Julian Bell survives no confidence motion and call to suspend LTNs
The extraordinary meeting was held virtually. Picture: Gary Malcolm
October 22, 2020
A bid to suspend the trials of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in Ealing and oust the council leader was defeated at an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday (20 October) .
After two-and-a-half hours of debate out between councillors across the political spectrum, the ruling Labour group voted as a majority against both challenges, while the minority Lib Dem and Conservative groups voted in favour.
Speaking on the impact of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), petition organiser Lorna Driscoll made a plea to councillors to listen to the near-10,000 residents that had signed her petition against the LTNs.
She said the opposition was anything but “nimbyism or anti-progress” and that the issues they describe are impacting real people’s lives.
She said: “Put aside your political allegiances…think about the elderly and the disabled, the protected characteristics of all those that should have been taken into account and consulted before their lives were turned upside down and do the right thing…
“Reset a proper consultation, work with the people of Ealing, not against us.”
Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups revealed they had conducted their own consultation of residents over the LTNs schemes, showing it would have been possible for the council to collect views quickly before rolling out the changes in the summer.
Lib Dem leader Cllr Gary Malcolm also relayed a survey that his party did in Southfields, which had more than 1,200 responses so far. He said 90 per cent wished they had consultation before the changes, and three quarters or more were against the scheme.
He added, “Many people had suggestions on how to avoid problems with the scheme such as there being a number of accidents…huge congestion on the roads, problems with air quality…
“When you read some of the comments from those who are disabled, it tugs at the heart strings when one gentleman says a five-minute journey now takes him over an hour, and he had to return home on two occasions given he was in such pain.
“That isn’t how we should be treating our residents in Ealing or Hounslow.”
According to the Conservative group leader, Cllr Gregory Stafford, their survey received 1,000 responses in 10 days with 93 per cent of people against the plans.
Due to ongoing legal proceedings against the council, council leader Julian Bell and cabinet member Mik Sabiers read prepared statements in defence of the schemes.
Cllr Bell also said that the council will “robustly defend” against the legal claims received.
And he said, “We know people have strong views both for and against, what we promise is their views are being heard.”
He added: “We have a proud record of being London’s greenest borough and wanted to do everything we could to keep people safe, reduce levels of air pollution and with clearer roads, give people the confidence to try different types of travel, particularly for short journeys. We all know there is a climate emergency and urgent action is needed, but this is not a challenge the council can face alone…
“We want children to be able to play and travel more independently, and older people to be active and mobile. We think low traffic neighbourhoods could be the key to a much healthier, greener and pleasant local neighbourhood.”
Labour councillor Miriam Rice also urged colleagues to give LTNs a chance.
“LTNs are not new and they existed around the country for decades and have proven to be extremely successful,” she said.
“There was opposition to the introduction of wheelie bins, the ban of smoking in our pubs and the mandatory seat belts in the front…in all these examples there was later acceptance.”
The motion was defeated by Labour councillors voting against, while Lib Dems and Conservatives voted in favour.
Secondly, a vote of no confidence in leader Cllr Bell was brought forward by the Conservative group, following an attempt in September within the Labour party to remove him as leader.
Cllr Stafford said, “This should be a straight forward motion tonight because we know that a few weeks ago 27 Labour members voted to remove Cllr Bell and he was saved by one vote, presumably his own one, with the Conservative and Lib Dem votes this evening this should pass easily…
“If those 27 members don’t vote for this motion tonight…residents will rightly view them as spineless.
“The reason we’ve brought this motion tonight is because this council has stopped listening to its residents.”
Cllr Stafford pointed to the Gurnell swimming pool closure, Victoria Hall sell-off and Southall gasworks as examples.
However a number of Labour councillors and cabinet members defended their leader for a strong record in Ealing over schools, saving Ealing hospital, welcoming child refugees from the Calais camp, strong leadership against Covid-19 and more.
The Conservatives were also accused of “pointless political point-scoring” and “grabbing attention” as a “diminishing” group in numbers at each election.
One councillor added, “I personally could be doing a lot more on this night with my grandma’s 100th birthday but I’m debating this motion tonight”
Education cabinet member Yvonne Johnson said, “All leaders have their strengths and weaknesses…and there are ways to deal with that.
“But certainly I don’t think in all my time we’ve had a full council meeting on such an issue and I think it’s a waste of time and energy and we’ve got so much more we could do…
“I think it’s quite sad we’re debating this.”
She added: “He’s [Cllr Bell] always put forward we should help the vulnerable, those in need and he’s certainly done that.”
Cllr Malcolm said his group would be voting in favour of the motion to send “a signal” over the need for better communication with residents.
He said, “One area over the past four/five years that has got a lot worse…issues about consultation about how residents are listened to or not listened to.
“There’s been a general trend, LTNs has been a clear example of it…
“Given this and the trend I’ve said today’s a moment we can signal to cabinet and the council we need to be better at communicating and listening to residents and informing residents of important issues and involving them in our decisions.
“They vote for us to be elected and we should treat them with a lot more respect.”
Cllr Bell did not speak on his behalf during the debate. Despite Labour’s internal row, all Labour councillors present continued to support Cllr Bell in his position as leader at the meeting.
The motion was defeated.
To watch the meeting and for more details click here.
Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter