2005: Housing and Regeneration
Above: Tony Blair and John Prescott visit resident Sharon Williams at Grand
Union Village, Greenford (2005)
Housing, a problem issue for many decades, was another area to be tackled by Tony Blair. He wished to attract new first time buyers onto the property ladder, as well as regenerate rundown or disused local areas. In 2005, he visited a new housing development in Greenford, the appearance highlighting the extent to which private firms were now engaged in new projects ranging from housing to schools, locally:
Prime Minister Tony Blair made a surprise appearance on Monday at a new housing
The visit, to the partially completed Grand Union Village Development in Greenford,
was timed to coincide with the Government’s announcement of new measures to
encourage first-time buyers into the property ladder.
When finished in 2006, the development’s 700 units will comprise 35 per cent social
The site was previously used by industry as a brickwork and a waste disposal depot.
Residents had been told that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was coming, but
the fact that Mr. Blair was to accompany him was kept secret until the last minute for
The Prime Minister spent 15 minutes chatting to Sharon Williams, 33, a BT manager,
in the sitting room of the two-bedroom flat she moved into three days ago.
Ms. Williams had previously been living with her mother because she could not
afford to buy a property on her £27,400 a year salary.
Mr. Blair and Mr. Precott made a speech about their plans to build more social
housing and to make it more easy for people like Ms. Williams to buy property,
before viewing a model of how the development will look when it is finished.
Mr. Blair said: “I’m delighted to be here this morning at the Grand Union Village…
and thanks to Sharon Williams for inviting us into her home and making us very
He added: “The economy is stable, interest rates are low, inflation is low, and having
got that in place we don’t ever want to give it up.
“But that’s not enough. If you are a first-time buyer, trying to own a home and raise a
family, it’s very very tough, particularly if you live in the south of the country.
“We are trying to make sure we expand the possibility of home ownership as much
as possible. We’ve got to take action to help first time buyers.”
(Article by Polly Manser in Ealing and Acton Gazette, 28 January 2005, p. 5)
However, residents living near the new development had worries about overcrowding, traffic, and the impact of 2,000 new residents on local schools and services. Some feared the development eventually becoming a ‘sink estate’. Taylor Woodrow, the developer, assured them that a medical centre, restaurant, shops, a park, village hall, and possibly a leisure centre and a new bus route would all be established. The company was incidentally contributing £2.6 million to nearby schools including Greenford High, even though the Council had decided that no new local schools needed to be built.
While Mr. Blair’s plans were ambitious in their intentions, it is quite clear in 2017, that rising house prices have made the housing market all but unaffordable for first time buyers in London, while rents have increasing sharply, and the newest homes are often being purchased by property speculators – not young families or the less well off. The 2008 financial crisis compounded these problems by leading to wage freezes and revealed the huge problem of debt, caused by cheap loans made available to many people unable to repay them should the economy decline.
2006: Labour’s local Eclipse
Above: Jason Stacey, Conservative Leader of Ealing Council,
Blunders over Response, soaring council taxes year on year, a perception of poor public services, and extensive cuts, made Labour unpopular in Ealing by 2006. The Iraq War did little to improve matters. In May 2006, Jason Stacey’s Conservatives came to power at Ealing Town Hall after local elections. Mr. Stacey immediately scrapped the Response Programme and withdrew Ealing Council support for the controversial tram scheme, which the previous council had backed:
Council support for the tram was totally withdrawn at the first full council meeting last
Thursday under its new Conservative rulers…
Defeated Labour councillors admitted support for the controversial £650m project
had been disastrous for the party and cost them control of the authority at the local
elections on May 4.
New council leader Jason Stacey repeated the Conservatives’ opposition to the
He said: “We are opposing this whether we do it together or do it alone – opposition
He warned that the council is fully prepared to take the issue to court if necessary
and said he would not be ‘bullied and cajoled’ by Transport for London (TfL).
The body has said a tram will come to Ealing with or without residents’ support.
Mr. Stacey attacked the London Mayor’s attempts to ignore a survey of 17,000
residents in 2004, which rejected the scheme, in favour of a small telephone poll of
just over 800 people, which marginally backed it.
He has now written to the leader of Hillingdon and Hammersmith and Fulham, which
are in the path of the suggested route, to discuss joining forces against the transport
Labour councillor Liz Brooks told the meeting that canvassing in the run up to the
election had been… bruising and humbling.
She said: “I think I met three people who supported the tram and a vast number who
“It was a great mistake not to listen to their views – it was arrogant on our part.”
(Article by Steve Still in Ealing and Acton Gazette, 26 May 2006, p. 4).
2007: End of an Era
Above: Tony Blair leaving Downing Street, 27 June 2007
In June 2007, Tony Blair stepped down as PM after 10 years in charge. He was succeeded by his erstwhile Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown. How much had Mr. Blair achieved during his time in office, and how had Ealing been affected?
It was a mixed picture, certainly. There can be little doubt that the minimum wage legislation was a positive outcome for many Ealing residents on low pay. Tens of millions had been invested in schools and hospitals in Ealing, and a good deal of new housing was constructed locally. A stable economy and apparent prosperity were also features of the period.
At the same time, problems remained. Ealing’s Labour Council had been forced to make considerable cuts in spending on local services, while raising Council tax repeatedly to meet its needs. New forms of revenue generation such as bus-lane cameras and the extension of parking zones, were introduced as a result. Some money had been wasted, most notably in the Response Programme.
The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and more so the invasion of Iraq in 2003, proved to be unpopular decisions, if understandable in the climate of rising threat from terrorism. The absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, did however lead to anger and dismay, particularly as the war continued until 2011, costing many thousands of lives.
Mr. Blair was increasingly personally unpopular from 2003, but the Conservative Party did not have a credible alternative leader until David Cameron took charge in 2005, and subsequently won the 2010 general election, forming a coalition government with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats.
The 2008 financial crisis exposed the economic deficiencies of the Blair government. Borrowing and debt had played a large part in financing the ‘new money’ coming in from central government. In retrospect, economic crisis made ‘austerity’ inevitable.
At the same time, the need for massive retrenchment since 2008 has revealed that many of the investments in public services were unsustainable. Although Council tax has remained frozen since 2008, £85m of cuts were announced by the Council in 2011, to deal with a Council debt projected at £516m in 2006. Consequently, reorganisations of public services, including the privatisation of the library service in 2013, have seen many job cuts since 2007.
More fundamentally, the underlying problems in British society such as terrorism, antisocial behaviour, and housing, do not seem to have improved in the post-Blair era. Child poverty, affecting some 23,000 children in Ealing by April 2007, and said to be increasing in 2010, was another concern.
Not all of this can be blamed on Mr. Blair of course, as Ealing and Britain were passing through a period of huge change and development, not all of it foreseeable or controllable.
More research of course could be done, and the Ealing Local History Centre has the local newspapers and other source material for interested researchers.
A Chronology of Ealing’s Blair Years
- May: Tony Blair forms Labour government
- Labour Council announces £10m in cuts
- Labour Council starts to erect road humps in West Ealing and Acton
- Labour Council opposes Euro rail link through the borough
- Ealing Councillors go ‘online’
- Labour Council’s plan for ‘Home Zones’ for residents’ car access only, floated
- Council’s roads department dubbed a ‘mess’, its head being charged with fraud
- Council workers’ unions oppose proposed new terms and conditions
- Trial of ‘Mardi Gra Bomber’ – Edgar Pearce (61), convicted and imprisoned for 21 years, having planted bombs locally since 1996
- Trial of new cabinet system of local government
- Council workers strike over longer hours and lower pay
- Private firm, Vertex, fined for failure to meet Council housing and tax benefits performance targets
- Six Asian Labour Councillors alleged to have disobeyed planning rules
- Labour Council seeks Private Finance Initiative to rebuild four schools
- Labour Council backs proposed tram between Uxbridge and Shepherd’s Bush
- Consultation on question of directly elected Mayor for Ealing
- Labour Council reviews street party charges and controlled parking zones policy
- Nursery workers get an average of £3,600 pay rise from Council
- ‘Leader and cabinet’ system approved by Council – old committee system abolished
- August: Real IRA bomb attack on Ealing Broadway
- September: 9/11 terrorist attacks in America
- Ealing Council services rated among the lowest in two unofficial league tables
- Referendum on directly elected Mayor for Ealing takes place – rejecting the idea
- Council makes £500,000 a year from West Ealing bus lane CCTV enforcement cameras
- Audit Commission labels Ealing Council ‘weak’ over service provision
- Robberies in borough soar by 50 per cent
- On the spot fines issued for antisocial behaviour
- Ealing Council to make spending cuts and increase charges
- Refuse and recycling voted Ealing Council’s best services by residents
- Local press says ‘Council in crisis’ over tax hikes and need to save £13m
- ‘Area committees’ rolled out across borough to supplement new cabinet system
- Ealing Council secures £60m to redevelop four local schools
- Independent auditor says Council is overspending
- Anti-war protests in Ealing, including by pupils walking out of Elthorne Park School in protest. Clive Soley, MP for Ealing, Acton, and Shepherds Bush, supports war against Iraq. Iraqi expatriates in Ealing celebrate toppling of Saddam Hussein.
- Audit Commission says Ealing Council’s performance is ‘improving’
- Protest at Ealing Town Hall over proposed Ealing Council cuts
- Local press reports ‘anger’ over Ealing Council’s £50m ‘Response Programme’ (a new customer relations’ telephone and computer system) and cuts
- Council tax increase of 6.8 per cent announced
- Restructuring of Ealing Council staff
- Resignation of head of Council’s ‘Response Programme’
- Council’s waste management and planning departments given 1 star rating out of three possible, from Audit Commission
- Ealing Council rated ‘weak’ by government
- Antisocial behaviour increasing in Ealing – press features on ‘yobs’ and ‘louts’
- Work begins on Council’s £50m ‘Response Programme’ at Perceval House
- Council loses legal fight to overturn ‘weak’ rating by Audit Commission – £350,000 cost of legal action
- Council’s ‘Response Programme’ computer system not working – firm in charge removed from seven contracts
- Audit of Council’s ‘Response Programme’ cautions against further spending
- Cuts of at least £21.6m needed to avoid more that 4.95 per cent Council tax rise – press reports
- Ealing Council has joint-highest unpaid Council tax
- London terrorist attacks – local MPs support 90 day detention powers for Police in fight against terrorism
- Press report that Ealing Council to be in £516m debt by March 2007
- Council accused of ‘wastefulness’ after Council Tax rise approved
- Conservatives win local elections – Council Leader Jason Stacey axes £60m ‘Response Programme’ call centre
- Conservative Council withdraws support for tram scheme
- £16m of Council cuts announced by Conservative Council
- Ealing Council issues highest number of bus lane fines in London
- Council is owed £8.9m in unpaid parking fines
- £6m fraud at parking and finance department of Ealing Council
- June: Tony Blair steps down as Prime Minister. Chancellor Gordon Brown becomes Prime Minister
- Big crime reductions in Ealing borough area reported