Will French calls himself the SEC Chair. On Thursday he got this piece about SEC’s meeting on Monday published on the Ealing Today website. He is funny. He says that my blog piece on the meeting “doesn’t really merit a response from me” and then devotes 750 words to the subject. For those of you who don’t know what a fisking is, it is a line by line dissection of someone else’s argument. The phrase was named after the liberal British journalist Robert Fisk who often spouts eminently debunkable nonsense.
Phil Taylor’s extraordinary attempt to denigrate a legitimate public debate on a subject that Ealing people care strongly about doesn’t really merit a response from me.
French accuses me of denigrating a legitimate public debate. How so? French makes an assertion that bears no relation to what I said. In my blog pieces below I made three main points: the chairman was not objective, the integrated transport interchange is unaffordable and densification of housing in our town centre is a no-brainer. French has failed even to try to address my points. Do you want to respond Will? If French wants to call my headline denigration then he clearly has a thin skin. There is no doubting that all people who live in large, expensive homes in the town centre feel strongly about the town centre. They are a legitimate constituency. I respect their views. I know lots of them believe me. But their children and their cleaners might want to live in the neighbourhood too. They care but I don’t suppose they belong to the residents’ association. I care too. SEC do not have a monopoly on caring it is just that their care is a bit narrow. To have a different opinion is not to not care. Thanks for the unmerited response though!
But I want to start by putting him straight on one point. Monday’s packed meeting was not an ‘SEC town planning session’ – fantasy or otherwise. The illumination Phil says he was looking for was designed to come not from the 400 people who turned out on a cold winter’s evening, still less from SEC which after my introduction and welcome was quite silent, but from those putting themselves forward as candidates in the forthcoming national and local elections.
It was an SEC meeting so the first word of the description “SEC’s fantasy town planning session” is entirely accurate. The whole meeting covered town planning issues such as transport, housing, etc so the last part of the phrase is accurate. I used the word fantasy for two main reasons. Firstly, many people in the room seemed to be against any use of the town centre for residential. I would blame SEC for promoting an antipathy to town centre residential use when clearly a logical place to put dense residential developments is on top of the station, an idea endorsed by SEC hero and town planning guru Sir Peter Hall. Secondly, the idea of a transport interchange has been promoted without the faintest hope there will be any money for it in the short or medium term future. To my mind these are two fantasies that will only lead to unrealistic expectations. I think SEC’s strategy is to promote such unrealistic ideas in order to block ANY change to the town centre. I don’t think the use of the word fantasy is unfair.
As we clearly advertised it, the purpose of the event was to give our prospective leaders a chance to explain their thoughts on the future of their town centre. Since SEC formed back in 2007 it has called in vain for some clear plans and policies as a response both to the problems Ealing has faced in competing as a retail centre and the various proposals that have been discussed behind closed doors to redevelop major sites like Arcadia, Dickens Yard and the Station.
In this paragraph French fails to acknowledge the legal environment in which the council is required to operate. The vision that French seeks, as he well knows (he himself has a planning background I understand), should be encapsulated in the Borough’s Unitary Development Plan (UDP). The UDP is out of date and French also knows full well that the council is working to develop its replacement called the Local Development Framework (LDF). This is necessarily a long, drawn-out process. He fails to acknowledge that the LDF development process has involved a number of public meetings. I am sure the process we are going through is imperfect. When making cheap cracks such as “behind closed doors” he fails to mention that SEC has refused to publish its own accounts or minutes of its own meetings. SEC fail to identify their officers and members. SEC are accountable to no-one.
If Phil doesn’t want to join in or even to listen to the debate, that’s his business. But with elections approaching it seems to me an odd approach for a politician.
I repeat, in my blog pieces below I made three main points: the chairman was not objective, the integrated transport interchange is unaffordable and densification of housing in our town centre is a no-brainer. French has failed even to try to address my points. Do you want to respond Will? What does French think my blog was if not a contribution to the debate? French’s problem is that he starts shouting when people present the other side.
But to be fair to Phil, many people who have contacted me since the debate said that while they greatly valued the chance to hear what the candidates had to say about Ealing they too were unconvinced by what they heard.
How many people Will? One? Two? What is many? This is another unsupportable assertion from French.
The broad consensus has been that there was insufficient acknowledgement just how urgent it is for better local leadership in reversing the drift that Ealing Town Centre has found itself in.
I think this is Will’s opinion. It may be shared by the rest of the SEC committee. Is Ealing’s drift any different from the average English town centre with 10% vacancy rates? Has French met with Peter Hendy, TfL commissioner and the chairman of Crossrail. No. Cllr Millican who is responsible for Ealing’s transport portfolio has. He managed to put Tory transport spokesman Teresa Villiers on the spot at the Tory conference and ask her to support Crossrail. Cllr Millican has shown leadership. He is the one that has fronted the public consultations on the LDF. He was the one who did most of the talking at French’s meeting.
The candidates don’t seem yet to have woken up to how much people care about the town centre – the rubble strewn cinema site and the boarded up shops, or the idea that Haven Green might be a good place for a bus station. They are fed up that after all these years Ealing Broadway Station is still a disgrace and they worry we are in danger of missing out on the opportunities there might be when station is rebuilt under Crossrail.
Again French and SEC seem to be claiming ownership of caring. This is nonsense. As fallible as local councillors are they do actually bang on doors of people they don’t know and ask them what they think. SEC spend their time talking to each other and fulminating. This is their caring. I have knocked on hundreds of doors in the last few weeks and the town centre issue (as framed by SEC) is a small issue to residents of Elthorne and Northfield. There are other cares Will. Like our statutory duties to educate children, protect the vulnerable and keep the place clean.
Has French heard of the credit crunch? It is unfortunate that the cinema group that is seeking to redevelop the cinema has hit financial problems but it is not the council’s fault. Similarly with boarded up shops. Ealing Broadway is doing better on vacancies than the national average so yet another unsupportable assertion from French. The bus station proposal was thrown out by the planning committee so it seems strange for French to hark back to this. The council does have a position on the station and Crossrail which it does actively promote, thanks to Cllr Millican, but THE STRATEGIC TRANSPORT AUTHORITY FOR LONDON IS TFL. Would SEC like to tell us what representation they have made to TfL or is getting shouty at public meetings more their style?
And they wonder how it can be that it took the Secretary of State and a Planning Inspector to decide that the Arcadia scheme was not acceptable after it had been approved by the planning committee on a unanimous vote.
French knows that the referral to the Secretary of State was a political act by one of the most venal of Labour politicians – Hazel Blears. French is relying on the fact that most people will have not read the planning inspector’s report which describes a finely balanced decision – it was not as obvious as French asserts and the planning inspector is clear that the development of the Arcadia site should not be in anyway inhibited by any plans for transport improvements provided it is not inimical to them.
Those speaking on Monday certainly made some soothing noises about these problems, but they seemed to have few very coherent ideas what to do about them. What Ealing badly needs, and what only our Local Council can provide, is stronger leadership which acknowledges the problems and then develops approaches that embrace everybody’s interests and not just those of developers – which is how a lot of people perceive things now.
If this perception exists I would say it is a distorted one promoted by people like French himself. For “What Ealing badly needs” read “What SEC thinks”. These are not the same thing. We already have enough housing in the borough that is far from the public transport links thus making people’s aspirations to work unachievable. It is not just developers that look at the town centre and say this is where we need density – it is the town planners too like Sir Peter Hall. You might think that SEC want the young and the poor kept away from their station so that they can monopolise the opportunities that it represents.
And we need a plan like those that have helped other town centres under Tory, Labour and Lib Dem administrations to flourish. There have been some half-hearted attempts by Ealing Centre Partnerships and Tibbalds to come up with something, but none yet exists. Of course it won’t satisfy everyone, but it’s better to have one that has worked through all the main issues than the kind of ad hoc decision making we are faced with now.
There can be little doubt about the electoral pay-off for whichever party tries to get grips with the town centre. It is something that matters to an awful lot of people. You can see that by the numbers who turn out whenever the matter comes up – whether to a Crossrail Scrutiny Panel, the Dickens Yard planning committee meeting, the Arcadia Public Inquiry, a Tibbalds event, a Civic Society lecture or the SEC question time meeting.
So SEC believes there needs to be a more open approach to managing the big decisions that are taken in the town centre.
Interestingly, this approach is right in line with the Conservative’s new Policy Green Paper on planning setting out the party’s policies if it comes into power.
This calls for a ‘a planning system that enables local people to shape their surroundings’ and goes on to assert: ‘We will therefore give local people the power to engage in genuine local planning by mandating that all local authorities use collaborative democratic methods in drawing up their local plans’.
This is all lovely. Of course French fails to be specific about the model we should be following. More arm waving assertion from him. We probably all agree that the planning system is not ideal but the council is required to deal with the world as it is now and the alternative is the type of planning blight that SEC seem to be revelling in promoting in our town centre. If a property owner in Ealing asks for planning permission we are required to consider it – we can’t tell them we are waiting for a Tory government to be elected. SEC have always failed to acknowledge that the council has no choice but to consider the planning applications that come before its planning committee. They have always failed to acknowledge that the planning committee is distinct from the leadership of the council and has its own quasi-judicial role laid down in law. The LibDems can only stand aside from these decisions because they are numerically inconsequential.
I’ll look forward to reading what Phil makes about this on his Blog.
Over to you Will. It would be good to hear some sound arguments rather than unsupported assertions and name calling. You might ask your SEC colleagues to lay off the name calling. Is this really what you want on your website?
… the blinkered vandalism of those like councillor Phil Taylor, who would happily tear the heart out of the town centre for the 30 pieces of silver offered by Glenkerrin or St George, without giving even a hint of understanding either the value of Ealing’s heritage or the future needs of the community.