Monday 29 September 2008

Letter To The Daily Telegraph

Here's my letter to the Daily Telegraph after a rather misleading article appeared in it written by Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of H&F Council:

"Dear Editor

What would the press say about a national politician who tried to persuade the public that their tax had been cut by £350 when the annual bill had only really only been cut by £20.74 in the last year? I suspect their reputation for honesty or knowing what they are talking about would take a bashing. So why is local government different?

On 28th September, Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council made exactly that claim about Council tax in your newspaper. But, any study of H&F Council’s budget papers will show that it is blatantly not true - as you can see here on page 37. In fact, in 2006 Cllr. Greenhalgh inherited a budget from the last Labour Administration that would have seen some of the biggest Council tax reductions in the country - with real terms cuts in council tax each and every year up until 2009.

Greenhalgh’s boast about the Tory’s record on crime fighting barely stands up to scrutiny. In 2006 the Conservative’s took over from an Administration that had delivered the biggest fall in crime in London. But, Metropolitan Police figures for the last municipal year now show that H&F languishes behind Lambeth, Waltham Forest, Islington, Richmond and others after cutting Council funding to the ward with the highest rates of crime.

Residents don’t agree that services have improved either. Complaints are up about street cleaning and dog fouling. The Tories introduced a new £7.25 charge for removing garden waste – a service they themselves admitted was “chaotic” after a public outcry. In fact, the Conservatives have introduced over 570 inflation-busting charges on a range of Council services, with parking charges up 12.5%; meals on wheels charges are up 40%, there is a completely new £12.40 per hour fee for home care for local elderly, sick and disabled residents and children’s out-of-hours play services charges increase by a staggering 121%.

Youth centres, schools and homeless hostels have all been sold off as part of a new asset reduction strategy. Affordable housing is cut back on each new development and front line services such as highways maintenance, libraries, youth services and educational grants have all been slashed.

Greenhalgh’s self-proclaimed mission to create the "Borough of Opportunity" rings hollow when you consider all of the above. In fact, after awarding himself a 14% salary rise at the last budget meeting and admitting that his senior colleague had flown to the south of France to meet property developers so they could release “contentious development sites”, then it’s fair to ask who exactly is his “borough of opportunity” for?

I urge the national press to take a long hard look at local government. With Mr. Cameron making Stephen Greenhalgh head of his local government Innovation Unit it seems that Cameron may well take Greenhalgh’s advice and see Hammersmith and Fulham as a model for a possible future Tory Government. If this is the case, then it is hard to see how Cameron’s claims that the Tories have changed really stacks up.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Stephen Cowan
Leader of the Opposition
The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham"

Friday 12 September 2008

Across The Pond And, Once More, "It's The Economy, Stupid"

On the 28th October 1980, Ronald Reagan struck a nerve when, during the only presidential debate of that election, he asked Americans: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" The US had gone through a recession and so the answer for many was a heartfelt “no”. It helped propel Reagan to victory.

Now, after nearly eight years of the Republican's woefully incompetent handling of the US economy, Barack Obama is essentially asking America that same question. The facts speak for themselves: the average, typical American family is actually $2000 worse off than they were eight years earlier; petrol prices have trebled; healthcare charges are up; the banking system is in crisis; homes are being repossessed across the country; the national debt has spiralled; over 5.5million Americans have been driven into poverty; unemployment is at its highest rate in five years and America has experienced the biggest increase in income inequality since the 1920s.

The voting public are concerned. Polls show that the economy is, by far, the number one issue for voters in this election with national security coming a distant second. In particular the economy is a worry for target 'blue collar', 'middle class' voters – key in so many swing states.

McCain’s economic policies mirror Bush and barely stand up to scrutiny. His proposed measures to alleviate the current burdens on American households fall well short of public hopes. For example, McCain promises to double existing child exemption to $7,000 but only a small proportion of Americans would qualify for that scheme. McCain says he will provide a credit to buy health insurance but those workers who already have employer provided health insurance will find the benefits of that scheme offset by a proposed new tax on their employer funded health programme.

Barack Obama has gone much further than his Republican rival. The Democrats would prioritise the provision of new jobs – many in the green energy sector and pledge to get the economy back on track. They promise to improve life for “ordinary Americans” committing to a $500 tax cut for the average worker; senior citizens earning less than $50,000 will cease to pay income tax and there will be lower health insurance cost for all Americans - with a subsidy for those who don’t currently have coverage. An Obama Administration will introduce a $4,000 collage tuition subsidy for students who agree to undertake community service; it will provide mortgage interest credit (valued at $500 for home owners who don’t itemise their tax deduction) and introduce a child tax credit (that could save $1,100 for a single parent of two dependant children who earns $40,000 or less).

So, can McCain prevail without offering more to those being hurt by America’s current economic woes? For the moment, his campaign thinks it can. McCain’s record as a war hero is being used to make a direct pitch to blue collar swing voters on national security issues and the Republicans are urging the US public to believe that both McCain and Palin are "mavericks" that will “change" Washington. Meanwhile, by claiming Barack Obama is an inexperienced "tax and spend liberal" they hope to scare voters into thinking that he’s not in tune with America’s traditional cultural values – a customary claim Republicans make about Democrats. In fact, this week, in fourteen key states (five of them states that voted Democrat in the 2004 presidential election) the Republicans launched an ad with the slogan “ready to tax, ready to spend, but not ready to lead.”.

Following the two conventions, polls show that the race for the White House is currently tied. Yesterday’s Rasmussen daily Presidential Tracking Poll puts Barack Obama and John McCain each on 46% of the vote. When 'leaners' are included, it’s Barack Obama 48% and John McCain 48%.

But, the fact remains that McCain cannot shy away from voters’ concerns on the economy; or that his economic platform broadly shadows that of the deeply unpopular Bush Administration; or that he seems out of touch with voters concerns (commenting recently that he thinks the US economy is “fundamentally strong”); or, indeed, that 84% of Americans think their country is "going in the wrong direction" and that, during the last eight years, McCain has voted for Bush to take the US in its current direction over 90% of the time.

So, as the sign said in Bill Clinton’s War Room during the 1992 election, “It’s the Economy Stupid”. In this election, it’s the solutions Barack Obama proposes that are set to dominate that issue.

Saturday 6 September 2008

Proposed New Development For Glenthorne Road, Hammersmith

Linden London have submitted a planning application for 63-75 Glenthorne Road, W6. They hope to build 67 one, two and three beds apartments on the central Hammersmith site. The proposals also include provision for fifteen new car parking spaces. You can click onto the attached revised plans and the Architect's mocked up photos to enlarge them.

The Cambridge Grove and Leamore Street Residents Association have raised a number of concerns about the proposals and are keen that Linden London develops the site in such a way as to not cause extra traffic or noise nuisance to the already congested area. They’ve been supported by the Brackenbury Residents Association, the Hammersmith Society, and the Hammersmith and Fulham Historic Buildings Group. My fellow ward councillors and I have been working with them on this matter and met with the developer earlier this year to hear of their plans.

I will write more when I know what date this application will to go to the Planning Committee. Meanwhile, please let me know your views on this development and email me by clicking here if you would like me to send you a PDF copy of Linden London’s brochure for the site.

Thursday 4 September 2008

Boris Johnson Unvails Above Inflation Travel Fare Hikes

The Tory Troll is reporting that Boris Johnson will today announce above inflation hikes on bus and tube fares. You can read the full story here.

Figures released to the GLA’s Budget and Performance Committee show that the cancellation of the Venezuelan 'oil deal' and the scrapping the higher Congestion Charge has left over a £100million hole in the budget. Boris is hoping to make up the difference by passing the charge onto Londoners.

News of these increases are contrary to Boris' pre-election pledge not to raise fares which will come as a blow to commuters across the capital.

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Hammersmith Grove Armadillo Halted – For Now?

Work on the notorious Hammersmith Grove “Armadillo” has ground to a halt because the developer has allegedly been unable to obtain bank financing for the scheme.

Building magazine told how Development Securities had unsuccessfully been attempting to refinance the project at a time when they reported a £14.4m loss for the past six months. Development Securities released a statement saying that while it had assembled long-term equity partners willing to finance the transaction, the “lack of any currently available bank finance for the development stage left our original equity co-investors unable to proceed with the project as originally planned”.

The Armadillo became a highly controversial local issue when residents raised concerns that their needs were being put behind those of the developer. H&F’s ruling Conservative Administration then put out a statement denying that they had met Development Securities to negotiate around its plans only to then have this proved untrue by evidence provided following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. On the 18th September 2007, Cllr. Mark Loveday (Con) wrote on a local website that “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.” However, the FOI evidence actually showed that Conservative councillors and council officials had met secretly with Development Securities on over 17 separate occasions, which is almost twice a month, to discuss their proposals for the Hammersmith Grove Armadillo. The first meeting took place on 15th November 2006 some ten months prior to Cllr. Loveday’s written statement. This led many local people to believe that the development was a "done deal" and over one hundred and seventy residents raised a wide variety of their concerns with H&F council officials and the developer at a public meeting on 25th October 2007. Unconvinced by what they heard, a further two hundred an fifty residents then turned out on 30th October 2007 to protest against the scheme when it was being considered by the Planning Applications Committee . Following that meeting, many residents told me that they were bitterly disappointed when H&F’s Conservative Councillors used their majority to grant planning permission. The planning committee was chaired by Ravenscourt Park Councillor Lucy Ivimy (Con).

It now seems that the construction of the Armadillo has been slowed down rather than stopped. Development Securities said in their statement that “Constructive discussions are now taking place in order that the development can proceed without the need for banking finance”. You can read Building magazine’s full story by clicking here.