The leader of Ealing Council has survived a vote of no confidence called by his own Labour group by a narrow margin amid criticism of his stewardship of the borough and disquiet among councillors about the handling of the introduction of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs).
Julian Bell, who has been Ealing’s leader since Labour won control of the council from the Conservatives in 2010, defeated the challenge last night by 27 votes to 26 with one abstention.
Bell, a strong advocate of active travel policies who chairs the transport and environment committee of the cross-party London Councils, has faced protests and fierce criticism from some Ealing residents over LTNs, which involve closing residential streets to through traffic.
Labour councillors who’ve contacted On London say the revolt in the group was not an expression of factional differences, but a mixture of disquiet over how Ealing’s LTNs have been implemented and a more general feeling that Bell has become unpopular with voters and reached a point where, after ten years at the borough’s helm, he ought to give way to someone new. Councillor Peter Mason has today resigned as a member of Bell’s cabinet.
The no-confidence motion was proposed by Walpole ward councillor Gareth Shaw who at the end of August released a joint statement with fellow Labour councillors supporting the goals of the LTN policy while acknowledging local opposition to the one in their areas and pledging to “support the move to remove the LTN” at the end of its six-month trial period if the outcome of a retrospective consultation proves to be “representative of our residents as well as negative”.
The councillors statement said that the emergency services “have all been fully consulted over the implementation of LTNs” via “London-wide channels” and that “access for all emergency vehicles to residential properties remains in place and is not impeded by the schemes”.
However, it has since been claimed that information to that effect, posted on the Ealing Council website, was misleading. Last Friday, Bell conceded: “Regrettably, the London Ambulance Service was not consulted at the same time as the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire Brigade.”
Under Bell’s leadership, Labour has increased its council majorities at the boroughs elections of 2014 and 2018. However, one Labour councillor told On London that “the implementation of the LTNs in Ealing have brought things to a head”. Another, who is supportive of LTNs in principle, said that residents’ organisations opposed to the schemes have submitted Freedom of Information requests to the council and emergency services. A legal challenge to LTNs is also said to be ready for launch.
Eric Leach of residents’ group West Ealing Neighbours told On London “we’re disappointed to see Julian Bell has survived” and claimed he is presiding over a “toxic culture”. Another campaigner said: “I think there’s a growing sense that Julian Bell has lost touch with the people of Ealing. The council has become more and more resistant to engaging with anyone.”
Dozens of LTNs have appeared across the capital without prior consultation in line with national government policy and in response to government conditions imposed on Transport for London under the terms of its financial bailout in May.
They are supported by Sadiq Khan as part of his wider Streetspace programme, designed to help prevent a “car-led recovery” from Covid-19. The short-order changes have been made possible by the use of traffic regulation orders, but can be revised or abandoned following a trial period. On London has approached Julian Bell for comment.
Photograph of Julian Bell from his Twitter feed. This article was updated at 12:55 on 29 September 2020 to include the resignation from the cabinet of Peter Mason. It initially said the no confidence motion was defeated 28-26, but subsequent sources have confirmed that it was 27-26.
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