For many years the well-heeled residents of Church Street have complained – not without reason – of copious volumes of through traffic seeking to by-pass the already congested Twickenham Road en route to and from Busch Corner.
A reasonable solution had been sought that may have provided some reduction in the inconvenience for people living in the street. Closure had been considered – always, though, with the caveat that it would only have been a last resort. And any closure would have had to follow a satisfactory consultation with residents of the wider area as well as improvements to Twickenham Road to counteract the impact of increased traffic. But, without support from the wider community in Isleworth, it was always a non-starter.
However, the current council appear to have been schmoozed by a small – but slick and determined – group of campaigners and they have imposed total closure with apparent disregard to the consequences for the thousands of people who would be adversely affected.
Those consequences did not take long to present themselves.
There has been almost permanent congestion along a Twickenham Road which was already barely fit for purpose, ambulances carrying patients to West Middlesex Hospital (which the council forgot to consult) struggled through gridlocked traffic while children travelling to or from school, and even at school, were subjected to significantly increased levels of pollution.
Hundreds of angry residents marched, and social media campaigns engaged in speculation about the motives of both the pro-closure lobby and of the councillors who had backed them. This was exacerbated by the news that estate agents had straight away begun to emphasise the traffic-free credentials of Church Street as an indicator of the desirability (and increased value) of properties in the street.
The hope for opponents of the closure lay in the fact that the exercise was marked as a “trial” closure, subject to review at a later stage.
Residents of the whole area were consulted and asked to vote on whether they wished to see the closure continue or to have Church Street re-open. 72% of respondents wished to see the road re-open (a figure almost certainly understated due to the professionalism and tenacity of the pro-closure campaign in marshalling support).
However, councillors ignored these findings and voted to make the closure permanent.
Not unreasonably, residents are perplexed as to why their elected representatives went to the trouble of trying to gauge local opinion if their intention was to then completely ignore it. It seems to some almost to have been a taunt – an opportunity to demonstrate that they have the power to disregard the concerns of those they represent at will.
Politicians are frequently at pains to stress that they are representatives of their constituents rather than delegates, and if ever there was a public flaunting of the ‘we know best’ interpretation of the democratic process it was the vote at the Isleworth and Brentford Area Forum to make permanent the closure of Church Street.
If the decision to overrule the community wasn’t insulting enough, the councillors made good this shortcoming by embarking upon an extremely tenuous, and fatuous, self-justification exercise. Their actions were not a gratuitous snub to an entire community, you understand, but a cleverly calculated, progressive and thoroughly enlightened environmental initiative.
By the simple expedient of just ignoring all the evidence of increased pollution levels in almost every part of the town other than Church Street, those who imposed the closure upon us were actually able to present their actions as though they were part of some co-ordinated, visionary green strategy. Chutzpah at its absolute best.
Democracy is about the will of the people being done, and whenever it is at all possible that is what should happen. When it is not possible to do the will of the people that needs to be explained, with humility and a dash of regret. Not the ‘Up Yours!’ message which was delivered loud and clear to the community of Isleworth.