Monday 31 December 2007

Happy New Year!

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone all the best for the new year.

I'd particularly like to thank all of those that have worked with us on the variety of campaigns that defined a proportion of life for many local residents during 2007. I appreciate the time and energy that people gave and I am grateful for their advice and counsel.

I hope everyone has a happy, peaceful and fulfilling 2008... Cheers!

Unhappy New Year For Homeless As H&F Council Deliver Further Blow By Ending Local Homeless Hostels

H&F Council are shutting down twelve homeless hostels and turning them into private housing worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. The controversial decisions are going before the Planning Applications Committee which is chaired by Ravenscourt Park Councillor Lucy Ivimy (Con).

This comes off the back of an earlier decision to deny the BBC and Crisis the right to run a Christmas shelter in the borough which was reported here and by the Evening Standard in this article here.

Earlier this year the council also slashed funding to the Broadway project for single homeless people in Shepherds Bush. Then in September, it put pressure on an independent charity, the Barka Foundation, not to give money to the Upper Room - based at St Saviour's church in Wendell Park - which provides hot meals and supports homeless people back into employment.

Duncan Shrubsole, the director of policy and research at Crisis told the Evening Standard, "Of particular concern is that when we wrote to the council leaders they were not even prepared to meet us to discuss their concerns. From what other organisations tell us, this appears to be characteristic of their approach to charities working with poor and vulnerable people in Hammersmith and Fulham."

I hope that we can persuade H&F Conservatives that the best means of addressing homelessness is to support people to get out of that situation. Not to end facilities and hope they go away. We will continue to press them on this.

Friday 21 December 2007

H&F Council Stops Mobile Library Service Today

Today is the last day residents will be able to use H&F Council’s Mobile Library Service. It’s been abolished.

The controversial decision will largely affect local children and the elderly who are the main customers of the service. H&F Council says that it made the decision to save £120,000 out of its £180million total budget.

I don’t understand why no work was undertaken to get a private sector sponsor or partner. DVD and book companies are always looking for new ways to reach customers – especially in light of the ever-increasing levels of competition from Internet retailers.

Needless to say, the easiest way to save the cash is to just cut the service, put out propaganda and hope everyone forgets by the next elections in 2010 - which is what the Conservatives are doing across nearly all of the £34million of cuts they're pushing through in Hammersmith and Fulham.

For more details you can read Our Fulham who also report on the story here.

Wednesday 19 December 2007

McDonald's Applies For 4.00am Licence For Hammersmith Outlet

I have just discovered that McDonald's in King Street, Hammersmith have applied for a licence that would allow them to stay open until midnight most evenings and 4.00am on Thursday and Friday nights.

You can view the application by clicking here. If you wish to make a comment on this application or to object, please click here and write the reference Licensing Application 2007/05358/LAPR in the subject section. Please send your objections in by Friday, 21st December.

If you want me, Mike Cartwright or Lisa Nandy - my fellow Hammersmith Broadway ward councillors - to address the Licensing Committee on your behalf, then the legislation requires that you mention that you'd like us to do this when you send in your comments. Please put all three of our names in your correspondence.

Shepherds Bush Tube Station To Close For Eight Months – Andy Slaughter MP Calls For Rethink

Last Friday, Transport For London (TfL) announced that they propose to close Shepherds Bush Tube Station in just over one month’s time. The Station is expected to remain closed until October 2008, causing misery to thousands of local residents and commuters.

Shepherds Bush Tube Station is one of the busiest in west London and TfL say they need to close it to allow for a new ticket hall and escalators to be fitted. However, Andy Slaughter (Lab), the local MP, says that there are better alternatives to closure and he has asked TfL and H&F Council to come up with a plan that does not involve shutting down the facility.

Andy said “TfL admitted to me that they have cooked up this scheme with developers Westfield because they can get all the planned works done in one go and can use Westfield contractors to replace the escalators. But this is clearly a hasty decision and I think this has more to do with getting the station open in time for Westfield's launch next November rather than the convenience of my constituents. Thousands of local residents who use the station every day have no convenient alternative route. The nearest tube stations on the central line are fifteen minutes walk away and have limited capacity.”

“Closing such a major station when there is no obvious alternative in the vicinity is unprecedented. I want to see a different approach. Even if the works take longer, this would be preferable to no central line station at Shepherds Bush for eight months."

Westfield is H&F Council’s partner developing the Shepherds Bush area. If you are upset about this closure then please email a letter of objection to Andy Slaughter MP by clicking here. Andy will use your objection to petition TfL and H&F Council to change the proposal.

Tuesday 18 December 2007

H&F Conservatives Tell BBC and Homeless Charity “There’s No Room At The Inn” For Christmas Night Shelter

Scrooge’s Christmas spirit was the only one on offer at H&F Council when the BBC and Crisis, the homeless charity, wanted to open a temporary night shelter in BBC premises over the Christmas period. H&F Conservatives vetoed the plans, explaining that they believed the homeless were a “law and order issue”.

Despite being asked to think again by Cllr. Lisa Nandy, Labour’s Shadow Housing Lead, H&F Conservatives stuck to their guns denying dozens of people a warm, safe place to sleep and enjoy a hot meal over the festive period.

Lisa Nandy told me “H&F Council actually refused to even to meet Crisis to discuss their plan sticking to the line that homelessness is a “public order not a housing issue”. It would not have cost them anything. This is just old-fashioned prejudice against a very vulnerable group of people. H&F Council still has time to change their minds. I hope they do".

Tuesday 11 December 2007

Shock News As Hammersmith & Fulham Conservatives Parade Latest Members

Residents will be alarmed to discover that both Emperor Sidious, the Dark Lord of the Sith and Darth Vader, his long time apprentice, have joined the H&F Conservative Party (see pic).

We increasingly live in a climate where high profile celebrity endorsements can pay huge political dividends and so H&F Conservatives will have been initially delighted to see the two Sith Lords posing with Cllr. Paul Bristow (Con), the newly promoted Cabinet Member for Residents Services. However, many will question the wisdom of our local Tories in seeking the backing of the two most evil men in the universe.

We are awaiting confirmation as to whether the Sith Emperor - who is openly committed to the triumph of the dark side - will play any role in helping the Conservatives develop H&F Council policy over the coming years.

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Extended Apollo License Stopped!

The Apollo’s application to extend its licence was refused at yesterday’s licencing committee. The Apollo had hoped to run events until 2.00am, for several thousand people and on up to twenty occasions per year.

I would like to thank all those residents who took the trouble to write in. It played a signifcant role in stopping this. My fellow ward Councillors and I were concerned that the current licence was not always being managed properly. It had caused a wide variety of on-going disturbance to our constituents. We were worried that this new extended application was a recipe for greater problems and so we were keen to oppose the Apollo’s plans.

The Apollo may well appeal which would mean that the application will be heard by a local magistrate. If that happens, my fellow ward councillors and I will make available the significant body of evidence to the magistrates that shows why the extended licence is not appropriate.

Thanks again to all those that assisted in this matter.

Monday 26 November 2007

Chaos Reigns in Refuse Collection Service As H&F Council Admits Failure

In a major set back to the Administration, H&F Council has been forced to admit that the tendering of its refuse service is in near chaos when all of the tenders it received exceeded its newly reduced budget.

The Administration had been at pains to explain that the £1.5million cut to the refuse and street cleaning budgets would not cause a deterioration of its service - promising residents that it could buy "better and cheaper" on the open market. However, this has now been thrown into disarray when an official Council report going to the Conservative Cabinet on December 3rd explained that all of the tenders were well above the agreed budget and that it would therefore not be able to proceed with plans.

With residents, the Opposition and some back-bench Tory councillors complaining of increased litter and missed refuse collections, the beleaguered Environment Department has put out a statement saying that H&F Council will make “service adjustments without compromising a high quality service” and that these reductions will now cause a “delay in the award of this contract”.

Many residents have expressed disbelief with some openly complaining at the incompetence of how this has been managed. Local resident Oliver Cardigan told me “The Council has lost all credibility on this matter. Everyone can see that the streets are dirty. There’s complaints of increased numbers of rats and other vermin and they still try and tell us that the service is of high quality. It’s just not believable”.

Historic Site Deteriorates As H&F Council’s Cuts Funding To Maintance Budget

Residents of Cambridge Grove, Hammersmith are concerned that H&F Council is not properly maintaining the historic wall and railings that date back from the time of the Crimean War.

The wrought iron and cast iron railings have survived a near miss by a V2 flying bomb, a gas explosion in the street and the British climate for the last 150 years. They are relatively rare. However, their future maintenance is now being questioned after H&F Council confirmed that “funding needs to be identified to repair the collapsing section of this wall. Medium to long-term conservation of the wall will be subject the Council's usual approval procedures and funding for implementation”. But, as H&F Conservatives are lining up a £1.6m cut to the highways maintenance budget this response appears more than a little disingenuous.

My fellow ward councillors and I intend to pursue this further. I will let you know how we get on.

Up-And-Coming Artist Seeks Hammersmith Exhibition Date

Alexandra Moore is a British artist operating out of Brooklyn, New York. She’s considered to be an exciting, new, up-and-coming artist and is hoping to exhibit her work in London soon. You can view her website here.

She leapt to prominence after Eric Fischl purchased her work in 2005. He now exhibits the paintings as part of his private collection. You can view his website here.

Saturday 17 November 2007

Is There A Cover-Up About H&F Council’s New Cost And Increased Charges?

I’ve still not been sent a copy of the report on H&F Council’s increased cost and new charges. Local people have to pay these on top of their council tax. There have been new residents' fees introduced such as those for removing garden waste and the Administration has increased other charges – some by as much as 60%.

Readers will recall that when this report was presented to a committee on September 11th, it only listed the cost and charges for this financial year – with previous year’s charges and percentage increases being ominously left out.

At the time, I formally requested that the missing information should be sent to me. Under H&F Council’s rules this should have happened within ten working days. Officials even told the committee that my request was “pretty straight-forward”. But, then a hoo-hah broke out amongst Conservative councillors. Many expressing angst that I would publicise the information once I got it.

Well, the information still isn’t with me, despite several more requests. I can only surmise that this is because H&F’s Administration politicians are sitting on it. Actually, on the 22nd October I did get an email from a senior finance official. It said “Apologies for the delay. We are on the case, gathering information from departments. There is a little more to come in and then we will get back to you”. I have sent further emails asking about the missing data since then but no reply. I will keep you in the loop as to how my quest goes.

Tuesday 6 November 2007

Planning Permission Sought For Brackenbury Post OfficeTo Become Mini-Cab Outlet

Concerned residents have contacted me about the change of use of the old Post Office at 127 Brackenbury Road, Hammersmith. There is an application to H&F Council to turn it into a mini-cab office. My fellow ward councillors and I have called this decision into the Planning Applications Committee. This will mean that it will now be considered by a panel of councillors instead of a planning official.

You can view the application for yourself by clicking here. You should then click here to email H&F Council's planning department with any comments or objections you have. Make sure you quote reference number 2007/03465/FUL when you send in a comment. H&F Council have asked that all objections are sent in by 8th November 2007. However, you will still be able to send your objections until the date the committee meets and as yet, no date has been set.

Any objections you make have to be done on an objective basis and within the UK’s planning legislation. For this application those may be:

  1. This mini-cab businesses would cause nuisance within what is largely a residential area. That nuisance could include additional parking problems, additional traffic, and additional noise.
  2. It’s worth mentioning that this change of use of the building will cause the area to lose a valuable retail site.

Please email me here if you want any further information.

Thames Water Team Fails To Reassure But Agrees To Public Meeting For Hammersmith Broadway Ward Residents

Following the summer's terrible floods, three executives from Thames Water recently came to Hammersmith Town Hall. They sat facing a crowd of around sixty people, all of whom had suffered sewage and foul water pumped into their homes. Thames Water’s team were there to take questions from a panel of councillors. Their body language was tense, some said “twitchy”. It grew increasingly uptight as each question probed deeper into the basis of the problems.

Some people in the audience had suffered the same flooding four times in three years. The meeting didn’t go well for the three execs. The Thames Water team had indeed mastered empathy. The voice tones were soft and understanding but the language was blunt. The residents that had attended were initially told that “there is little, if anything, that can be done to prevent the continued flooding and that people may well be flooded again”.

But the answers didn’t stack up. Thames Water admitted they didn’t know the state of the borough’s sewers – many of which could be silted and not working to capacity. That they didn’t have information about the condition of local None Return Valves and that they hadn’t got any robust information about which homes had been flooded. It didn’t look impressive and it certainly didn’t look like the company was doing everything it could to help. The meeting became quite lively as the crowd failed to be convinced.

The next night I met the same three Thames Water executives again. The residents of Boscombe Road had invited them to one of their flooded-out homes in mid-restoration. They too wanted answers. The group of neighbours had undertaken an impressive level of research. Local resident Chris Moran led the questions and the meeting concluded with some concessions from Thames Water that would benefit the area.

Having led the cross-party negotiating team for all London boroughs for four years, I recognised Thames Water’s familiar approach. I think we can get them to do more. The Thames Water team have agreed to meet the residents of Hammersmith Broadway ward next. My fellow ward councillors and I are in the middle of arranging it. Please email me here if you want to attend. We will let you know when we have a date.

Monday 5 November 2007

Buchanan’s Organic Deli - At The Centre Of Hammersmith’s Urban Village

Being a village in a city of 7.2 million people is more a state of mind than a geographical fact. But, if there’s a centre to what has become known as Brackenbury Village, it is Buchanan's Organic Deli and Coffee Shop.

Jim Buchanan is a teacher by profession but took over the enterprise in the late 1990s. The ambiance is friendly and relaxed and along with his daughter Alice and manager Marco, Jim’s turned the place into what many locals view as a haven. Buchanan’s sell a decent amount of Fair Trade produce and nearly everything in the shop is organic. If you have a few spare moments then they’d be well spent sipping their amazing coffee or trying some of their home made soup-of-the-day as you sit and read the papers that lie around the tables.

In 1999 Jim and Alice (See pic) were amongst the large number of residents that campaigned with ex-Councillor Chris Allen and myself to win public support to turn all the surrounding streets into the 20 mph Grove Home Zone. At the time it was one of the first and the largest traffic-calmed Home Zone in London. Six hundred and twenty four local people took park in the mini-referendum with more than 75% supporting the scheme. Rat-running traffic flow into the area was cut by an average of 27%, speeds dropped by over 10mph and accident rates were reduced by 72% between 1998 and 2005 – all in varying parts as a consequence of this scheme and the ones that followed.

Along with Stenton Butchers, SISI Hardware & DIY, the Hepsibah Gallery, the Andover Pub and several other small businesses; Buchanan’s has contributed to making that little area around the junction of Brackenbury and Aldensley Roads into one of the most charming in London.

You can visit Buchanan's Organic Deli and Coffee Shop at 22 Aldensley Road, Hammersmith, London W6 0DH. You can phone them on 020 8741 2138.

Sunday 4 November 2007

H&F Council Sells Youth Centre For £4million – Leaving Residents To Ask What Will Our Young Do Now?

The youngsters who use the Castle Club Youth Centre are still turning up. But they’re aware that they will be evicted in one week's time. The reason given is because H&F Council want to sell off the building to realise a £4million windfall as part of its Asset Reduction Strategy.

With £600,000 being equivalent to 1% off Council tax and H&F having the third highest land prices in the country, the Administration knows that it’s sitting on a gold mine and is the reason why it’s closing youth and community centres across the borough.

This sell-off swims in the face a recent report titled Aiming High for Young People: A Ten Year Strategy for Positive Activities. It concludes that local authorities have to provide young people with interesting and fulfilling things to do with their spare time if they want them to do well in life and avoid drifting into crime and anti-social behaviour. H&F Council have also carried out a MORI poll of local people and found that residents want to see more youth facilities not less. It’s not rocket science; most residents I speak with tell me that it’s important to invest in facilities for our young so H&F Council’s sell-off looks more than a little out of tune with local people's views.

It’s also questionable whether H&F Council has the moral right to be able to sell this building. It was originally donated “for the care of the children of Fulham” by Laurence Sulivan in 1855 in memory of his wife. So, it is dubious that its use in the Asset Reduction Strategy is in keeping with the spirit of Mr. Sulivan’s bequest.

The real losers here are the seventy or so young people who enjoy and attend the Castle Club along with the forty five parents using the childcare service run from the site. Many of those are single parents who benefit from the subsidised daily rate to enable them to go out to work.

The club was run under previous Labour and Conservative council administrations. H&F’s current Conservative Administration is set to close it for good on 11th November.

Saturday 3 November 2007

Hammersmith Grove Armadillo - Permission Granted!

Bore them and they’ll go home… That seemed to be the tactic initially wheeled out for last Tuesday’s Planning Applications Committee. I guess the last thing the Administration wanted was to anger a large crowd already opposed to what they were about to do.

Over two hundred and fifty of Hammersmith’s residents had turned out on a chilled, dark October night. Having been banned by Ravenscourt Park ward Councillor Lucy Ivimy (Con), the Chair of Planning, from being able to make representations to her committee they were still keen to express their opposition to the eleven storey office building. They brought A3 posters along, splashed with slogans such as, Just Say No, Put Residents First and Don’t Put Developers First. To begin with, the Administration’s plan to weary the people in the room went well. Council officials talked in dull, monotone voices, studiously avoiding answering any of the controversial subjects they had been quizzed on. The Administration’s councillors were cued in to ask about the building’s floor space and other such dreary matters. I thought people would begin to leave. But I hadn’t figured on the residents’ posters. The audience began to wave gently their blue and green sheets. The combined rustle of the papers caused Cllr. Ivimy to lose her temper. She shouted at the people in the room, telling them that if they continued to hold up their posters she would have them “expelled”. The mood changed. Now people were angry.

Cllr. Lisa Nandy (Lab) and I were able to address the committee on behalf of the residents. And, along with Councillors Michael Cartwright (Lab), Wesley Harcourt (Lab) and Colin Aherne (Lab) we asked about the flawed evidence and process associated with this scheme. However, as with the Percy Road development, most residents told me afterward that it was clear that the Administration's councillors had made their minds up well in advance and used their two to one majority to vote the scheme through.

Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of the Council was there with his Deputy, Cllr. Nicholas Botterill (Con). Both explained their vision of Hammersmith’s future as an “office hub” and said this development was an important part of that plan. The local Conservative MP has now also publicly expressed his enthusiastic support for the £250million scheme – although he is not seeking re-election as a representative of the people of Hammersmith. From what I know of the Conservative Group, it would have been be hard for any of their councillors to vote against the views of their leadership. None did.

Three of the seven Conservative councillors on the committee expressed their concerns about the scheme. However, politicians should be judged by their deeds and two of those three actually voted for it. The third refused to vote against it. The final vote was six for the development (all Conservatives), three against (all Labour).

After the vote comes the propaganda. H&F Council's Administration is making two points in its defence. Both fail to stand up to any scrutiny. Firstly, the line goes that permission had to be given to this site as next spring the London Mayor will gain powers to order a bigger building and he will order a 25 storey sky scraper. If this was the case this developer, as with any developer, would wait the six months. In fact, one local resident who works in the industry told me any developer would wait over five years if they could get something that would deliver them £700million instead of £250million.

The second line being pushed is that this scheme was started under Labour. This is a downright untruth. Any member of the public can use the Freedom of Information Act and if they do they will find that negotiations started about this scheme on the 15th November 2006 – six months after the Conservatives became the administration. They will also discover that a different developer proposed a scheme for that site to the previous Labour Administration in the first year of this decade. It was almost half the size of this development and failed to even make it to the Planning Committee.

Overall, I think most people left the meeting feeling disappointed in their local Council. Added to those that attended, there were two hundred and eighty three people that had bothered to write into their Council to object. Only three people had written in to say they liked the scheme.

There was unanimity amongst all the local residents’ groups in opposing this development. The Brackenbury Residents Association, the Hammersmith Society, the H&F Historic Buildings Group, the H&F Community Trust and the Cambridge Grove Residents Association all objected to this scheme. My fellow ward councillors and I did our best to oppose it. Many of the people who worked hard to stop the development were members of parties from across the political spectrum but most were not associated with any particular political allegiance. As far as residents were concerned this was rightly not about party politics. In the end residents were surprised and upset that this controversial building was voted through by a majority of Conservative Councillors. I regret that we couldn’t make those councillors see sense and put in something that was smaller and in line with residents’ views.

Ravenscourt and Bishops Parks Entertainment Licence Decisions – Permission Granted

Even after receiving over five hundred objections from local residents, H&F Council went ahead and agreed to grant permission for our parks to be used as profit-making entertainment centres. As a consequence Ravenscourt Park will now be able to host five entertainment events for more than 5000 people each year. The Licensing Committee also agreed by a majority that there should be an unlimited number of events for 4999 people per year. Residents weren’t pleased.

I wouldn’t have agreed to turn our parks into “profit centres” in the first place and spoke against the Administration's plans at the committee. But, I suppose I should welcome the fact that H&F’s Conservative Cabinet Member for Residents Services did agree to the following amendments:

  • To withdraw H&F Council’s application for any entertainment events of an adult/sexual nature
  • To withdraw H&F Council’s application for wrestling and boxing as well as other indoor sporting events
  • To withdraw H&F Council’s provision to sell hot food in the parks after 11.00pm
  • To alter H&F Council’s application so that the start and finish times for events of more than 5000 people are amended to 11.00am to 11.00pm on Monday to Saturday and 11.00am to 10.30pm on Sundays
  • To agree that alcohol will now only be provided in the parks between 11.00am and 10.30pm and will not be generally permitted in public areas at events of more than 5000 people. Alcohol will now only be available at events of 5000 plus to those who have pre-booked tickets.

  • For events of 4999 and less, setting up and breaking down may only occur between 8.00am and 11.00pm.
Oddly, the reason the Conservative Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services gave for saddling Ravenscourt Park with five events of over 5000 patrons per year and Bishops Park with two such events was that Ravenscourt Park is bigger than Bishops Park. I think it fair to say that the residents present failed to see the relevance or logic of these contentions.

Of the three people on the committee, Councillors Greg Smith (Con) and Alex Karmel (Con) voted to approve the licences. Cllr. Michael Cartwright (Lab) voted against.

We’ll all now have to wait to see how things are managed.

Monday 29 October 2007

First Chance To See The Children's Book Illustrations By Award-Winning Artist Sharon Yamamoto

The Hebsibah Gallery is putting on an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Sharon Yamamoto, the children's book illustrator. The exhibition starts on Thursday, November 1st with a reception between 6.00pm to 9.00pm. It will finish on November 7th. You can visit her website here.

Author, Chris Cobb is expected to attend and Sharon Yamamoto's distinctive art tiles will also be exhibited.

RSVP by clicking here or call Sharon Yamamoto on 07779 845 074.

The Hepsibah Gallery is at 112 Brackenbury Road, London W6 0BD.

Saturday 27 October 2007

H&F Council Recommends NCP Armadillo Is Given Go-Ahead – Committee Of Councillors To Make Crunch Decision This Tuesday

Residents are being urged to demonstrate their strength of feeling against plans to build an eleven story office building at the bottom of Hammersmith Grove by turning up to the Planning Applications Committee meeting this Tuesday, 30th October at Hammersmith Town Hall. The meeting will begin at 7.00pm. The plans for the scheme can be viewed here.

The Developer (Development Securities) was given a chance to outline their proposal for the site to over 170 residents who turned up to the public meeting last Thursday evening. My fellow ward councillors and I arranged the meeting after being contacted by record numbers of our constituents on the matter.

However, the mood of the audience grew increasingly despairing when the developer seemed to mislead them by initially assuring those assembled that:

  1. the 40 plus daily delivery lorries going to the new building would be spread out evenly throughout the day

  2. much of the extra parking would go to the NCP on Glenthorne Road.

He then retracted both statements on being questioned, saying he "couldn’t guarantee when the delivery lorries would turn up". And, went on to admit that he also knew that the Glenthorne Road NCP closed at 8.30pm and so also could not ensure that people visiting the 400 seater cinema or any of the three restaurants would park in it rather than local streets. Andy Slaughter MP (Lab) then asked the developer why they were “squeezing a quart into a pint pot”. The developer replied that they wanted “to make as much profit as possible”.

One member of the audience asked why a cinema was included in the design. The developer explained that they had done this on request from H&F Council last November. H&F Council's Director of the Environment was also at the meeting and confirmed that had been the case. This links the scheme into H&F Council’s plans to demolish the King Street cinema and replace it with new state-of-the-art offices for Town Hall officials.

The developer said that H&F Council had commissioned a traffic survey which was carried out by independent experts. I have not been given a copy of this despite asking for it on August 6th. The report will have hopefully considered the consequences of the road narrowing, the large number of extra delivery lorrries and the extra traffic. The audience expressed shock when H&F Council's Director of the Environment told them that he did not have "the details to hand" and was therefore "unable to answer any of any questions on the matter". He referred people to the planning report.

The Brackenbury Residents’ Association (BRA) and the Hammersmith Society attended the meeting and sat on the panel - with Richard Winterton and Angela Clarke speaking persuasively against the scheme while representing each residents' group respectively. Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of H&F Council, declined an invitation to attend or to send any of his colleagues to take part on the panel. The Conservative MP for Hammersmith and Fulham also declined an invitation to attend.

BRA and the Hammersmith Society are opposing the scheme along with the H&F Community Trust, the H&F Historic Buildings Group and the Cambridge Grove Residents' Association. BRA have put posters up throughout the area (see pic) and are asking people to come to Tuesday night’s meeting in a last ditch effort to make all of the ten councillors sitting on the Planning Applications Committee see sense and turn the scheme down. The hope then is that local people, ward councillors, residents associations and amenity groups will be given a chance to open a dialogue with H&F Council and the developer about what may be a more suitable scheme for that site.

Please come along this Tuesday night if you can. You can email me here for more details.

Apollo Applies For Extended Licence

The Carling Apollo in Queen Caroline Street has applied for permission to vary its premises licence. If successful it will be allowed to run events for several thousand people up until 2.00am on up to twenty occasions per year. You can view the details of the application by clicking here.

The law requires that the licence will be granted if people do not send in any objections. People may want to express their opposition to this variation in light of the recent problems suffered by the Apollo’s residential neighbours. If you want to object then I advise that you specify your concerns about all the different types of nuisance this variation to the licence may cause. You should click here to do so. You must send your objection in by 6th November. Please email me here if you want me to speak against the application when it goes to the licensing committee.

The Licensing Committee is chaired by Cllr. Alex Karmel (Con), who is a decent man and I'm sure he will genuinely listen to all the comments on this matter.

Friday 12 October 2007

Public Meeting About NCP Car Park Plans

There is to be a public meeting to give residents a chance to discuss the plans to develop the NCP car park. My fellow ward councillors and I have arranged it after request from large numbers of local people who are keen to find out more about the proposals for that part of Hammersmith.

The meeting will take place at 7.00pm on Thursday 25th October at the Emerald Centre which is actually on the NCP car park site. The entrance is on Beadon Rd next to the Hammersmith City Line tube station.

All the key players have been invited and are expected to come. Please feel free to bring your friends and neighbours. All are welcome, no matter what your views are on the plans.

I will let you know more details when I have them. Please email here if you have any questions about the matter.

Livingstone Secures £16 Billion Crossrail Investment Crucial To London’s World City Future

So Crossrail is definitely going to happen. Last week the Mayor of London and the Prime Minister announced that the new east-west cross-London rail link had been given the go-ahead - expanding London’s rail capacity by ten per cent. Crossrail will have twice the capacity of the Jubilee line and follows on the back of news earlier this year that proposals for an Uxbridge Road tram had been axed.

The Crossrail scheme was also considered by the last Conservative government in the early 1990s but they shelved plans for it on cost grounds. Mayor Livingstone has now secured the necessary £16billion investment into the capital’s infrastructure which will see a staggering 200 million customers using the new rail link per year. It will be Europe's largest civil engineering project. I for one believe Crossrail to be vital to support London’s economic future. It will help to maintain the City as a world-leading finance centre and is expected to generate an additional 30,000 jobs. The first trains are expected to run on the new line by 2017.

Ken Livingstone should be rightly pleased. He said "In the seven years since I have been Mayor, delivering Crossrail has been by far the most important transport project I have sought to deliver, working together with London’s businesses and the government. This decision is a tremendous combined achievement for all those who worked for it and a vital one for Londoners and the long-term economic future of our city. This new east-west cross-London rail link will be the largest addition to the capital’s transport system for more than fifty years and will touch the lives of millions of Londoners making it easier for commuters, shoppers and those travelling to the City, Heathrow and East and West London".

Tuesday 9 October 2007

Will H&F Council Abolish The Public’s Rights To Be Consulted Over Entertainment Events in Ravenscourt & Bishops Parks?

Hundreds of local residents have written in over H&F Council’s licence applications to run a wide range of functions in Ravenscourt and Bishops Parks. The Licence Committee hearing has now been scheduled for 10.30am on Tuesday 30th October 2007 at Hammersmith Town Hall.

A furore erupted when H&F’s Conservative councillors decided to abolish the publics’ rights to be consulted for each event and proposed a blanket licence application, giving H&F Council the authority to run as many as they liked. A large majority of residents have argued that those rights are an important check on the type and number of functions that the Council agrees to run. However, panicked councillors have rowed back from their earlier demand that officials use the parks as “profit centres” and are now saying that they will only use the licenses to maintain the current events. If that’s the case then the Licensing Committee can agree ‘conditions’ to those licenses that will still allow the public a chance to feed into any further proposals. I would suggest those conditions are as follows:

  • Restrict the licence to only cover the current events. Those being the current fireworks party, the opera and the fair. This would legally require the Council to consult residents each and every time it wanted to run anything above that

  • Remove wrestling and boxing from the licence application

  • Limit the time for setting up and dismantling each event

  • Lower the terminal hour from the proposed midnight to 11.00pm

  • Lower the proposed decibel level

  • Give the licence for a provisional one year only and review it in 12 months time.

Such was the embarrassment of Administration councillors that they put out a range of misinformation which has all turned out to be untrue. The law doesn’t require these generic licenses. The fireworks party was not previously illegal. The Council did not have to apply to run boxing and wrestling events (and indeed, a council officer did not tick the boxes for boxing and wrestling by mistake). In fact, the licensing committee can agree to all of the above conditions.

I hope they do. Most residents have said that they would be happy for the parks to be used for well managed events that do not disturb people in the homes and sheltered housing that surrounds our parks. Many have said that they believe that each event should still be publicly applied for and that local residents’ legal and democratic rights to influence the decision should not be abolished. That seems reasonable to me and I will argue that case at committee. Please email me here if you want me to make any other points. I will report back on what the councillors, who make up the Licensing Committee, end up agreeing.

Sunday 7 October 2007

Thames Water To Explain Themselves At Hammersmith and Fulham Public Meeting

I have become all too familiar with Thames Water over the years. Hammersmith and Fulham's residents have faced a variety of water related problems and until the May 2006 local elections, I led the all-party negotiating group against Thames Water on behalf of the 33 London Boroughs.

Thames Water has at times tried to address residents' concerns but it is my experience that this only happens after intense pressure has been applied. Mostly, residents and I have felt let down by their efforts.

Our pan-London negotiations forced Thames Water to increase investment in their maintenance programme, we won a £10million reimbursement for local authorities, forced them to pay half the bill for fitting water pumps in large buildings and got them agree to give the other 50% as an interest free loan. I think we would have got more in commitments and compensation but the 2006 election results interceded, power changed hands and the negotiations have all but been brought to a stop.

This month I am due to meet Thames Water on two (possibly three) occasions. They are coming to a public meetings in Hammersmith and Fulham to explain why many people’s homes have been recently flooded with sewage and foul water. They will also hopefully be able to tell us:

  • why some people have been flooded out four times in three years and what they’re doing about it.
  • about the current state of their sewer maintenance programme
  • why low water pressure problems are still being experienced by homes and businesses in Hammersmith and Fulham
  • how they manage emergencies such as burst pipes
  • why they’ve dumped sewage into the River Thames
  • about their plans for the recently announced ‘super sewer’
  • what they’re doing about regular river front flooding
  • why their contractors have dug up our streets and then seemingly failed to carry out any works for weeks at a time
  • how they plan to end the terrible sewage smells in certain parts of our borough.

During my many meetings with Thames Water, there were often times when I wasn’t sure whether they were being incompetent or disingenuous. I haven't changed my conclusion given that the Chief Executive’s office recently told me that they’re still working on the questions I asked them last July about maintenance to local sewers. OFWAT, the regulator, has apparently become similarly frustrated. They fined Thames Water £12.5million, attributing the bulk of the penalty to Thames Water's failure to provide "robust information". You can read the BBC report here.

The first of the meetings will take place at H&F Council’s Cleaner and Greener Scrutiny Committee on 17th October. The open meeting will begin at 7.00pm in Hammersmith Town Hall. Members of the public are able to attend and - at the Chair’s discretion - ask questions as well. I’ll post a link to the agenda and papers when they’re published in a few days time.

If your area has had any of the above problems then please email me here. I will let Thames Water know and seek action on your behalf.

UPDATE: Thames Water have submitted a very brief report to the Cleaner and Greener Scrutiny Committee which is included in the agenda papers. You can view it by by clicking here. It's on pages 14 to 16.

Saturday 6 October 2007

No Replies To Pensioner's Canteen Quest

Dorothy Channon (88) contacted me to say that she has not had any response from David Cameron (Con) or Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of H&F Council, after she wrote separately to both of them about the H&F Conservative Administration’s closure of the Pensioners' CafĂ© in the summer.

Dorothy (who also said she had been a life-long Conservative) told me “I am disgusted that they not only removed a much loved service but haven’t even got the decency to reply to me after I took the trouble to write.”

Hopefully, Mr. Cameron and Cllr. Greenhalgh will respond soon. I’ll let you know.

Friday 5 October 2007

Hammersmith & Fulham Rat Infestations On The Increase

I’ve been contacted by a large number of residents about rat infestations in our neighbourhood. It seems that there has been a growth in the rat population locally. I have arranged for H&F Council to take measures to address the situation in several public areas around Hammersmith. Please contact me by emailing here if you have a similar problem in your street and I’ll ensure the Council visits your area and undertakes the necessary measures.

I am concerned that this is related to the £1.5million cut in the refuse collection and street cleaning services that H&F Council implemented last April. I have, in fact, never experienced so many complaints about missed refuse collections or fly-tipping throughout my nine years as a councillor.

The Council has a duty to address rodent problems in public areas but will charge for acting in people’s private homes. If you want to contact H&F Council about an infestation problem in your home you should click here. There are also a wide variety of private companies who provide similar services.

Arnie Caught Speaking Off Camera About The Conservative Candidate for London Mayor

This video clip is mildly amusing as Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's Republican Governor, expresses his surprise at Boris Johnson's "fumbling" speech to the Conservative Party conference. Click here to view.

Tuesday 2 October 2007

Public Misled Over H&F Council's Hammersmith Grove Armadillo Meetings

H&F Council officers have confirmed that the application to build a eleven storey office and entertainment complex on Hammersmith Grove could go to Planning Committee as early as 30th October. If not, they expect it to have almost certainly been considered for permission by the end of November. Officials also said that they will continue to accept comments or objections to the proposal, which you can still send by clicking here.

However, there now seems to be a rather concerning level of disparity about how much contact Hammersmith and Fulham Council have had with Development Securities (the property developer) about the scheme. Cllr. Mark Loveday (Con), H&F Council’s Cabinet Member for Strategy, posted this item about the planning application on the Hammersmith Today Forum on 18th September 2007, "Like anyone else, they [Development Securities] don't have to consult with the Council or the public before submitting a planning application, and they didn't. The Council was presented with their proposals without any real advance notice. Perhaps had they spoken to us first, we would have told them what would and would not work.” You can read Cllr. Loveday's full comments here.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, I have now been sent a document listing the schedule of meetings between H&F Council officials, councillors and Development Securities. It contradicts Cllr. Loveday's comments as there have, in fact, been eleven meetings to date between our council and the property developer, with the first taking place on 15th November 2006.

Development Securities won the contract to build on the TfL site in the autumn of 2006. They submitted the application on the 25th May 2007 and it was validated on 10th August 2007. A Council official wrote to me to explain “There have been a number of meetings at which Development Securities' team have presented their scheme to officers for informal pre-application comment, prior to submitting a planning application. Various officers of the Environment department (Planning and Highways divisions) have been present.” Here’s the schedule:

Schedule of Meetings between Development Securities and H&F Council
  • 15th November 2006 2.00pm. Three H&F Council officers present
  • 11th December 2006 2.00pm. Four H&F Council officers present
  • 26th January 2007 2.00pm. Six H&F Council officers present
  • 20th March 2007 2.30pm. Six H&F Council officers present
  • 12th June 2007 2.00pm. Three H&F Council officers present
  • 15th June 2007 11.00am. Exhibition of scheme attended by Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), Cllr. Nicholas Botterill (Con). One H&F Council officers present
  • 27th June 2007 4.30, Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), Cllr Nicholas Botterill (Con) and Cllr. Frances Stainton (Con) and four H&F Council officers present
  • 6th July 2007 2.30pm. Five H&F Council officers present
I am told by officials that have been six further meetings since.

I have also met with the developer to be briefed on their plan as previously reported. While it is understandable for Administration Councillors or officials to do likewise, I have written to the Director of the Environment to find out what was on the agenda for each and every meeting, what was discussed and what (if anything) was agreed.

Many residents have contacted me to express their concerns about the size of the building, the effect this development would have on the transition from town centre to the residential area, extra traffic, parking problems and extra noise. And, many have expressed fears that planning permission will be given for this scheme in much the same way as it was for the recent Larden and Percy Road luxury housing development.

I am in consultation with a numbers of residents’ groups about a public meeting and will let you know if we think it will be useful to hold one. Please email me here if you wish to attend any potential meetings about this. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday 30 September 2007

Tories Say They Trust Gordon Brown Over David Cameron

The first casualty of David Cameron’s renewed slide in the polls is the pastel green tie that has been his constant companion since he assumed the Conservative Leadership two years ago. It’s been cruelly cast aside in favour of a similar model in traditional Tory blue. He was sporting it all last night and was showing it off again this morning during his TV interview with Andrew Marr. Behind this new colour scheme lies the latest poll figures published in today’s Observer showing that more Conservative voters actually trust Gordon Brown more than they do Mr. Cameron.

David Cameron has spent the summer suffering increasing levels of criticism, mainly from within his own party. The most astutely damaging saying that he’s little more than a public relations expert who has a tendency to flip flop. In the last year the Conservative Leader has moved his party onto the centre ground; then back to the right with his economic review led by John Redwood; then to the environmental left with calls for taxes on supermarket car parks and short-haul flights and then quickly back to the right again with tax incentives to encourage us all to get married. Now many commentators are openly asking who will replace him as leader with William Hague denying he’s a contender and George Osborne - the Shadow Chancellor – trying to distance himself from his “friend”, the Leader of the Opposition, with all the apparent grace of a side-stepping hippopotamus.

I’d guess that the media and his party won’t want to mortally wound Mr. Cameron this close to a much speculated upon election. As long as he gives a reasonable speech he will live to fight another day. However, the British public will be left wondering if he has any substantive policies other than changing his neck attire.

Eloise Grey At The Hepsibah Gallery

Poke fun about how in touch I must be with my feminine side if you will but I’m pleased to have been invited to an artistic exhibition of ladies coats.

Jayne, the owner of the Hepsibah Gallery, will be presenting the cutting-edge designs of Eloise Grey. Eloise has made all of the exhibits from “ethical and organic Scottish Tweeds”. I must say that I am encouraged to see that the environmentalist and fair-trade movements extending their reach into this sphere. You too can attend this exhibition which runs from the opening night on Thursday the 4th October until Wednesday the 10th of October. You can visit Eloise Grey’s website here. See attached invite for further details.

The Hepsibah Gallery is 112 Brackenbury Road, Hammersmith, London, W6 0BD. Phone them on 020 8741 0025.

Friday 28 September 2007

What’s Happening To H&F’s Small Shops?

Until quite recently, there has been a relatively unnoticed and largely unwelcome change taking place in our communities. Our small retailers are disappearing.

The Evening Standard says that over seven thousand of London's family or individually owned stores have closed down since 2001 and has launched this campaign to save them. An all-party Parliamentary group published High Street Britain - alarmingly concluding that small retailers may “vanish from Britain’s high streets by 2015”. Councils are being called upon to take action and last May our neighbours in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea had an independent commission publish this insightful report.

Mohammed Ashraf and Abdullah Mir run W6 Food & Wine in King Street, Hammersmith. They were pleased to hear of the K&C report. Abdullah tells me that competition from the big retailers is a constant threat. “They want to take over everything he says” and went on to urge “Council’s should be careful not to give planning permission to superstores that end up swallowing up business from hundreds of local small retailers". His brother Mohammad added “That can’t be good for an area. There’s some great little shops in our borough and I’d expect that most would agree that it's tough”. The owners of SISI Hardware & DIY, the Tipsy Toad and many other small retailers have expressed similar concerns to me.

The New Economics Foundation, a leading think tank, also agrees saying “The appearance of Clone Town Britain has been aided by planning and regeneration decisions that have created a retail infrastructure hostile to small, independent businesses”. You can read its conclusions here.

Last week. H&F Councillors of both parties voted in favour of the Conservative Administration’s motion to the Council that read:

“This Council notes the publication of an independent Commission on Retail Conservation set up by Kensington & Chelsea Council and the recent submission to the Council by the Fulham Society of "Renaissance in Fulham". As a result of increasing concern at the disappearance of independent retailers, this Council resolves to study these two reports and further consider ways in which to support shops and the local economy in Hammersmith & Fulham.”

I was concerned that this motion was more than a little short on action points and while agreeing to vote for it, Labour firstly proposed an amendment that read “and agrees to set up a similar commission, involving local small retailers and other key stakeholders”. The Conservatives voted that down with Cllr. Mark Loveday (Con) explaining that they wouldn’t support this suggestion as “it was too prescriptive”. Maybe they’ll change their minds.

I think they should; as while I’m sure local government officials and councillors will have something to contribute, I believe that H&F Council needs to listen to those that know. People who have taken the risk to run their own small retail businesses, day-in-day-out, should be at the forefront of steering a way forward for that sector in Hammersmith and Fulham. If they’re not and there’s no effective proposals within the next few months then last week's debate will have been little more than political hot air. And, if this trend of disappearing small shops continues, we'll all lose out.

W6 Food & Wine is open from 8.00am to 11.00pm and is situated at 175 King Street, Hammersmith, London W6 9JD.

Thursday 27 September 2007

Policies for Improving Britain Over Party Political Infighting?

It has been a good week for Gordon Brown. The Party is united behind him, he’s taken Labour to an 11% lead in the polls, and he’s unveiled a raft of forward-looking new policies on tackling child poverty and crime as well as new actions aimed at further improving education, housing, healthcare and the environment. I must say that I was more than a little surprised when the chorus of praise was joined by Lord Tebbit (Con), the former Minister and Conservative Party Chairman. Lord Tebbit told The Times that he thought Mr Brown “is a clever man and I have a very considerable regard for him.” He went on to take a broadside at David Cameron adding that he thought that large numbers of British voters would think Mr. Cameron didn’t know "how the other half lives".

Lord Tebbit has highlighted a fundamental political truism, which is people want their politicians to understand them and the issues they face, expecting positive plans to improve their quality of life. Gordon is widely recognised to be focusing on doing precisely that.

In contrast, Mr. Cameron seems to have authorised his lieutenants to rubbish Baroness Thatcher’s judgement following her taking afternoon tea with the Prime Minister. What should have been a relatively minor event is still causing Conservative Party political in-fighting two weeks later. Rob Wilson MP (Con) the Shadow Minister for Higher Education said “Baroness Thatcher is 81, she is elderly, she is lonely, she is frail and she has difficulty with her memory… Those closest to her say that her grasp on daily life is ‘some days better than others”. With Gerald Howarth MP (Con) adding “Everyone knows that she is not in the same rude health she was a few years ago” Comments like those not only show a complete lack of courtesy towards their former leader but cast doubt on the political nous of the Tory high command. With friends like that - as they say - who needs enemies? The public certainly won’t be impressed.

Wednesday 26 September 2007

More On H&F's State Of The Borough Address

Andy Slaughter MP (Lab) was invited into the event by the good old BBC in the end. The Beeb were hosting the "Address" and insisted on political impartiality as reported below. Andy's written about it here on his website.

After all the fuss, it turned out to be a fifty five minute PowerPoint presentation rather that the State of the Union style Address that was promised. I was surprised that, when I took out council officers, Tory councillors, their personal friends and the Opposition, I was only able to count 37 members of the public in the audience. This out of a total of 800 "key opinion formers" that were invited.

It looked like they'd laid on a sumptuous buffet though - shame I'm on a diet.