Ealing Centre - Crisis or Challenge?
Public meeting hears from local politicians
Hundreds packed into the town hall tonight (Monday 22nd February) for a 'Question Time' style debate on the future of Ealing centre.
The evening was organised by Save Ealing's Centre (SEC)- a coalition of local associations - and chaired by BBC journalist and local resident Stephen Sackur. The panel consisted of serving councillors and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs)for the new Ealing Central and Acton constituency.
Stephen Sackur laid his Chairman cards on the table early on in the proceedings stating his 'refusal to tolerate waffle' (although admitting that with so many politicians present that could be a tall order!)
He managed the panel with professional ease - injecting humour and local knowledge whilst keeping a tight rein on both speakers and audience.
Each of the candidates were allowed five minutes to present their vision for Ealing - given that they're all trying to win votes perhaps it wasn't surprising that were all rather similar. Improving Ealing Broadway station, encouraging more and better shops, controlling town centre development and preserving green spaces were all key concerns.
Angie Bray (Con) found the title of the meeting - 'Ealing in Crisis' - too negative. Crossrail and Arcadia presented great challenges. Crossrail will help bring more people into the area and the task she said was to entice them to spend. Central Government should handback local business rates to councils and let them decide how the money should be used. She wants a more robust arts policy and suggested a winter arts festival. She was adamant that the green spaces of Ealing should be preserved and whilst developers had to be controlled she said they shouldn't be scared off. She concluded:' 'with commonsense,intelligence and vision we can make it work for us.''
Sarah Edwards (Green) sent a statement as she couldn't attend due to illness. Focusing on concerns over land use in the town centre she said it was vital that infrastructure was properly planned and affordable rental accommodation included in the housing mix. She wanted to see more support for local shops and a transport interchange which had more cycle facilities and less car parking.
Jon Ball (Lib Dem) said the battle over the Arcadia development had led a a huge waste of money and the Local Development Framework (the plan for Ealing until 2026) showed the council were not engaging with residents. He said key issues centred on local infrastructure and the recent threat to services at Ealing Hospital should not be ignored. Establishing a transport interchange at Ealing Broadway was a 'once in a lifetime opportunity' and of huge significance to people living or working here. Cllr Harvey Rose (Southfields ward) concluded that Crossrail and the LDF were the main issues and decisions regarding these should be community led.
Bassam Mahfouz (Labour) finished the roundup of presentations by saying that they were 'all singing from the same hymn sheet' on the issues. His top priority as a local resident was quality of life. He wants to see better shops in a vibrant town centre and believes the council needs a stronger local vision. He is keen to encourage the shop local campaign and build on local identity. He wants to ensure that CCTV is used for tackling crime and not just as a council money spinner.
After the four speeches questions came thick and fast from the floor - an animated crowd of around 400.
Everyone agreed that Ealing Broadway station is a disgrace, and needed sorting urgently but it's still unclear where the money will come from to fund it. With suggestions that it might cost in the region of £40-50million some creative ideas emerged from the audience. How about a tax on drivers or a local lottery to raise the money? The panel didn't appear convinced.
Planning issues featured heavily during the night and Councillor David Millican came in for a grilling over the Arcadia debacle. After agreeing with a resident that Ealing's beauty should be retained Chairman Sackur pulled him up '' How can you say that? Arcadia was an insane idea but you supported it.'' Councillor Millican did win back some points (and even got a cheer) after releasing the 'breaking news' that Springbridge Road car park was soon going to be pay on exit - a popular move.
A note of caution was raised by one member of the audience - all this 'development bashing' could have an adverse effect. Ealing needs regeneration and developers are crucial to that. If too many schemes are overruled or rejected big companies will begin to look elsewhere. Striking the balance was crucial.
Rounding up the night Stephen Sackur paid tribute to everyone for turning up and proving that people care passionately about the future of the town.
Debate is alive and well in Ealing.
February 22nd, 2010