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Opinion: Why have we in Southall Green been denied our right to meet councillors at ward surgeries

For many years and before Covid, Southall resident Angela Fonso and her neighbours have been trying to see their Southall Green Councillors for ward surgeries. But despite the need of residents wishing to have and use surgeries, the Councillors including the now leader of Ealing Council, Peter Mason have ignored their requests and continue to make it difficult to meet.

In her opinion piece, Ms Fonso outlines the concerns of being denied ward surgeries and the barriers that have been put in place for residents to talk face to face with their elected representatives.

“On 24 February 2023, I arrived at the Dominion Centre at 6.09pm to see Councillors Jasbir Anand and Kamaljit Dhindsa. Their surgery was advertised on Ealing Council’s website as the last Friday of the month 6.00pm-7.00pm at the Dominion Centre in Southall Green ward. The building was mostly in darkness and the gates to the front and rear entrances were firmly padlocked. There was no notice on either gate to indicate that the surgery was cancelled.

“This was disappointing as I experienced the same situation three years ago but, on that occasion, I was informed by the caretaker as he was locking up, that councillor Jasbir Anand had phoned him to say that she was unable to attend the surgery.

“And where was Councillor Dhindsa?  He seems to still believe owing to Covid, ward surgeries are cancelled as his page claims.

“Councillor Peter Mason who also represents Southall Green ward, has never done a surgery on the last Friday of the month due to him claiming he is observing the Sabbath, but he has never offered us an alternative day when the matter was discussed at a ward forum.

When he was the councillor for Elthorne from 2014-2018, Councillor Mason was happy to be out and about during the Sabbath on Saturdays in Hanwell and meeting residents.  But for us in Southall Green, he wouldn’t see us on the Friday or offer an alternative day to ensure he provided ward surgeries that residents have been wanting and requesting. Councillor Mason has put up barriers to meet residents from when he first got elected.

Why is he a Southall Green councillor if he doesn’t wish to engage with residents meeting him. He engaged with residents on the Sabbath in Elthorne with surgeries but has denied them to Southall Green.

“When Councillor Mason became our ward councillor in 2018, his council page showed surgeries taking place from 2018 onwards until it was changed to say no surgeries due to Covid during 2020. No where did it ever state he never met on Friday evenings. To the outside world, Councillor Mason gave the impression he was there for residents to meet him at surgeries, but the reality was that he never saw us at surgeries.  It just shows that he didn’t want to meet with us in Southall. This has allowed him avoid hearing or listening directly to the people who use surgeries and attend them. Residents need surgeries as a way to seek help from elected councillors.

Councillor Peter Mason surgery details July 2018
Councillor Peter Mason surgery details July 2018

“But his own observation of the Sabbath seems to also include going out on Saturdays and canvassing for Labour as well as taking part in other related Labour party events. Those seem to take priority above meeting with residents and those in the ward who elected him to represent them. If he can do this on a Saturday, then surely he can do a Saturday surgery for residents of Southall Green, like he did with Elthorne, but he doesn’t seem to care or want to do that.

“His own observation also seems to actually exclude Friday night when during the Sabbath he has been tweeting many times, yet he couldn’t and wouldn’t come to see us for even a short amount of time for a ward surgery. Or even offer us an alternative night.

Friday night Peter Mason tweets
Friday night Peter Mason tweets in December 2022

“But for his Southall Green ward residents, we don’t appear to matter and there is always a reason Councillor Mason gives to avoid us.

2018 booked up Councillor Peter Mason
2018 booked up Councillor Peter Mason

He once claimed that his evenings were “booked up 4-6 weeks ahead” due to his “extra duties” in 2018 and that was “genuinely not trying to be prissy/self important” by saying that.

“Whenever, we tried to reach out to him, he used excuse after excuse not to see us. His page on the council website was recently updated to indicate that his preferred method of contact is by email but this disadvantages elderly residents and those who speak English as a second language who in a face to face surgery would benefit from Councillor Mason’s  colleagues interpreting in Punjabi if this is their spoken language.

“I emailed Councillor Mason in July 2022 on the matter of air quality monitoring at the Green Quarter and received a reply in December 2022. The length of the delay doesn’t bode well for other residents who opt to email him.

“Failure to provide a surgery denied me the opportunity to discuss the partial refurbishment of the playground on Spencer Street. Last Summer the multi-use games area (MUGA) was resurfaced but has yet to be relined and interactive graphics added.

“This is a playground that is in walking distance for youngsters on the surrounding roads, which is good for Ealing Council’s active travel policy but had been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. The playground at Emerald Square is also neglected and came second in London Play’s London’s Saddest Playground campaign. I was keen to discover if the councillors could influence A2 Dominion to prioritise refurbishment.

“Residents are experiencing persistent air pollution from two incinerators in the Balfour Road Industrial Estate which is located within a residential area. This is of particular concern because wooden pallets at Sam’s Recycling are being burned and it is unknown if these are chemically treated.

“We do know that the company burns plastics and that another company burns MDF coated with Melamine. Melamine is recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as being possibly carcinogenic.

“Residents also experience persistent air pollution from the Green Quarter, formerly Southall Gasworks and from two asphalt plants in Hayes. A step forward for Clean Air for Southall and Hayes (CASH) was the installation of an air quality node in January on the Breathe London network and I would have used the surgery as an opportunity to share the PM2.5 and Nitrogen dioxide data recorded.

“The discontinuation of the ward forums and the absence of advertised surgeries are barriers to effective communication with councillors and coupled with the low response to digital surveys by residents in Southall, challenges councillors’ critical understanding of residents’ views on the draft local plan, the air quality strategy (AQS), air quality action plan (AQAP) and active travel.

“Councillors such as those in Southall Green that I and my neighbours have, who ignore us, make excuses not to see us and generally avoid us, shows a total disrespect for our democracy and for the people who elected them to their positions in the first place.”

Angela Fonso is a Southall Green resident and co-ordinates local campaigning group Clean Air for Southall and Hayes (CASH).

In a response to the opinion piece, an Ealing Council spokesperson said:

“We note that you have already published this piece without giving the council or Councillor Mason personally right of reply within a reasonable timeframe, which is poor journalistic practise. This is not a time-critical news issue and therefore we would expect at least a working days’ notice of publication in order to respond and for that response to be included in the original piece.

“Councillor Mason’s office is in regular correspondence with Ms Fonso, the author of the piece, so it is also not proportionate for her to assert that her access to her democratically elected representatives has been restricted.

“We will not comment in detail on the assertions regarding Councillor Mason’s religious observance in this piece, as we believe that all of our Councillors and staff should be able to practise their religion free from abuse or speculation. We take the treatment of our teams – elected councillors and officers – very seriously, and have a zero-tolerance approach to them being exposed to unacceptable treatment in the pursuit of their duties.”

An EALING.NEWS spokesperson said: “With reference to the comment from the council, please note this was not a news story, it was an opinion piece as we publish residents opinions in this section. We told Ealing Council this was an opinion piece and provided the link to it. It is often the case an opinion is published and others have right to reply which is why we offered the right of reply and have put the Ealing Council reply below the opinion piece.”

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