Enhancing The Thames With Sir David Attenborough
Gabriella Giles updates us on her life as a local councillor
This week, itís my turn to update you on the life of a local Councillor, so Iím going to try to summarise some of the activities I have undertaken in my first year and hope to show the breadth of what we do, or at least an insight. As you will see, this past year has indeed been eventful, full of challenges, learning opportunities and firsts.
Gabriella on left with David Attenborough
In representing Chiswick Riverside ward on Hounslow Council, one of the first things I learned was that you need to ask the obvious questions. Often there is a presumption that fundamental questions such as who, what, when, where, why and how have all been asked and answered. As I quickly discovered, most of the time the answers to these questions can prove to be really hard to find. As a first time councillor, and project manager in my 9-5 life, I have found this extremely interesting as the council is a machine for change management. Time and time again, simple principles seem to be missed so change is imposed upon us, based on a supposedly extensive consultation where it is praised if there is a 25 per cent response rate from residents. At any given time, the council is conducting some sort of consultation, whether it be on CPZs, proposed council strategies, or transport developments (not including the TfL consultations on bus routes or blinking CS9/CW9). You can check out the current consultations here.
Much of my professional life has been connecting people and ideas to come up with practical solutions. It has been frustrating at times that what may appear to be an obvious and simple solution, has not been considered Ė but the point is that each councillor brings different skills and viewpoints. Everyone, whether they be residents, council officers, councillors, associated local and council organisations such as Hounslow Highways or the local police, or voluntary organisations where I represent the council, wants to be sure that, as far as possible, what some may say are the obvious questions often go unasked and unanswered.
With that in mind, I have loved seeing the number of groups that we have in the area that do fantastic things locally, but we donít necessarily hear of as local residents. Although I grew up in Chiswick Riverside ward, I had never heard of the Thames Landscape Strategy, an organisation that was set up 25 years ago to conserve, promote and enhance for the future, one of the worldís great river landscapes between Weybridge, Hampton and Kew. I have taken over former Councillor Paul Lynchís seat on the strategy executive review board of this group. Here I was amazed to find out that, despite the best will of all involved, they were struggling with a structured fundraising and marketing strategy. As a former charity trustee I was able to bring that experience to TLS, working with its director Jason Debney, to develop a plan to put a tiered fundraising and corporate partnership approach into place. I was delighted to hear, at the beginning of June during its anniversary celebrations( pictured below, with Patron Sir David Attenborough), that they have secured their most recent corporate partnership. The TLS does some fantastic work, having raised £25m over the past 25 years, and with the help of volunteers, coordinated a phenomenal 350,000 conservation hours along the river on projects such as river litter picks, the mapping of the Thames Towpath and encouraging community engagement through a fostering and ownership programme. This is just one example of the extended roles that your councillors undertake in addition to their core responsibilities of attending council meetings, surgeries, meeting and speaking with local residents and raising issues via casework.
I mentioned earlier that this year was a year of firsts Ė but by no means lasts. From being elected, and signing the oath of office, to the first time speaking in the council chamber, chairing a Chiswick Area Forum back in February, and inspecting the streets with Hounslow Highways on our regular quarterly wardabouts, the variety is extraordinary. Then there was coordinating a litter pick on Strand-on-the-Green (where I found out that there is a diligent team of local residents who go out regularly to tidy up the slipway by the blue pier), attending the Riverside ward police meeting (getting an opportunity to hear about the great work from Chiswick School), going out with the local Community RoadWatch (where we clocked an idiot driving 44mph in a 20mph zone on Sutton Court Road), and, most notably, proposing my first motion to the Council on climate change in June.
Unfortunately, this motion was stopped by the councilís bureaucratic process (only 30 minutes allowed for three motions) which meant that it was talked out; this is typical behaviour. If you ever have a spare couple of hours on a Tuesday evening on a full borough council meeting night, I suggest you come to the new Hounslow House to observe the council in action. I believe you would be amazed to see what happens Ė the fact that only a small number of Labour councillors speak, and that any proactive suggestions made by our group to work with existing campaigns or organisations are immediately shot down.
As I have quickly learned, these meetings are not the most important item on our agenda. Being available to residents, and listening to their needs, are vital aspects of our role. And on that point, Iíve taken up a number of issues from housing requirements, benefit allowance calculations, council tax issues, planning, electric vehicle charging points, bins, and of course potholes!
Litter picking with Sam Hearn
On Clean Air Day this June, along with Cllrs Joanna Biddolph, Patrick Barr, Michael Denniss and Sam Hearn, we were out on Sutton Court Road and Stilehall Gardens asking drivers to turn off their engines when stationary for a minute or more. It was extremely important for me to do this on Stilehall Gardens as we have heard time and time again from residents about how this road is used. During clear hours, drivers rush through (despite the 20mph speed limit) as if trying to beat some invisible race round Chiswick roundabout. During rush hour, cars are running, engines idling in those times when they are not slowly edging their way closer to Kew Bridge. This has only been exacerbated by the closure of Hammersmith Bridge.
I know there are some who argue that all of this will be avoided by the development of CS9/CW9 but, as those of us who have lived in the area for a while know, the junction at the bottom of Kew Bridge has been a nightmare for years. The revised plans for CS9/CW9 have done very little to rectify this and will only mean that the bumper-to-bumper traffic that we are currently experiencing in the area around Stilehall Gardens, Brooks Road, Regent Street, Wellesley Road, Oxford Road South will become the norm. The only access to these roads Ė Cambridge Road South, Oxford Gardens and Chiswick Village Ė by car will then be down a very narrow Brooks Road. Talk about using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Weíre renewing our campaign against this plan, so keep an eye out for our leaflets through doors and sign our petition. We will be out in person on Chiswick High Road but you can also sign online.
I understand that we need a modal shift on how we get around. Personally, I use my bike for 90 per cent of my journeys (Iíve done the maths) and do indeed find my journey times quicker than those in cars, especially at the moment. We need to ensure that the roads are safe for all users: pedestrians young and old, wheelchair users, parents with prams, blind or partially sighted people, cyclists, drivers, and even electric scooters (when legal to use on public roads) but putting it on the pavement, at the expense of walking, is wrong for residents and itís wrong for the shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants on the south side of the High Road. That is why it is so vital that we have a plan that works for everyone, not just for a minority.
So there you are, a brief insight to the first year of a local councillor. It has indeed been eventful, fascinating and challenging. I am very much looking forward to building on what I have learned and making sure that this isnít my last year as a councillor for Chiswick Riverside ward.
Dates for diaries
Borough Council: Tuesday, 23rd July at 730pm in Hounslow House
Chiswick surgeries: Every Saturday from 9.30am to 10.30am at Chiswick
library, upstairs in the private room
Councillor Gabriella Giles
October 20, 2019