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.