Tuesday 22 July 2008

H&F Council Raises Suspicions With Secret Thames Water “Super Sewer” Meeting

I had a long conversation with a senior executive at Thames Water yesterday and plan to meet with them in September to discuss their proposal to put a gateway to the "super sewer" in Furnival Gardens, Hammersmith. It is now clear TW have identified Furnival Gardens as a possible site but told me that they are very keen to work with H&F Council to look at other possible sites in the area and is meeting with Council representatives today.

Oddly, the Conservative Administration is refusing to have a cross-party approach to this issue and does not want Labour representatives to be at that meeting. This is highly suspicious and given their history with Furnival Gardens and their dealings with property developers (in particular the Hammersmith Grove Armadillo) I am concerned to find out why the Conservatives don’t want a public spot light into their dealings with Thames Water. I wrote to the Administration to say:

“You will recall that when Labour was in Administration we arranged a meeting with TW and invited Conservative representatives to attend - which they did. Why therefore, is H&F Council now taking a party political approach to this issue, when it is obvious that local people will be better served if H&F Council puts up a united political front in opposing the use of Furnival Gardens as an entry point to the "super sewer"? Having witnessed the Council's dealings around the Hammersmith Grove Armadillo building, this approach leaves me extremely concerned about what deals H&F Council may be doing behind closed doors”.

Please email me here if you want to be kept in touch with this matter. My fellow ward councillors and I will raise you concerns or suggestions when we meet with TW in September. Meanwhile, I have used the Freedom of Information Act to request all documents relating to the H&F Conservative Administration's dealings with Thames Water on this matter. I have also asked for the total amount of Section 106 payment that could be given by Thames Water to H&F Council if it grants planning permission for Furnival Gardens to be used as a gateway to the "Super Sewer".

Saturday 19 July 2008

The Stress Of Living Next To The Westfield Building Site

Theresa Boyd lives opposite one of the biggest building sites in London. Her home is on Wood Lane on the other side of the road to the soon-to-be-opened Westfield shopping centre. Theresa says that the construction process has made the last few years the most stressful of all during the time she’s lived in Shepherds Bush, which is why she contacted her local Councillor Mercy Umeh (Lab) to tell her about what she and other neighbours have had to endure.

Mercy says that people living close to the area have had terrible problems explaining “The construction has generated amazing levels of dirt and noise. The area is continuously dusty, getting into people’s homes, onto their belongings and covering their windows. At one point rats, escaping from a demolition on the site, ran openly down Wood Lane and into the surrounding streets. It’s been pretty miserable for most local residents. I don’t think Westfield has been a good neighbour. I am taking up this matter with them”. Theresa added “Last year Westfield sent us six chocolate truffles which they said was a “gesture”. This year we got nothing so interested to find out what lay behind their thinking I phoned them and asked why. They told me that they’d laid on an ice rink for the public instead. I went down there and it would have cost £5 for my daughter to use it. I really think they have no idea of what they’ve put us through. I thought the least they would do is clean my house. Truffles and ice rinks… It’s nonsense!”.

The Westfiled website boasts “Westfield has approximately £25 billion of assets under management in a portfolio of 119 shopping centres across the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and New Zealand with 22,000 retailers and approximately 10 million sq m of retail space”. The Shepherds Bush centre is due to open this October. I hope they can find some way of making it up to residents for all the stress the construction process has caused them.

Thursday 17 July 2008

£2 Billion Sewer Project For Furnival Gardens?

Thames Water says that it is hoping to construct the entry point for a proposed 18 mile-long “super sewer” in Hammersmith and Fulham. Known as the Thames Tunnel, the scheme was originally intended to begin in Chiswick but, following a recent letter to H&F Council officials, Thames Water said that the tunnel is now “likely to start in Hammersmith & Fulham”. Council officials say they fear that Furnival Gardens riverside park could be the target site which would turn the area into a building site for at least eight years.

Thames Water says they need the Thames Tunnel to stop storm water and raw sewage flooding into the river. The sewer would take foul water from the 57 points along the Thames where 32 million tonnes of raw sewage a year is pumped into the river. It will combine these overflow outlets into a single 7.2 metre diameter tunnel, which will be up to 80 metres below ground in parts. Thames Water would need to dig an access shaft for the giant tunnel boring machine. This, in addition to six other construction sites, will connect sewer outfalls into the new tunnel. The project would start to be built in 2012 and would be one of the biggest engineering projects ever attempted in the capital. The Section 106 payment to H&F could be massive. I have therefore written to H&F Council to see what, if any, Section 106 money would come their way if these works took place in the borough.

I believe that Furnival Gardens is completely inappropriate for such a scheme. H&F Council have to fight this proposal with all the resources at their disposal. I am writing to Thames Water to arrange an urgent meeting but if officials are correct, then my fellow ward councillors and I will publicly campaign against this and expect H&F Council to give us their full backing in opposing it. Please email me here if you want to be kept in touch with this issue and take part in our campaign. I will let you know when we find out more.

Hurlingham & Chelsea Secondary School Aims For The Sky - So Why Mess With it?

Phil Cross, the inspirational head teacher at Hurlingham and Chelsea Secondary School, says he wants to lead his school to be “amongst the very best”. He’s not done badly so far. He joined the school five years ago and has turned it into the second most improved secondary school in the country and the most improved in London. Ofsted reported that the school’s “Leadership and management is vision led, and driven by the outstanding leadership of the headteacher and a senior leadership team which is strong”. They also said, “Hurlingham and Chelsea is a good and rapidly improving school with outstanding features”.

So why, at the cabinet meeting on Monday night, did H&F Conservatives refuse to include Hurlingham and Chelsea School in the list of borough schools that will have a sixth form? Parents and teachers attended the meeting to hear the Tories explain that they had “pressed the pause button” as they wanted “more information around the school’s vision”. But as the meeting rolled on it became clear that council officials had been telling the school that it would be on the sixth form list as little as two weeks ago. Conservative councillors then pointedly refused to deny that this commitment had been reversed by the Conservative Leadership – which is the explanation that had been leaked by officials.

It is fair to ask why the Conservative Leadership again intervened considering that their recent involvement in the school has been little short of catastrophic. Two years ago I sat and watched Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of H&F Council, being booed by hundreds of parents while he stood on the stage at Hurlingham and Chelsea School. He was there to explain his plans to shut it down - having had the land valued at £24mllion. The Council then put out misleading propaganda saying the school was “failing”. It wasn’t and the Conservatives were forced to eat humble pie when it became clear that the independent adjudicator would not back their request. The Conservative Administration’s own commission then told them that they have lost the confidence of all of the borough’s secondary headteachers. Undaunted by this, the Conservatives then came back with plans to merge Hurlingham and Chelsea with a private school backed by the French Government. That plan was only dropped several weeks back after further set-backs.

Teachers, the NUT, the Parents Alliance for Secondary Schools (PASS) and the press had all sat through the cabinet meeting and heard their explanations. The consensus was that "questions hadn't been answered". Later, parents (many of them Conservative voters at the last local elections) told me that they were “unconvinced” by the Cabinet’s explanations and "suspicious of their motives".

Polly Woodford, the founder of PASS, did get the Administration to agree to minute that “all [the borough's] secondary schools will get a sixth form”. After the meeting was over Phil Cross told me that he just wants to be able to get on with his job and "make Hurlingham and Chelsea into an outstanding school”. I hope H&F Council’s Conservative Administration stop putting hurdles in his way and let him do precisely that. Everything the school has achieved so far has been despite their actions.

Secret Documents Show Shepherds Bush Station Did Not Have To Close

The BBC is reporting that Shepherds Bush Tube Station need not have closed after it viewed documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Andy Slaughter MP (Lab). The official papers show that London Underground (LU) was advised that Shepherds Bush Central Line Station could remain open while all improvement works were carried out. You may still be able to view the BBC News item by clicking here (it is just over halfway through the programme).

Shepherds Bush Tube Station shut its doors in February after LU gave only four weeks notice. At the time, LU admitted that it was “unprecedented” to shut down a station like this but both they and H&F Council argued that “there was no alternative to closure”.

However, Andy Slaughter told me that the papers “contradict what both the Tory-run council and LU said to residents and shopkeepers at the time”. The papers state that “It is Metronet's view that the escalators can be replaced whilst maintaining station operation” and add “Closure is unlikely to be granted due to the weak business case involved”. You can view the documents by clicking here.

During the period running up to the closure Andy Slaughter met with LU in an effort to get them to reconsider their plans. Thousands of residents and businesses supported his campaign to keep the station open during the works and Andy won a wide range of concessions. However, LU and H&F Council refused to change their mind about the closure.

Bizarrely, Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of H&F Council, picketed a public meeting, arranged by Andy, and handed out leaflets from the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate justifying why the station had to close. During the meeting it became clear that Westfield had offered to project manage the escalator works if they were completed for the grand opening of their new shopping mall in October. The recently released papers confirm this and it is believed that LU and H&F Council prioritised Westfield's request over the needs of local businesses and residents.

Andy Slaughter added “There is huge anger in Shepherds Bush at the way LU and the Tory Council forced this through. Local shops have lost business and many of my constituents have been unnecessarily messed around - all seemingly to fit with the needs of the new shopping centre". You can read Andy Slaughter's full exposé by clicking here.

Monday 14 July 2008

Is H&F Council’s Propaganda Being Honest With Us?

If you define honesty as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth then H&F Council is promoting messages that are far from truthful. For example, on the 2nd June of this year, H&F Council spent thousands of pounds writing to every resident in Shepherds Bush triumphantly proclaiming that there is “now officially less crime in Shepherds Bush”. However, the Metropolitan Police figures for the last municipal year clearly show that the overall number of crimes in Shepherds Bush rose by a staggering 4.6%.

Prior to that, on 6th March, residents contacted me to say that the Council had put advertisements up in Bishops Park, Fulham Palace Road and throughout the borough saying that “Fulham’s 24/7 neighbourhood policing was working”... But those parts of Fulham do not have 24/7 neighbourhood policing and neither do seven out of the eight Fulham wards. I wrote to the Council’s Monitoring Officer pointing out that their adverts were “deliberately misleading” and that I was considering reporting H&F Council to the Advertising Standards Authority. The Council responded saying that the posters have been “taken down with immediate effect” and were a “mistake”.

More public money was spent by H&F Council sending out a glossy leaflet to residents in the spring. It was designed to reverse the Conservative’s position on the Shepherds Bush tube station closure after the public reacted against their support for the shut down.

Then, there’s the Apollo license application judgement. For some reason, when the story was written up in the Council’s own propaganda sheet, H&F News, it failed to make any mention of the Labour councillor who had led the campaign against the licence; who had attended court to give evidence and who was even mentioned by the judge in her official summary of her judgement. Instead, they quoted a Conservative Councillor who hadn’t been involved in the campaign or even given evidence at court.

Meanwhile, Andy Slaughter MP (Lab) tells me that when he attended an event in his constituency in the north of the borough, a Council official told him that he could not be in press photos or appear in H&F News. Meanwhile, the Conservative MP in the south of the borough has appeared in H&F News twice in the last few months.

There are many more examples but the fact is that H&F Council spends vast amounts of money promoting a picture that's often far from the truth. Most reasonable people will agree that this is a misuse of public funds. While it is understandable that the Conservatives will want to do all they can to win public backing, it is hard to fathom why H&F Council uses tax payer funds to put out so much publicity that is little more than party political propaganda.

Thursday 10 July 2008

Residents And Community Groups To Get Radical New Rights And Powers

To what extent do you feel that you’re able to influence local services or what happens in your neighbourhood? I suspect the answer for most people is not enough. In fact, the research around this issue would lead many to believe that there is a need for a fundamental shift in power, influence and responsibility into the hands of communities and citizens. Yesterday Hazel Blears MP (Lab), the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, announced that is exactly what she intends to do.

It has long been my view that power can and should be devolved to a localised neighbourhood level whenever possible. Witnessing residents associations in Brackenbury, Ashcroft Square, the Peabody Estate and across the borough has convinced me that, in many cases, they would be more effective at managing some of the factors that affect their daily lives instead of the agencies currently charged with the responsibility. And, if you look at issues based groups such as the Parents Alliance for Secondary Schools, HAFCAC or H&F Friends of the Earth, then I am certain that there would be better policies and service delivery if these groups were more directly involved in the decision making process. It’s therefore encouraging that Hazel Blears is unveiling this radical new policy, which will be very attractive to the public, is in tune with Labour’s values and sets out clear differences between Labour and the Conservatives.

The proposals, titled Communities in control: real people, real power, set out the following seven points (the writing in blue indicates links to relevant local stories and web sites):

Giving local people a direct say on how budgets are spent
The Government wants every area of the country to have a 'community kitty' scheme - a pot of money that local people can decide how to spend. Local people should have a say in setting priorities for local budgets on community safety issues, the local environment, young people’s services, etc.

Local people running local assets
Community centres, youth clubs and swimming pools will be handed over to local residents if they can do a better job of running them than councils.

New rights for the public to demand action from their council
Councils will be subject to a new duty to respond to petitions. Petitions will enable local people to force an issue onto a council's agenda. With enough signatures that issue would need to be discussed by the full council committee and could be subject to a vote. This could be used to raise a diverse range of issues from providing more police to addressing dog mess.

Getting redress when things go wrong
The Government want to give the public redress for citizens when council services go wrong, establishing a review that will report in 2009.

£70m Communitybuilders fund
The Government will be investing £70m in organisations that are the backbone of their communities. This will help strong community groups acquire buildings, take a role in running local services, and become more financially self sustainable.

Increasing Accountability
Chairs and Chief Executives of local public bodies - such as Councils - will face regular public hearings as part of plans to increase accountability.

Empowering young people
More needs to be done to make politics and local services relevant and open to young people. The Government will increase the number of young people who help councils and community service providers.

Promoting democracy
A new duty will be placed on local authorities to promote democracy. Local leaders will be expected to do more to help residents understand how the democratic process works and how they can get involved.

Making it easier for people to get a directly elected mayor
The Government will consult on allowing on-line petitioning as well as paper petitions to be counted towards support for a referendum for a mayor.

I know that Hazel Blears is personally committed to extending public rights and powers. These proposals, published in the White Paper, indicate that she is delivering on a promise she made, this time last year, when she first took on the Communities and Local Government brief. You can read the Government's White Paper by clicking here. I will keep you informed how these proposals progress and how they affect what happens here in Hammersmith and Fulham.

Wednesday 9 July 2008

H&F Council Admits Garden Waste Chaos

Following record numbers of complaints, H&F Council has come clean and admitted that its garden waste service has been plagued by “problems” and “confusion” as previously reported here. I have suggested that the Conservative Administration might think it right and proper to compensate those residents that paid the £7.25 fee but were then messed around by their inability to manage the service. Here's the reply I received:

“Whilst I would be willing to give careful consideration to any specific request for reimbursement of costs genuinely incurred by any individual resident who has suffered particular difficulties with garden waste collection, I do not think it likely that many residents will have suffered more than minor inconvenience...”

Please copy me in on any request you make for compensation by clicking here.

Residents Wary Of Notting Hill Housing Trust’s New Hammersmith Grove Office Development

Last night I met with a number of concerned residents who have learnt about Notting Hill Housing Trust’s (NHHT) ambitions to build a new office complex at the bottom of Hammersmith Grove.

NHHT apparently wants to demolish its current building (see pics) and my constituents fear that H&F Council will agree that they can replace it with something bigger and not in tune with their residential area. It has also come to light that H&F Council has actually been involved in confidential talks with NHHT for many months but no plans have been made public as yet.

In fact, H&F Council will meet with large property development companies and have its officers advise how their proposals fit with the borough’s planning requirements. Residents are therefore concerned that this process can sideline their hopes and wants for their neighbourhood in preference for the needs of developers.

Meanwhile, readers will recall the outcry when the NCP Armadillo building (opposite the proposed NHHT building) was given planning permission by Cllr. Lucy Ivimy (Con) and the Conservative members of her committee last October. Concerns have been further agitated after Cllr. Mark Loveday (Con) flew to the South of France to apparently offer up Hammersmith and Fulham as a “borough of opportunity” at the world’s biggest property developers’ conference.

I understand that some residents are meeting with NHHT next week. I hope NHHT will be able to address all concerns to their satisfaction. Meanwhile, please email me here if you would like to be kept in touch with any meetings arranged about this proposed new building.

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Residents Fight Congestion Blight

I attended the first anniversary Annual General Meeting of the Cambridge Grove and Leamore Street Residents Association last Saturday morning. Neighbours came together to form this association last year after H&F Council’s planning committee granted a highly controversial planning permission to a property developer in Cambridge Grove.

One problem that they have been trying to get their Council to resolve is the on-going congestion caused by wide vehicles regularly getting stuck in their narrow streets. This problem is set to get worse as H&F Council’s traffic officials have admitted that there will be an extra 44 lorries servicing the NCP Armadillo once it is built at the bottom of Hammersmith Grove. There will clearly be many more lorries entering the neighbourhood than that while the building is being constructed. But, if you also add in the addition increase of wide vehicles coming in to service the building of the new Town Hall offices in King Street, then add the extra lorries servicing the possible building of over 70 apartments on Glenthorne Road, plus the extra lorries supplying the proposed new Notting Hill Housing Trust office building (also on Hammersmith Grove), then the traffic situation looks like it will become chaotic.

During the meeting, residents told me that many lorries currently become stuck in their narrow streets with a regular frequency - as depicted in the photos. This causes traffic to jam up King Street and onto the Hammersmith Broadway roundabout, producing a much wider detrimental effect down the Fulham Palace Road and across the Hammersmith area. I have contacted a senior official with the expectation that H&F Council is obliged to do something about this. I will let you know what they do.

Meanwhile, the residents battle on. They’re also addressing issues around another major property development in their area, trying to get H&F Council to maintain the Cambridge Grove historic wall and railing (despite the £1,633,000.00 cut to the Council’s highways budget) and are negotiating with a local nightclub to change the ugly building colour.

Monday 7 July 2008

Shepherds Bush Crime Rates Rise; H&F Conservatives Vote Against More Police Again And H&F Labour Guarantees Extra 24/7 Police In Top Five Wards

At the Council meeting on Wednesday, 25th June, H&F’s Conservative Administration again voted against plans to give the five wards with the highest crime rates 24/7 police task squad protection - making that the third time in two years. Hammersmith Broadway and Askew wards would have been amongst those that benefited. Residents are rightly asking why the Conservatives did this, especially when Metropolitan Police figures show that, during the 12 months to end of March 2008, the overall number of crimes in Shepherds Bush rose by a staggering 4.6%.

Latest figures also show that Hammersmith and Fulham Council now languishes behind a host of other London councils in the battle against crime. Prior to the 2006 elections the last Labour Administration had managed to achieve a 10% drop in crime across the whole borough – which made H&F the leading council at fighting crime in London at that time. Now we’re lagging behind Lambeth, Islington, Richmond and others.

H&F Conservatives have actually cut Council funding to the ward with the highest crime rates and were humiliated after local residents campaigned against that policy. So why not provide extra police, which is what the Tories had promised before the election? At the Full Council Meeting on Wednesday, 25th June local people got their answer. It wasn’t what was expected. H&F’s Council Leader, Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con) explained that it was all to do with the latest opinion poll results. H&F Council had canvassed residents’ opinions on a range of matters and the results are just in. They have apparently found that 56% of residents ticked a box with the words “to some extent” when asked to agree with the statement “My Council is working to make the area safer”. Using the poll results as his response to our request for more police; Cllr. Greenhalgh told us that he was delighted with them. His explanation seemed to be; the public are relatively happy, the Conservatives are riding high in the polls so no need to provide extra investment in local police. This is a breach of H&F Conservative’s pre-election promise to make crime fighting the Council’s number one priority.

We are now two years away from the next Council elections. If Labour is elected to form H&F Council’s Administration in 2010 then we guarantee that we will increase investment in crime fighting and do MORE than the current Conservative Administration. At the very least (and as a start), Labour will provide 24/7 police task squad protection for the five wards with the highest crime.

Friday 4 July 2008

NHS Celebrates Sixtieth Anniversary Of Universal Healthcare In the UK

The NHS is marking its sixtieth anniversary tomorrow. Looking across the Atlantic and seeing that provision of universal healthcare is a key campaign issue in the 2008 US election gives an indication of the scale of Attlee's Labour government’s success in setting up our National Heath Service in 1948.

Today, 99.5% of patients are treated within 1 month from diagnosis to treatment for all cancers. This being the significant factor that's contributed to achieving the UK’s best ever cancer survival rates. Compare that to before Labour’s election in 1997. Then people were waiting over two years for cancer treatment. There have been similar successes with heart disease too. In fact, since 1997, investment in the NHS has trebled to £100 billion. That means 38,000 more doctors, 80,000 more nurses, over a hundred new hospitals, new community health centres and the shortest waiting times since records began.

So, where do the Tories stand? Waiting list played an important role in the last Conservative Government’s economic management of our healthcare. By making people wait longer they encouraged those that could pay to do so. It was privatisation by the back door. The front door being well and truly bolted by the deep affection the public have for the NHS. Wary of being out-of-touch; Cameron’s Conservatives confine themselves to pointing out what’s wrong with the service in an effort to damage its standing. Indeed, prior to the 2005 general election the Conservatives ran a scare story that Charing Cross Hospital would close – a falsehood for which they have never apologised. Now, they are similarly claiming that ‘polyclinics’ (the new health centres) will destroy GP services. All this designed to sow doubt and raise concerns. Actually, it is current Conservative Party policy to scrap extended GP opening hours and to halt the government’s extra investment in new health centres. How could they possibly oppose longer opening hours, more modern equipment, better access and new surgeries? Quite simply, it’s because the Conservatives have never signed up to the concept of universal healthcare.

On the 30th June, Lord Darzi, the Heath Minister, published High Quality Care for All. It sets out how the heath service will improve to meet new challenges over the coming years. You can read a summary here or view the full publication on the Department of Health website here.

The plan sets out how Labour will:

  • Give patients greater influence over the services they use by guaranteeing choice and access to the most clinically and cost effective drugs and treatments.
  • Make healthcare more personal by ensuring that everyone with a long-term condition has their own personalised care plan and by piloting personal health budgets.
  • Create an NHS that helps people to stay healthy by rolling out a new national programme of vascular risk assessment for people aged between 40 and 74, and rewarding family doctors for focusing on prevention and early intervention.
  • Raise the standards on quality within the NHS by systematically measuring and publishing information about the quality of care from the frontline up.
  • Foster a pioneering NHS by introducing new funds and incentives to support and reward innovation, and developing new best practice tariffs targeted on areas for improvement.
  • Empower frontline staff by enabling them to lead and manage their organisations and improving the quality of NHS education and training.

Local MP, Andy Slaughter (Lab) is carrying out a survey of people’s views on our local health service and you can click here if you’d like to take part.

Meanwhile, I for one would like to thank all those that work to make our National Heath Service the envy of much of the world. I wish it a very happy 60th birthday and look forward to many more to come.

Thursday 3 July 2008

H&F Conservatives Murder National Anthem

The new Tory-boy Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham has decided that full Council Meetings will now end with a rendition of the National Anthem. So at 10.10pm on Wednesday, 25th June he asked everyone to wait while a musical accompaniment was brought in to, hopefully, help with the singing.

It didn’t. The accompaniment was a tiny portable stereo. An official inserted a CD and a noise began. It sounded like a hard-to-hear performance from the last night of the Proms.

Then the singing started... Maybe “singing” is pushing the definition of that word a little too much. Many Conservatives seemed to think this was all a big joke. Some were giggling and nudging each other throughout, some tried to do their best to sing the two verses amongst all the pandemonium and some seemed not to know the words and mouthed away John Redwood style. Key members of the Tory front bench seemed to find the whole thing hilarious.

No wonder the Conservatives had, only moments earlier, voted against having the full Council Meetings videoed and put onto H&F Council's website. I suspect they believed that they would lose a lot of public support once people could see for themselves how they actually behave.