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.


John said...

A good and balanced report, thank-you. I was at the meeting and what was most worrying and shocking were the inaccuracies revealed in the officers' report. People's jobs and businesses are at stake here. We may need housing in the borough but we also need work and the income that thriving small businesses bring to the borough and to its reputation.

Paul McFarland said...

This is shocking behaviour by elected representatives with a duty to the community they are required to serve. Not that I am the least bit surprised.
Perhaps people will think twice about voting Conservative in future; or perhaps not!

Anonymous said...

The decision of the Tory councillors is the kind which challenges the idea of democracy.

There were so many good reasons not to develop this site in the way the developers want, and so few reasons to go ahead with it in its current form. The insensitivity and over-cramming of the proposal is retrogressive in its style and lack of ideology.

I'm afraid the 'system' which approved the proposal makes people very cynical and questions the intergrity of these so-called representatives . It raises questions amongst locals about the transparency of the process and the 'honesty' of it.

People are saying they will not be voting for the Conservatives at the next election just on the strength of their emotions against this development. I hope there will be an appeal and that someone 'on high' will see sense. Can and should the vox populi be so ignored?

Anonymous said...

Housing makes a lot of money, the irony is that a lot of flats and houses are rented and its public money that pays the rent that them is used to pay for the buy to let mortgages. Thus, we get a diversion of a lot of public money into a few private pockets. Perhaps the goverment should repudiate the Tory Housing Act 1988 and go back to secure tenancies and rent fairs, that should alleviate the reckless speculation of land by certain developers.
I am not suprise that the Torys voted as they did, I hope that people remember the last recession when Mayor and Lamont where in charge and the large number of ordinary fold loosing their homes. The tories are now critisicing Gordon Brown, but we are lucky that he is in charge the mayority of people, despite the high unemployement are managing to hold onto their homes. I hope that the mayority would remember the last recession under the Tories were going to the ballot box.

Anonymous said...

We had an almost identical situation with the Olympia Apart Hotel Planning application.

Our Conservative counsellor made token gestures to help residents but didn't give enough meat to the arguement to keep residents satisfied.

One can't help but think there is just as much corruption in Conservative Councils than MPs expenses as we are not the only borough to suffer these tactics.