Who’s (not) Listening?
Is the Consultation Process a Sham?
Transport for London and Councils like Hounslow are following a determined agenda to create Lower Traffic Neighbourhoods and Cycle routes but officially they are required to consult. Indeed Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, in a letter to Councils on the 16th October 2020 stated:
I want to be absolutely clear; we are not prepared to tolerate hastily introduced schemes which will create sweeping changes to communities without consultations, and ones where the benefits of cycling and walking do not outweigh the disbenefits for other road users.Grant Shapps
But unfortunately that is exactly what has happened in Hounslow. Hounslow used the Experimental Traffic Orders (ETOs) to rush through sweeping changes that went way beyond the original purpose of creating a bit more pavement and cycling space.
The Covid emergency was exploited by both TfL and Hounslow Council, to change everything at a time when we were all preoccupied with the lockdown.
Originally Hounslow simply didn’t consult – people had no clue what was happening but when they eventually did consult, months after making the changes – 95% of respondents said they didn’t want the changes. However, instead of reversing these changes, almost all (other than Turnham Green Terrace and parking outside the George V) are still in place. Despite the fact residents have given their views, and the fact that Hounslow published their results of the November consultation (which broadly concurred with ours), little has changed!
And subsequently the council has introduced a series of further on-line ‘consultations’ one after the other, adding to the confusion. These so-called consultations have been designed to lead us into giving the “correct” answers. And if we don’t oblige – another “consultation” is rolled out!
As summer came in and people became more aware (and horrified), it soon became clear that these consultations were little more than show. First, they were self-selecting so not properly representative of our community: they were digitally-exclusive so that people without easy access to computers could not take part. Furthermore, with some surveys, partially sighted people could not access the maps on which to place their comments. There was minimal publicity. But those who did respond found that they were really being asked to agree to some pre-set proposals. Fine if you agreed but disagreement was much harder to express. We have yet to see if Hounslow will bow to the wishes of the majority.
It isn’t easy to respond to wave upon wave of confusing, time consuming and complex online consultations with difficult graphics in the growing realisation that nobody will act on what we the community wants.
Let’s not forget that if we were in normal times – we could protest in mass demonstrations, go to public meetings, meet Councillors face to face – but because of the pandemic – we can’t.
The consultations were there for show and even when 95% of respondents demonstrate their disagreement with the proposals as in the November consultation – Hounslow Council (unlike some other Boroughs) demonstrated that it wasn’t prepared to listen to reason or make any modifications. It seems to be following the agenda of a narrow group of interests – mainly driven by the cyclist lobby.
However, on 17th May 2021, Hanif Khan published the long awaited (and 2 months overdue) report on the November Commonplace Consultation. OneChiswick was heartened to see that at last the wishes of the majority were used to reverse the unworkable and unnecessary restrictions on Turnham Green Terrace and the parking area outside the police station.
Click here for the results : https://www.hounslow.gov.uk/streetspace-review
BACKGROUND TO COMMONPLACE CONSULTATIONS
The May-June 2020 Commonplace Consultation
Hounslow uses a consultation platform called COMMONPLACE to glean opinion from residents. They said that the results of the COMMONPLACE consultation which took place during May and June were used to influence road closures in Turnham Green Terrace and Devonshire Rd as part of their LTN strategy:
The objectives to be met were:
- Create more space for people to travel safely on foot or by bicycle
- Consider the temporary closure of a residential street to through traffic
- Manage queuing space outside shops to allow people to be 2 metres apart
- Explore measures at any traffic speeding hotspots you have observed
What should be noted of the two roads in question…
- Turnham Green Terrace (and in part Devonshire Road) have a mix of both residential and shopping premises. Turnham Green Terrace is a local road and also a busy through road connecting people from north Chiswick
- The consultation used the premise that both roads would be closed. Respondents were asked if they wanted temporary road closures to be made permanent, (when the objectives stated above were for temporary changes to respond to Covid-19)
- Devonshire Road never had issues with congested pavements
- The consultation also asked about speeding hotspots – all traffic moves slowly down Turnham Green Terrace and Devonshire Road
View the responses
What was the result?
Despite dire warnings from traders and residents on the traffic chaos that would ensue, the loss of trade, the devastating effect of removing parking on traders and shoppers (including the less able) and the splitting of Chiswick, Hounslow closed both roads. And this was despite the fact that 76% of respondents asked for Devonshire Road to remain open.
What Did the Council Say?
We recognise there were residents who were against the closure; the consultation was to gain suggestions for improvements, and was certainly not intended to be a referendum. (Seth Twombley, Officer, Hounslow Council)
The real reasons these roads were closed were:
- To create a north south linkage of the newly introduced C9 on CHR, and the only way to do that was to reduce traffic flow.
- To minimise car movements joining the C9 from Turnham Green Terrace, and crossing the C9 into Devonshire Road, both of which messes up the cycle route and flow of traffic on CHR.
- To create car-free zones in Turnham Green Terrace and Devonshire Road, both long held dreams of a small but very vocal minority, but which goes against the views of the vast majority of other residents and businesses who chose premises on these roads because there was parking outside their shops (and whose business slumped when parking was removed).
We contend that was a misuse of Government funding and of the Covid crisis to impose an agenda which was overwhelmingly against the wishes and needs of the local community.
The November 2020 Commonplace Consultation.
Hounslow once again used Commonplace and asked people to agree with their pre-set propaganda.
Reopening of roads, reinstatement of parking & bus lane were all absent from the consultation.
But having endured months of gridlock, loss of trade, constant roadworks, hazardous crossings, the removal of the bus lane & pedestrian refuges, increased pollution, long arduous detours and £1,000,000 in fines from TGT alone, the people of Chiswick had their say.
Residents have overwhelmingly asked for Chiswick road closures to be reversed, the bus lane to be reinstated, refuges and parking to be reinstated by using the comments boxes on the November Commonplace consultation.
What was the result?
A resounding 95% of respondents wanted the Streetspace changes reversed and their much-loved Chiswick back, and this is why we continue to fight.
What do the experts say about Commonplace
- On LTNs – should only be completed by people who live, work or have children at school in or near the LTNs.
- Multiple responses should not be permitted. As it stands you can ‘vote’ as many times as you have email addresses.
- The introduction to the surveys express favour for the Council’s changes. It should be impartial.
- The responses are weighted towards favour for the Council’s changes. They invite ‘tinkering’ of the current schemes rather than downright rejection.
- Whilst the responses to the majority of questions can be analysed by computer, the contents of the Comments boxes require qualitative analysis by a human. This is time consuming and costly and may not happen.
- A note on the Comments box warns that comments might be posted publicly. This is breach of the Market Research Society (MRS)’s code of conduct, which expressly prohibits the publication of such data without the respondent’s permission. And it could discourage respondents from answering frankly.
- Steps should have been taken to ensure that all households had the opportunity to answer the survey, not just the computer-savvy. As in an election, households should have been written to so that all are aware.
The way Hounslow constructs its surveys is deeply flawed using this platform, as fixed responses are weighted in response in favour of Council measures. They should be objective.
Users of the platform find it confusing; it excludes those who do not have use of or easy access to a computer. In particular, the Commonplace maps are not accessible by partially sighted people.
There is no checking of people’s ‘right’ to complete the surveys and they are completely lacking in objectivity. For example, members of a group like the London Cycling Campaign can “like” the proposals even if they live fifty miles away and don’t come here. Yet it would appear that their views count for more than a local business that has been in Chiswick for years or a pensioner or family living locally.
In summary – Hounslow Council has misused these surveys to provide legitimacy for their proposals. Yet the real results go directly against the requirements of the Transport Secretary, favouring instead the cyclist / walking agenda over the other road users. There is no mandate from the people of Chiswick for these proposals and they should be reversed. Far from being a “vocal minority” those who oppose the closures of roads and the creation of the cycleway are in fact the overwhelming majority.
Typical comments from members of the Chiswick community
What a disaster these cycle lane measures are.
Total gridlock everyday.
Everyone queueing behind buses. It’s a disaster.
Please listen to residents, not cycling lobbyists who don’t even live in Chiswick
Reopen Fishers Lane and Turnham Green to Traffic – NOW
Cllrs don’t even know the names of the roads in Chiswick – so why close them?
It makes no sense
If you, as part of the majority, want to be heard, please click here.