Ealing in Crisis - SEC Summary
urgent need for better local leadership to halt decline
Local councillor Phil Taylor (Con, Northfield ward) has described Monday's town hall meeting (arranged by Save Ealing Centre) as a 'fantasy town planning session'.
Chair of SEC- Will French - writes for Ealing Today:
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.
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.
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.
If Phil doesn't’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
I’ll look forward to reading what Phil makes about this on his Blog.
Will French (SEC Chair)
February 25th, 2010