If you’re interested in local politics, stay away from the town hall!

Garden Suburb councillor Rohit Grover says local politicians should forget the greasy pole and focus on the roundabouts

A Barnet councillor and a community campaigner pictured next to a mini roundabout in Hampstead Garden Suburb with a black poodle
Cllr Rohit Grover with Chair of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents Association Emma Howard and her Barnet poodle Charlie

One of the first issues that came across my desk after being elected as a councillor in 2015 was the mini roundabout at the junction of Meadway and Hampstead Way. 

Those who are familiar with the area will know that it tends to get driven over because it isn’t a roundabout so much as a painted circle, and until last week there weren’t any deflections on the approaches to the roundabout that encouraged motorists to slow down and drive around it. 

But enough of traffic management layouts – as my wife will tell you I spend too much time talking about this kind of stuff already.  Indeed, as I left home to inspect the completed safety measures last Sunday, she thought I was joking when I told her I was going to take a look at my political legacy. I wasn’t. 

I’ve worked on improving safety at this roundabout for years, together with the formidable Chair of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents Association, Emma Howard. Getting something like this done requires perseverance and has genuinely given me sleepless nights. 

It started with a funding request we made to the Finchley and Golders Green Area Committee for a feasibility study on what could be done to improve safety. This was followed by another funding request to undertake a resident consultation on the safety improvement measures that were recommended as a result of the feasibility study. Once the consultation had been completed, we had to go back to the committee again in order to get funding for the actual implementation.

That was when the threats of legal action started, from nearby residents who objected to the loss of a few parking bays the proposed safety measures (essentially amounting to pavement ‘build-outs’ at the roundabout entrances), would involve. Cue a round of investigations and reports from highways officers on possible alternatives (none of which were ultimately feasible). 

Anyway, it’s all done now – and this is probably one of my proudest achievements as a councillor.  Modest I know, but it matters to my residents and while we will never know how many accidents it will prevent, it makes elderly people feel safer and reassures anxious parents. 

But it’s also made me reflect on local politics, and the fact that at every meeting of the Full Council there are always young people in the public gallery looking for inspiration from the speeches councillors make. 

I find this profoundly depressing – and a little embarrassing, because what they see is their elected representatives shouting across the chamber at each other, decrying how ‘Truss crashed the economy’, or how ‘Khan’s presided over a crime epidemic’. Valid arguments no doubt – to a degree, but these are issues that councillors have absolutely zero influence over. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of taking part in this performance myself – but my advice to anyone interested in a career in local politics is this: stay away from the town hall. Instead, get in touch with your local councillor and ask them to take a walk with you in your area pointing out all the issues they’ve dealt with and the improvements they’ve made. 

Debating the big national issues and making clever speeches doesn’t make us effective politicians. It’s by focussing on local issues, persevering over many years in the face of fierce opposition and even fiercer bureaucracy, and giving residents the opportunity to be heard, that we perform our greatest service.

Now, as I so often say to my wife at the weekend: ‘I’m off to see a man about a pavement’.

Rohit Grover is a Conservative councillor for Garden Suburb ward

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