We do our best to be a listening Council that tries to understand and keeps in mind what our residents want, but it is not always easy.
Sometimes there are forces so large that they overpower all other considerations. One such force is our current financial position. As you probably know, our grant from central government has fallen drastically in recent years but we must go on providing essential services to the young, the old and the vulnerable. These have to be paid for. Any proposal that significantly weakens our ability to do so is going to have a high bar to clear before it gets adopted.
But while there are always brute realities that have to be acknowledged, I am glad to say that the influence residents have in this borough remains visibly strong. Take last week’s cabinet meeting. First on the agenda was a wonderful £1.35 million upgrade for Chelsea Sports Centre. The driver: gym users, 80 per cent of whom are locals. More gym space is what they told us they wanted. More gym space is what they will get.
The next item was a hoarding site in Chelsea occupied by two hoardings, one small, one large. We have some well located sites that provide taxpayers with a very useful income. Chances to increase that income are welcome indeed, especially in the present financial climate. The proposal before us was to allow the advertising company to increase the size of the smaller of the two hoardings, which would have enabled us to up the rent. But these are illuminated hoardings we are talking about. A local Councillor spoke against the proposal as did a resident who, on this occasion, we were convinced spoke for others. We decided to leave the hoardings as they are and forgo the extra cash, which was not negligible.
There are many other ways that we are trying to take account of what our residents say, certainly far too many to list here. But for a flavour you could look at our basement policy, tenancy reforms, pubs protection policy, Mayor’s awards, a neighbourhood plan, and what about Crossrail too. We even have a Cabinet member – Cllr Gerard Hargreaves – who is responsible, amongst other things, for making sure consultation with local people and local groups is real, frequent and meaningful.
If you think there is an area where we are conspicuously failing to listen, Gerard and I would be interested to hear about it.