On a wet Thursday evening in late March Tory Mayor Boris Johnson from the warmth and comfort of City Hall with a stroke of his pen dashed the hopes of the residents of Southall by approving the enormous development proposed for the Southall Gasworks site.
Up to 3,750 residential units were approved by the Tory Mayor along with significant retail and leisure use despite the original application being refused by the democratically elected planning committees of both the London Boroughs of Ealing and Hillingdon.
The legitimate fears of Southall residents are that the huge development will cause traffic gridlock in their town that is already suffering from excessive congestion. With so many new homes planned there could be up to 15,000 extra residents living in Southall – the equivalent of a small town – and with access to the new development mainly via existing Southall streets the only outcome will be traffic chaos and gridlock.
The Tory Mayor has said no more than 2,500 units can be built until the bridge on South Road is widened but this just highlights his lack of knowledge of Southall. He has refused to visit Southall and actually see the current traffic problems and the lack of a solution this bridge widening would produce. After the traffic from the development passes over the widened bridge where will it go? Bumper to bumper along South Road, The Green, King Street, Park Avenue, Beaconsfield Road or Merrick Road, that’s where. Where will all the traffic from 2,500 units go before the bridge is widened?
Southall’s transport infrastructure just can not support this level of over development; neither can its social infrastructure. The promise of an extra Primary school and health centre on the site is woefully inadequate given the current pressures on local schools and health services. I am also deeply concerned about the health risks for local people when the decontamination of the land takes place.
When the Tory Mayor made his decision a group of protestors from Southall braved the rain and travelled to City Hall by coach to try and speak on behalf of local people. I met them at City Hall and they included Labour councillors and candidates and community leaders. They put up a spirited defence but Mayor Johnson had already made up his mind and it would appear he did so with the collusion of the local Tories. The Southall Tories were conspicuous by their absence despite their previous crocodile tears about the impact of the development on Southall and it was reported to the meeting that the Tory chair of Ealing’s planning committee was now in favour of the development.
It was a travesty of justice and Southall residents need to know where to point the finger of blame when all these problems come home to roost – firmly at the door of the local Tories.
If they had an ounce of political principle they would now resign from the Tory Party and stand with the residents of Southall in opposition to this development but I wouldn’t hold out much hope for that to happen. Principled positions do not stand easily with naked personal ambition.