Sunday 11 September 2011

Save Our Riverfront’s Packed Public Meeting Puts Council And St. George On The Spot

St. George's scheme comparred to its neighbours. Graph kindly
provided by Tony Boys - which he used in his presentation.
Graphs show number of homes and
homes per hectare
I got back from holiday early on Tuesday evening and headed off to speak at Save Our Riverfront's public meeting in St Augustine’s Church, Hammersmith. I was impressed to see over 150 local people there - especially as it was raining, England was playing a football game and the summer break wasn’t yet over for all our local schools. My fellow ward Counciilors Mike Cartwright (Lab) and PJ Murphy (Lab) were also there.

The motivation for such large public attendance was painfully evident. There was a shared anxiety about St George’s proposals for their scheme on Hammersmith Embankment which will blight that riverside spot for decades to come.

The question residents wanted to know was could they still influence this or was the deal between St. George and Hammersmith and Fulham Council already agreed? The Planning Applications Committee (PAC) meets next Wednesday night. H&F Council is predictably recommending approval. Will this simply be nodded through as a formality? Hundreds of local people are expected to attend.

Elizabeth Loudon chaired Tuesday night’s meeting. She is a local resident who has felt compelled to work with her neighbours to lobby against this horrendous project.

Councillor Stephen Greenhalgh (Con) the Leader of H&F Council was the first to speak. He confirmed that his administration had removed the planning guidance that had ruled out building anything more than six storeys high on the Hammersmith Embankment/"Fulham Reach" site. St. George had been the only people to request this to happen. Residents and their associations had urged otherwise. But the Conservative Administration acquiesced to St. George’s wishes. Now they plan to build up to nine stories high.

Tony Boys, the Chair of Hammersmith Embankment Residents Association (HERA), spoke next. He was followed by Melanie Whitlock of the Hammersmith Society, me and then John Jones of Save Our Skyline. The public asked questions and these were also answered by Cllr. Harry Phibbs (Con) on behalf of H&F Council.

The following issues were raised: 
  • Why did H&F Council change its Core Strategy planning guidelines to allow buildings to be built higher than 6 storeys on that part of Hammersmith's riverfront? Every single residents group had objected to this. St. George was the only organisation requesting this to happen. What ignore residents and bow to the demands of a property speculator?
  • St. George's requeshad H&F Council had taken the unusual step of already agreeing a £10 million Section 106 payment. Could our Council have sold planning permission?
  • Why has H&F Council ‘tweaked’ its official definition of Hammersmith town centre to include St. George’s Hammersmith Embankment site? This has allowed the Council to now consider a scheme that would have far greater height and density than any of the surrounding buildings
  • Why is there no affordable social housing and why has H&F Council agreed to allow Tokyo style, studio micro-flats instead of the larger homes that Council says it needs in its local plan?
  • Large aspects of the plans submitted by St. George are outlines only instead of being the usual detailed architectural drawings. This is against H&F Council's own guidance and is also unprecedented. Why have they allowed this to happen and what does this tell us about the relationship between H&F Council (the planning authority) and the developer?
  • Why is H&F Council ignoring its environmental and planning rules to protect river views and fit with the character of the neighbourhood?
  • Why was the Queens Wharf site turned down 100 metres away for a series of planning reasons that should be equally applied to the St. George's scheme which is recommended for approval?
  • Why is H&F Council ignoring many of its own planning guidelines to recommend this St. George's scheme?
No satisfactory answers were given to any of these questions. At the end of the meeting John Jones asked for a view on the scheme. There was unanimous disapproval from all the residents in the room.

I have written to H&F Council to ask for details of the many private meetings the Conservative Administration and their officials have had with St. George. So far they have refused and won't even tell me when they met, who was there and what was agreed? I intend to find out.

So what will happen with this particular scheme? Councillors Peter Graham (Con) and Andrew Johnson (Con) are two Fulham Reach ward councillors who are members of PAC. Andrew Johnson is also the Borough's Cabinet Member for Housing and so he would have agreed many of the proposals for this plan. They, along with their ward colleague Cllr. Gavin Donovan (Con), were at Tuesday night's meeting.

There’s a majority of seven Conservative councillors on PAC to three Labour councillors. The Conservative Chair also has a casting vote. But PAC members sit in a quasi-judicial role. They are meant to make up their minds on the evidence before them. That should lead all to vote overwhelmingly against St. George's scheme. You'll be able to tell which way the meeting is going if any of the Conservative PAC members start asking officials helpful questions. If they do, it means they've agreed to vote it through at their pre-meeting - although Councillors Peter Graham and Andrew Johnson may be allowed to vote against it to appease their Fulham Reach constituents. We will have to see. It looks like this is a done deal but they may surprise us and listen to what local people want - which is a scheme more in keeping with the neighbourhood. 

If you want to come to the PAC meeting to demonstrate your feelings about saving our riverfront, then please come to Hammersmith Town Hall for 7.00 pm on Wednesday, 14th September. I will see you there.

1 comment:

Tony B said...

Excellent report Steve.

Having looked through the planning report I found the details of the s106 'bribe' on pages 81 and 82 and found that it actually adds up to £13M. It is broken down as follows -

School places £1,000,000
Frank Banfield Park maintenance for 10 years £1,100,000
Primary Care Trust £300,000
Boat club £3,000,000
Distillery Lane Centre £2,250,000
Transport £3,500,000
Town Centre improvements £850,000
Education facilities £1,000,000

Some of this looks to be misleading; e.g. TfL pay for the improvements to the main road network, not LBHF.

Much of the rest seems to be like a free gift to the council to help them buy votes by reducing rates as they have done before.

Do they really think we are all that stupid ???