  • Almost impossible to ring planning officers.
  • When you leave messages to planning staff they hardly every call you back.
  • Statutory consultees should be listened to. Often they are not.

Problems with the Planning website >>>
  • Additional docs uploaded, should have the upload date so new documents can be easily determined. Other Councils do that x3
  • If you search for applications on a large street then you get lots of planning applications but you cannot see where you are (need to know you are on page 3 of 20).
  • When you give views you do not always get an aknowledgement so you do not know if your view have gone into the system.
  • Why has the Council removed from the website all the documents from 2014 to 2010? This is a useful set of documents for officers and residents in research about proposed developments.
  • Lots of documents missing from the website.
  • Website documents are named in a very unfriendly way so it is not easy to know what the document is.
  • Lots of files are duplicated on the website.
  • Not easy to search for planning applications.
Councillor Andrew Steed cutting down notices the
Council should have taken down
Planning Committee meetings >>>
  • The planning committee appears too commonly not to have the correct facts to make a proper decision.
  • Documents for the Councillors are too big for them to properly read and make an informed decision at the planning meetings.
  • The planing briefing notes often arrive late in the day (once 5.34pm) and so the planning committee cannot be expected to make an informed judgement.
  • 3 minutes is too short to make comments on an application especially if it is a large application
  • Need more speakers from each borough if an application is on the border of Ealing and either Hounslow or Hammersmith.
  • Meant to be 21 days to make representation in the consultation process - but not for revised plans. Why? Biased against residents.
  • Should be 21 days less two days post for comments. Often it is less than this especially if it is a Summer period or over Christmas.
  • There is not enough time for councillors to read the background to an application.
  • The planning report does not often give much weight to the arguments put forward by objectors.
  • Petitions are treated as a single objection when this makes no sense, as 1000 signatures clearly is 1000 people against an application, not 1 person.

Issues regarding Planning officers >>>
  • Pre-application advice was wrong and when appeared in the planning papers it gives the planning committee the wrong impression and leads to wrong decisions.
  • High turnover of planning officers x3.
  • Are there exit interviews for planning officers to get their views on the problems with the planning process in Ealing?
  • What happens to the data on planning officers' PCs when they leave?
  • Officers only give "half responses" when they reply.
  • Sometimes there are last minute negotiations by the top planning officers with developers that mean things appears on the same day as the planning meeting - which does not allow proper scrutiny of the proposals.
  • Supplementary questions are not either answered or published.
  • It appears that the officers agreed to proceed with a planning application and it is then rubber stamped by the planning committee.
  • Planning officers gave the wrong advice (example sited about sunlight blocked by a proposal).
  • Views from residents and amenity groups are nearly always ignored x3
  • No planning leadership from the top.
  • Once the planning report was written after only 5 days so most views were not taken into account. Biased against residents and pro developer.
  • There is a lack of quality control in the documents that the Council produce for the planning process x4
  • Where is the revised SPD to stop our back gardens being developed? Was meant to appear in July.
  • The quality of the planning appeal reports are usually very very poor x3
  • Are officers told to write the planning report to fit a particular decision? x2
  • Lots of planning reports have factual errors in them. Even when spotted and highlighted they are not corrected for the planning meeting so wrong decisions are made x2.
  • It appears that the pre planning committee meeting consultation with developers is like the Stockholm syndrome leading to more planning applications being granted than there should be x2.
  • Sometimes the same officers are involved in the pre planning committee meeting consultation process who then write the planning report. A conflict of interest. x4
  • The planning enforcement team does not work. The take almost no action when developers have broken the rules.
  • It was stated by one resident that some officers were felt to have taken bribes
  • The officers do not appear to know the details of conservation areas.
  • The officers at the planning committee do not appear to know the details of the plan x2
  • Almost impossible to have meetings with planning officers

Issues regarding Councillors >>>
  • New Councillors are not trained and so do not know about the process.
  • Local ward councillors once a planning decision has been made should then help residents but don't (Oaks decision sited as an example)!
  • It was said that lots of the planning committee councillors do not seem to speak in clear English so it is difficult to understand what is being said.
  • Despite what they law says the planning committees always tend to vote on party lines.
  • Members of the planning committee should know the local area x2

Other comments >>>
  • Council ignores its own policies.
  • Planning process does not see residents as customers.
  • We (residents) need an outside lawyer to review and vet previous decisions.
  • Section 106 monies are often not heard of until it is too late to make an influence.
  • There needs to be a signposting document so people can have a greater understanding of the process. One has been written but the Council appears to have refused to have a meeting to disucss and approve the document.
  • Needs to be a planning manual so everyone has a common reference for what is required and who does what.
  • We need to reduce the hostility between the planning officers and residents. Council often sees it as them vs. us.
  • Treat residents' groups as an asset, not a hindrance.
  • We have weak local planning policies and so we only can use the Neighborhood Forums to generate a stronger local policy.
  • There needs to be a standing (permanent) panel to review and discuss Council planning matters.
  • Because the planning enforcement team has been moved to the anti social behavior section of Council I am concerned that the Council will move activity to stop noise issues and not on enforcing planning breaches.
  • For some complex developments we need A3 documents and not all A4.
  • Sometimes we need hard copies of documents, instead of all of them on line.
  • There are plenty of developments that are left 'open' for developers so that those who have a contract have the status as being 'pending' to aid them, potentially at the expense of residents.
  • The Council approves a development with a much worse housing density than ones that have turned down.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Ealing needs democracy not a one party state

With the local elections behind us in Ealing and the Scottish Referendum now decided, it has shown us that to get people can be interested in politics they need to feel their vote will mean something.

In Ealing the percentage who turned out to vote was about half that of Scotland. The approach from the Liberal Democrats is always to engage and involve residents and interested groups, in both the formation of policies and the feedback process about how Council services are being managed.

Gary Malcolm speaking up for our health service
At my local ward forum meeting, covering part of Chiswick and Acton, three Liberal Democrat councillors are involved, and the attendance is very often higher than the average for the borough.

We tailor the meeting agenda and structure so that residents can be informed of local matters as well as asking for their views. Engaging and consulting residents is a great way to generate ideas that the Council did not think of. This in my area has led to many open spaces being improved so more people use their parks and are proud to live where they do.

Labour in Ealing have 53 of the 69 Councillors, which is 77% of the total seats. This Labour one party state in Ealing is planning to ensure that opposition parties like the Liberal Democrats will not be allowed to properly question and scrutinise them about their decisions, their failures and future plans.

A recent proposal was for just the Labour and the Conservative parties to select what topics will be discussed at Council meetings rather than allow all political parties to decide on topics.

Initially I was surprised that the Conservatives in Ealing have agreed to this but the attendance of Conservatives at many Cabinet meetings this year has shown they show little regard to democracy in Ealing. Another plan from Labour is to scrap a Council meeting which will further dilute the chance for residents and opposition Councillors to scrutinise the administration.

The function of opposition parties is to scrutinise the administration. The Liberal Democrats are against any proposals which seek to stop residents, interest groups and opposition parties from giving their views on how Ealing should be run.

Only the Liberal Democrats trust residents and at ward forum meetings we would love the responsibility to manage the currently central powers, of which streets get repaired, where trees should be planted and where lighting should be improved. Residents and ward Councillors know their area better than others and so should be allowed to make decisions on their behalf.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

My local perspective on Robin Williams' death

Recent reports about the death of Robin Williams and depression and suicide do not make comfortable reading. His death raises questions about whether mental health is given the same priority as many physical disorders.

Lib Dem Councillor Gary Malcolm
The death reminded me of my best friend at school, who sadly ended his own life by jumping from a viaduct. Why would someone intelligent and personable end their own life without feeling able to discuss troubles with family or friends? There was no note left, and many of the questions were never answered.

Looking at the wider picture, suicide rates in England have been in steady decline over the last decade, we are not immune in Ealing. Our mortality rate is higher than for London and England, with Ealing Broadway and Southall being classed as “suicide hot spots”.
When we look at the types of people who are more likely to end their own lives we can see how perhaps more can be done to prevent deaths.

  • Those with mental health conditions 
  • People having relationship problems
  • Carers  
  • People who are unemployed or have financial problems
  • Residents who a lonely, especially among the over 64s
  • People who have long term conditions involving pain or cancer

Ealing Council, especially now that it has more responsibility for health matters, is in a position to use its relationships with other health providers in Ealing to reduce incidents of suicide. Liberal Democrats believe Council related bodies need to keep an eye on this important issue so fewer people end their own lives.

Our general practitioners, more than ever, ask patients who have chronic conditions like diabetes whether the patients have had any feelings of being unhappy. I assume that many patients would feel surprised and not say that have had any periods of unhappiness.

However difficult we do need to encourage more communication with those who need medical or psychiatric advice and this should include victims of crime and those coming out of prison. Predicting future mental illness is very difficult but we do need to find better ways to communicate with the groups of people who are more likely to take their own life.

Locally in Southfield, the campaign to retain the Carlton Road Centre has received a phenomenal response. It is obvious that many people are aware of problems such as Councils shutting day centres, either through family or acquaintance, which can lead to people being left isolated.

Given the problem is present in many pensioners, Liberal Democrat councillors were more than happy to help fund a club for elderly members living in Chiswick and Acton. We cannot know whether this will reduce suicide rates but we know that residents can more regularly meet and have a better life. That is what politics is about.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Southfield ward forum update - 25th July

Yesterday was the first Southfield ward forum since the local elections where the Liberal Democrats were re-elected.

The meeting took place in the Acton Green church hall, on Cunnington Street. New councillor, Gary Busuttil, was present and re-elected Councillor Andrew Steed chaired the meeting. A range of interesting topics were discussed...
Councillor Gary Busuttil

St. Albans Church
Since the campaign to stop the site being converted into ten flats, local Liberal Democrats have been working with residents and church authorities to make use of the chuch.

We were lucky to have Reverend Richard Moy and Rev Mike Tufnell present at the ward forum who also answered questions from residents. From what Reverend Moy said, it was clear it will not be quick for the church to take full ownership and management of the site but that they have lots of activities that will be run at the church including a theatre show in Autumn and a ward forum meeting next February.

So much progress has been made and where the community come together pretty much anything is possible. Well done to all those who helped get this project this far.

Councillor Gary Malcolm helping to clean up dumped waste
around St Albans church
Prevention of Crime
One of Ealing Council's Safer Community officers, Joseph Lazone, spoke about crime in the area. The good news was that generally crime in Southfield is lower than all of the local areas and most of the borough. He did say that in January through March this year that the number of burglaries had been higher than average. A campaign by the police has since reduced them after a number of arrests.

He also mentioned that a number of crimes could have been easily prevented including people who had left items in view on car seats and those who had left expensive looking tablets on view through their windows.

Ward budget update
The ward forum has about £45,000 to spend on local projects. During the meeting a number of possible spends were mentioned including:

  • Cycle racks outside Lavelli's Bakery, St. Albans Avenue
  • Trees for The Vale, Seymour Road, Valetta Road and Cunnington Street
  • Recycling bins for Acton Green to help reduce litter and improve recycling rates
  • Literature to promote the ward forum
  • Improvements to the small grassy area near to the 94 bus terminus and the Beaconsfield estate
  • Improvements to the area near adjacent to the path to Hounslow via Hardwicke Road

If you have any other suggestions please get in touch or suggest an idea on this blog.

Other topics discussed

  1. CPZ (zone R): It was announced that the changes to the times of operation to the CPZ (zone R) would come into effect on 1st September. Councillor Andrew Steed said that notices had gone out to residents recently. The changes will mean a cheaper annual permit fee, the need for fewer visitor's vouchers.
  2. Southfield 20 mph zone update: It was announced that the signs for the 20 mph zone would be installed in September / October this year. Other good news was that Council officers were planning to move the position of the centre lines of the following streets: Southfield Road, The Avenue, Acton Lane, South Parade and Beaconsfield Road.
  3. Planning Application: It was mentioned that a planning application had been lodged for two towers (seven and eight stories high) sited at Empire House (near Sainsbury's). It is likely that these proposals if agreed by Hounslow's Planning Committee would overshadow properties in Southfield.

Future meetings
The remaining three Southfield ward forum meetings take place at 7.30 on:

  • Thursday 11th September at the Carlton Road Day Centre, Carlton Road, W4
  • Thursday 13th November at the Scout Hut, off Rugby Road, W4
  • Thursday 19th February at St Albans Church, South Parade, W4.

If you have an item you would like to have added to the agenda please let us know by emailing

Everyone is welcome to the meeting!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Apprenticeships give young people a chance to shine

I had the privilege of attending an Apprenticeship Dinner organised by Ealing Council recently. The event was attended by a mixture of current and past apprentices and employers who are thinking of taking on apprentices.

Quite simply an apprenticeship gives a young person the chance to shine whilst working for Ealing Council or many other companies based in and around the borough. As part of the apprenticeships, which last two years, training is given ‘on the job’ as well as some employers giving time off so apprentices can take up academic qualifications which will help them in their chosen field.

Lib Dem Gary Malcolm: supporting apprenticeships
The range of jobs that Ealing’s apprenticeships take up is very diverse. Some are office based. Others are in the building sector and some in local engineering firms.

On average, apprentices earn £100,000 more over their career than less qualified workers. They also help businesses. Over 80% of businesses who employ apprentices agree they make their workforce more productive.

Liberal Democrats have been at the fore-front of promoting apprenticeships, locally and nationally. We have helped create 1.8 million apprenticeships since the election in 2010. There are now more apprentices than ever before and 86% more than under Labour.

We are giving 40,000 businesses grants of £1,500 for each young unemployed person they take on as an apprentice and awarding £550m to colleges to improve their facilities for apprentices.

Employers have access to funding to cover training costs for apprentices. This is paid directly to the organisation that provides and supports the apprenticeship - in most cases the learning provider. Employers must make sure they pay apprentices at least the current minimum wage rate.

If an apprentice is 19 or over, and have completed their first year, they are entitled to the worker rate for their age. Over the past few years I have seen a number of apprentices who have gone on to do some wonderful work. Most are very hard working and really put in 100% Listening to their stories is very inspirational.

Ealing Council with the help of the coalition government is making a positive impact on giving young people more opportunities for them to do well in the work place so they can better themselves in life generally.

The Liberal Democrats support getting more apprenticeships started. Lots of employers have already provided apprenticeships. If you are an employer or you would like to become an apprentice see how you can started...

  • Ealing Council is looking for business owners and managers who can offer apprenticeships to 16-24 year olds.
  • If you are 16-24 years old and you do not have a degree or level 4 qualifications, you can apply to become an apprentice.

I hope you can see that becoming an apprentice would be beneficial to your future prospects as well as the local economy. If you can provide an apprenticeship then please do so. Everyone will benefit!

Friday, 6 June 2014

Why we should be concerned about the rise in betting shops

Wherever you are in Ealing the large number of betting shops can be seen in our seven town centres.

Many areas in the borough have not just a high density of betting shops but many of the anti-social problems that appear to come with these establishments. Residents are concerned about the effects that a cluster of betting shops can have on our high streets and local shopping parades.

Some of the reported problems include street muggings, drug dealing, vandalism, littering, harassment and intimidation from customers outside on the street, underage gambling and street drinking. Then there is the issue that gambling in many cases makes poorer people, poorer. More and more betting shops have opened due to a loophole in the law that allowed the big bookmaking chains to open branches in many locations without planning permission.

Lib Dem Jon Ball
Ealing Central and Acton Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate Jon Ball spotted the loophole in action when Ladbrokes opened a betting shop in the former Sitar Restaurant in South Ealing Road - a short distance away from the existing Corals and Paddy Power betting shops.

Jon Ball succeeded in persuading the government to make it harder for betting shops to open on our high street. He initially raised the issue at a Liberal Democrat national conference which agreed with his proposals. He then successfully lobbied coalition government ministers to introduce new powers to crack down on the large increase in betting shops. Now bookmakers will have to make a planning application which local councils will be able to refuse if they are worried about the numbers of shops in the area.

Across the country many people are concerned about the explosion in the number of betting shops in high streets. Liberal Democrats in Government are determined to build a stronger economy and a fairer society with healthy and diverse high streets that aren’t dominated by betting shops. This is why we are now giving councils tough new powers to prevent the proliferation of betting shops in their area.

This is a powerful example of a Liberal Democrat campaigner championing a local issue which will have a positive impact across London and the whole country. This is why Ealing needs a Liberal Democrat MP.