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Interview: Councillor Elizabeth Hughes

Tue 2nd December 2014, 11:58 am

Councillor Elizabeth Hughes sits on Hounslow's planning committee. She spoke to Great West magazine about regeneration in the borough, what makes developers good partners and the things that motivate and inspire her.

Nazareth House, Isleworth

Which projects are you most proud of being involved in?

I have sat on many, many applications but the one that stands out for me is the development of the old Nazareth House site in Isleworth. My family has connections with the old orphanage. Both of my parents are active Roman Catholics and the orphanage was supported very strongly by the local Catholic community. One of my mum’s oldest and best friends was raised there and she still has nothing but praise for the place and her life there with the nuns.

On one of the earlier planning applications I sat on for Nazareth House, a non-Catholic colleague expressed his concern that the property developers attending it with the "little old nuns" might be bullying the ladies. Oh dear. Little did he know about the absolute authority of those old-school nuns.  Needless to say, I was able to reassure him that they could most certainly hold their own against a few city financiers. 

Anyway, it has been extremely interesting to see how the site was originally pitched for redevelopment to the London Borough of Hounslow and then to see the revisiting of planning permission this year.

There have also been several planning applications recently where the planning committee has been able to protect or to open up public access to the Thames Bankside. This has been a real improvement to residents' enjoyment of the environment.

What three developments or enhancements would most benefit Hounslow? 

I think that we need to regenerate Hounslow West town centre and Cranford Village. These two areas are sadly downtrodden and lacking any beauty. Hounslow West is a wonderful, busy and vibrant area, with excellent restaurants and I think we are missing a trick in not regenerating now. The area also hosts a very large Ministry Of Defence barracks and a bust Piccadilly line tube station and it is the last stop before Heathrow. That could definitely be improved.

We don't celebrate our bricks and mortar heritage enough. I live in Feltham where we are down to our last few Victorian villas, pre-Victorian churches, public house and early 20th century house. It is very easy to say that a building lacks architectural merit, but we shouldn't overlook buildings that are landmarks in a local area.

Finally, we still haven't got our bus links joining up the borough. We could also do with a very well thought-out off-road cycle track system.

Which three developments outside of Hounslow do you most admire and why? 

I travel a lot by air and I love the view along the Thames coming in over east London. The riverside blocks of flats look like huge ships from above. 

I spend a lot of time in north Italy and I enjoy the layouts of many of the small towns with their pedestrianised squares and verandas, their outside restaurants and shops.   

I was trying to think of a shopping area that I thought was exciting and a pleasant experience, but I can't. Maybe this is something that is missing from west London.

What was your first impression of Hounslow when you started out working there?

I was brought up here. We moved from Fulham to Cranford when I was two. My first memories are of walking along lovely tree-lined suburban roads and the gardens, sadly very much denuded now. 

What things have surprised you about the borough?

The fantastic diversity among Hounslow residents. I have my hair cut in Hounslow West in an Asian hairdressers. My hairdresser is Russian and on Saturday I heard her and the other customers speaking Russian, Urdu, Punjabi, English, Georgian, Polish, Romanian, Greek and Portuguese. Amazing. 

What makes developers good partners?

Developers who bother to listen honestly to what local residents and businesses want. When there are objections, a pragmatic developer can do a lot for their cause by conceding to local people on their often modest requests and by talking to them to allay their fear of change.

When people find out you work in the borough, what are the most common things they ask?

Aren't you right next to Heathrow? Isn't it too noisy? Where is the best Asian restaurant? How much did your house cost?! [Feltham is still one of the cheapest places to live in west London.]

If you could change one thing about working in Hounslow, what would it be?

The main arterial roads and TfL routes. We have a 21st century airport served by 18th century coaching roads. The traffic can be dreadful. 

Which three people have inspired you the most – either at work or in your personal life?

Nelson Mandela because of his journey from violence and anger to peace and reconciliation – a true statesman and example to all politicians.  You need someone with a "big idea" to inspire you and get you positively motivated to serve as a politician.

Aneurin Bevan – one of the founding parents of the welfare state. He was a great visionary and committed socialist without whom we wouldn’t today have a universal health service or social housing.  I used to live in a council flat in Hulme, Manchester, that had a plaque commemorating the estate’s opening by Bevin in the 1950s – this was the beginning of the great post-war slum clearance programme in our major cities and my block of flats was the first to be built in Manchester.  Still standing, still looking good and still "des-res" council housing.

Finally, John E Pepper, the former CEO of Procter and Gamble. He reinforced a “do the right thing” ethos in a multinational company in the 1980s. Purpose, values, principles. That’s what it is all about.

If you could visit any country in the world, where would you go and why?

It's always Italy – fabulous country.  I'd love to be a millionaire and just mooch around living the life.

Which book, film, piece of music or sporting occasion has had the biggest influence on your life and why?

That's a hard one. I love film music and it would be very hard to chose my favourite but I enjoy Michael Nyman's music and of course Zimmerman [Bob Dylan] but at the moment I have been back listening to Johnny Cash and Tom Waits – try [the Tom Waits album] Frank's Wild Years. It always makes me laugh when I think that I am having a bad day!

When did your most memorable meeting take place and what made it so special?

Nelson Mandela. I shook his hand, he spoke to me and I nearly passed out with emotion.  

What is your favourite gadget and why?

Bottle opener – probably obvious why.

What is your biggest professional achievement?

My favourite aspect of being a councillor is helping people. That's why I was elected.

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