Thursday 24 December 2009

H&F Conservatives Change Rules To Ticket Your Car On Boxing Day

“As stealth taxes go: you have to admire their creativity” a council officer exclaimed. He was telling me that H&F Conservatives have changed our parking rules. Now Hammersmith and Fulham Tories hope to raise extra funds by sticking parking tickets onto the cars of relatives and friends visiting local residents on Boxing Day and on Monday 28th December (the official Boxing Day Bank Holiday).

This bah humbug approach is likely to cause confusion over the festive period. It will see many innocent victims being stung for the increased £120 fine as Boxing Day is traditionally a public holiday - when parking is free.

It's also a further blow to struggling retailers. The new restrictions will deter many potential customers and will particularly hit smaller family or individually owned shops that rely on the stop and pop-in trade for a proportion of their sales.

The Conservatives have followed this approach despite massive public criticism. This includes making the Daily Telegraph’s list of parking shame and being exposed by the Daily Mail after Hammersmith and Fulham trialled new rules to allow extra clamping to raise even more cash.

Friday 18 December 2009

Taking Credit For Service Success They Have Nothing To Do With. What Does That Tell Us About H&F Conservatives Real Agenda?

Back in September, George Osborne was made to look silly. He gave a speech telling the public to look to Hammersmith and Fulham to understand how an incoming Tory government would operate. Channel 4 News were then hoodwinked into quoting the brand new £2million Shepherds Bush Library as an example of the Conservatives innovative new approach to delivering value orientated public services. The Times also fell into the same trap. The problem is that this wonderful new library was delivered by the last Labour Administration and was actually nothing to do with the Conservatives.

It’s understandable why the Tories want to be associated the new library. Labour arranged the deal in such a way that it would be at zero cost to the tax payer. It was negotiated as part the Westfield development.

It’s not just Shepherds Bush Library that our local Conservatives seek to take plaudits for. Banners fly from lamp post boasting of £200million being invested in local schools but that money is coming direct from the Labour Government. The Tories tell how Normand and Frank Banfield Parks have been revamped but that too was arranged by the last Labour Council. They even talk of paying off £12million of Council debt but, yes, that was done by Labour. There are many more examples but all this raises the question why?

The answer provides an interesting insight to H&F Conservatives' predicament. They know that there is a public consensus that backs efficient and effective front line services as an intrinsic aspect of our civilisation. They also know that they have set about radically cutting services but that this could lose them vital support. So they have decided to side-step this important detail and simply mislead the public about what is actually happening. Here are some of the thing our Conservative council has actually done:

There’s more but the point is made. H&F Conservatives' real record paints a very different picture: one that would cause reasonable people to desert them in droves. They are understandably nervous of it. So they tell a different story but one that is sadly not theirs to tell.

Interestingly, all this indicates an emptyness to H&F Conservatives' approach along with some embarrassment about what they’ve actually done. While it is flattering that our Tories should seek to boasts about Labour successes, it is surprising that they feel forced into doing so after nearly a full term in office.

Thursday 17 December 2009

Tory Block Vote Gives Go Ahead For 288 Goldhawk Road Scheme

I'm just in from the Planning Committee. It's still going on but I was there to argue against agenda item 1 - which concerned the 282 to 288 Goldhawk Road development.

It turned out that the report was indeed written and recommended for approval prior to the close of the official consultation period. It seems that there was a mad, five week rush to get this report to the December Planning Committee - presumably because the Administration thought the Christmas period would dampen down the number of people turning out to object. It didn't work. Around 75 residents turned up to witness proceeding and make their views known. Some brought their children. It was standing room only as the Council had failed to provide sufficient seating.

The meeting began with Cllr. Mike Cartwright (Lab) moving a motion calling for the report to be deferred until the January meeting. Joined by Councillors Colin Aherne (Lab), Wesley Harcourt (Lab) and myself, Mike told the committee that they couldn't possibly have considered all the detailed planning matters and they owed it to residents to have a full, evidence-based analysis of all the objections in a new planning report. The Conservative members looked nervous but voted to block this. We then went through the report. As the evening rolled on residents became angry shouting out "rubbish" and "that's just not true" as officers tried to answer their objections. On several occasions the residents were threatened with being thrown out but that didn't happen and a small core of around 20 stayed until the vote was taken about 11.45pm.

The rather predictable result involved the 6 Conservatives committee members voting to push the scheme through, while the 3 Labour committee members voted against. Residents headed home angry, tired, upset and disenchanted. One man shouted "I've voted Conservative for the last time". An elderly lady went up to the table where the Conservative members were sitting and told them they were "a disgrace". The widespread view was this was a "stitch-up from the start".

Saturday 12 December 2009

Further Controversy Over Another Major Hammersmith And Fulham Planning Scheme

Hundreds of residents have contacted me to share their anger at H&F Conservatives’ latest planning scheme, due to go to the Planning Applications Committee (PAC) this Wednesday evening. H&F Council used to run a residential care home at 282 to 288 Goldhawk Road. They moved the residents out and now an organisation called Places for People has put in an application to make the site into a mixed development.

Residents tell me that they smell a rat pointing out that H&F Council wrote the report recommending approval prior to the close of the consultation period.

I expect Wednesday’s meeting to be packed out. It will be interesting to see if this application will be pushed though by the Administration much as many others have. If you want to attend, then come to Hammersmith Town Hall for 7.00pm. It’s the first item on the agenda. I’ll see you there.

Friday 4 December 2009

Hammersmith And Fulham Tories Make Telegraph’s Top Ten List Of Parking Shame

The Daily Telegraph has exposed Hammersmith and Fulham Conservatives for having some of the worst parking stealth taxes in the country.

Regular readers will recall that the Conservatives hiked parking fines up by 50%. They then added an extra £500,000.00 cash target for wardens to generate through new parking fines. Now, as the Telegraph points out, Hammersmith and Fulham is amongst the “10 councils who have raked in the most in fines per head of population” in the UK.

Thursday 3 December 2009

No Regrets Over Goldhawk Industrial Estate?

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has called in H&F Conservatives’ decision to push through planning permission for the Goldhawk Industrial Estate. This means that it will be independently reviewed and that it could be overturned.

Residents and affected businesses will have an opportunity to provide evidence to the independent review and residents’ groups are already preparing their submissions.

Despite there being major flaws in the planning report, H&F Conservatives have had the Council put out a response that is little short of belligerent. They say “The planning committee gave very careful consideration to all the issues” and “We are surprised that the Secretary of State considers that there are issues of such national importance to justify this intervention."

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Are H&F Conservatives Taking The Proper Precautions With Our Kids’ School Meals?

You could easily have missed the advert (opposite) while flicking through the local paper. It reads “Owner Drivers Required” and calls for people “With van or estate car for deliveries of school meals in the Hammersmith and Fulham area”.

Intrigued, I called them. Their client is our very own Conservative run Hammersmith and Fulham Council. The schools meals transport service was recently privatised and the firm at the other end of the phone now have the contract.

Mischievously, I made out I was applying for the job. I said that I also move horticultural items around in my car, such as compost, and would be driving Christmas trees around at the same time as the school meals from November onwards. They didn’t object and asked me if I wanted an application form. I didn’t and I’m not sure many parents will feel happy when they find out about this latest Tory scam.

UPDATE: Dan Hodges of the Hammersmith Gazette has featured this story in this week's newspaper. He tells how he also called the number in the advert and made out he moved "building waste" around in the van he proposed to deliver our children's school dinners in. They diligently sent him an application form. Click onto the attached article to read Dan Hodges piece in full.

Monday 19 October 2009

VIDEO: The Guardian Investigates H&F Conservatives' Plans To Demolish Residents' Homes

Dave Hill of the Guardian has taken a long hard look at H&F Conservatives controversial proposals to knock down residents' homes and force people to move out of the Borough. You can watch the video by clicking here.

Oddly, the Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council refused to give an interview to the journalist. This is exactly what happened, back in June, when the BBC also asked for a H&F Conservative politician to appear on the Politics Show to explain the politics of their plans to deprive residents of their homes.

It seems that H&F Conservatives are doing their very best to cover up details of their controversial scheme, which will affect over 3500 Hammersmith and Fulham residents. One would think they felt they have something to hide. Click here to see the Guardian's video.

H&F Council Tells Property Speculators We Will "Remove The Uncertainty Around Planning Applications"

“Our planning policies are changing to attract development and to remove the uncertainty around planning applications.” It's hard to believe but that statement is made by H&F Council about its own quasi-judicial planning process and implies that everything will somehow be fixed to assure property speculators that their applications will go through smoothly. You can view all this for yourself at 2 minutes and 13 seconds into their promotional video below:

H&F's Conservative Administration published the video in 2007. It sheds light on a bewildering series of planning permissions that have outraged residents and will contribute to blighting neighbourhoods across the borough.

Concerns were first raised when a senior Conservative councillor flew to Cannes on the French Riviera to begin secret talks with property speculators. H&F Council has consistently refused to provide minutes or agenda of those meetings and initially tried to tell the Opposition that there were no formal conversations. They did however explain that the trip was organised to talk to speculators about “contentious development sites”.

Over the last few years residents have seen planning applications granted by the Conservatives which have gone against all objective evidence. The Goldhawk Industrial Estate is fresh in the memory but other “contentious” schemes have been pushed through in Hammersmith Grove, Glenthorne Road and Larden and Percy Roads. Worst of all and as this video demonstrates, the Council is also quite far down the line in talks about knocking down thousands of people’s homes.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Boris Imposes Second Round Of Inflation-Busting Tube & Bus Fare Hikes

There are two major aspects of the London Mayor’s budget. Transport and policing. So, having told the Conservative Party Conference that David Cameron and George Osborne should follow him in making “tough decisions about public spending” it is no surprise that Boris Johnson today announced that tube fares will increase by 3.9% and bus fares will be hiked up by a staggering 12.7%. This is the second round of fare rises introduced by Boris Johnson since he became London’s Mayor.

It would be interesting to know if the Mayor had considered how much this will add to the average London household’s weekly bill and if he balanced those calculations against his decision to:

  • Lose £50million by abandoning the £25 gas guzzler charge
  • Cost Londoners £30million by replacing bendy buses with the lower capacity single and double deckers
  • Lose significant sums designing a new bus
  • Cancelling the cheap fuel contract

I am writing to TfL to ask about the Mayor's further cuts in tube and bus services and will report more later on. As for the police and crime fighting budget: I understand that the Mayor is reviewing these and I will let you know the consequences for residents of Hammersmith and Fulham when I have more details.

Thursday 24 September 2009

Hammersmith Residents' Hopes Quashed As Goldhawk Scheme Pushed Through By Tory Block Vote

There are two rumours currently going around Hammersmith Town Hall about the Goldhawk Industrial Estate proposal - which was heard by the Planning Applications Committee (PAC) last night. The first is that senior Conservative Administration councillors had given officers a very hard time for not recommending that the development became 100% housing. The second is that some Conservative committee members “wobbled” yesterday morning and, having seen the overwhelming evidence against the plans, were going to vote the application down. They apparently had to be “toughened up” to pass the controversial scheme.

Whatever turns out to be the case, I am sorry to tell you that the property speculator’s plan was backed by a majority of all seven Conservative councillors on the PAC. They gave it their unanimous support. The minority three Labour committee members all voted against.

Around two hundred residents turned up to protest. Hammersmith Broadway Councillors Lisa Nandy (Lab), Mike Cartwright (Lab) and I questioned officers and spoke against the proposal. Councillors Colin Aherne (Lab) and Wesley Harcourt (Lab) did the same. We were glad to be joined by Ravenscourt Park Councillor Eugenie White (Con) who also pressed her colleagues on the PAC (which included fellow ward Councillor Lucy Ivimy (Con)) not to vote it through.

As the meeting progressed it became obvious that the evidence presented in the planning report was particularly flimsy. Take the comment listed in 3.3 on page 27. H&F Council asserted that Innocent Ltd, who employ 160 of these people have indicated that they require larger, more suitable business premises” implying that they were keen to move anyway. This turned out to be absolute nonsense with officers forced to make the incredible admission that they had got this information direct from the property speculator and not Innocent Drinks. In fact, it turned out that Innocent and the Soundhouse Studios had actually tried to buy the site when they found out they would be evicted but the new owner apparently quoted a price that was in the realm of “telephone numbers”.

Similarly, planning officers told those assembled that they believed the quality of office space would be better if this development went through. But, it turned out that they were not aware of the £2million investment the Soundhouse Studios had put in to create an acoustic environment of exceptional quality. A raft of high profile celebrities have benefited from these facilities over the years. John Humphrys sent in a letter of support. Because of the planning vote those facilities are currently set to be destroyed and replaced with standard business units incapable of facilitating that type of work.

The advice listed in 4.1 on page 40 about the Section 106 fund was particularly odd. The property speculator is obliged pay to H&F a sum to contribute to the extra cost the borough will have to bear because of the development. The report surprised all present by recommending that this should be fixed at the unusually low figure of £300,000. Under questioning officers admitted that this figure was primarily based on the property speculator’s own analysis of the site’s viability. It then became clear that this assessment was undertaken at today’s market values and not at what the site would be worth built and ready for sale - when the economic circumstances will be very different. This was also the reason given for cutting the standard allocation of affordable rented housing to zero. Both of these points indicated that H&F Council had failed to negotiate a satisfactory deal on behalf of residents.

Indeed, the report was full of information presented as an objective overview but proved to have either directly originated from the property speculator (who clearly has a vested interest) or was completely inaccurate – such as wrongly informing committee members that Brackenbury Primary School planned to lay on extra places for the increased number of eligible school children in the locality.

Any legitimate concerns raised were simply brushed aside, making many residents openly question whether the planning process had been nobbled. We were told the area is a "brown field site" when it isn’t; that the change of land use was “not significant” despite it changing to a largely residential development and that the added parking problems would not happen to any “large degree”. We were even informed that the extra traffic "would not cause an increased danger to the children" at neighbouring Brackenbury Primary School because of analysis which came from (you’ve guessed it) the property speculator.

Residents had gone to the expense of paying for a report from an eminent QC – who specialises in planning law. I’ll email a copy to anyone who wants it. Understandably, residents wanted to find out if there was any truth to the expressed view put by the Conservative Administration that this had to be voted through because of planning law. The QC completely demolished the Administration’s case but his opinion was quickly discarded - along with all the other reasoned arguments.

Residents left the meeting feeling let down, angry and disenchanted. Many told me they had been Conservative voters and had been shocked to see the representatives they elected use their block vote in such a way.

Last night reflected the Administration’s unhappy approach to working with large property speculators. There's been many other similar examples.

It’s just three years since senior Conservative councillors first flew to the French Riviera, at public expense, for secret meetings about “contentious sites” across the borough. We are only just beginning to see the results of those meetings and other such plotting. One thing is clear so far: it’s not residents that this Administration is putting first.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Brown Wins World Statesman Of The Year Award For "Vision And Dedication" In Handling World Economic Crisis

I picked this Press Association story up below. It's also been published in the Guardian.

"Gordon Brown may be trailing in the polls at home, but in the US last night he was hailed as a hero for "stabilising" the world economy and showing "compassionate leadership".

The prime minister, in New York for the UN general assembly, was honoured as world statesman of the year at a VIP-packed gala dinner. The award was presented on behalf of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith organisation which campaigns for religious freedom and human rights, by the veteran US former secretary of state Henry Kissinger. Rock star Bono, Queen Rania of Jordan, and the Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak were among the audience as Kissinger praised Brown for his "vision and dedication" in handling the world economic crisis. "His leadership has been essential to our ability to overcome the moment of danger," said Kissinger." Full story here.

Contrast Henry Kissinger's comments about Gordon Brown's handling of the world-wide economic crisis to what the Economist said of David Cameron's Conservatives' confused response - pointing out that Cameron and his team "seemed self-interested and querulous over Northern Rock, the first British bank to wobble. They mistakenly opposed part of the government’s fiscal stimulus."

Wednesday 16 September 2009

H&F’s Conservative Administration Waste £700,000 On Council Employees Who Fail To Attend Training

Last night at the scrutiny meeting (see page 65), an official explained that H&F Council’s budget for training is £1.1million. But, here's the thing: a third of people booked onto the courses don’t turn up.

I asked about this waste. It was pointed out that the £1.1million cost could be doubled to £2.2million if you add in the associated charges of getting extra cover and lost work. That would mean that our council is throwing away £726,000 of Hammersmith and Fulham tax payers’ money on people who don’t turn up to training courses - a sum getting on for almost 1.5% of council tax.

It turns out that there’s been virtually no objective assessment of why that happens; there’s little to no pre and post training course work to ensure the training will deliver productivity benefits and there has been a widespread culture of acceptance at all levels of the organisation that this frivolous approach is a professional way to behave.

Cllr. Rory Vaughan (Lab) asked if departments are charged for none attendance – as happens in many well run organisations. The officials looked uncomfortable by this question and said “we looked at this and decided not to do it… It all comes out of the same pot anyway” - indicating that this had probably been discussed and scuppered by the borough’s senior management and almost certainly for all the wrong reasons.

Consider the Council's £186million total budget; H&F Conservative’s failure in invest in extra police; the £547 increase in meals on wheels charges to save £150,000; or any of the other cuts in key public services and stealth taxes then it puts their £726,000 waste in this area into a different perspective.

UPDATE: The Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle have also featured this story in this week's edition. Click on the photo (opposite) to read Aidan Jones' exposé.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Residents Fear Planning “Stitch-Up” As Goldhawk Industrial Estate Scheme Goes To Committee Next Week

Yesterday, H&F Council released the latest papers for the Planning Applications Committee (PAC) due to meet on Wednesday 23rd September 2009. Nobody I spoke to is surprised by the view expressed in the report. One resident told me that it is widely believed that the Administration’s decision to back the property speculator’s proposal had been made long ago. But, given the evidence, I am still astonished to see the words written on page 10 urging committee members to “resolve” to go ahead and “grant permission” for the highly controversial over sized buildings when they meet next week.

H&F Council proposes to allow London & Newcastle to pack fifty-seven houses and eight business units into an area that currently only accommodates a fraction of that. The Brackenbury Residents Association and Providence Villas Plus arranged a well attended public meeting back in January - which I chaired. Many people also attended a planning forum in June. Over that period, residents have gained an expert knowledge of the Council’s planning guidelines and point out that the scheme recommended by H&F Council officers should not go ahead for many reasons - some being:

  • The development (especially the big block) is too dense for the site and fails to meet H&F Council’s own guidelines about amenity space.
  • The proposed buildings will overlook many of the surrounding homes and gardens breaching H&F Council’s own Unitary Development Plan.
  • One hundred and eighty two local jobs will be lost as businesses such as Innocent Drinks, The Soundhouse Studios and others are forced to move out.
  • There will be extra traffic and noise as the site is opened up to 24/7 usage.
  • The development fails to provide parking for visitors, thus further adding to parking stress for neighbouring residents.
  • Brackenbury School, adjacent to the site, is already over-subscribed and will be unable to accommodate the extra children.

Many local people have expressed concern about the Conservative Administration's lack of even-handedness pointing out that it has been in private discussions with the developer for almost two years. Our council then accepted payment from London & Newcastle for an advertisement in its widely circulated propaganda sheet and had the Council’s press office publish a positive story about the scheme while refusing to publish any residents’ letters that offered an alternative view. Add in our Conservative councillors publicly funded trips to the French Riviera - which the Council explained was so they could meet property speculators to discuss "contentious" sites across the borough; then take a look at this video to witness the shifty uneasiness the Tories obviously felt while responding to residents’ questions on a different scheme and it's understandable why residents feel their legitimate concerns are not a priority for H&F's Tory run Council.

In fact, the Tories had actually sought to send the application to the PAC on 5th August – knowing that hundreds of local people had objected to the scheme but that many would be away on holiday and unable to attend. They almost certainly did this to limit any public demonstration. That plot was only scuppered when the Environment Agency called in the application because of concerns about flooding.

So, next week’s PAC promises to be interesting. Residents wanting to turn up to protest against this blot on the Hammersmith landscape should turn up to the Town Hall in King Street. The meeting will begin at 7.00pm and the Goldhawk Industrial Estate is the first item on the agenda. I shall see you there.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Hammersmith Community Rallies To Support Residents’ Campaign To Save Their Homes

Dick Langford and Tim de Ferrars have written a song to support the Hands Off Our Queen Caroline Homes campaign. Residents set up the action group to stop H&F Conservatives demolishing their homes and forcibly moving many local people out of the area. You can listen to the song here. You can also sign the petition here to support the Hammersmith residents that have been targeted.

Hammersmith and Fulham Conservatives now reluctantly admit that the plans are real having previously spent months saying they were just scaremongering. Residents forced the Leader of the Council to come clean and tell them that his Administration had been in talks with property speculators during a public meeting – which you can view here. Since then H&F’s Conservative run Council has run a damage limitation exercise and published papers trying to put the best spin in their plans to move many Hammersmith residents out of the borough.

I’ll keep you updated as this story continues to develop.

Monday 3 August 2009

Evening Standard's Andrew Gilligan Exposes Hammersmth & Fulham's Conservative Council's Tax-Payer Funded Propaganda Scam

The Evening Standard’s Andrew Gilligan has published a piece about council propaganda sheets disguised as newspapers. You can read his full article by clicking here. I have also cut the pieces relevant to what he says about Hammersmith and Fulham’s tax payer funded Tory spin sheet below. Regular readers will recall that H&F Council have increased spending on propaganda and advertising by 11.3% - which is one of the largest increases in the UK.

Andrew Gilligan writes… "Imagine for a moment that you are Gordon Brown. Angry at the 'negative' news agenda of the press, you spend large sums of public money to destroy it.

You start several newspapers of your own, hiring experienced journalists and well-known columnists with big public followings. You fill your newspapers with nearly everything people buy papers for - news, features, property pages, what's-on guides, even crumpet - and you do it well. Only a few things are missing from your newspapers - anything whatever that reflects badly on you, and any mention at all of your political opponents.

You offer taxpayer-subsidised advertising rates that your commercial rivals cannot match. You deliver your newspapers free of charge to everyone - unlike your competitor papers, for which everyone still has to pay. One after another, they shrivel and die. Eventually, as in the former East Germany, the only news available is that provided by your government-controlled newspapers...

... In Tory-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham, lies H&F News, circulation 75,000, and perhaps the craftiest operation of all.

H&F News is a brilliant facsimile of a good, meaty local newspaper, complete with a 12-page property pullout, a sudoku and crossword, a What's On supplement, lots of ads from real local businesses and even a five-page gardening section. The council PR stories ("Residents dish out the love ... Poll reveals that three years of tax cuts give joy") are interspersed with page after page of other news, much of it seemingly straight, and you struggle to remember this is an official publication. But of course it is.

In H&F News, it is the Labour Party that does not exist and the Tory councillors who get all the quotes. However, the true genius is in some of the apparently straight reporting. In H&F News, unlike all the other official papers, occasional controversy is allowed - but only in the context of the council listening and taking heed.

In H&F News, with few exceptions, the only crimes are committed by people who have been caught and jailed by the borough's ever-vigilant police (regular advertisers in H&F News).

In H&F News, crime is nearly always falling, even when it isn't.

The 5 May issue proclaimed that "violent crimes have fallen dramatically across the year" to April and quoted the relevant H&F cabinet member, Cllr Greg Smith, speaking of "impressive falls across the board". In fact, however you slice it, some, perhaps even most, violent crimes did not fall in Hammersmith and Fulham in the year to April 2009. Rapes, for instance, went up.

Above all, it is Hammersmith that may soon become the first borough in Britain covered only by official media. The local paid-for paper, the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle, sells 1,500 and falling. "They were virtually out of business long before we started H&F News," says a council spokesman. "They are not even based in the borough. There has been in our borough an information vacuum which we are trying to fill."

Tuesday 16 June 2009

WATCH THIS VIDEO – Would You Trust These People To Be In Control Of Your Neighbourhood?.. Well, They Are

There have been many controversial planning and redevelopment matters in Conservative controlled Hammersmith and Fulham over the last few years but none more so than this.

Click here to watch the video and witness Hammersmith’s residents question Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of H&F Council about the secret negotiations his Administration has conducted with property speculators to demolish their homes. On 29th April 2009, Cllr. Greenhalgh and the Hammersmith Broadway Conservatives turned up to St Paul’s Church, Hammersmith to take part in a self-styled “Leader Listens” meeting. Understandably, local people are desperately worried about their homes after it emerged that Hammersmith Conservatives had met property speculators in both London and in Cannes, the luxury resort in the South of France, to discuss demolishing residents’ homes. This short video shows Cllr. Greenhalgh being forced to admit that talks have taken place after an intensive round of questioning by members of the public.

The meeting went from bad to worse as residents became increasingly angry. The video doesn’t capture the lady whose voice echoed, like it had come from the heavens, as she shouted from the back of the church that Cllr. Greenhalgh “should not lie in the house of God” (which he denied doing); or the nervous blinking one Conservative candidate became afflicted with as the audience became ever more unconvinced by Cllr. Greenhalgh’s answers. But the video does demonstrate that there have been secret talks taking place over recent years about demolishing people's homes - which H&F Council has tried to cover up. Watch for yourself by clicking here.

In fact, only last week, when asked about talks with developers relating to people's homes on Queen Caroline Street, H&F Council’s press office told the BBC that there had been "Absolutly no talks with any developers about the site". This video evidence shows the Leader of the Council clearly contradicting that; as does the evidence from the property speculator involved - who has also confirmed to the BBC that he had been in talks with H&F Council and its Conservative Administration about knocking down homes on Queen Caroline Street.

H&F Conservatives now say that these talks are taking place only to consider what will happen around the year 2029. Again, this doesn't ring true. I currently have people in my surgery telling me that H&F Council is already making offers for them to leave their homes within the next year. One Hammersmith resident told me that an official actually encouraged him and and his family to consider moving out of the borough on the basis that they could get a much bigger property further out of central London - something he doesn't want to do. It’s also interesting to consider why would the Conservative Administration fly to the French Riviera at public expense for discussions with property speculators about issues they say won’t come to fruition for another 20 years. One leading speculator they've been in talks with will be in his 70s in 2029. Therefore, H&F Council’s line that this entire activity currently taking place has no immediate outcome looks as untrue as what their press office originally told the BBC about not meeting any developers whatsoever.

In fact, the only factor that seems to have stopped all this from progressing immediately is the credit crunch, as the banks have, for the moment, stopped lending such large amounts of cash to property developers. That's why, on 27th February this year, the prospective developer for Queen Caroline Street told the Hammersmith Gazette that he hopes to progress with the scheme “once the economy has recovered from the global downturn” next year.

A big question still not answered is where will they put all the current residents? We now know that H&F Conservatives have met with property speculators and offered up resident’s homes on:

  • Queen Caroline Street
  • Ashcroft Square
  • Gibbs Green
  • West Kensington
  • White City
  • The Lytton Estate
  • Batman Close

There are, undoubtedly, still other neighbourhoods being targeted that H&F Conservatives are hoping to keep under wraps. Currently, that’s around 2000 homes that will be affected which will mean around 5000 people needing a new place to live. Given that H&F Council no longer grants permission for any new affordable homes to rent to be built (since Boris Johnson became Mayor and allowed them to change their development priorities); and that the Conservatives are also selling off council homes onto the open market when they become vacant; then there is far less housing stock. Add in the reduction of the above affordable houses and it would be impossible to house all the displaced residents in the borough. It’s therefore easy to appreciate why the woman in the film says she and her family expect to be shipped out to east London where many new homes are being built - despite having lived in Hammersmith and Fulham for 42 years.

My fellow ward councillors, Cllr. Mike Cartwright (Lab), Cllr. Lisa Nandy (Lab) and I, are determined to work with residents and fight these underhand plans. We have asked H&F Council for all papers, agendas and minutes relating to meetings that have taken place on the Conservatives' repatriation scheme. So far they are steadfastly resisting coming clean on the matter. They need to do so. H&F Council's PR department has been caught out misinforming people and is handing out disingenuous propaganda. They have a duty to be honest and let the public see what they are up to. It is all very fishy indeed.

So, in the week when David Cameron told The Times that he couldn't quite remember whether he owned 3 or more houses, his model Conservative Council here in Hammersmith and Fulham is looking to remove the one and only home 5000 H&F residents currently live in. And, it looks like the only option people on average and low incomes will have is to move out of the borough - as is currently being suggested by H&F Council officers. Watch the video by clicking here and make your own mind up about what’s going on.

You can click here for more information on H&F Council's demolition and repatriation scheme, including links to council minutes.

Monday 15 June 2009

Residents' Champion Featured In Hammersmith Gazette

It was interesting to read this piece in the Gazette (click on the photo to enlarge). There are many active residents groups around the borough. It is often a thankless task and it is my experience that they play a vital role; adding to the sense of local community and by campaigning to improve their neighbourhoods.

However, Shirley Cupit and her neighbours have recently set their residents' group up with a different remit. Hands Off Our Queen Caroline Homes has been formed to literally save their homes and their community after it emerged that H&F's Conservative run Council has been in secret talks with property speculators to demolish their homes.

I will report more on this very soon but, for now, please feel free to read this article here for background info.

Thursday 14 May 2009

Worth A Watch

The White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner is a Washington institution. It’s nearly always fun and this year President Obama gives a very funny address. You can click here to view.

Friday 8 May 2009

Thames Water Set Out Their Side Of The Story On Super Sewer

Thames Water has written into H&F Council in a bid to correct some of the blatantly dishonest scaremongering the Council has published about the Thames Tideway Tunnel in its PRAVDA style paper. In a bid to get some free speech into the paper I have decided to publish Thames Water’s letter here to force H&F Council’s hand. Click on the attachments to increase the size of the letters so you can read them in full.

Regular readers will recall that H&F Council has frequently misinformed residents saying that Thames Water were going to put giant bore holes taking up all of Furnival Gardens and Ravenscourt Park and lasting eight years. This has since all been proved to be complete nonsense - which the Council itself now admits was based upon nothing other than “speculation”.

The Conservative Administration had initially tried to conceal the scale of their dishonesty by unsuccessfully trying to ban Thames Water from meeting with Opposition Councillors. The reason for this became clear when my fellow ward Councillors and I met with Thames Water last November. It seems that the Conservative Administration believe that whipping up false fear is worth thousands of local votes. It worked for them in the 2005 General Election when they dishonestly claimed Charing Cross Hospital was going to close. They obviously think that they can repeat that electoral success again by falsely telling residents that our local parks will be swallowed up by a giant boring machine for the next eight years.

I hope that residents will get to consider all of the genuine facts about the Thames Tideway Tunnel. People have a right to review for themselves whether they support or oppose it. So far, H&F Council has been keener to satisfy their Conservative masters’ political aims than to objectively report the options before the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham. I hope that will change.

Thursday 7 May 2009

H&F Conservatives' Cack-Handed Approach Undermines Borough’s Small Shops

Adam Heanen of HG Walters, the butcher in Barons Court, contacted me after H&F Council painted new double yellow lines outside their premises in December.

Adam told me that “The first we and the other shops on this strip knew about this was when a council worker turned up unannounced and started painting the extra yellow lines. It’s been five months now and this has had a detrimental effect for many of the local shops as many rely on people being able to pull up and pop in. We’re all very upset about it". He said that H&F Council “clearly don’t care about how this would affect our business, if they did they would have at least spoken to us about what was going on before putting down a measure that is literally driving people away”.

I have written to the senior official responsible for implementing this decision along with the Conservative Cabinet Member who is responsible for it. I have asked them to urgently “consult with the affected small retailers and reconsider this measure as well as developing other ways to support this key local shopping centre”. I will let you know when I get a response.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

What Should Be Done To Support Our Local Small Retailers?

Like many small retailers, the shops on Askew Road have had it tough recently. Their troubles started well before the global recession. There’s the ever-present competition from the major players, draconian parking measures drove customers away and high business rates are just a few of the problems they suffered.

During the last three years Askew ward’s (see pic) Councillors Gill Dickenson (Lab), Lisa Homan (Lab) and Rory Vaughan (Lab) have campaigned for a change in H&F Council’s approach. They forced the Council to carry out a consultation on Askew Road’s shopping area. The result of this is that H&F Council has now agreed to reductions in the tariff on the five pay and display bays to 20p for 30 minutes to encourage people to ‘stop and shop’. My colleagues also managed to persuade the Council to introduce a range of streetscape improvements such as raised entry treatments in Cobbold, Gayford and Hadyn Park Roads - with work set be carried out at the end of May. They are continuing to campaign for more.

Regular readers will recall that an all-party Parliamentary group published High Street Britain - alarmingly concluding that small retailers may “vanish from Britain’s high streets by 2015” as featured here. It was therefore a positive step that on the 19th September 2007 all Hammersmith and Fulham’s councillors of both parties voted in favour of the 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.”

At the time, my Labour colleagues and I raised concerns that the Tories’ motion was more than a little short on action points and also voted for H&F Conservatives to follow Kensington and Chelsea Council’s lead in supporting its small retailers. Our Conservatives Councillors argued that was unnecessary and said we should judge their Administration by their subsequent actions. Nineteen months have passed since then and, unlike other London councils of all political colours, H&F Council still does not have a borough wide strategy for supporting our small retailers. There was no mention of how the Administration will “support shops and the local economy” in their last budget – which will be effective until April 2010. Time is running out and things have got worse, with BBC News recently choosing the Fulham Road as the site that best summed up their recent exposé on the failing small retail sector.

I urge greater urgency. There are things that can be done now to make the plight of our small retailers easier. I hope the Administration acts soon and gets on with doing precisely that.

Thursday 16 April 2009

H&F Conservatives’ Harsh Line On Homelessness

It is increasingly difficult for homeless people to get Hammersmith and Fulham Council to accept that it has a duty to house them after H&F Conservatives tightened the processes and criteria around acceptance.

People become homeless for all sorts of reasons. Different types of crisis such as domestic violence, mental illness, or debt can suddenly place a person in need of shelter. Local councils have always been in the front line of providing the necessary safety net. The last Labour Administration was so effective at helping people who found themselves homeless that our Conservative neighbours at Kensington and Chelsea Council joined in with many our schemes.

H&F Conservatives have taken a very different view during the last three years. The first indications of a less than compassionate approach occurred in 2007 when they described the homeless as a “law and order issue” and banned the BBC and Crisis from running a Christmas shelter. They cut funding to local homeless charities, such as Broadway (as you can read here on page 18), and actually sold off twelve homeless hostels raising millions of pounds in revenue for the Council while explaining that they didn’t need the shelters any more. They then also began to sell off many empty Council homes instead of re-letting them to people on the waiting list and did all of this while tightening the homeless acceptance criteria.

The latest figures show that H&F Council now only agrees to provide shelter for around half the numbers of homeless people it had accepted under Labour back in 2006. Some local backbench Tories are bizarrely trying to promote the notion this is an indication of their efficient approach to solving homelessness in the borough. I am not sure if this premise is a result of a failure to understand what their frontbench colleagues are up to; disingenuous propaganda; or it’s just that particular type of heartless ignorance but, as the attached photo above demonstrates, homelessness is still a plight for many of our fellow residents - even if H&F Conservatives are no longer prepared to put a roof over their heads.

The above picture was kindly sent to me by local resident Jane Bain. She took the photo early yesterday morning. It shows a homeless gentleman sleeping on a fly-tipped mattress next to Hammersmith Bridge.

Monday 13 April 2009

Murky Goings On Over H&F Conservatives' Latest New Charge For Residents

It’s been a long standing principle of our democracy that government needs to set out what it intends to do so it can be held to account. Hard won processes should kick in which should allow the public, the media, administration backbenchers and oppositions to know what is happening and to consider the pros and cons before any major policy is implemented. So, how come H&F Council’s Conservative Administration has just introduced another brand new stealth tax and the Conservative Chair of the scrutiny committee meant to look at such policies was forced to admit that even she “didn't know about the charge”.

H&F Council has decided to now charge, £15 per item, to remove unwanted household furniture. This service used to be covered by the council tax payment and up until the beginning of this month there was no extra charge for using it. The charge is an interesting measure as on initial consideration it may seem to make sense to charge people for removing their old belongings. However, many of the councils that levy such a charge often end up spending more than the money raised because they have to deal with significant increases in unwanted extra fly-tipping – and regular readers will recall the Hammersmith and Fulham Council is currently £1million over its budget precisely because of unforeseen increases in the level of local fly-tipping.

The Cleaner and Greener Scrutiny Committee should have considered all of this and looked at the measure as part of H&F Council’s failing strategy for keeping our streets clean. However, when the committee last met on Wednesday, 8th April, Cllr. Eugenie White (Con), the Chair of the committee admitted that her Cabinet colleagues and council officials had even failed to inform her of what they were doing.

Cllr. Wesley Harcourt (Lab), the Shadow Cabinet Member for the Environment (pictured left) asked where and when details of this latest policy change had been published. A senior environment official responded by telling the committee that details had “not been explicit in the budget papers”. Wesley asked the official if he believed H&F Council’s approach was “conducive to transparent government?” The official didn't respond - his silence providing the answer.

Now, if there’s one department that could do with some scrutiny and advice it’s H&F Council’s beleaguered environment department. Their new garden waste scheme crashed and burned a mere eighteen months after it was triumphantly unveiled (a decision also kept from committee scrutiny); complaints about filthy streets and dog fouling have soared; and few local people have any confidence in the current planning regime.

I suspect that this new residents charge is more to do with the incompetent way this service has been privatised than anything else and that this is the reason the Administration was keen to hide its latest stealth tax from the public’s gaze. I know that when the street scene services were being handed over to SERCO much was missed out. SERCO have been back to H&F Council on a number of occasions successfully seeking many hundreds of thousand of pounds in extra funds.

I am sure the story behind this will all come out in the end. And, when it does, I will ensure that you can read about it here.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

First Lady Visits Charing Cross Hospital’s Maggie’s Centre First

Michelle Obama, the First Lady, today visited the Maggie's Centre at Charing Cross Hospital which was the first stop in a busy day of engagements. Mrs Obama was the guest of Sarah Brown, the Prime Minister’s partner, who is a Patron of Maggie’s. The visit will be a great boost for the patients and staff at the centre which, as reported here, was opened by Sarah Brown last year.

The Maggie’s Centre offers information, psychological and emotional support and practical advice to anyone affected by cancer and is not just open to people who have been diagnosed with cancer, but also to their families, friends and carers. All their services are free of charge and they work in partnership with local NHS Trusts.

For more information about Maggie's Centres and the work they do please click here to get to their website.

Friday 27 March 2009

Residents Tell H&F Council “You Know That We Know You Can Turn The Goldhawk Industrial Estate Scheme Down”

Up until the recent residents’ campaign against proposals for fifty-six houses and eleven business units to be packed onto the current Goldhawk Industrial Estate, it may have appeared to some that local people could be blinded with planning regulations when it comes to new developments. There’s the UDP, the London Plan and the Local Development Framework; moreover the Planning Applications Committee (PAC) is classified as quasi-judicial. Add to this that Council officials have many meetings with property developers of major developments often over a year prior to a planning application being given public notice; then add that on two separate occasions H&F Conservatives actually flew to the French Riviera to offer the borough’s “contentious sites” to property speculators and it would easy for residents to feel that the whole planning process is a closed shop, which they have little influence over.

Over the last few years many residents have turned up to the PAC hoping that common sense would prevail. Instead, they’ve watched in horror as some Wandsworth style super-development is block voted through by Administration councillors. In fact, other than eighteen months ago (when a Conservative Council candidate for Hammersmith Broadway ward actually accused residents of being self-interested “nimbyists” for objecting to the Hammersmith Grove Armadillo - click on attached story to view) the Conservatives have largely feigned commiseration but then also sought to use the dazzlingly complicated planning processes to justify granting some highly “contentious” planning applications. Their line of argument usually goes something like this: “We are, of course, sympathetic to residents’ very real concerns but there’s little we can do because of planning regulations. A combination of the UDP, the London Plan, the London Mayor and a determined developer means that we’ll probably have to reluctantly vote this through in order not to suffer costs during an appeal.”

This line of argument is, nearly always, little more than a self-serving, hoodwinking exercise. It relies on the fact that most residents don’t usually have the expertise or understanding of planning procedure to get past it and persuade their Council to take their objections seriously. That was until now. H&F Conservatives have been forced to reconsider this strategy following a knowledgeable, well thought out and vigorous campaign by residents opposing plans for the Goldhawk Industrial Estate.

At the end of last year, the Brackenbury Residents Association (BRA) and Providence Villas Plus (PV+) began to put together a campaign after becoming increasingly concerned that their Council was going to nod through the Goldhawk Industrial Estate scheme – much as they had done with other applications. Some of the signs coming from H&F Council and the developer were ominous; very few residents had received notification of the consultation or invitations to the exhibition; and the application was set to be pushed through over the Christmas period (when many people were away) with a likely hearing by the PAC early in February.

BRA and PV+ organised a public meeting, which I chaired, and which took place on Wednesday 7th January. We hoped to force the Administration to extend the consultation period and so give residents more time to make their many objections heard. It worked. The consultation period has been increased and a Planning Forum was arranged so those people who had objected could explain their concerns to the Council and the developer.

The Planning Forum took place on Wednesday, 18th March and was one of the most interesting Council meetings I have been to in recent years. It began with a presentation from Londonewcastle - the developer. Richard Winterton (BRA) and Jackie Ashurst (PV+) then spoke for residents with a powerful presentation which was rich in evidence that referenced planning law, H&F Council’s UDP and the London Plan. Visuals by Nigel Winkle strongly reinforced their argument (which you can view in the photo section by clicking here). Going by the pained looks on some Administration faces, I’d say their points hit home.

Richard Winterton raised concerns that there had been “twelve months’ secret consultation between the Council and the developer” and that residents are not able to influence this process at any point until the Council and developer agree that the planning application could go public. He said, “The fresh perspective that our Council should be able to bring to the proposal is lost during this process.”

Richard’s point was good. It’s underlined by recalling that H&F Council had actually taken payment for an advertisement from Londonewcastle in H&F News which was then duly delivered to all homes across the borough. H&F Council’s press office published a positive story about the developer’s scheme in H&F News but then refused to publish any residents’ letters that commended the estate’s value in supporting business. The Council’s explanation was that the advert and their press article had gone out before the application was officially submitted. In short, that would make it almost impossible for any residents’ letters, critical of any scheme, getting published in the Council’s paper and this would always give any developer an unfair benefit over local people – something, which to date, H&F Council seems happy to go along with.

It's also worth noting that, during the presentation, the developer confirmed that Ravenscourt Park Councillors, Eugenie White (Con) and Harry Phibbs (Con) had a private briefing with the developer last year - before the application was submitted. Their fellow ward councillor, Lucy Ivimy (Con) is in fact H&F Council's Cabinet Member for Housing and so it is inconceivable that she had not been aware, from early on, of the Council's year-long negotiations with a developer to pack 56 houses and flats and 11 commercial units into a small site in her ward. Despite all this, there is no record of any of the three elected representatives for Ravescourt Park raising any public concerns on behalf of their constituents until after the application became a cause célèbre. Given this, and remembering the Tories' controversial trips to Cannes, it's easy to conclude that Richard Winterton’s point had got to the heart of the matter.

Jackie Ashurst spoke next saying that “the Goldhawk Industrial Estate has been an incubator for many leading businesses such as Innocent Drinks”. She said that if these businesses have to leave then the Council will have agreed to “Chop two hundred local jobs, at a go, in the middle of a recession”.

Many residents wanted to express their views after Richard, Jackie and Nigel's presentation was over. Patrick O’Brian, a chartered surveyor for some 35 years, told the room that H&F Council has developed a reputation as a “soft touch” amongst property developers. He raised the point that “units of mixed commercial and residential use are rarely successful”. He said that it is a “common trick for a developer to submit a further planning application seeking a change of use to alter the commercial units to more profitable residential homes after an initial planning permission has been granted” and the overall principle of building a particular scheme has been accepted. Mr O’Brian said he “would not be at all surprised if that was what was planned for this site”.

Nigel Winkle was concerned about the increases in traffic noise the development would bring once finished. He said “The Goldhawk Industrial Estate is gated shut at night and there is no traffic or noise at weekends and evenings. This will change if planning permission is granted as the proposed development would increase traffic by 43% for 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Jerry Beere raised concerns that “some back gardens of the new houses are only a metre and a half long - ending with a four metre-high wall - this is only a quarter of the private amenity space recommended by the Council’s own UDP”.

James Ball picked up the point about the loss of jobs, asking the Administration how they could “in good conscience” agree to the scheme when it is no more than a “mere speculation of a commercial park that only might work and which requires destroying a proven incubator of business success after business success” .

Robert Jaffe-Pearce told the forum that the “so-called exhibition was timed three weeks before the date of submission at the end of November" and questioned how a “slick operation like PPS could” fail to ensure all residents were properly consulted.

Sophie Sainty said that there are “nineteen children living in Brackenbury Gardens” which is opposite the entrance to the scheme. She explained that “the addition of 56 new homes would bring big increases in traffic and increase parking problems in the area”, adding “it is essential that parents with young children can park on the street”.

Rosemary Pettit explained that “the residents association is not against developments in the area but we are against over-developments and this is an over-development that will blight the neighbourhood.”

Peter Wheeler spoke on behalf of the residents of Cressy Court. He said they had met and were astonished to think H&F Council might grant the scheme, telling the Forum that “Windows in the new houses will directly overlook Cressy Court. This is unacceptable and contrary to the Council’s UDP". Peter said “the residents of Cressy Court will fight it all the way”.

David Pearson pointed out that current plans did not take into account a two metre “difference in ground levels between the development and neighbouring gardens”. Joss Pearson added that she thought “this is a bad scheme and should be turned down".

Susan Jaine told Londonewcastle that they “must be getting a clear message from local people”. She looked directly across at the developer and asked, “Will you withdraw your planning application, and reconsider in consultation with local residents?” They didn’t agree but who knows what may happen now that they and the Council Administration have seen the strength of residents arguments?

Cllr. Mike Cartwright (Lab) asked when the scheme was likely to go to PAC? The Chair of the Planning Forum said it woud be unlikely to go before the beginning of May. Cllr Lisa Nandy (Lab) then asked the Administration for "an assurance that residents will get more than seven days notice of the scheme going to the the Planning Committee". It wasn’t forthcoming so she continued to push them. Eventually the developer agreed to attend the next public meeting to tell a wider number of residents of their possibly revised proposal.

H&F Conservatives have told residents that they may have to grant permission to this application otherwise the Council could suffer costs. Richard Winterton said that this is nonsense as costs are only ever awarded if a Council is proved to have acted “recklessly” . Richard summed up for residents, saying that "it would actually be reckless for this scheme to be given planning consent". He said that "it is the duty of all elected representatives to put residents first" and that this scheme is “exactly how to ruin a neighbourhood”.

If you’d like to object to this scheme then please click here. I hope residents’ concerns will be taken seriously. It's clear that, in this instance, any attempt to hoodwink residents into believing that the Administration has to approve this scheme has failed. I told the Planning Forum that, “It is clear that the Administration has the evidence and the reasons within planning law to turn this scheme down. Following the residents’ presentations everyone in the Administration cannot get away from the fact that residents know that H&F Council can turn this application down if it wants to. That is precisely what those elected into positions of trust should do.”