Looking back on a long career in local politics

Enfield’s longest-serving councillor looks back on his 36 years at the civic centre, before standing down this month

Grange ward councillor Terry Neville
Terry Neville has been a councillor in Enfield since 1986 but is not standing for re-election

After 36 years as a member of Enfield Council, I decided not to stand for re-election this year. It has been an honour and privilege to represent residents of both Winchmore Hill for twelve years and then Grange, where I live, for the past 24 years.

As you can imagine, people ask me about the changes to the borough that I’ve seen over that period. Unsurprisingly, they are many and varied. In 1986, when I was first elected, Enfield was seen as a pretty typical outer London borough; leafy, green and relatively prosperous.

The biggest single change has undoubtedly been the significant population growth over the years, coupled with the growth of multiculturalism. Any comparison of the borough’s profile in 1986 with its current profile amply demonstrates this, and with that change has come many new challenges for the council, especially in the field of housing and education. They are challenges with which successive administrations have grappled, but with varying degrees of success.

The lack of sufficient housing is still a major problem, but this is not a problem peculiar to Enfield – it’s London-wide. The bigger population and the inexorable growth in car ownership and use has put significant demands on our transport and road infrastructure. This has led to a growth in parking controls and traffic management schemes, but improvements to the major routes serving the borough – the A10, A1010 (Hertford Road) and A406 (North Circular Road) – have barely kept pace with traffic growth.

People often ask what drove me to spend so much time as a councillor and what I achieved in that time. My answer is always the same – to bring about improvements in the efficient provision of public services. I think the public generally underestimate what good councils can achieve, and sadly many fail to fully appreciate the responsibilities that councils have, and the effect they can have on people’s daily lives.

In my view, an effective councillor has to have one or more of the following qualities; a caring nature, initiative, gumption and, perhaps above all, a ‘can do’ attitude, coupled with determination to achieve results. My career I think demonstrates that I am fortunate to possess those qualities, but ultimately that is for others to judge!

When I’m asked what is my most memorable achievement, it is indisputably my appointment as an OBE in the 2010 New Years Honours List “ for services to local government in Enfield and London”. That was not only a complete surprise to me, but also reflected the teamwork of many colleagues, both members and officers, without whose efforts some of the successes which led to that honour could not have been achieved.

I should say that before becoming an elected councillor in Enfield I served in professional local government for almost 25 years in London boroughs as diverse as Islington, Haringey and Westminster.

On appointment as city solicitor at Westminster and parliamentary officer to the London boroughs, I was immediately given a challenge to devise “a legally watertight” policy to deal with what was then an inexorable growth – principally within the Soho area – of various kinds of sex establishments, at the expense of a decline in the hospitality and niche food retailing industries. I was aware that at various times there had been piecemeal attempts to amend existing relevant national legislation, for London purposes, via private bills promoted on behalf of borough councils which had simply not worked, because the industry was always ahead of the regulators.

My answer was a comprehensive and discrete licensing package to deal with the problem, including crucially the ability of the council to specify the maximum number of licences it would grant, which could specifically be “nil”, coupled with maximum fines that were more in keeping with the amount of money earned from these premises. The provisions were published and, following a clamour by MPs representing other major cities, was adopted by government for national application.

After this became law in 1982, I was responsible for its implementation in Westminster and, within three years, we had reduced the number of sex establishments from 106 to twelve, despite legal challenges at the House of Lords. This was very high profile, and was one of my proudest achievements.

Following my election in 1986, and being a lifelong asthmatic, I soon became aware – literally – of the ‘smoke-filled meeting rooms’. This shouldn’t go unchallenged, I thought, so I persuaded the then council leader to agree to my bringing a motion to ban smoking in the chamber and other meeting rooms. This happened at my third full council meeting, when the motion was passed by majority on a free vote. Enfield was the first London borough to so act at that time.

By 2003, I was a cabinet member for environment and was representing Enfield at London Councils, the umbrella organisation responsible for promoting London legislation. Having secured our cabinet’s blessing, I took a proposal to them to include in their next bill a ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants. The bill containing the provisions was published, and history repeated itself because the then Labour health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, decided to introduce national legislation which became law in 2006, thus ushering in one of the biggest social changes in recent memory.

Other memorable achievements were the introduction of a comprehensive door-to-door recycling scheme, which more than doubled Enfield’s recycling rate, while simultaneously setting up a climate change board, two years before national legislation, to audit the council’s own buildings and recommend necessary investment to reduce our carbon footprint.

I’m also very proud of tackling a declining street scene through establishing an ‘enviro crime unit’ by merging a number of different enforcement units into this branded team, which conveyed a clear message in its title that the endemic careless approach to our environment was indeed a crime! In so doing, coupled with a hands-on approach to my wider brief, we achieved two stars from the independent Audit Commission for our environment policies – up from a ranking of ‘poor’.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at Enfield, and have made a number of friends over the years within all political groupings. I take this opportunity to thank all those who’ve worked with me past and present over the years for their dedicated and unstinting support and for tolerating my own less than tolerant approach to getting things done.

Do I have any regrets? As Sinatra sang; “I have a few”. The biggest is my failure to persuade colleagues that local government and democracy in Enfield would be better served by a smaller council headed by an elected mayor so that Enfield could enjoy some of the fruits of those London boroughs which have adopted that model. The second is that we are still a long way from true accountability in Enfield.