Agenda item

A Review of Alley Gating in Hillingdon - Witness session 1


Helena Webster, Community Engagement and Town Improvement Manager, and Neil O'Connor, Community Engagement Project Officer, were in attendance and presented the report noting that the scoping report for the review had been agreed at the previous Select Committee meeting.


Three residents were in attendance to give evidence in relation to the Committee's review of alley gating in the Borough.


Jane Turnbull, Chair of Oak Farm Residents’ Association (OFRA), addressed the Committee Members noting that OFRA covered an area to the east of Long Lane. The area was unusual as a large part of the estate had been designed with vehicle access behind the houses. In some other roads there was a narrower access path for pedestrian or bicycle access. Historically the wider access had been used by refuse vehicles, but the open alleys had resulted in burglary and fly tipping. In the late 1990s and early 2000s Chrysalis funding had been made available to put in gates to be maintained by residents – burglary numbers had dropped immediately. However, no central record had been kept of the lead residents who held the maintenance account and spare keys for each alley.


Members heard that, over the years, OFRA had been approached by residents regarding damaged gates and locks being broken or replaced. They had asked for lead residents to contact OFRA in order to pass on these requests but with little response.


Two main areas of concern were behind the shops at Ryefield Parade where the locks were regularly broken or changed, or gates left open thereby compromising security. In 2022 OFRA had been requested to hold a key to the gates to the west of the shops on the north of Ryefield Parade due to a problem with access to emergency vehicles. On the other side of the Parade, the gates and lock were often damaged and fly tipping and drugs use were an issue there. On one occasion a property developer had installed his own gates thereby cutting off a pedestrian access route onto Ryefield Avenue – action had not been taken in time hence the gates could no longer be removed. The Committee was advised that OFRA would be willing to keep a separate list of email / phone contact details for lead residents in charge of keys.


Paulette McGowan, Lead Resident with responsibility for 11 sets of gates in Hillingdon East, informed the Committee that she looked after the alley gates in Denecroft Crescent, Woodcroft Crescent and Grosvenor Crescent on one side of the road and Denecroft Crescent, Grosvenor Crescent, Windsor Avenue and Burleigh Road on the other side.


Members heard that the alleyway gates at Denecroft Crescent, Woodcroft Crescent and Grosvenor Crescent had been installed in 2008 following problems with burglaries and fly tipping. Other gates including those in Windsor Avenue and Burleigh Road had been installed two years later in 2010.


Ms McGowan was now solely responsible for the maintenance of the gates as the people who had previously helped her had either moved away or had never wanted to be involved with more than the initial start-up. Maintenance issues included locks needing to be replaced having been ground off, locks being broken, and locks being removed – none of these issues had been reported by the perpetrators who were local residents in the vicinity of the alley gates in question. Other problems had included gates which had dropped. This had all come at a cost to the maintenance fund, which was now dwindling. Moreover, the gate post at Denecroft / Woodcroft Crescent on the Denecroft Crescent side currently needed resetting as it was leaning, and the gate could not be closed – this would need to be resolved and quotes for the work were being sought.


The Committee was informed that the Nationwide Building Society Treasurer Accounts that had been held for the alley gate maintenance funds since the start up had now been closed as they no longer supported these types of accounts. Ms McGowan was waiting for the funds to be sent to her in the form of cheques and would then need to source another Treasurer/Society account.


Ms McGowan reported that she was planning to move away from the area in the near future and did not know who would then assume responsibility for the maintenance funds and the upkeep of details relating to the alley gating schemes.


Raj Jhuti, local resident, was also in attendance and gave evidence in relation to the Parkfield Avenue alley gating scheme. He informed Members that the alley gates had been introduced to reduce burglary, fly tipping and drug use in the area. The results had been positive, and those issues had reduced significantly following installation of the gates approximately 17 or 18 years previously; however, many of the residents who had been part of the original scheme had now moved away. Members heard that the bank account for the scheme was now dormant hence residents were fixing locks at their own expense. It was no longer possible to access the funds in the maintenance account and there was no lead person with responsibility for the gates.


In response to their requests for clarification as to how the current system could be improved, the Committee Members heard that the main issues related to maintenance costs, the handling of keys when new people moved in and access to bank accounts. It was confirmed that it would be very helpful if a lead person at the Council could be identified to help residents with matters relating to the funding and maintenance of alley gates. It was also suggested that it would be beneficial if the Council could maintain an up-to-date record of the main key keepers which would be reviewed every year or so.


Members enquired how the issues relating to bank accounts could be resolved. It was confirmed that residents had paid a sum of money into a maintenance account when the schemes were originally set up; however, it was estimated that approximately 80% of current residents had no knowledge of this fund therefore took it upon themselves to get keys cut and repair locks. Funds had dwindled over the years, and, in some cases, accounts had become dormant and inaccessible. It was noted that Nationwide no longer offered Treasurer's accounts and had ceased to do so in December 2022. Other banks including Metro Bank, HSBC and Lloyds TSB continued to offer these types of accounts, but, with the exception of Lloyds TSB, meeting minutes were generally required in order to set them up. Mr Jhuti confirmed that, with regard to the aforementioned dormant account, HSBC would not release the funds to an individual and had requested copies of Residents’ Association minutes etc which he was unable to provide. Any association set up would have to run for at least six months to qualify.


It was confirmed that, when a resident moved on, the keys to the gates should automatically be passed on to the new resident but this did not always happen. New residents tended to ask a neighbour for a key and then made their own copy. Over the years this had led to problems such as locks getting broken as the keys had been recut many times. There was a small charge of £5 when a new non-high security key was requested. The process was different for high security keys.


The Community Engagement and Town Improvement Manager advised the Committee that, for older schemes such as those dating back to 2008 and 2010, a paper-based system had been in use. However nowadays officers held a central list of all new schemes together with contact addresses - the system had changed significantly over the years. Alley gating schemes ranged from 5 to over 100 households so a flexible scheme was needed to address all possible scenarios.


It was confirmed that an alley gating information pack was available on the Council's website and in hardcopy which included guidance on how to set up a scheme. It was not possible to recommend which bank to use but would be useful to review the information currently on the website. The Community Engagement and Town Improvement Manager noted that, as set out in the review scoping report, there was now a discretionary option agreed by the Cabinet Member to support the repair or refurbishment of gates where schemes had been successfully running for over 10 years. Residents could apply for this and, if agreed, funding would be allocated on a 90/10 basis - 90% Chrysalis funding with a 10% contribution from residents. This also provided an opportunity for the Council to make contact with lead residents and refresh the information currently held.


In response to questions from the Committee, it was confirmed that an overarching organisation to keep records and assist in the running of the alley gating schemes would be extremely useful and would be welcomed by the residents.


Members noted that the alley gating schemes were designed to be self-help schemes whereby residents were responsible for maintenance of the gates. It was confirmed that the schemes were dependent on residents using the gates properly and closing them appropriately; however, if there were specific issues in relation to certain schemes officers would be willing to look into these in an attempt to assist. It was confirmed that the police did not currently get involved with alley gating schemes although the previous Safer Neighbourhood Team had been very helpful.


RESOLVED: That the Residents’ Services Select Committee noted the evidence heard at the witness session and sought clarification as necessary in the context of its review of alley gating in Hillingdon.

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