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.”

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Huge Rise In Illegal Dumping Following H&F Conservatives Service Cuts And Stealth Taxes

Yasmine Estaphanos of Shepherds BushW12.Com has scooped a story from the Environment Agency pointing out that Hammersmith and Fulham Council has seen a “significant increase” in the amount of rubbish fly-tipped on the boroughs streets last year and that this has cost us all an extra and unplanned £1.3million to clear up.

The website points out that “The number of fly-tipping incidents in Hammersmith and Fulham decreased between 2005/06 [after the Labour Administration at the time introduced street wardens to fine the culprits] and 2006/07– from 5941 to 5275 in 2006/07. However, [following the election of the current Conservative Administration] there was a significant increase in the number recorded in 2007/08 – to 9334 incidents. The most common size of fly tipping incident in Hammersmith and Fulham is small van load, which has seen a big increase in 2007/08. The occurrence of large incidents has increased significantly, and the number of significant/multi load incidents is higher than the number of single item incidents.”

Cllr. Wesley Harcourt (Lab), the Shadow Cabinet Member for the Environment says he's also noticed a "big increase in dog-fouling, littering and fly-tipping" since Hammersmith and Fulham’s Conservative Administration introduced new policies that involved:
Wesley added “The Conservative Administration have got themselves into a ridiculous situation where they are now having to spend an extra £1.3m reacting to the problems caused by their actions and our streets have become filthy in the process. Residents can try to force H&F Council to act when they find rubbish or dog fouling dumped onto our streets, which they can do by by phoning the Council on 020 8753 1100 and demanding it's removed. Residents can make an official complaint if the situation is not addressed. I am certainly reporting all those instances I see.”

Monday 16 March 2009

H&F Council Tight Lipped Concerning Another Tax Payer Funded Trip To French Riviera - What Other Neighbourhoods Are Being Offered To Speculators?

This time last year I reported that a senior Conservative Councillor had led a team of H&F Council officers on a trip to Cannes on the French Riviera - all paid for by local tax payers. The official explanation for the trip was that they’d gone to “unlock contentious development sites” in Hammersmith and Fulham.

Well, they’ve been back to the sunny resort again this year – returning to the UK a few days ago. What’s unusual is that there’s been no response to my query about the jaunt despite it being sent on 12th February. We do know that the Conservative run Council have some highly "contentious developments sites" in mind including the Goldhawk Industrial Estate along with many local people's homes. So, this lack of response raises further concerns and leads to the question; what does H&F Council hope to hide from Hammersmith and Fulham's residents?

I think residents have a right to answers to the questions I raise below – after all, it is those same residents who are being asked to put their hands in their pockets to pay for this luxury jaunt.

Here’s the list of my queries about the trip to the property developers conference in the South of France that, so far, H&F Council have failed to answer:

“I would be grateful if you would let me know the following:

  • The complete list of councillors and officers attending
  • How long they plan to stay
  • The full cost of travel including taxis to and from the airport, flights, etc
  • The full cost and addresses of all accommodation
  • The full cost of all expenses and a list of what the expenses allow (and don't allow). Please list any extra cost they are likely to incur
  • The list of people and organisations the H&F Council delegation plan to meet - please attach all agendas
  • The list of all sites in the borough the delegation plan to discuss".

I'll let you know when I get a response.

Sunday 15 March 2009

Worth A Watch - Jon Stewart Exposes Some Of The Financial Trading Practices That Helped Get Us Into This Mess

The Daily Show, hosted by Jon Stewart, has become a U.S. institution. It’s a political satire and comedy show that has often crossed over into producing some of the best investigative news journalism on TV.

Having previously taken the Bush Administration and many of America’s news networks to task, Stewart has recently made headlines around the world by getting into a dog fight with Jim Cramer, a financial pundit on CNBC. It culminated with Cramer coming onto the Daily Show. This resulted in one of the clearest explanations of some of the back-room financial shenanigans that have contributed to the current world wide financial problems.

You can watch the full unedited interview in three segments by clicking here (be on guard if you're offended by swearing). I recommend it, especially on a day when the New York Times headlines the story that failed insurance firm A.I.G. is planning huge bonuses for its executives - even after getting a $170billion bailout from the U.S. Government.

Stewart has managed to expose some of what it means when people call for more and better financial regulation - along with much that's wrong with the current banking and finance system.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

H&F Conservatives In Secret Talks With Property Developers To Demolish Residents’ Homes

Last July the Press Office in Hammersmith and Fulham’s Conservative run council contacted the local Chronicle newspaper and demanded a retraction. The paper (click on the articles to view) had scooped a story that the Conservatives planned to knock down 800 residents' homes in West Kensington. There was no retraction and five months later the Council now freely admits that it has been engaged in extensive talks with the developers of Earls Court to – you’ve guessed it – knock down 800 homes in West Kensington and replace them with offices, hotels and luxury apartments. I suppose you have to admire the Administration’s chutzpah for ever trying to deny this was so.

Earlier that year, over in Hammersmith, residents on Ashcroft Square had heard rumours that their homes were also being offered to property developers. So, on 30th January 2008 a member of the Ashcroft Square Residents’ Association attended the Council Meeting to ask what was going on. The Conservatives explained that there were “no firm redevelopment plans” at that point (click here and type in page 21 to read the full exchange). We have now learnt from the Council that it has in fact been in talks with St. Martins Property Corporation, the Kuwait owned property developer, about “redeveloping” Ashcroft Square which would involve getting rid of many of the affordable homes in that area.

On top of all of this, it now turns out that, despite earlier denials, H&F’s Conservative Administration has confirmed that it has been in talks with property developers about “redeveloping” the Queen Caroline Estate as well – also in Hammersmith. There was a meeting three weeks ago. The Tory Administration invited members of the residents’ associations for the two Hammersmith estates along with Hammersmith Broadway’s Labour councillors. The meeting went so badly that one leading resident association representative for the Queen Caroline Estate left the room in a highly upset state accusing the Conservatives of trying to “move people like her out of the borough”.

It is clear that there is a pattern here. We have received confirmation that the Conservative Administration has had talks with developers about "redeveloping" homes on the Lytton Estate and in White City as well as those already mentioned.

Regular readers will recall that last year a leading Conservative Councillor and two council officers flew to Cannes on the French Riviera to meet international property developers. The explanation given for the tax-payer funded trip was that they hoped “to unlock contentious development sites” in the borough. There has have been lots of contentious development sites in our borough over recent years. The Hammersmith Grove Armadillo, the Goldhawk Industrial Estate along with all the people's homes mentioned above. If the Council has nothing to hide then it must come clean and let residents know which sites were discussed while in the luxury resort, which property developers they met and exactly what was offered to them by our council representatives. They must let residents know exactly what they have planned for their homes and our borough.

The Tories' vision for Hammersmith and Fulham seems to involve building Wandsworth style super property developments across our borough. That would certainly make H&F Council a lot of money but it's highly questionable whether our current residents will agree to give up their homes or have their neighbourhoods blighted by such schemes.

The Conservatives have said that they want to re-house those people whose homes are demolished. The question is where? Given that it is H&F Conservative’s policy to no longer build affordable housing for rent; that it has cut the numbers of low-cost homes to buy; and that they now sell vacant council homes situated on residential streets instead of re-letting them to people on the waiting list; then there is much less local affordable housing to buy or rent that is now available. It would therefore be impossible to re-house all the thousands of residents that would lose their homes in this borough.

Residents have legal rights and it's important that people know what they are and how to use them. My Labour colleagues and I will work with those people affected. Please feel free to contact me for help by clicking here. Or call me and my fellow ward Councillors, Lisa Nandy (Labour’s shadow housing spokesperson) and Mike Cartwright (Labour’s deputy leader) on the number at the top of this page.

Meanwhile, please click onto the attached local newspaper cuttings and our housing newsletter for more details.

Monday 2 March 2009

H&F Conservatives Told “Read My Lips, We Will Do More Than You To Fight Crime”

Policing was at the centre of the debate on H&F Council’s budget last week. During the last two years H&F Conservatives have only provided a mere £750k per year in police funding out of a total £189m budget - which is far less than they spend on their advertising, PR and propaganda programme. This funding provided 24/7 police cover in just two of the borough’s sixteen wards. During last Wednesday’s budget debate I told the Conservative Administration that an incoming Labour Administration would deliver more investment, provide more police and cover all of the borough's wards with extra 24/7 Police Task Squads by the end of our first term. Something they have failed to do.

In 2006, the Conservatives initially cut all Council funding to the Hammersmith Broadway police team causing a 25% reduction in police numbers. My fellow ward Councillors and I worked with residents and local businesses, such as Stenton Butchers, and successfully campaigned to have the ward’s police numbers restored - which was eventually funded from a none Council source.

However, we're campaigning with residents for more police to provide 24/7 cover for the area. Now, after a highly public three year campaign (click onto the latest leaflet) the Tories have given in and offered another £404k which will give Hammersmith Broadway 18 hour Safer Neighbourhood Team cover for six out of the seven days in a week. While it is good to know that our campaign is working this is not the 24/7 Police Task Squad we've been campaigning for; it leaves thirteen of the borough's sixteen wards without any extra police whatsoever; and it is not enough to deliver the big falls in crime that I know the public and the police want to see.

Cllr. Lisa Homan (Lab), the Shadow Cabinet Member for Crime & Anti-Social Behaviour underlined what would happen if the public elect us to form the next Administration after the local elections in 2010, saying "Hammersmith and Fulham was the leading crime fighting borough in London under Labour. Now, under the Conservatives it is languishing behind Lambeth, Waltham Forest and even Richmond. The Conservatives actually spend more of the Council's budget on advertising, PR and propaganda than they do on policing. That can't be right and it doesn't reflect the public's priorities. We will change that, if elected to form the new Administration next year and commit to providing the necessary investment to ensure all sixteen wards in the borough gain extra 24/7 Police Task Squad cover".

So our campaign continues as I highlighted last week when I told the Tories to “Read my lips, we will do more than you to fight crime” if Labour wins the local elections in Hammersmith and Fulham in May next year.

Stealth Taxes And Service Cuts Define H&F Conservatives’ 2009/10 Budget – Vulnerable Children In Council Care Now At Risk

The Council Chamber fell quiet for what seemed like the longest time during last week’s annual budget debate. The Conservatives’ front bench were lost for words. They had been asked to guarantee that the £905,000.00 cut to the budget for children with complex needs would not put any child in H&F Council’s care at greater risk. Eventually, they ducked the question and the meeting passed without any such guarantee being given.

The Labour Opposition then moved an amendment to the budget which read “That the Director of Children's Services be instructed to reverse the funding cuts to services for children with complex needs (p359), to be funded by back office efficiencies”. The Conservatives voted that down. You can read more on this issue in this week's Gazette.

The Tories then explained that it was also okay for their Administration to cream off £740,000.00 of central government money that had been destined for local schools as well as adding an extra £300,000.00 in admin cost to school bills. They said it was justified as our schools already had quite a “lot of money” anyway. I do not think any parents who run school fetés, bake cakes and take time out to raise extra funds or contribute extra money to local schools would agree.

In fact, this years budget saw the Tories use their massive majority of 20 (there's 33 Conservative councillors) to vote through a series of highly controversial cuts in the numbers of parks police, to reduce youth facilities, and cancel established services - such as the garden waste removal. We also debated the Tories extra 578 stealth taxes which include new or more inflation busting charges for parking, child care, meals on wheels, local businesses, sports facilities, skip hire, planning applications and care for the elderly.

One thing that is becoming increasingly notable is that nearly all of what the Conservatives claim credit for are actually nothing to do with them. Take the extra £200million they claim the Council Administration is investing in schools. This is all central (Labour) government money invested under an initiative called Building Schools for the Future; or take the refurbishments in Shepherds Bush Green, Normand and Frank Banfield Parks - the works and investment for this was all arranged by the last Labour Administration from outside sources. The Tories even boast about paying off long standing debt despite £9.5m of this being voted though in the 2006 budget by the last Labour Administration.

There were some things in the Tories budget which we, the 13 members of the Opposition, agreed with and there was plenty that we didn’t. I will detail specific examples of how the budget plays out over the coming year.