Cabinet Meeting last night. They were presenting petitions concerning the Conservative Administration's plans to demolish Shepherds Bush Market, destroy many of the current businesses and move a homeless refuge to a residential street.
These are emotive issues but both petitioners gave sober, evidence-based presentations that demonstrated a detailed local knowledge which any reasonable local authority would want to genuinely consider. But last night's encounter felt uncomfortably odd. In part, this was because when H&F's Cabinet was invited to question the petitioners and learn more about their concerns none of the eight Cabinet Members did so. In fact, they all looked extremely embarrassed - leading many in the thirty strong crowd to openly mull over what had led to this shame-faced, bowed headed response?
The Cabinet were evidently jittery and this appeared to be a factor in Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh's, (the Leader of the Council) bizarrely aggressive interactions. These began when Cllr. Mike Cartwright (Lab) said he had some questions to ask the residents and raised his hand to do so. "No!" was the angry answer spat across the room. Cllr. Greenhalgh tried to move on but I intervened to say "He must know that there are increasing numbers of people in this Borough who do not believe for a moment that their concerns are being listened to by his Administration. Many of these residents are life long Conservatives and even their voices are not being heard. Save Our Skyline, the Goldhawk Industrial Estate Campaign, Save Sands End... are just a few of the residents groups that have formed in response to this and that list goes on and on." I asked him "why add tonight's groups of residents to that list, why not engage with them and ask questions - which is what these residents had rightly expected to happen when they turned up tonight?". To be fair to Cllr. Greenhalgh, he did respond to that point. Sadly, for the people in the room it began with the words "Shut up... pin your ears back and listen". He then went on to tell us his views on the matter - some of which were interesting.
Putting all this to one side: it's worth asking what would be the international response to any leading political leader in an established democracy who decreed not to allow the official Opposition's voices to be heard in the most important committee in their elected body? And how much worse would the outcry be if all this happened against a back drop of widespread public discontent on a highly controversial matter being considered by that committee? There would rightly be accusations of aspiring towards a tin-pot dictatorship, and so on. But that is exactly the sequence of events that occurred last night.
Given Cllr. Greenhalgh's oft asserted position that he's "in listening mode", I can't believe that he will reflect on last night's events as anything other than a disaster. You can read more about that meeting at the Shepherds Bush Blog.
Meanwhile, local residents and traders have arranged a public meeting to consider the Shepherds Bush Market proposals. It will take place at 6.30pm on Wednesday, 1st December 2010 and will be held in the old Shepherds Bush Library, which is at 7 Uxbridge Road. I understand that Cllr. Greenhalgh has now agreed to attend.