On Wednesday 16 April in the last Council meeting before the local elections in May Cllr Nick Paget-Brown took the opportunity to pay tribute to those Councillors who will not be standing for re-election. His speech can be read here.
Tonight marks the last Council meeting for a number of colleagues across the Chamber. It is a mark of how fortunate we are as a Council that every one of them – whatever their length of service – is going to be missed enormously. We have been fortunate to have had people with a huge range of experience and knowledge which they have put to work on behalf of the Council and residents.
Could I comment on members of my party and one of our opposition colleagues who have served this borough so well?
Abbas Barkhorder has not even been a Councillor for two years. Yet he has succeeded in this short time in making a very great impression. His analytical approach and ability to act judiciously and wisely can be seen later on tonight’s agenda on his working group on tables and chairs. On election he was immediately thrown into the lion’s den of controversy surrounding the refurbishment of Exhibition Road and handled it all with equanimity and good sense.
Along with his colleague Louis Mosley, who was elected barely a year earlier, they have faced every challenge in the Brompton ward which has repeatedly been in the eye of the storm of concerns over the 24-hour society, pavement culture, supercars, parking and planning. They have dealt with each of them with drive and energy – assiduously representing residents in a huge variety of forums. Louis is also very effective at looking at how new communications tools can be used in politics. It is a matter of regret that the machinery and technology of politics has lagged behind the innovations that he has alerted us to in terms of monitoring opinions and trends and new ways of transmitting ideas to a busy and sometimes uninterested public.
Matthew Neal in Cremorne has also been active representing concerns over the Thames Water super sewer and the potential threat this had on public space in the ward, the challenges arising from the new Academy and the development of the Lots Road power station.
As we say goodbye to Abbas, Louis and Matthew, it is worth remembering what a commitment it is to be a Councillor and how difficult this can be to reconcile with the demands of an employer. For all the talk of corporate social responsibility, many companies do not really take kindly to lengthy telephone conversations, early departures for meetings and sometimes having to take second place when there is a clash of events. As they are each immensely able and energetic people I hope that they will make their corporate reputations and then consider a return to local politics at some later date. I would like to think that their departure now is merely a sabbatical and not for all time.
It is matter of great regret that we are also saying goodbye to Fiona Buxton who has sadly decided to stand down following a long period of ill-health. Fiona has had a most distinguished career, latterly as Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and before that as Cabinet Member for Housing. Her wry humour and ability to handle complex and difficult subjects – and to carry colleagues with her are great skills and would be the envy of any leader in London. Her humanity and suitability for the role were in evidence to many of us last autumn when she presided over the opening of the newly refurbished Piper House and rapidly and easily established a rapport with many of the residents. I have no doubt that, but for the cruelty of illness, her career would have continued its upward trajectory.
We are also losing Terence Buxton who has been an assiduous chairman of a number of Committees – but in particular of planning, chairing some of the difficult decisions relating to Holland Park School and the Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre. I have had occasion to sit in on one or two of his meetings and been impressed by his determination to hear all views and to set out the reasoning behind the conclusion that the Committee has reached.
Tony Holt has held many important posts during his 20 years as a Councillor. He has mastered all the details of complex and difficult planning and transport matters where his skills as an engineer have been greatly valued. He has had the patience and temperament to deal with the complexities and controversies of highways and transport, where an improvement in one location inevitably leads to howls of outrage in a neighbouring street. In particular Tony will be remembered for the huge enthusiasm he has bought to horticultural maters in later years as chairman of the Brighter Kensington & Chelsea Scheme and a stalwart member of the Royal Borough Environment Project. Kensington and Chelsea is a more beautiful place as a result of his efforts and his ability to persuade others to take an interest in the environment around them.
Christopher Buckmaster has never shirked controversy. Because of him and in particular, his period as Cabinet Member for Education where he demonstrated flair and determination in equal measure, we have seen a huge improvement not simply in the fabric of our buildings but of our overall educational performance. Under his influence the borough finally took the real steps needed to give borough parents more choice at secondary level. He went on to become a ground-breaking chairman of Scrutiny looking at London-wide issues relating to Health and Adult Social Care and showing us how to do Scrutiny differently and better. It was no surprise to any of us that he was absolutely the best choice to have the rare honour of being Mayor twice – most recently during the important Jubilee and Olympic year of 2012.
In Royal Hospital ward, Ian Donaldson has dug in – if that is the right word – on trees and planning and has made a highly visible difference to the arboricultural appearance of Royal Hospital ward. He understands the minutiae of planning policy and its likely effect on the character of the streetscape better than anyone. Long after we are all dead and gone, I imagine explorers of the future hacking their way through the Forest of Donaldson which will by then be covering most of Chelsea.
Let me now turn to my next door neighbour Frances Taylor. Frances is hugely assiduous in Redcliffe and has very high visibility in every street. I know this as I often hear ward surgeries being conducted on the doorstep. She has also made herself a master of public transport and has determinedly pursued the agenda of improved road safety for children. Her annual calendar has been a seasonal treat and has successfully engaged children in all our schools giving Kensington and Chelsea an enviable record for school travel safety. Frances is also widely recognised across London as an expert lobbying for public transport improvements. Woe betide any whippersnapper from London Underground or Buses who arrived ill-prepared for a meeting with Frances. She was also an assiduous chairman of the Public Realm Committee and before that of the Scrutiny Committee on economic development and community partnerships.
Also recording 30 years of service, let me cross the Chamber to Bridget Hoier. I think I can safely say that in all her years on the Council I have never had any serious agreements with Bridget about anything!. However, she is dogged, tenacious, passionate and kind. She has been a very effective Councillor. She has used a lethal political combination of unforgiving invective and beguiling charm. To illustrate this it was only a couple of years ago that I found myself admitted to a hospital bed in St Mary’s Paddington with a bad eye. I realised that I must be quite ill and having a hallucination as there on the next bed was sitting Bridget with her husband Steve. Unbeknown to me, the patient next to me was her brother Gerry and Bridget had gone into bat to ensure that he was receiving the best possible care in the best possible hospital. When she and Steve saw that I was Gerry’s neighbour they were back the next day with a box of chocolate and lots of cheerful repartee. My recovery never looked back and, with Bridget batting for him, Gerry got the level of care that he needed.
I finally turn to a Councillor who is quite simply an institution. Doreen Weatherhead embodies our history and our values. I had occasion to remind my colleagues the other day that she was first elected to this Council when I was six. She has served it in so many different capacities that I think of her as the conscience of the Council. A plan which has Doreen dead set against it is a plan which is likely to come unstuck. A course of action of which she does not approve is likely to be a route to disaster. She is fearless and plain speaking, but she is also aware of those who are vulnerable and for whom the Council is a perhaps the final port of call or the last resort. Doreen, ever since the new Council was created you have played a part in it – even in those three never-to-be forgotten years when you were in opposition. It has been your life and you have been part of the life of everyone in this room and many others. Your reputation extends well beyond the walls of this Chamber. All of us owe you a particular debt of gratitude for setting high standards and doing your best to ensure that all of us – whether officers or Members – meet them.
Mr Mayor, truly tonight we say farewell and thank you to a range of enormously talented and committed colleagues on both sides of the Chamber whose contribution over a combined total of 216 years have helped to define Kensington and Chelsea and the unique part it has played in the evolution of this great City.