Save Our High Rd

It is becoming a depressingly familiar refrain. Each week it seems like we hear another business on Chiswick High Rd has closed. Last week there were two: George’s Diner and Jackson and Rye; one an independent seafood restaurant run by the chef, only opened ten months ago, the other part of a chain under the umbrella of Cote Brasserie, which owns more than a hundred restaurants nationally.

It’s hard to run a retail business successfully. If you look at the recent turnover in Devonshire Rd alone: Whisk, Classic Image Cafe, London Zu, Canta Napoli, Abode, Bagista, Cardamom, Quantus, The Parlour, Vape Emporium, that shows how difficult it must be. But the fact that stores like Fat Face, White Stuff and Oddbins and restaurant chains like Foxlow and Carluccio’s have also closed their branches in Chiswick and that even Jamie Oliver couldn’t make a go of it here, demonstrates that even the big companies with economies of scale and deep pockets struggle.

Some fail because they’re just not good businesses. When Bagista opened its doors in Devonshire Rd selling second hand, sorry ‘vintage’ or ‘pre-loved’ handbags, an old Chiswick retail hand muttered darkly that it would fail within a year because it was a ‘hobby’ business. It took slightly longer than that but sure enough when the owner got pregnant she decided she’d had enough.

Others fail because their location seems cursed. The site of George’s Diner, on the corner of Prebend Gardens and Chiswick High Road, was previously home to Nova and the 1820 bar, each of them equally short lived. Another doomed spot seems to be opposite Watchfield Court in Sutton Court Rd, where Shafran café recently opened, which has seen a high turnover of businesses and long periods of vacancy. Let’s hope the new occupant bucks the trend.

But there are forces at work here way beyond the capability of hard working shop keepers to tackle alone, no matter how determined and creative they are, how good their business plan and how many hours they put in.

The causes of high road blight are many and complex. One major change is the advent of internet shopping. Online sales of non-food items have soared over the past five years, from 11.6 % of the total market in December 2012 to 24.1 % in December 2017 (source, British Retail Consortium) with some products – notably clothing – now selling more online than they do in-store.

Another is the introduction of huge American style shopping malls, which have decimated town centres up and down the land. Diane Barden, owner of dress shop De Joli, faced by an increase in her rent of nearly 40%, was told by the agent acting for the owner of the property that no one wants high road dress shops these days; if they want clothes they go to Westfield. A brutal thing to say, but it has a certain ring of truth to it.


Westfield shopping centre, Shepherd’s Bush

People who have grown up with the internet and online shopping think nothing of ordering online; they get it the next day, they try it all on at home and then send most of it back, but what Diane offers is personal service. The only time I have bought a ‘wardrobe’ of clothes rather than the odd item was when I had to go on a work trip to the US for three weeks and look presentable every day. She picked out about 12 items which I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen, but which looked good, worked well together in any combination and which I wore to work for years after. Having been on the High Rd for nearly 30 years she is now having to look for someone to share the space with, to meet the cost of her hugely increased rent.


Chiswick High Rd – Photograph by Anna Kunst

High Rd ‘Task Force’

Three Chiswick councillors, Joanna Biddolph, Patrick Barr and Gabriella Giles, announced last week that they were setting up a task force to tackle the crisis facing independent shops: “to support our existing local shops, help address the decline in the number of independent shops in Chiswick and reduce the number of new shops that set up then fail.”

Good luck to them. This is a really important initiative which all of us would like to see succeed. The independent shops are part of the character of Chiswick which we all enjoy. But they will have their work cut out.

The campaign is about four things:
1. Influencing policy makers, nationally and locally, to ensure that policies support, rather than hinder, our independent retailers
2. Explaining to landlords and agents that huge leaps in rent drive out independents and are changing Chiswick’s shopping streets and character for ever
3. Guiding businesses looking to set up shop in Chiswick on how to make a success of it
4. Persuading residents and visitors to change their behaviour and put independent shopping on their shopping lists.

Item one is a mammoth task for three newly elected local councillors, but ultimately is the most important.

Item two is equally fraught. I have talked to quite a few traders who are angry and resentful about the huge hikes in rent and rates (which are linked and not, as many believe, within the gift of the local authority to de-link). Rent and rates bills, influenced by market forces, are the biggest single factor making businesses fail.

One long established businessman, who doesn’t want to be named because he is currently trying to sell his business, told me that he was fed up with the sheer greed of landlords and agents in Chiswick. I suspect they understand full well that huge leaps in rent drive out independents and they don’t care. In fact a period of vacancy just gives them the opportunity to increase the rent to the next tenant.


Devonshire Rd street party, not happening this year

Item three is something local traders can do something about. Mike Moran, owner of Top Hat dry cleaners in Devonshire Rd, has been in his family’s business his whole life and has seen various traders’ associations come and go. Trying to get Chiswick businesses to work together is a thankless task he says. He is not organising a street party in Devonshire Rd this year because of the lack of support from other businesses.

There have been several attempts at organising a Business Investment District to promote business in Chiswick, which have failed through lack of enthusiasm from traders, but just moaning about how hard things are isn’t terribly effective. New businesses open up and pay ridiculously high rent, says Mike, because they don’t bother to check how much other people are paying. Other areas have flourishing traders’ associations and at very least being able to share that kind of information may avoid some business failures.

Item four is precisely why The Chiswick Calendar started the Club Card scheme, to encourage people to support independent businesses by shopping locally rather than going in to town. “It’s so easy to dash to a supermarket to buy everything there without a thought” says Cllr Patrick Barr. The cliché “Use It or Lose It” could not be more apt.” “If every resident were to make small but permanent changes to their shopping behaviour, buying from independents, it could ensure our independent businesses survive” says Cllr Joanna Biddolph.

 

Top Hat, Devonshire Rd

The task force team has already had preliminary discussions with several business owners, business organisations and individuals who have offered expertise and skill. It is currently drawing up an action plan.

“This must be driven by our traders” says Cllr Joanna Biddolph. “A lot of advice and business support is geared to office-based businesses; it does not work for retailers. We want to use our positions of influence to change that and make a positive difference for Chiswick”.

To see where you can use your Club Card, see our new directory of Club Card businesses here, a convenient alphabetical list of participating businesses which you can see at a glance on your phone while out shopping.

The Prudential Ride London or The Joy of Cycling in a Wet Nappy

Guest blog by Rosie Leyden

Six weeks of beautiful sunshine and hot weather. Perfect weather for me to do the Prudential Ride London 46-mile bike ride on Sunday 29th. What could go wrong? Well, the weather could change dramatically, and it did.

The 100-mile ride goes from the Olympic Village across London, over Chiswick Bridge, down through the Surrey Hills, up and down Box Hill and back through London to The Mall. The 46-mile one does the same but closes the loop at Hampton Court.

The weather forecast for the day was grim – winds of up to 25mph and heavy rain. I stood forlornly at the Olympic Village starting point for an hour with my bike – and 30,000 other cyclists – in rain and wind, getting colder and wetter. Finally we set off. So much better to be riding than standing. But all my earlier good-weather training didn’t prepare me the joys of riding in heavy rain. Firstly, when you’re riding behind another bike, the spray whips up at just the right height to splatter you in the face. Secondly, waterproof overshoes aren’t waterproof. They just trap water inside them. And thirdly, however waterproof your jacket is, the rain drips down onto your bike shorts. These have soft padding in the crotch area, so the accumulating water in the padding makes you feel like you’re wearing a nappy that needs to be changed.

But there’s nothing like riding through London on traffic-free streets. Flying through East London underpasses (one inspired rider broke out into singing opera as we went through each one) and emerging to see the Shard (albeit bathed in dark cloud), the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, Knightsbridge, along the Hammersmith flyover – usually a three-lane motorway but now heaving with cyclists. Then we get to familiar territory at Chiswick Bridge. The rain is very heavy now. Would anyone notice if I just turned right and went home? No. But if 29,999 other riders can do this ride, I can. So I plough on.

Photographs by Jon Perry

30,000 wet and windswept cyclists cross Chiswick Bridge

I’m not the fastest of cyclists. The field thins out around me. Then near Hampton Court the 46-mile route joins up with the route of the 100 miler. Which means that I’m pedalling along the same road as hundreds of matchstick men in Lycra (they don’t wear any namby-pamby waterproof jackets), on their matchstick-thin bikes, going at twice my speed. They are a different race, in more ways than one. But the great advantage of the routes combining like this is that the spectators lining the route could think I’m doing the 100-miler in a spectacularly good time for a woman of my years.

And so it goes on, up to the home stretch along the Thames up to Westminster and then up the Mall. I knew to keep a bit in reserve to do my final thunder up the finish towards Buckingham Palace. So glad I hadn’t turned right at Chiswick Bridge.

It’s a great event and we are very, very lucky to have it. It’s not without its problems though. Some friends who were volunteer marshals had a lot of flak from local people who couldn’t get across closed-off roads, or get their cars across the route. Maybe the organisers need to put more effort into that side of things. But it would be a great shame to lose the day.

I got home on Sunday afternoon and flaked out on the couch to watch the final stages of the Tour de France. Well done, Geraint Thomas – a spectacular win. But you didn’t look as wet and windswept at the end of your Sunday time trial as I did.

If you’re tempted to enter the ballot to do the ride next year, see www.prudentialridelondon.co.uk

Chiswick councillors set up High Rd shops task force

With about 20 empty shops in central Chiswick and more businesses set to close, Chiswick is at risk of becoming a clone town or a ghost town say councillors

Three Chiswick councillors, one from each ward incorporating Chiswick, have set up a task force to tackle the crisis facing independent shops. Councillors Joanna Biddolph (Turnham Green), Patrick Barr (Homefields) and Gabriella Giles (Riverside) are working together with Chiswick traders to support our existing local shops; help address the decline in the number of independent shops in Chiswick; and reduce the number of new shops that set up only to fail.

The campaign is about four things:

1. influencing policy makers, nationally and locally, to ensure that policies support, rather than hinder, our independent retailers
2. explaining to landlords and agents that huge leaps in rent drive out independents and are changing Chiswick’s shopping streets and character for ever
3. guiding businesses looking to set up shop in Chiswick on how to make a success of it
4. persuading residents and visitors to change their behaviour and put independent shopping on their shopping lists.

“It is clear that current rents, said to be the market value, are the market value for failure” said Cllr Joanna Biddolph. “We’ve seen new shops open then close a few months later, the shop owner having lost six figure sums on buying their lease; fitting out their shop; recruiting and training new staff; trying to build trade; and paying enormously high business rates for nothing in return. As for longstanding independent shops, some have closed recently, and others are under threat, unable to make a business case for the enormous hikes in rent their landlords demand,” she continued. “With chains moving in, and on roads that have traditionally been independent-led, Chiswick is at risk of becoming a clone town or a ghost town.

“Residents often don’t realise how tough it is to succeed here. One shop is being advertised at rent and rates that mean the retailer will have to make £3,000 a week just to open the door. That’s before buying stock, paying staff, turning on the lights, marketing to bring in customers, and trying to make a profit. If every resident were to make small but permanent changes to their shopping behaviour, buying from independents, it could ensure our independent businesses survive, she added.

“It’s so easy to dash to a supermarket to buy everything there without a thought,” said Patrick Barr. “Yet, nipping to an independent shop or stall brings other rewards – a chat with the owner, advice on what to choose, a more extensive range, surprisingly competitive prices – and it supports a business that brings character and difference to our lovely area. We have so much choice in Chiswick but many businesses are under threat because we just don’t use them often enough. The cliché “Use It or Lose It” could not be more apt,” he said, adding that he will be encouraging a shift in shopping habits.

“It’s surprising how many people in Chiswick don’t know about our independent shops,” Gabriella Giles explained. “If you live in Grove Park or Strand on the Green, for example, we use our local shops because they are nearby and pop up to the western end of the High Road for more extensive shopping because it is the easy option. We forget about Devonshire Road, Turnham Green Terrace, other roads off the High Road and shops elsewhere in Chiswick. The same is true wherever in Chiswick you live; the nearest shops tend to be where you go. Part of our campaign is to put all these roads and the fabulous shops on them on the map so more residents are persuaded to use them,” she said.

John Fitzgerald, who runs Snappy Snaps, told The Chiswick Calendar that in the 30 years he’s been the local franchisee of the national chain in Chiswick, he’s never seen it so bad with so many premises standing empty. The Chiswick Calendar has spoken to several long established and respected traders who are currently trying to sell their business in the centre of Chiswick and move elsewhere. Others who have already left, such as Sara Stationers which used to be on the High Rd expressed how angry, demoralised and sad they were about having to sell up after many years of had work to try and build a business, but they just felt that the odds were stacked against them. The Chiswick Calendar set up its Club Card scheme inviting local businesses to offer deals and discounts to local residents expressly to encourage people to shop locally in Chiswick and not go in to central London to do their shopping, in an attempt to support local businesses.

The task force team has already had preliminary discussions with several business owners, organisations that underpin independent businesses’ success, and individuals who have offered expertise and skill to support and promote Chiswick’s independent shops. It is drawing up an action plan, with local businesses. “The point is that this must be driven by our traders. A lot of advice and business support is geared to office-based businesses; it does not work for retailers. We want to use our positions of influence to change that and make a positive difference for Chiswick. It’s about getting it right for Chiswick’s wonderful local shops, cafés and restaurants – and encouraging local residents to support them,” Joanna concluded.

 

Fire Brigade cut woman from a car in Chiswick

The emergency services have been busy in Chiswick over the weekend. There were two fire engines, an ambulance and several police cars in attendance on an accident on South Parade on Friday afternoon, with the road closed off while the Fire Brigade cut the roof and door off a car to give paramedics access to a woman who had injured her neck in a collision with a double decker bus.

Then on Sunday evening Chiswick Lifeboat was called to a report of an injured cyclist at Strand-on-the-Green near the Bull’s Head pub. On arrival they found that a woman on the foreshore had fallen two metres from the riverside path. Chiswick lifeboat crew treated the cyclist for a head injury.

Working with London Ambulance service paramedics the lifeboat crew transferred her onto a stretcher so she could be taken off the foreshore and transferred to the ambulance. The crew had to work rapidly as there was only one metre of foreshore left with a rapidly rising tide.

Simon Reilly celebrates ten years at the Tabard

The Tabard theatre is full of surprises. First of all that it’s there at all. Not every London suburb has its own bijou (100 seat) theatre, and secondly that the productions are consistently so good and so varied for such a small, local theatre.

One minute you see that Phyllis Logan (Downton Abbey) and Kevin McNally (Pirates of the Caribbean) are there being interviewed about their careers in theatre by their son, or that Alan Alda has popped over from Hollywood for the European premier of a play he’s written. The next they’re putting on a production by a young playwright making their debut with a cast fresh out of drama school.

The mix of productions and the quality threshold is largely down to the energy and talent of Tabard Managing Director Simon Reilly, who celebrates ten years at the Tabard this year.

Most managers celebrating their ten year anniversary would open a bottle of champers and take their staff out for a meal perhaps, but this is theatre dahling, so Simon took his staff to an Escape Room in Shepherd’s Bush.

If you don’t know what that is, think Fort Boyard or The Crystal Maze only locked inside built sets, more Laser Quest than RSC. You enter a themed room, a forest glade or Victorian drawing room to solve your murder mystery and have to find your way out using puzzles and clues. Step forward Sandra the resident stage manager, Alec who does front of house and Dave the intern and claim your moment in the spotlight. “We got out in 53 minutes” says Simon proudly.

To read a profile of Simon Reilly, how he got in to theatre, how he wound up in Chiswick and what ambitons he has for theatre in Chiswick in the future, read the profile in the This Is Chiswick section of our website.

‘Cancel the rest of your life’ new councillors told

Guest blog by Cllr Joanna Biddolph

“What’s your office like? Have you set it up yet?” asked a resident not long after the election. My answer surprised him. Councillors don’t have their own offices. We do have a group office – an odd cobbling together of spaces that lead into each other haphazardly, one a meeting room; another with two sofas, a fridge, a kettle and a patch of desk with a computer on it; a third with several comfy chairs, filing cabinets, stacking trays with our names on them, a small room where our group political assistant works and another for privacy. To say they need a woman’s touch is sexist – and impossible. I tried re-arranging the chairs but they wouldn’t budge. It’s unusual for me to give in quickly but I’m resigned to this mismatch between need and provision. The council moves to new offices next year. We looked round the shell of the block on Thursday evening; it seems councillors have nabbed the best spot – the top floor with a terrace and a great view across west London.

The resident was even more surprised when I explained we aren’t salaried employees, either. We receive an allowance for expenses, and to acknowledge time spent, but if the first two months are representative, I reckon it will work out at much less than the London Living Wage. All councillors receive £9,276 a year. The leader of the council receives an additional special responsibility allowance of £27,200 which contrasts starkly with the leader of the opposition’s extra £2,168. It’s not a get rich quick scheme and, given the hours the role takes up, I’m seriously concerned about how I’ll ever find time to pay the mortgage.

So what of the role? I don’t think anyone could have explained its impact in words that would have made any sense. The workload is unimaginably overwhelming. In 12 top tips for new councillors, sent by the Local Government Information Unit shortly after the election, the twelfth was: “Explain your new role to your friends and relations, ask for their sympathy, and cancel the rest of your life…”.

A load of old bollards

Like many, I’ve read with cynicism the annual (is it that regular?) big reveal of casework numbers achieved by councillors. Councillor John Todd outperforms many; others drag well behind. There’s a lot of fuss from some near the bottom of the league who say the numbers don’t reflect reality, that they take up cases differently, that not all cases add up. Yeah, yeah, yeah I’ve thought. No more.

Knocking on the door of an elderly resident, spending an hour or more helping them through a long list of issues saved up for months – if they don’t need referral to an officer, they don’t count. Nor do the follow up phone calls or visits.

Tackling a policing issue bypasses the council caseworkometer. So does dealing with any organisation outside the council’s responsibilities – meeting organisers of events in Gunnersbury Park, raising residents’ concerns at briefings, emailing news; visiting residents and businesses to ask about fallout from those events, as I have done today as another 40,000 people stream in for the three day Lovebox/Citadel festival (bad marshalling of roads, terrible litter arrangements, good uplifts in business takings, every business allowing a limited use of their loos despite the many portaloos/urinals that grace our roads).

I’ve discussed pollution with a school parent and governors (much more to be done to protect the health of Chiswick’s children); attended a residents’ association meeting, the annual Age Concern summer buffet (a joyful occasion, the biggest trifle I’ve ever seen), a school fair (no tombola wins for me), discussing a planning appeal with a group of residents and made repeated visits to a shop manager about better waste management (still not solved).

I’ve also spoken at the public inquiry into The Chiswick Curve (just say no), taken phone calls from residents wanting updates, one particularly troubling fly tip … all these important time-catchers are essential and important elements of the role but will not appear in stats. I’m hoping our group leader, Councillor Sam Hearn, will produce a different analysis for the record – there is so much more to being a councillor than the simple score charts show.

And that’s before we’ve set foot in a committee room, the council chamber or surgeries. Time spent on the democratic process doesn’t appear in any click-counter survey. I’m on the planning committee which meets every fortnight with a mountain of paperwork to read, analyse, look for holes in, plus site visits to add proper context; and on the overview and scrutiny committee, another heavy time-consumer, so I’ve been told.

As a former lobbyist, it’s interesting being on the receiving end of representations. Some have been badly targeted (why me? I say as I open the envelope or email); others, shamelessly undisguised PR puffery.

A flurry of invitations has reached my mantelpiece. An impressive new councillor party at Guildhall was fun, not least as I worked there in the 1990s. Thank you to all Hounslow’s council tax-payers for the St Emilion and three-courser at the mayor’s inaugural dinner at the Clayton Hotel (supporting the Chiswick economy) and several buffets at the civic centre.

Our induction training programme, some of which is compulsory, much of which is need to know and good to know, and all of which has proved essential knowledge-building (though we don’t know what we don’t know) has been particularly time-demanding. Spending four out of five weeknights in the civic centre seems to be my new normal. I squeezed in Perfect Pitch at the Tabard Theatre on a Saturday and Gifford’s Circus was sandwiched between answering residents’ emails and a ward committee meeting midweek.

In the spirit of Bridget Jones, I can provide this tantalising tally of life as a councillor: Fly tips removed: 37 (a new one pops up or, rather, is dumped down almost immediately). Graffiti reported: Numerous sprays along one parade of shops, on one bin and several metal structures. Bollards needing replacement: the total keeps increasing. Samosas eaten: over 40. Glasses of red wine drunk: lost count. Calories: I’ve put on all the weight that dropped off during the election campaign.

Am I enjoying it?

Joanna Biddolph is one of the nine Conservative councillors elected to represent Chiswick wards on Hounslow council earlier this year

 

Tribunal tells landlords to repay unreasonable service charges

A group of leaseholders at a property in Chiswick have succeeded in taking their landlords to court for being overcharged service charges. Owners of five flats at Old Timber Court, above McMillan Williams Solicitors in Acton Lane took their management agent Seloc Asset Management, based in Cambridge, to tribunal for overcharging. The London Residential Property, First Tier Tribunal, Property Chamber has instructed Seloc Asset Management to repay £48,000. The company has until 7th August to appeal against the decision.

The leader of the residents group, Tara Doyle, says it took courage to go up against the agents, one of whom, Colum Smith, is the Chief Executive Officer of McMillan Williams Solicitors Limited, whose company owns one of the seven flats above. “There were nights when I spent all night crying” she said. “Fighting this has definitely taken its toll on me.” But she says, anyone who is being ripped off by landlords charging extortionate service charges should take courage because she knew very little about property law before she started this challenge. She just read up on it and contacted the various agencies which exist to help leaseholders. “You just need patience and willpower” she says. She is now willing to help others in a similar situation in Chiswick by sharing what she has learned in the process of taking the managing agents to tribunal.

Tara is Chiswick born and bred. Her parents lived here for 55 years and she bought the flat for her father, who has since passed away, in 2014. She says there are so many flats now in Chiswick, there will be other people reading this who are thinking “this is happening to me.” What won them the case was the lack of detail provided by the managing agents. The tenants pay a management fee. The service charges were made on top of this for the upkeep of the building. £12,960 for example to repaint and reseal the windows. £1,492 for replacing emergency lightbulbs.

The tribunal heard that the tenants asked to see the contractors’ invoices and were not shown them. They were given the management company’s own invoice for work done, sometimes for an ‘overspend’ without itemised details. The tribunal went through each bill over three years, totted them up and Judge Hargreaves sitting with Stephen Mason instructed the agents to repay £48,000. She singled out one item in particular: the commercial tenants’ £540 parking costs in Sainsbury’s to illustrate the ‘casual approach to the management of the building at the expense of the residential tenants’. She said: ‘It is extraordinary that the latter item was ever charged to the service charges’.

Referring to a bill for £2,040 for joinery repairs to the windows, she said: ‘Where the Landlords have no evidence as to what or why such works were done, there is a real doubt as to whether they were carried out.’ With regard to repairs and maintenance: ‘Given the inept nature of record keeping in this case we are far from being able to be satisfied as to whether and if so what work was incurred’… ‘The situation is worse than chaotic’… ‘There was occasionally a sense that Mr Coles (Jonathan Coles, chief executive officer of the managing agent) was making it up as he went along’.

She praised the Leaseholders for taking action: ‘The Leaseholders have finally had enough and in sticking to their guns have revealed the managing agents as casual about their obligations and the Leaseholders money’. She concluded: ‘The Landlords … have shown a persistent disregard for proper standards of management in many areas.’

As part of her research Tara contacted other tenants living in Seloc Asset Management properties, MP Jim Fitzpatrick, who is campaigning for leasehold reform and the Leasehold Advisory Service. Tenants at Candy Wharf in East London is one of several premises which have applied for the right to manage themselves and Tara says if she’d known what she knows now she would have done that at the outset.

If you are having similar problems and would like to get in touch with Tara, you can do so through our email address: info@chiswickcalendar.co.uk

Councillor Ranjit Gill commented this is an ‘astounding victory… A very brave move by Tara and her success needs to be celebrated’.

Lovebox declared huge cultural success

The Lovebox and Citadel festivals have received rave reviews across the board in everything from the NME to the Daily Telegraph. ‘Summertime magic’; ‘dazzling headline show’ were some of the comments. But some residents have complained about the noise from the festival, the litter left behind and the general inconvenience of it all. Conservative Councillor Joanna Biddolph has now attacked Gunnersbury Park’s new management company, demanding a ‘shake-up’ of the management even though they’ve only running the park for less than three months.

I went to meet the PR for Gunnersbury Park a couple of weeks ago at their new outdoor café. As we sat down to our tea she was accosted by an elderly man demanding to talk to her about the rights of local residents. ‘I’m important’ he said; ‘I used to be a councillor’; ‘I know the local MP and I can cause a lot of trouble for you’. This was the first inkling I had that there was trouble brewing. His beef was that his friend had not been able to follow the regular route of her morning walk because the gate she usually used was closed off for contractors working for the Lovebox festival. ‘Ignore residents at your peril’ said the self-appointed residents’ spokesperson.

 

Reviews in the Guardian, NME, Independent and Daily Telegraph

David Bowler, CEO Gunnersbury Estate CIC answers the criticisms

Some residents have been up in arms about the Love Box and Citadel festivals restricting access to the park, leaving litter, people parking where they shouldn’t, excessive noise, a line of portaloos lined up along the pavement… and hundreds of young festival goers were left stranded when they couldn’t get on the last train from the nearest tube station on Sunday night. So, a few lessons to be learned undoubtedly, not only by the new management company which has just taken over the running of Gunnersbury Park, but also by TfL and Mama Festivals, the organisers of Lovebox and Citadel.

But now Chiswick councillor Joanna Biddolph has escalated the issue with an attack on the management of Gunnersbury Park. ‘Gunnersbury Park Management needs a shake-up’ she writes. Accusing them of ‘acting secretly and high-handedly and without concern for local residents’ her press release continues: ‘Councillor Joanna Biddolph urges Gunnersbury Park CIC to establish a formal community consultative committee so local residents and relevant organisations have influence’.

Interested to hear the management’s response to calls for it to be ‘shaken up’, I talked to David Bowler, CEO of Gunnersbury Estate CIC. He pointed out that he and his team of 15 had only been in possession of the keys to the estate since 1st May, since when they have successfully reopened the museum “we had to hump all the contents up the stairs to the upper floors by hand because the lift didn’t work” and overseen a major festival in which 110,000 people visited, without any damage to the park, to the satisfaction of the police, the emergency services and the two councils who oversee the park and many local residents, some 1,000 of whom received free tickets to enjoy the weekend.

Left: David Bowler. Right: main stage at Lovebox

Artistically Lovebox and Citadel have been a huge success. They were surprised and pleased to see five star reviews in the Telegraph and the Times. He made no apology, he said, for meeting his remit of making the park a venue of broad cultural appeal. Nor would he apologise for hosting a hugely successful commercial event. Ealing and Hounslow councils provide 40% the park’s running costs. The majority of the money needed to keep the park in the shape in which residents would like it to remain has to come from trading. This is the first time he’s had any money in his account.

On the teething problems complained of, he said these would be discussed at the ‘wash up’ meeting so they could learn lessons for future events. On the involvement of residents, he said it had always been their intention to have a residents’ forum, an idea to which he personally has committed the park’s management company at numerous public meetings going back many months, and which they will address in the autumn. Why hasn’t he done it before? “We’ve been busy” he said, “but I think it’s rather early on to be discussing whether we need a shake-up; we’ve only been in situ for twelve weeks. Judging us at this early stage is premature.”

When I rang the press officer for Gunnersbury Park to ararnge the interview, they hadn’t heard anything about demands for a ‘shake-up’ of Gunnersbury Park management by Cllr Joanna Biddolph because they hadn’t received her press release, so it came as news to them. “We’ve had a good week” she said, slightly bewildered. “Lovebox was a real success”.

And that’s the point. The reviews were glowing: ‘Consistently one of the finest festivals in London’ – Time Out. ‘Childish Gambino and Pharrell Williams steal the show’ – Independent. ‘Childish Gambino stole the show with a passion and vigour that brought old and young together in wonder’. But what about the impact on residents? “I met an elderly couple of residents in their eighties” says David Bowler, CEO of Gunnersbury Estate CIC, “who absolutely loved it. Young people kept asking them for a photograph and asking them why they were there”. “I’m coming back” the man told me “to see Infantile Gambino”.

Broad cultural appeal

‘Residents’ includes the whole community, not just older people who like to take a stroll in the park, or parents with push chairs or dog walkers, says David Bowler. He has a remit from the two councils which hold joint responsibility for the park, Hounslow and Ealing, that Gunnersbury Park should be utilised as a “broad cultural venue” for all to enjoy. “West London”, he says “has a dearth of entertainment for young people”. Their remit is to put on “popular” as well as “highbrow” events for the whole community. “We felt on balance it went well.”

Commercial success

His other remit is to make the park a commercial success. While Ealing and Hounslow councils provide 40% the park’s running costs, he has to find the balance through commercial activity, just to keep the park as it is. “We have to manage 72 hectares (185 acres) and 22 Grade 2 listed buildings for some 600,000 people with a staff of 15. This is our first year of trading. All the money from the Lovebox and Citidel festivals will be spent on the park and in this first year we just want to pay our bills and get to the end of the year.” They have been asked to develop education programmes for the two boroughs and plan on setting up a ‘fighting find’ to restore the small mansion and stables which were not part of the restoration programme for the main house. “The festivals money comes nowhere near the £5-7 million needed to repair those Grade 2 listed buildings.”

Disruption

What about the disruption to people who regularly use the park? “Part of the park was already fenced off because we have a very large sports development being built”. The £13.9 million sports hub will provide locals with affordable access to a multi-use sports centre and gym, two external floodlit artificial grass pitches, new tennis courts, cricket and football pitches. The Lovebox site was next to the sports construction area. “For two weeks Lovebox amplified the number of routes not open. Most of the park remained open and if we host Lovebox again next year this won’t be an issue as the sports complex will have been completed”.

As we spoke the articulated lorries were moving in for the next big event, Secret Cinema, which will use the same site as Lovebox, but cover a much smaller area (an arena catering for 5,000 people instead of 40,000). David Bowler warns “the Yellow Gate will be closed periodically for much of the next year as we move 17,000 cubic metres of earth”, but he promises the sports facilities will be worth it. “It will be one of the biggest sports facilities in West London”.

Damage to the park

“Our grass is yellow, but so is everyone else’s. I was worried about the grass being gouged up but Lovebox laid so much track way, costing many thousands of pounds, it was like a temporary road way and there was no excessive compaction… They are an extremely professional organisation”. “When you think that we had 110,000 people through here in one weekend, a lot of them quite young and some of them falling down drunk even before they entered the park… there was no damage, no windows broken and only 20 arrests. They respected the park”.

The events were overseen by a Safety Advisory Group comprised of TfL, the Metropolitan Police, the Ambulance Service and Fire Brigade, Lovebox organisers Mama UK and Hounslow Council as well as Gunnerbury Park Estate CIC, who planned for everything from the timing of the traffic lights on the north circular so pedestrians could cross, to the potential for a terrorist attack. “I spent all three days in the control box with the MPS and the police were extremely reassured by the low levels of arrests”.

Excessive noise

There were complaints that the festivals were too noisy and that they could be heard by residents over a wide area. “They heard it but there’s a difference between that and the sound limit being broken. It was not. We had remote monitoring in the back garden of a local resident in Lionel Rd and the festivals stayed within the noise limits demanded by the council’s environmental health and monitoring staff, who were there.”

Rubbish

“They did a really good job of litter picking … eventually. It was a bit slower than I would have liked; they were still doing it on Monday and Tuesday, but there were no substantive detrimental effects.”

Parking

“We had a public meeting with Lovebox and residents. The festival organisers said the vast majority of their audience came by public transport. Residents still wanted parking restrictions, so they respected that. There was a suggestion from the floor that they issue parking permits to residents in a similar way to the Mela festival, so they replicated that. But the strength of any of these schemes is only as good as the individual marshals employed. They had hundreds of staff and it may have been that individual marshals were performing at their best. I’ll be raising the issue with Lovebox if we decide to do it again, but they’re reasonable and pragmatic people.”

Festival goers ‘kettled’

There was fury from some of the festival goers who found themselves ‘kettled’ by police for up to an hour, many of whom then missed the last train home. “It was the festival organisers’ choice to have one single point of access and egress and it was decided that Acton Town was the best option, but this was all discussed by the Safety Advisory Group. There’s a little bit of ‘he said, she said’ but Lovebox say TfL cancelled two earlier trains which meant that there were too many people to get on the last train.”

Did the festival finish late on Sunday night?

“The festival actually finished five minutes early but security held the crowd leaving because there was a danger of crushing. It was the festival organisers’ decision. I criticised them because there was not enough information as to why people were being held. Maybe they could have put up electronic screens so people could read the information and understand why they were being held. But that will all be resolved (as regards planning for future events) when we have our next Safety Advisory Group meeting in September.”

Residents’ involvement in decision making for the park

“There is a broad commitment for transparency. We were only given the keys on 1st May. We’ve had to install and train staff to open the museum on 23rd June (a date set previously by the two councils). That’s been all consuming. It was a very tight deadline and we only had a functioning lift for two days before opening, so there was a lot of additional physical work. That’s been our main focus. Then we were straight in to preparing for Lovebox and today the lorries are arriving to set up for Secret Cinema.”

What about transparency?

“In the autumn we will look at how best to set up a Park Users Forum. We need to consult with park users and we should include park users, including students and youth groups, teenagers and 20 year olds.”

The Gunnersbury Park Estate CIC has only been in existence for a year. “Until the recent local elections the two councils had a joint advisory panel and we were summoned to take questions about Gunnersbury Park. Post-election, that panel has been dissolved. The councils decided it was no longer needed, having created a CIC (Community Interest Company). The councils are no longer managing the park as it devolved to a CIC.” There are three council wards bordering on the park. “I’m dealing with two councils, three wards and nine councillors from three political parties. New councillors have been elected and they’re thinking ‘why can’t I go to a panel and scrutinise the running of the park?’ They want me to recreate it.”

Whether local councillors will be involved or other local representatives has yet to be decided and will be decided by the CIC’s board of seven members in consultation with the councils, but says David Bowler, involving residents is something that has been on the table for many months. “They will get something in the autumn.”

The councillors for Turnham Green ward in Chiswick are all Conservative whereas both councils are Labour. In answer to Cllr Joanna Biddoph’s attack he says “where minority party members are in situ, if you don’t have power you need to use your influence where you can and often opposition councillors are critical.” In response to her demand for “shake-up of the management of Gunnersbury Park” he says “I think it’s rather early on to be discussing whether we need a shake up; we’ve only been in situ for twelve weeks. Judging us at this early stage is premature.”

Next big events in Gunnersbury Park

Secret Cinema events will be taking place in Gunnersbury Park throughout August. The ‘hipster mini-village’ will be deconstructed by 7 September.

The Mela festival will not be taking part in the park this year, but in Southall Park instead.

David says they are hoping to bring the Diversity Dance Group with Ashley Banjo (winners of Britain’s Got Talent 2009) to the park in October. Lovebox next year? Maybe. Not decided yet.

Lovebox and Citadel festival headliners 2018

Fantastic line-up of authors for the 10th Chiswick Book Festival

The Chiswick Book Festival celebrates its tenth year in September with a stellar line-up of authors: Anthony Horowitz, Kate Mosse, Joanna Trollope, Max Hastings, Charles Spencer, Charles Cumming, Roger McGough and Julian Clary amongst others.

Anthony Horowitz, long known to teenage readers for his Alex Rider spy thrillers, has just published his second James Bond novel using original material by Ian Fleming. Forever and a Day is a prequel to Casino Royale, Fleming’s first 007 novel, and explores the origins of the world’s most famous secret agent.

‘M laid down his pipe and stared at it tetchily. “We have no choice. We’re just going to bring forward this other chap you’ve been preparing. But you didn’t tell me his name.”

“It’s Bond, sir,” the Chief of Staff replied.

“James Bond.”’

I’m looking forward to hearing how he approached the task of forming the character of James Bond. Such a huge responsibility!

Not just a new book but a new series …

Looking forward also to reading Kate Mosse’s new novel The Burning Chambers, not only a new book, (I’ve enjoyed all her others), but the beginning of a new series of historical novels spanning three hundred years of Huguenot history.

Joanna Trollope has just published her 21st novel, An Unsuitable Match, about the impact on two families when a couple marry, each for the second time, in later life.

Historian Max Hastings will have his new book on the history of Vietnam published in the autumn. Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer and brother of Diana, Princess of Wales, is also a prolific history writer. His latest book is To Catch A King: Charles II’s Great Escape.

Charles Cumming is also one of my favourite authors. His latest spy thriller The Man Between is about a novelist who is drawn into the intelligence world and soon finds himself out of his depth.

Roger McGough, one of Britain’s best-loved poets for both adults & children, is so prolific he will probably have knocked out a few more books by the autumn, but his latest poetry book at time of writing is That Awkward Age and, for children, The Imaginary Menagerie with illustrations by the author.

From scandalous stand-up to children’s author

Julian Clary I only know as a deliciously acerbic and very rude stand up comic, but he too has reinvented himself as a children’s author with his stories about The Bolds, a family of hyenas who disguise themselves as humans and live in Teddington, where he himself grew up. In his latest book The Bolds are In Trouble:

‘it isn’t always easy hiding tails and fur under clothes, and it’s important not to raise suspicion amongst their human neighbours. But trouble soon comes skulking when a very sly fox starts making a big nuisance of himself…’

Looking at his Twitter account he is also having to reinvent himself as a jam maker: ‘My gooseberry crop has rather exceeded expectations. I was only expecting a handful. Now what to do? Must I become a jam maker? This is not what I hoped for’.

He does make me laugh. Maybe Chiswick’s jam makers at Abundance London can come to his aid.

Roll on September – it may be worthwhile coming back from the seaside after all. Jo James, who books the authors, and Torin Douglas, the Director have done a stonking job. Torin has written a guest blog about how the Book Festival has grown from small beginnings, which you can see on The Chiswick Calendar website.

Cook Book Festival

Chiswick has a new festival. Running alongside the big book festival, 12-16 September, this little sister festival is the brainchild of Lucy Cufflin, who for the past year has run fabulous cookery courses at Ginger Whisk, off Turnham Green Terrace, and TV cook and writer Jo Pratt.

Lucy says there are many food festivals but nothing that really celebrates books about cooking. There have been cookery authors taking part in the Chiswick Book Festival in previous years, but this new departure will involve actually tasting samples of the food under discussion as well.

Talks with benefits

They too have put together an excellent line-up, a diverse collection of authors, chefs, restaurateurs and food industry experts, in various locations across Chiswick.

Among the line-up of world-renowned authors are Australian Masterchef presenter and restaurateur John Torode; British food writer Ella Mills, whose food blog launched her brand Deliciously Ella and a delicatessen in Mayfair; Melissa Helmsley, one half of the Helmsley sisters, whose food business Hemsley + Hemsley has pioneered modern healthy home cooking (The Art of Eating Well and Eat Happy, published earlier this year); Jack Monroe, a blogger of the ‘make-do-and-mend’ genre, writing on how to get by with very little money, with City Harvest, which redistributes surplus food to those who need it most; Jo Pratt, TV cook and author of five books on food and cooking; Niki Segnit, whose first book, The Flavour Thesaurus, won the André Simon Award for best food book, the Guild of Food Writers Award for best first book, and been translated into thirteen languages; La Cucina Caldesi, the only Italian cookery school in central London; Silla Bjerrum, restaurateur and Chef best known for her expertise in sushi; and Malika Basu, who offers recipes for easy to make Indian food.

They will be discussing their work, food and culinary experiences alongside tastings prepared by experienced chefs. Tickets will go on sale around 26th July. You can sign up to the Cookbook Festival mailing list at cookbookfestival.org

Sri Lankan curry and Mindfulness

Did you know that Chiswick had one of the oldest Buddhist temples outside Asia?

The London Buddhist Vihara was set up by Sri Lankan monk Anagarika Dharmapala in 1926. It moved about a bit but has been at its current premises in Bedford Park for almost 25 years. Every year it holds an Open Day to raise funds for the five monks currently in residence to continue their work teaching Mindfulness and meditaion and the principles of Buddhism. The community prepared an excellent curry for this year’s event, last Saturday.

You can read about the history of the London Buddhist Vihara and how it came to be in Chiswick in the This Is Chiswick section of The Chiswick Calendar website.

Dukes Meadows retains its Green Flag

Dukes Meadows Trust volunteers held an impromptu celebration yesterday after hearing that the park had retained its Green Flag. The award for parks recognises and rewards well managed parks and green spaces. “Dukes Meadows trust is extremely active on the site for a number of years and has led on the regeneration of the park raising over £1 million to create two high quality play area, one of which they manage.” say the organisers.

Carol Beauchamp, pictured above, has been a member of the trust from the start 18 years ago. She said; “It has been a great achievement to turn the park from the sad and derelict state it was in 18 years ago, to the lovely park it is today. I feel very proud every time I come here and see all the people enjoying the pool and play area and visiting the market. It is a busy, happy place now compared to the sad and lonely place it used to be. It was hard work on Sunday cutting back the hedge along Riverside Drive in the heat, but I love being involved, we have a lovely crowd of people, so it’s great fun and we usually have a drink in the Bowls Club after volunteering”.

Cute furry animals this Sunday

Kathleen Healy, the Trust’s Development Manager, also pictured (far right in the group shot) said: ‘The trust continues to make improvements to the park and this year renovated the back of the Bowls Green Pavilion to create a new entrance and revamped the kiosk by the pool. Volunteers go out every two weeks on a Sunday to maintain the trees, hedges and shrubs”.

The trust is solely responsible for management and maintenance of the paddling pool on which it holds a lease. It also runs the weekly Food Market, which next Sunday offers an opportunity for children to pet goats, rabbits and other cute, furry animals for free.

If you would like to get involved with volunteering at Dukes’ Meadows, please see the Trust’s website dukesmeadowstrust.org or you can follow the Trust on twitter @Dukesmeadowspark

And you can see Kathleen Healey talking about the history of Dukes Meadows here.

My campaign to improve air quality in Chiswick

Guest blog by Mat Smith

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mat, I’m a millennial, and I live in Chiswick. I plan to see Chiswick into the 2080s. Given my age, health, and family history, it’s not an unreasonable expectation to be alive in 2080, but why Chiswick? Let me explain.

I live with my partner and child in a small but comfortable third floor apartment in an old house overlooking Chiswick High Road. We also run a couple of businesses on the High Road. Like many young families living in Chiswick, we are not from a poor background by any means, nor were we brought up dripping in wealth. During my teens, my family dined-out twice per month (Harvester, Sunday evening, since you asked, and yes I was mad for the bacon bits at the salad bar). And now we’re slightly grown-up, we both work very hard, long hours on our various enterprises to stay afloat. We have strong family connections with Chiswick. Our respective families, coincidentally, set up shop in the 1930s – Anna’s grandfather ran a leather luggage factory called Revelation Luggage on Power Road, and my grandfather, a conscientious objector, made batteries and repaired cars in a little workshop around the back of Chiswick High Road during the war.

Personally I love the busy, metropolitan atmosphere of Chiswick High Road, and its proximity to the more bucolic scenes along the river which are only a few minutes cycle away. And that’s the context to what I’d call a deep connection that we have with Chiswick. This extends to a sense of protectiveness we both feel over our locality. So that’s why I want to stay here for the foreseeable. But there’s a fly in the ointment, isn’t there? We are told it’s a silent killer, the biggest controversy in public health today, the one thing that affects our health that we cannot ourselves control.

Pollution.

Photographs by Ian Wylie, Marianne Mahaffey and Anna Kunst. Bottom right – Mat and partner Anna

As you are no doubt aware Chiswick High Road has a very big problem with pollution, and this directly affects me and my family. We have taken measures to reduce the effect of pollution within the home, and have taken professional advice. But there’s very little we can do within our own four walls. If we leave the windows open, polluted air from the High Road comes in, and if we leave the windows closed, this air re-circulates around the house. Our spot really is heavily polluted. We overlook a junction where cars, vans, lorries, and buses are stationary for most of the time. On sunny days, or days where traffic levels are particularly high, we wake up coughing. All three of us. It really is that bad.

I have strong lungs. No asthma. And with a clean bill of health, no family history that might affect my health in such a way that I cannot control, and an active interest in keeping ahead of any potential health problems in the future, I feel confident in my life expectancy. With this one exception. I was told, over the phone, by the gentleman who wrote Hounslow Council’s “Air Quality Action Plan” that the three biggest factors affecting the quality of the air that I breathe in the street directly outside my home are as follows, in order of impact:

1/ Pollution from road vehicles
2/ Pollution from Heathrow
3/ Pollution from private buildings – of which residential is only a small proportion

Dr Holland went on to explain that over the next few years, as old cars and vans are replaced by new ones that must conform to stricter regulations, the order of impact will change and Heathrow will become the front runner. This would be true even if the Heathrow expansion were not to forge ahead. Pollution from industry will remain in third place.

Pollution. Facts vs Politics. Claims and counter claims whizz around the debate on how to reduce pollution. And invariably these claims are all put-forward as “facts”, whereas the reality is that they are all driven by individuals’ ideals.

More cycling – the answer to pollution?

If you cycle very often then you are far more likely to seize on the argument of “modal shift”; provide infrastructure for cyclists and the choice between driving or cycling becomes far more balanced towards cycling, which results in fewer cars on the road for those rat runs, which reduces stop-start – as well as the total volume of pollutants shoved out into the air – and in turn vastly improves air quality. If what Dr Holland says is true, then whilst the “modal shift” argument may be a valid one in the debate about improving air quality, this won’t be the main thing that reduces pollution from the road, and therefore stops me waking up coughing in the morning. Not to mention I’m going to have to lay down in front of the bulldozers when they build Heathrow…

Back to road users, though. This feels like something we can actually do something about. The counter-claim to “modal shift” being brought about by proposed new cycle infrastructure is that when you reduce space for driving, this increases congestion, which increases journey time, which of course means the total accumulated volume of pollutants entering the air increases. Because of these claims and counter-claims – both of which may be considered to be fact and argued ad nauseum – the cycling debate must be seen as a small player in the campaign for cleaner air, rather than the silver bullet.

So although road infrastructure improvements go hand-in-hand with long-term planning for clean air, it’s all too easy to allow those who govern our roads to treat such improvements as a tick box exercise in the implementation of their clean air strategy. In short: we need to aim higher than installing cycle lanes, if we are to achieve local roads where residents can wake up in the morning without coughing.

To be continued…

If you would like to get in touch with me with a view to taking part in discussions about air pollution in Chiswick please contact me via info@chiswickcalendar.co.uk

Mat Smith is a photographer who lives and works in Chiswick and tweets under the name of Chiswick Chap @chiswickish

 

Ten years of the Chiswick Book Festival

For several years, I had discussed launching a Book Festival with Father Kevin Morris, the vicar of St Michael & All Angels. It couldn’t be that hard, we thought!

The Bedford Park Festival – Chiswick’s biggest community event – provided a good model. We had the venues – the church and the parish halls. We knew how to find speakers and attract audiences and look after them, using volunteers from St Michael’s and elsewhere. We knew how to sell tickets, attract sponsors and use a Festival to raise money for good causes.

We’d built up a good relationship with Waterstone’s in Chiswick High Road and local publishers and publicists – notably Jacks Thomas (then managing director of Midas PR) and her husband Malcolm Edwards (then deputy chairman of Orion), who supplied lots of new books for fund-raising events.

In less than three months in the summer of 2009, we put together a programme that surprised us all. I had suggested starting small and gradually building the Festival up. Jacks’ and Malcolm’s idea of starting small was persuading Lady Antonia Fraser, Anthony Horowitz, Jacqueline Wilson, Lynn Barber, Michael Frayn and more than a dozen other leading authors to take part. The attendances and feedback were terrific and the Festival was on its way. In truth, we had underestimated what it takes to put on a book festival, but with lots of volunteers and goodwill it grew from strength to strength.

Photographs: Left Anthony Horowitz, top right Jacqueline Wilson, bottom right Lady Antonia Fraser

For our 10th Festival, we’re delighted to be welcoming back Anthony Horowitz, to talk about his new James Bond book, along with other headliners from previous Festivals: novelist Kate Mosse, historians Max Hastings and Charles Spencer, spy writers Charles Cumming and Jane Thynne, globe-watcher Tim Marshall and Masterchef presenter John Torode, who heads the lineup at our new sister venture, the Cookbook Festival.

We also have well-known authors speaking here for the first time: novelist Joanna Trollope; poet Roger McGough; historian Kate Williams; economist and broadcaster Dharshini David; food writers ‘Deliciously Ella’ Mills and Jack Monroe; and children’s author Julian Clary.

 

Photographs left to right: Max Hastings, Kate Mosse, Charles Spencer with Torin Douglas

Do join us!

The 10th Chiswick Book Festival runs from September 13th to 17th at various venues. Details and tickets from www.chiswickbookfestival.net

 

Chiswick roundabout, gateway to London

Chiswick roundabout is a scruffy, unprepossessing bit of London: a poor introduction to west London for those coming in off the motorway and a dispiriting environment for those who live and work in that corner of Chiswick.

Residents groups, the London Borough of Hounslow and developers are all united in the wish to create something there which will cheer the place up a bit. The question is what? The Octopus was seen off. The Citadel was approved by the council but didn’t materialise. What’s wrong with the current proposal, the Curve? Too big, says the Council, the residents groups, English Heritage and Kew Gardens. A landmark building we should be proud of says the developer Starbones.

In rhetoric reminiscent of the Peter Sellers sketch about ‘Bal-ham, gateway to the south’ the developers making their closing arguments in the last week of the Public Inquiry into whether the building should be permitted, described our derelict, blighted interchange as the ‘gateway to the global city’ and suggested that we should count ourselves lucky to have such a magnificent building on offer.

It will now be up to Planning Inspector Paul Griffiths to digest the past four weeks of argument at the Public Inquiry and write a report outlining his recommendation to the Secretary of State, for a decision to be made in the autumn.


Computer generated image of the Curve

A ‘masterpiece’ or a candidate for the ‘Carbunkle’ prize?

As is the way of these things the Public Inquiry had long boring stretches where the experts muttered off-mic, addressing the inspector alone, ignoring the hoi polloi in the cheap seats. The learned barristers (all men) made tedious references to plans and photographs we couldn’t see, while their assistants (mainly young women) scurried about with photocopies.

While we grappled with the acronyms, trying to work out whether the CC (ok that’s an easy one) was designed in accordance with the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework, obvs) or the decision to use a tilt shift lens to create the CGI (computer generated images, keep up) was taken contrary to the LVMF (no idea, your guess is as good as mine) the experts took delightful pot shots at each other.

The architect’s attempts to soften the impact of the building by describing its graceful curves and toning colours were BS (my acronym not my learned friend’s, counsel for the London Borough of Hounslow, Richard Ground QC, but that’s what he meant). The building would be a likely candidate for the ‘Carbunkle’ prize awarded each year by Building Design magazine for the worst building erected during the previous twelve months, said architect Barbara Weiss.

The developers’ architectural experts, brought in to convince the Inquiry of the Curve’s fantastic design had ‘form’ the Inquiry was told, when it came to advocacy for really ugly buildings. Two of them, Richard Coleman and Paul Finch, had previously worked with teams pushing for spectacularly nasty buildings which were subsequently awarded ‘Carbunkle’ trophies. Ouch.

At one point Richard Coleman raised the argument that the Chiswick Curve, as viewed from Kew Green, would “tell you where you are in the world.” It was suggested to him that “you don’t need to know where the M4 is when you are on Kew Green”. In any case I’d have thought the opposite would be true, given the calamitous effect tall buildings have on sat navs.

 


Computer generated image of the Curve

In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king

While all this was going on I was examining the pretty pictures of the landmark / statement / beacon. Apparently the effect of the tilt shift lens CGI images is that they create the kind of image that you would only see if you were looking at it with one eye covered.

Maybe that’s the answer. Build the thing and hand out eye patches to the local populace. At one point during the four week hearing, Paul Finch did actually suggest that if residents didn’t like the blazing lights of the 32 storey skyscraper illuminating the bedrooms of nearby houses at night like a football pitch, they could move.

Mostly there were serious, sensible arguments put forward, only occasionally relieved by little jokes and sniping, by barristers and architectural experts for the developers and the council, by heritage experts on behalf of English Heritage and Kew Gardens and by ‘ordinary’ people who care sufficiently about their surroundings to bother to immerse themselves in the planning detail such as Marie Rabouhans, Chairman of the West Chiswick and Gunnersbury Residents Association.

You can read the case for and against the Curve in my reports in the This Is Chiswick section of The Chiswick Calendar website.

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Freeze house prices, says think tank

The Institute for Public Policy Research is urging the government to freeze house prices. The IPPR says a five year freeze would ‘reset’ house prices and make housing more affordable, as housing costs would fall in real terms as other prices and wages continued to rise.

Under the IPPR’s proposals, house prices would be able to rise again ‘only after expectations of constantly rising house prices have been ‘reset’.’ The initiative is part of a wider plan to re-balance the economy away from finance in order to avoid another financial crash.

Chiswick already has, thanks

They’ll be pleased to know that Chiswick is doing its bit. Paul Cooney, Director of sales at Horton & Garton, Chiswick says prices have dropped ten percent over the last 12 months and 12-15% since the EU Referendum because of the lack of buyers. “People are sitting on the fence, seeing if things are going to get worse” he says, “and last night’s Cabinet meltdown isn’t going to help”.

2014 was the high point. “The market was bonkers”. There followed a period of “Mexican stand off” in which sellers held out for a higher price than buyers were willing to pay, but now he says sellers are more aligned with what buyers will pay. He’s just sold a house in Somerset Rd for £955,000 which was originally on for £1.050,000. “If you want to sell, you have to offer your house at a price which is going to get buyers excited.”

Brexit end game begins

Oh joy. As the Editor of Politics.co.uk Ian Dunt put it yesterday: “I think I preferred it when we were good at diplomacy and shit at football”. For him yesterday’s political high drama was “fun”. The BBC’s Laura Kunessberg said at times the Brexit process felt like a bad novel where you got bogged down in too much detail and lost the plot, but now it was like a fast paced political thriller. Very exciting if you’re in the thick of it at Westminster, but what might be more helpful is something like a manual or a self help book.

The Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for Exiting the EU resigning is dramatic, I get it. The prospect of the Conservative party in open warfare is entertaining, if you like that sort of thing. But what’s profoundly depressing is that there doesn’t seem to be a majority in parliament for any Brexit deal. It’s hard to see how the Prime Minister’s plan would be accepted by Tory and Labour Europhobes but it’s equally difficult to imagine a hard Brexit being passed by Labour and Conservative Europhiles. The divisions go deep in both main parties.

Rupa Huq MP, speaking in parliament yesterday

What do our MPs have to say about it?

Ruth Cadbury, MP for Brentford and Isleworth, gleefully dissed the Government: “perhaps the most shambolic government for decades in complete chaos”.

Rupa Huq calls for a People’s Vote

Rupa Huq, MP for Ealing Central and Acton, took the opportunity to call for a People’s Vote. She told parliament “Now that even senior members of the Government are resigning. DeXEU’s Midnight Runners and the Foreign Secretary, because they think that we’re headed for a bad Brexit deal, can I suggest to her (Teresa May) that at the end of the negotiations she could put herself in a strong position by holding People’s Vote to validate the final deal”.

The circus comes to town

Circus has always been a family tradition for us. We used to go every year to see Zippos when my kids were young, with additional trips to big shows such as the Moscow State Circus and the Chinese State Circus, so I consider myself something of a circus aficionado.

I say with some confidence then that Giffords Circus is unique and their 2018 show My Beautiful Circus is really good fun.

In the last couple of years Giffords has become a regular fixture in the Chiswick social calendar. Based on a farm in Stroud in Gloucestershire, Chiswick is their only London venue, so we are privileged to have a show which is zany, funny, clever, and beautifully structured and choreographed by Cal McCrystal (whose credits include Iolanthe at The ENO, Paddington, Paddington 2 and One Man Two Guvnors with James Corden), showcasing all the talents you would expect – juggling, acrobatics, performing ponies, music and clowning – on our doorstep.

The opening night in the grounds of Chiswick House has become the press night for the launch of each year’s new show. Hence the presence of celebs Jennifer Saunders and Adrian Edmonson, designer Vivienne Westwood and actress Anna Friel when the show opened last Thursday. The circus is in Chiswick until Monday 9 July but tickets sell out fast.

What’s so special about a small family circus? Read the full review.

Last week of the Chiswick Curve Public Inquiry

The Public Inquiry into the proposed development of the Chiswick Curve continues this week and is scheduled to end on Friday 6 July with a closing submission from the developer Starbones.

Last week the architect Christophe Egret outlined his vision for the building, causing some mirth among residents who oppose the 32 storey skyscraper when he compared it to the Palm House in Kew Gardens. Describing the way in which he was using curves to create the effect of softening the light and pixillating the edges of the building, he told the Inquiry that comparing the two was ‘a little bit of a jump, but I’m thinking in the same way’.

‘A new urban layer’

He also made it clear that the Curve would not be standing out on the skyline alone. There would, he said be ‘a new urban layer’ added to Chiswick as ‘the landscape is being redrawn by a number of developments’.

East Brentford is the subject of a great deal of development in various stages of the planning process. He told the Inquiry ‘You have to go a little bit taller to make sense of developments’ (in east Brentford).

Does it make sense or is it madness to allow this development? Hounslow Council refused planning permission on the grounds that the Curve was too big and has also refused permission for another of the proposed buildings in this area. Have a look at the developers’ ‘vision’ in site plans, CGI and the architect’s model in the This Is Chiswick section of The Chiswick Calendar website.

Planning Inspector Paul Griffiths has until early September to make his report, which will then go to the Secretary of State for a decision.

Click here for further information on week 3 of the public inquiry.

What actually happens to all that recycling?

There are two types of people in this world – those who put their recycling out efficiently the night before collection and those who are roused from a deep slumber by the smashing of glass bottles, leap out of bed as the realisation dawns that it is recycling day and run out of the house in their pyjamas to try and catch the bin men before they disappear around the corner. Guess which type I am.

Mostly I’m a good citizen and try to conform. But is it the end of the world if you put the wrong type of plastic in the box? Why have they taken one item but not another? Because there’s an R in the month?

Read Karen Liebreich’s feature

Karen Liebreich (she of the Chiswick Timeline / Abundance London / guerrilla gardening) went to see the recycling facility where the results of our individual sorting attempts end up and discovered there is a logic to it and saw at first hand why you should feel very ashamed if you put plastic bags in the plastics box.

Quick quiz

What is the most revolting kind of unwashed can the sorters encounter?
What should you do with shredded paper?
Can you include light bulbs in the glass box?
Why can’t black plastic trays be recycled and why do food producers insist on using them?
What happens to it all?
And is it worth it?

If you can’t answer these questions you should read her article in the This is Chiswick section of The Chiswick Calendar.

And I would just like to say to the dog walker who dropped a bag of their pet’s poo in my recycling box before I’d had a chance to take it in after emptying, that is most definitely not where you put dog poo!

Fullers London Pride backs Pride

It’s enough to have Quentin Crisp and Bernard Manning spinning in their graves. Fuller’s has announced that it is supporting the other London Pride on 7 July 2018 by becoming the parade’s official beer partner.

It’s either very clever marketing (if you Google London Pride the top two items are about the parade, with the beer at No.3 so why not capitalise on it?) or a long overdue acknowledgement that it is not only straight men who like a pint and that not all beer drinkers are homophobic, misogynistic geezers. (Some of them are even women!) “For too long beer advertising has been peddling outdated ideas of the male beer drinker and their views” says the campaign’s creative director Matt Waller of the ad agency Recipe.

The alliance will see central London plastered in ‘gay beer ads’ with staff at Fuller’s pubs on the route sporting themed T shirts, with pubs like the Iron Duke and the Jack Horner decked out with Pride Loves Pride themed keg lenses and colourful beer mats.

As of this month we are delighted to tell you that Fuller’s is also sponsoring The Chiswick Calendar. ‘Calendar Ale’ … now there’s a thought.

Open House looking for volunteers

Are you interested in architecture and the built environment? Open House is looking for volunteers.  Open House London is the capital’s largest architecture festival. Attracting thousands of people each year, more than 800 buildings of all types and periods open their doors to the public for free. Some, like Chiswick House, are often open but usually charge an entrance fee. Others are rarely open to the public, so it’s a real opportunity to have a look at buildings you wouldn’t usually have the chance to see.

They’re looking for people with ‘an interest in or knowledge of architecture, engineering, town planning, or any subject that might be related to the built environment’, who can commit to just one morning or afternoon over the weekend of  22 – 23 September to volunteer as a steward or a guide. Stewards manage the queues, hand out fact sheets and answer practical questions such as queries about opening times. Guides need to do a little more research in order to lead tours and talk about the architecture, function and history of the building. ‘Some training will be provided’.

Top image – Hogarth’s House – photograph John Collins. Three images below, left to right: The Blue Velvet Room, Chiswick House – photograph Richard Bryant; Brentford Canal toll house – photograph Phil Emery; Hanworth Park House – photograph Peter L. Hughes

They are expecting that people will volunteer for buildings near where they live, but if you have a particular interest in another of the buildings on their list you which happens to be on the other side of London they’re happy for you to apply. In west London Chiswick House, Brentford Canal toll house, Hanworth Park House (new to Open House London this year) and Hogarth’s House are among the buildings which will be open. Hogarth’s House is closed until 21 August for renovation, so let’s hope it will be ready in time.

Register your interest by filling in the online form on their website here.

Browse the Open House website to see which buildings will be open across the whole of London.

openhouselondon.org.uk