Saturday 29 November 2008

The Streets Are Filthy - Complaints From Richford Street Residents In Hammersmith

Here’s some photos sent to me by a resident in Richford Street, Hammersmith. As you can see the cleanliness of the streets leaves a lot to be desired.

I wholeheartedly agree with my constituent who tells me that “people are paying a lot in taxes to pay to clean up after others - money which could be invested in essential services. It seems to me that at least a fixed percentage of the cost of cleaning up our streets should be met from fines issued on people dumping fridges etc on the street, dropping litter and gum and allowing dogs to foul the pavement. If this approach were taken more money would be available for essential services and the streets would become cleaner (because a real threat of a fine would begin to change attitudes)”.

Those readers that have already received our latest newsletter through your door will see that we’re still campaigning to make the Conservative Administration reverse their cuts and to fully take up this approach. I’ll let you know how we get on but meanwhile, please feel free to email me pictures of how your street looks by clicking here, and I will put them to good effect as part of our campaign.

Thursday 27 November 2008

H&F Conservative's 578 Stealth Taxes

The last Labour administration delivered real-terms cuts in council tax, and kept charges for council services low. Now, H&F Conservatives have increased or introduced a staggering 578 new stealth taxes, with some charges rising by hundreds of percentage points above inflation.

Residents’ parking charges have increased by 12.5 per cent, and children’s out-of-hours play service charges have risen by a astonishing 121 per cent. The minimum increase across all council charges is 5 per cent. Many of the stealth taxes hit the most vulnerable local residents, with Meals on Wheels prices rising by an incredible 40 per cent - adding £365 to annual food bills for the elderly.

The Tories also went back on an election pledge not to introduce home care charges for the elderly, sick and disabled, telling them that if they don’t pay the brand new £12.40 per hour charge, they won’t receive these crucial services.

Included in the new stealth taxes is the controversial new charge for the garden waste disposal service, which now costs £7.25 - even though there didn't seem to be much of a service for those that signed up to it. That and many other of these charges used to be included in residents’ council tax payments. Now, residents have to pay these extra cost on top of their council tax.

Will H&F Tories Shut Another Sands End Youth Club?

When shutting down the Castle Youth Club last November the Conservatives explained that it didn’t matter as there is always the Townmead Youth Club, a few miles away. Now, it seems that this facility may also be closed down unless the Tory run Council releases £20,000 of funding needed to meet its running cost.

Readers will recall that the Castle Youth Club was sold to a property developer for £5million. Maybe the Administration could take the money out of that cash bonanza.

Residents of Sands End have been in for a tough time during the last couple of years. As well as selling off the Castle Youth Club, H&F Conservatives attempted to close Hurlingham and Chelsea Secondary School and successfully shut Peterborough Primary School. They have had to put up with cuts to police, and £36million of further cuts to front-line services. Then, this autumn it was announced that Hurlingham Park will be closed to the public for a large part of the year so that H&F Conservatives can rent it out to their friends in the international polo-set.

The Townmead Youth Club has been in operation since 1967. I hope local residents are able to make H&F Council see sense and maintain this important local asset.

Sunday 23 November 2008

Fences Go Up, Public Excluded, As H&F Conservatives Give Local Park Over To Polo Set

The London Olympics are three and a half years away. Children and young people across the country are being urged to take part and get involved in sport, and politicians are being called upon to take a fresh look at local facilities so that our young have a productive use for their energies. So, what is the answer here in Hammersmith and Fulham? Well, as far as H&F Council’s Conservative Administration are concerned it’s er… polo.

That’s right, it’s polo… and it's not for H&F's residents or indeed our young either. Instead, Hurlingham Park in Fulham has been given over to World Polo Ltd who intend to put on the traditional sport of the super-rich as an exclusive spectator event. Fences have already been erected around the public park and the mechanical diggers have gone in. Grounds that once saw schools’ sports days, families relaxing at weekends and kids playing ball games during balmy summer evenings will next year be the select reserve of the champagne-swilling international jet-set.

The scheme is the brain child of Cllr. Paul Bristow (Con) who gained notoriety this time last year when he proposed to rent out Ravenscourt Park and Furnival Gardens for such events as wrestling, film showings and raves. Opposition Labour councillors worked with local residents to restrict those activities but the people of Sands End, Fulham haven’t been so lucky. Their local Tory Councillors have supported this ruse and in doing so have denied them access to one of the few green spaces in in their area. You can click here to view the BBC News coverage of this story.

Saturday 22 November 2008

H&F Council’s ‘Super Sewer’ Shenanigans, Part Two – The Facts From The Public Meeting

About six weeks before the 2005 general election H&F Conservatives put out a story that the Government was going to close Charing Cross Hospital. The public were taken in and it won the Tories around 3000 extra local votes in that election. At the time, when I asked the Conservatives about their “Save Charing Cross” propaganda, one prominent member admitted to me that they knew it wasn’t true, and advised me to “look at the small print on the back of their leaflet”. The fact that Charing Cross hasn’t closed and that instead, the hospital is just about to receive record new investment and a much wider range of facilities has gone without mention from our local Conservatives. Their interest was always just about the votes.

So, when I read H&F Conservatives stories about the ‘Super Sewer’ I was more than a little sceptical. Our local Tories and Council have spent tens of thousands of pounds of council tax payers' money telling residents how “giant craters” will be driven into Furnival Gardens and Ravenscourt Park to build a huge “Stink Pipe” causing “at least eight years of chaos”. It’s now clear that much of this is plainly not true.

On Monday night, a publiic meeting took place concerning the ‘Super Sewer’ – which is officially known as the Thames Tideway Tunnel. The meeting was opened by a Conservative councillor who told residents that he, his colleagues and the Council are yet to form a view on the scheme and hoped this meeting would help that process. This was a slightly peculiar thing for him to say as he has recently published comments saying his administration “is bitterly opposing the super-sewer project on the basis that the cost, chaos from eight years of construction, and loss of open space outweighs any benefits.”

Thames Water’s Richard Aylard then got on to the points which of were of greatest concern to residents. Mr. Aylard confirmed that Ravenscourt Park was never considered for any Thames Tideway Tunnel works (as previously reported here) and explained that Furnival Gardens also fails any criteria for an access tunnel into the sewer - as it’s not big enough.

David Wardle of the Environment Agency spoke for the scheme next. He told us that 32 million tonnes of untreated sewage is slushed into the River Thames each year. He graphically explained what is contained in this material and how, due to tidal conditions, this pollution then sloshes up and down the length of the river for up to two years before it is eventually flushed out into the North Sea. The Stamford Brook sewer (near the Dove pub) is one of the entrance spots where this material flows into the river.

Richard Aylard said that if the Thames Tideway Tunnel goes ahead, then the Stamford Brook sewer would be required to be sunk so that the sewage pours into the new tunnel and not the river. He added that this would take up to two years to complete and that the works wouldn't begin until the middle of the next decade.

Andrew Whetnall was then called to set out the case against the Thames Tideway Tunnel. I was told that he is an amateur enthusiast representing a consumer group. He said that he thought there were “minimal health benefits” to cleaning the river and that they would largely only aid a small number of rowers. Mr. Raj Bhatia, the Chair of the Stamford Brook Residents Association in the north of the borough, also explained his concerns.

We moved onto questions. A gently spoken man was the first person called. He politely told Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of the Council, that he had found the meeting to be very informative but asked him why he and the Council had put out so much information that had “evidently been widely misleading?” Audience members later told me that they thought this was the moment Greenhalgh lost the confidence of the room. His body language indicated he thought he'd been found out. Greenhalgh shuffled and looked around, like a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar, eventually telling the gentleman that he “wasn’t there to talk but wanted to listen”. Cllr. Greenhalgh then tried to walk away from the podium but someone in the audience shouted out “answer the question!” Greenhalgh returned looking flustered but didn’t respond to the demand and simply repeated his keenness to hear the views of the public and slipped back to his seat.

Two thirds of “the public” who were called to ask questions by the Tory Chair were in fact Tory party members, councillors or candidates. The Conservative Party Parliamentary Candidate for Hammersmith was called early on. He told Thames Water’s Head of Civil Engineering that he too "is an engineer as he has a degree in the subject" (although his website says that he passed his degree in Computer Aided Technology) and asked whether the Thames Tunnel wasn’t simply an opportunity for “boys to play with big toys?”. Other questions followed, some very good, but many in a similar vein and the Chair brought the meeting to a close with two further speeches; one from Cllr. Greenhalgh and one from another Tory Councillor.

All in all, most of the audience I spoke with afterwards told me that they thought it was useful to be able hear and then question Thames Water about their plans. Nearly everyone I spoke with expressed concern that their Council had seemingly tried to hoodwink them over this issue. You can view the local journalist, Rebecca Kent’s take on things in an article in this week’s Gazette newspaper – which I have attached and you can click on to read.

Thames Water confirmed early on that there will not be any works in Ravenscourt Park. I am relieved that there has also turned out to be no truth in what H&F Council told us about major works in Furnival Gardens either but concerned to find out what Thames Water will still need to do to realigned Stamford Brook. I have therefore written to them to seek further information on this and what this would mean to my constituents. I will report back when I have that information but please email me here if you want to raise any matters with me about this and I will do all I can to help.

Monday 17 November 2008

H&F Council’s ‘Super Sewer’ Shenanigans, Part One – Ravenscourt Park

My fellow ward councillors, and I met with Thames Water recently to question them about the ‘Super Sewer’. Prior to that though, H&F Council’s Conservative Administration had done its best to stop the Opposition from getting a direct and independent briefing from the company itself – as you can see by clicking onto the attached email to an officer in the Opposition office.

It’s worth asking what could possibly be the reason that H&F’s Conservatives wanted to manage the information that Opposition councillors had access to? Well, it seems H&F Council’s propaganda machine and the local Tories have indulged in a considerable amount of scaremongering. For example, Ravenscourt Park fails most of the criteria for the much talked about bore hole or indeed any ‘Super Sewer’ works whatsoever but the Tories, who will have known this, still set that story running causing concern to many local residents.

I will write a detailed report on what the situation is and how we’re campaigning to stop even the possibility of works in any of our riverside green spaces, after the public meeting on the matter tonight. However, for now it is worth noting that:
  • no H&F Council officer had been allowed to brief the elected Opposition councillors for the area on the 'Super Sewer' before printing a hyped-up story about it in the Council’s propaganda sheet
  • the first the Opposition heard about the alleged boring in Furnival Gardens was when it was published in the Council's newspaper
  • when we asked H&F Council officials what the ‘Super Sewer’ story had been based on we were told that it had been "speculation"
I believe most local residents would expect politicians of all parties to unite to fight against any plans to dig up any of Hammersmith and Fulham’s local parks. But, given the above points and the tone of H&F Council’s propaganda on this it looks like our local Conservatives are more interested in using council tax payers’ money to run a closely coordinated and dishonest political campaign off the back of this issue, rather than defending residents’ interests.

Prior to the last local elections I led the cross-party negotiating team against Thames Water representing all of London’s thirty three boroughs. We secured millions of pounds from Thames Water to compensate for cuts in water pressure. Our success was because we put party politics to one side and got on with the job of representing Londoners against Thames Water’s commercial interest. That is what should happen in this instance.

If you want to attend the public meeting about the 'Super Sewer' then please come along tonight (Monday, 17th November) to Hammersmith Town Hall for 7.00pm.

Please feel free to email me here to let me know your views on this issue. I will report more later on this week.

Friday 14 November 2008

H&F Council Fails Primary School Inspection And So Misses Out On £1.75 Billion Refurbishment Programme

The BBC is reporting that H&F Council has failed a competence test and missed out on a multi-million pound refurbishment programme for local primary schools. The Beeb explained that H&F “did not satisfy the DCSF with their building and refurbishment plans and will not receive their allocation of the £1.75bn immediately".

H&F Council’s Conservative Administration had already been telling local parents that the money was on its way and so this news will dash local parents hopes. As usual, H&F Council’s press office fails to make any mention of this bad news or the reasons why the Council failed local children and parents by not being up to competency standards. But, you can read the BBC article here.

This news comes after two and a half years in which H&F’s Conservative Administration has publicly lost the confidence of local parents and been criticised by its own advisers. The Conservative run council set up a schools commission, chaired by a Tory Peer, as a face-saving exercise after it failed in its bid to close a high performing secondary school and sell off the land. However, the Commission lambasted the Administration setting out its failing and explaining why it had “lost the confidence of head teachers and parents”. Around that time, it looked like the Conservatives had realised that they were damaging local children’s chances when, on 27th June 2007, Cllr, Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of H&F Council admitted that his Administration “had made mistakes”. But, he and his colleagues then carried on with their plans to close more local schools, selling off the land to private establishments and being accused by local parents of undermining their children’s secondary education. Then, earlier this year a leading head teacher took the unprecedented step of publicly criticising the Administration telling the press that “politics has overridden the value of education” in Hammersmith and Fulham.

It will be interesting to see how H&F Council responds to this latest debacle. If the Administration follows its previous form then it will simply use its propaganda machine to deny there is any problem whatsoever. Nobody will be sacked and nobody will resign. I will report more on this as we continue to push the Council to act in the interest of all of the borough's children.