A week is famously a long time in politics, a week of action is probably even more intense. For those who might have missed it, last Tuesday marked the start of our week-long blitz of activity to clean up a particular part of the borough, in this case around Northolt Road.
Those with longer memories will recall the WOA scheme at its height from 2007 to 2010. It is an exercise where we, the council, join with police, fire and trading standards to give a specific area the full treatment – from deep cleaning of streets and overgrown areas to intelligence-led police activities to curb certain types of crime.
Tuesday proved a spectacular relaunch for the Week of Action. In the first part of the morning, we went to the homes of two suspected cannabis dealers, one of whom was found with 10 bags of the drug. Both are known to deal on the streets, and one is now being investigated for whether he has a proper claim on the council flat he lives in. Dealing drugs on the streets is patently a criminal activity; to do so from a flat that the taxpayers underwrite adds insult to injury. I take the view that social housing is a perk, not a privilege, and we will turf out people who misuse our precious housing stock.
But a more intriguing discovery was yet to come. Just a few yards from a high street bank off the Northolt Road, we came across a brothel occupied by four Romanian girls. The irony is, this property was only uncovered as it was checked for smoke alarm safety in the upper floor flats above shops. There were suspicions about the nature of this property as it was surveyed… no smoke without a fire alarm, you might say.
After police gained access, I stood in the hall as officers questioned these young women, one as young as 19. They came, they said, from the town of Corvinesti. They knew why they were coming to Britain, they said; to earn in a day what they could only scrape in a month back in Romania. The overheated rooms, complete with platform shoes, pathetic heart decorations and tea light candles, told their own sad story. One admitted their visa was a year out of date; others seemed to shrug their indifference as the Romanian-speaking PCSO quizzed them on their movements. Of course, brothels in London are hardly new. But how depressing that the oldest profession in the world is now being fuelled by the newest wave of migration.
Victims these working girls may be, but equally the people of Harrow did not ask to live next door to brothels, and we know the kind of anti-social behavior that lurks in the shadow penumbra of prostitution – drug dealing, anti-social men and occasionally violence. This brothel is being shut down, and where we find others, we will take similar action.
Our staff endured a biting cold morning to hand out leaflets outside the Baptist Church and make clear the help the council can offer across the board, on its own and with volunteer groups. This authority is here to help people who need it, and these weeks are not just about enforcement – they are also about enabling those who need our help to access it.
The Weeks of Action will continue on a rolling basis, and I will have more to announce in future blogs. They are there to do three simple things – make Harrow cleaner, safer and fairer, and so far I’d say we are off to a bright start.
Last week ended on a promising note with a visit to Harrow by the deputy mayor of London, Sir Edward Lister. A major focus of his visit was our regeneration plan in and around Harrow on the Hill station. In particular, I pressed hard for the case for step-free access at Harrow on the Hill, a long-running issue I am passionate about. Harrow Council is committed to finding a solution to this issue – details of this will become clear in the budget – and I am hoping that Transport for London and the Mayor’s Office will back us.
In my view, step free access at this station is inarguable and Sir Edward was impressed by the strength of our case. I hope to hear hopeful noises from City Hall over investment at the station, and rest assured I will beat any train whistle in volume to make that case heard!