Like many Ealing residents I’ve been intrigued by the council’s intention to give about three-quarters of us £50 of our council tax money back early next month.
Such a controversial proposal is bound to attract widespread attention and the council have certainly succeeded in pushing the X-Factor down the list of conversational priorities in Ealing North.
By co-incidence I was thinking about the return of some of my council tax as I went to meet a large group of Greenford residents who were utterly dismayed by the decision of the Mayor of London to pull the plug on the long awaited and already started programme to install a lift at Greenford Station.
I may have referred to an escalating level of fury but the reality is that most people who use Greenford Station and have to make a real struggle to get from the platform to the street just can’t understand why the Mayor and his Transport for London team have delivered such a slap in the face to Greenford.
The original footings for a second and third escalator (one to take people down to the street and one to provide peak time and breakdown cover) have been in place since the 1950s and are there for all to see today.
After years of campaigning the government provided the money and the last Mayor of London gave the go-ahead to Transport for London to actually install a lift at the station.
What a boon this would be to people who just can’t manage a steep flight of stairs or have to make the journey with a baby and buggy or armfuls of shopping.
Work started on the station and I confidently anticipated the grand opening early next year when the Conservative Leader of Ealing Council and I as the local Labour MP could leave aside our political differences and glide up and down in a brand new lift together.
A large bucket of very cold water has been thrown over that happy thought.
If we accept that Boris Johnson has the right to re-order the priorities that Ken Livingstone set then there’s not a lot of use trying to change his mind. Boris won the election and we have to live with his actions.
Local GLA Member, Richard Barnes, is as angry as I am and is doing his best to persuade the Mayor but, until then, we can at least consider another possibility.
The Council is giving about six million pounds back to council tax payers. The remaining work needed at Greenford Station will cost about £150,000. If the back-hander was reduced to £45 then there would be more than enough to pay for the lift.
I know that people will say that this is a Greenford issue for Greenford people but the people who use the station come from far further afield than just Greenford and, in any case, there would be more than enough money available for local schemes that are crying out for money in other areas.
I leave the fertile minds of the residents of Acton and Southall to come up with suggestions for their areas but in Hanwell we could see the historic Hanwell Cricket Club saved and West Ealing could finally see some sense and sanity restored to the notorious nightmare junction of Ruislip Road East and Argyle Road.
We could bring Ealing Central Sports Ground up to the standard that Perivale deserves and even sort out the increasingly dangerous footpath that replaced the old spur line to Sanderson’s and runs from Horsenden Lane South to Bideford Avenue.
We could get a lot of new pavements, pedestrian safety and street lighting for the money!
Bringing the Park Rangers back to base in North Greenford and Hanwell would surely be money well spent and, in Northolt, we could see Northala Fields finally achieve its true potential and even get a proper toilet block installed!
Pitshanger could get the occasional lights that they are currently struggling to raise funds for and we could even see the long forgotten odd numbered side of Curzon Road finally have their pavement renewed before further falls are suffered by the residents.
Now someone will probably say that £50 each for a lot of the borough’s residents will help stimulate the retail sector and the Council are urging people to spend the money locally.
In reality the retail sector is doing extremely well with record sales being recorded and there hasn’t been another collapse like that which lost us our Woolworths.
Experience tells that most of the money will be spent in shops in Harrow, Uxbridge, Kingston, Brent Cross and that vast commercial city squatting in Shepherds Bush.
So it comes down to a pretty basic choice.
Spend six million on all the above and throw in an Arts Centre to really put Ealing on the map or hand out £50 to three quarters of the households and hope that shops will experience a surge in sales.
It does seem to me that the wrong decision is being taken here and I have sufficient respect for the good Councillors of Ealing to know that they would never let pride or political calculation cloud their commitment to the greater good of the borough so why not act now before the brown envelopes start popping through the letterboxes next month?
Speaking for myself I’d rather see something permanent paid for with my money. I don’t think that my voting intentions are going to be swayed by being given £50 of my own money back but I could appreciate the motivation if I felt that this was essential to the economy of the borough. There’s no doubt that the money will be useful to some people and even popular but while I entirely understand that some will seize the cash with alacrity – and I respect their position - I can’t help but think that this is an opportunity spurned.
Unfortunately I don’t see this as a driver of regeneration and I look at other London councils who operate a discount scheme for local residents who buy in local shops with rather more admiration than I do for what does look suspiciously like an ill-thought out pre-election sweetener.
Our borough should be run in the interests of the community and people – not the Conservatives and politics.
A lift at Greenford Station would be remembered long after the last vote has been cast next May and I happen to believe that people would have more respect for a Council that sought permanent improvements rather than temporary inducements.