Thursday, 26 April 2012

H&F Conservatives To Move Residents To Nottingham, Reading And Margate

The BBC is reporting that Hammersmith and Fulham Council “are considering” proposals to move at least “500 families from London to the East Midlands.” They are undertaking this enterprise with their two other tri-borough Conservative-run local authorities and using the astonishingly disingenuous excuse that there is “a shortage of housing in their areas.”

This shamelessly ignores the fact that H&F Conservatives are demolishing 3,500 council homes and selling the land to property speculators; that they have fixed planning processes to block any new affordable rented homes and even appeared on the BBC’s Homes Under The Hammer selling off individual flats on the cheap to property speculators who were made to guarantee H&F Conservatives that they wouldn’t live in the homes – they would sell them on at a profit instead.

Front line housing officers tell me that they have moved people to Margate and have threatened to move other families to Reading - although, true to form, senior officials deny this.

The families being moved out are those in receipt of housing benefits (HB) and Local Housing Allowance (LHA). The Conservative Administration has up until now denied their intentions to shift residents out of Hammersmith and Fulham – even telling a national newspaper this wouldn’t happen just 48 hours ago. Prior to that they refused to have any genuine review and over the last two years published a series of shoddy and unprofessional reports about the HB/LHA crisis that appeared to be designed deliberately to mislead - as you can read here, here, and here.

I have written to Mr. Melborne Barrett, H&F Council’s Director of Housing and Regeneration, for a full and objective briefing about this. I’ll let you know if and when I get that.

Millions Squandered As H&F Conservatives Achieve UK Pay Record For Local Bureaucrats

In this time of austerity, new stealth taxes and record cuts Hammersmith and Fulham Conservatives have excelled in one area: Our tiny Borough now has some of the highest paid bureaucrats in the United Kingdom.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance has published the remuneration for the financial year 2010/11 and demonstrates that local residents paid out £1,561,430.00 to just a handful of (often unnecessary) senior officials but this figure doesn’t include “consultants” that were actually employees; or agency workers that were actually employees; or senior employees in its 100% owned housing management company. Add those figures in and you get double that figure and a sum equivalent to each Borough resident getting a 5.4% council tax cut.

Consider that in the last few months the BBC uncovered how H&F Council have wasted £12m on consultant/employees, are operating outside UK tax laws and botched back office mergers; that the former CEO received a £270,000 tax free lump sum pay-off, gets a £104,000.00 annual pension and if that wasn’t enough had £7,000.00 of tax payers' money lavished on him at an afternoon booze-up. Meanwhile, this is all happening when new food banks are opening up in the Borough and others struggle to pay H&F Conservatives' stealth taxes. It's understandable why many residents now say this Conservative Administration is completely out of touch.

At the last election my Labour colleagues and I campaigned to cut the size of the senior management team and stop outrageous pay hikes. We will do that again in 2014 and will spend the proceeds on cutting all council taxes and giving the residents of this Borough high quality local services.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Mayor Johnson Lined Up To Approve Town Hall Scheme If He Wins Next Thursday

Leaked reports from H&F Council demonstrate how Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson is being lined up to approve the highly controversial Town Hall skyscrapers and office scheme should he win re-election next Thursday. The Shepherds Bush Blog has this excellent report which you can read here.

There was always a strong whiff of a private deal between H&F Conservatives and the Tory Mayor when instead of stopping the scheme, he suspended it allowing it to remain “live” and be re-visited after the election. He did this despite his own planning experts in the Greater London Assembly reaching the conclusion that it breached their regional planning rules as well as Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s.

In March, GLA member Nicky Gavron (Lab) asked Mayor Johnson why he hadn’t refused it (as his officials had clearly advised) or even conformed to the usual Mayoral planning processes? Mr. Johnson refused to respond to her point underlining the wide held belief that this was nothing other than a re-election strategy.

But Mr. Johnson has now been caught out in what Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter (Lab) says “looks like a squalid deal to try and win popularity and then approve the scheme once the election is over."

Local residents will view this as a serious blow to Boris Johnson's integrity and it comes off the back of his less than honest approach with the Fulham Super Sewer and the Shepherds Bush Market demolition. Mayor Johnson and H&F Conservatives should now release all the minutes and records of the secret conversations they had about the Hammersmith Town Hall office scheme and tell the public exactly what was plotted last December.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Charing Cross Hospital To Close? “We Have To Save £1.8 Billion Or We’ll Go Bust”

Three leading representatives of NHS North West London attended last Tuesday night’s Housing, Health and Adult Social Services Select Committee. They were there to detail their plans to reorganise local hospitals and cut the number of hospital accident and emergency departments in the area from nine to just five. Charing Cross hospital is one of those earmarked for closure leaving patients with up to an hour’s travels for some emergencies.

NHS NW London’s director of strategy, Mr. Daniel Elkeles, sped through a bells and whistles presentation that set out to sell the idea that patients would be better off with the reduced number of services. The premise was that having specialist doctors and consultants in hub A&Es would raise the quality of care and save lives. Mr. Elkeles and his colleagues argued that there aren’t enough medics to go around and suggested that is the predominant reason some A&Es will have to close. You can read their report on page 14 of these papers.

Throughout the presentation I asked about different aspects of funding and if there were any financial drivers for these cuts. The NHS managers admitted they had done a considerable amount of work on the finances but refused to give any indication of any headline numbers saying they would come to that at the end. That didn’t happen. Instead, when the presentation ended they told the committee “We’re working to conclude financial modelling and will release that later.” I persisted, despite Cllr. Lucy Ivimy (Con), the Chair, intervening to try and stop this line of questioning using the excuse that she was happy to accept their position on the finances. After several minutes came the bombshell when one of the NHS NW London’s managers exclaimed, “OK, we have to save £1.8 billion or we’ll go bust – so put the figure down as £1.8 billion then!” That is a staggering amount of money for NHS NW London to have to cut. There is no doubt it will have a damaging affect on local NHS services.

It was astonishing that Mr. Elkeles and his team had clearly decided not to refer to this or any funding matters at any point in their presentation.  Also missing was any objective information on any of the negative consequences these changes would bring to patients’ health. I asked about any risk analysis or other assessments they had done, such as looking at the dangers of longer emergency journey times in an ambulance. But instead they repeated the positives mentioned in their presentation. It was a thoroughly one-sided and disappointing presentation that had more in common with a sales pitch than a serious briefing to a select committee. I said this to them and told them they needed to come back with balanced and thorough briefing next time if they wanted to have any credibility. I will let you know when they do.

Reductions in Charing Cross’ A&E services were first reported to the Select Committee on 15th February 2011 which you can read about on page 34. That was a disappointing meeting. Not one Conservative committee member asked a single question about those changes and the Chair of that Committee, Cllr. Andrew Johnson (Con) even urged us all to nod through the report. When I raised concerns that this looked like the beginning of all A&E services being salami-sliced out of Charing Cross Hospital Cllr. Johnson complained my Opposition Labour Councillors and I were asking too many questions. Within weeks the Leader of the Council had become involved and wrote to the Health Secretary and NHS managers to express his concerns. The Cabinet Member also signed those letters as bizarrely did Cllr. Johnson – presumably after the Council Leader had given him a clip around the ear for such a previously lacklustre approach.

It is now certain that there will be a wholesale reduction in A&E and other local hospital services. The attached graph shows some of NHS NW London’s initial considerations about which cluster of hospitals' services will survive. What’s clear is that local NHS services will be cut and it currently looks like Charing Cross Hospital is being lined up to be a considerable part of that.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

A London Story That's Produced The Best Ice Cream Café In Hammersmith

Suzy Bertotti and Diego Alfonso of Bertotti Pure Italian

You know how it is. You wait for one high end ice cream parlour to open and then two come along at once. This one is in Hammersmith Grove and is called Bertotti Pure Italian. It’s excellent and deserves our support.

Suzy Bertotti and Diego Alfonso are two young entrepreneurs. They have invested their saving to supply the residents of Hammersmith with some genuinely beautiful ice creams, delicious coffee and lovely sandwiches, bagels and cakes.

Diego is just 24 and is originally from Columbia. Suzy came from Brazil and having met in London they set out to build their dream business on Hammersmith Grove. Diego tells me he fell in love with the area after working a few doors away at Chez Kristof. Together, they have created a café that has a relaxed and happy ambience which is a great addition to the neighbourhood.

They both explain that their ice creams are in fact Italian gelatos and sorbets which are served slightly warmer so the taste buds can really get to grips with the natural flavours. Those are induced by fresh fruits, and an array tempting ingredients. I tried the rum and raisin and the cherry which were both delicious.

You can visit Bertotti Pure Italian at 87 Hammersmith Grove, London, W6 0NQ. You can ‘like’ them on Facebook here and log onto their website here.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

H&F Labour's Tax Cutting Agenda

Here's a letter I had published in the Guardian in response to one of their articles:

• In your interview with Stephen Greenhalgh (Localism hero, Society, 8 February), you assert that "To Labour, he is a tyrant for keeping council tax low at the expense of frontline services". That is not our view. I'm afraid your article fell into the trap of presenting a caricature of the left-right divide on tax and spend and one that does the local and national debates a disservice. In fact, Labour has supported all council tax cuts in Hammersmith and Fulham and promised a raft of further cuts in all council taxes, should we win control of the council in 2014.
Labour's objection to the Conservatives' tax programme is that they have introduced vast hikes in a range of stealth taxes. Far from keeping taxes low, they have increased or introduced nearly 600 new stealth taxes. If you are elderly or disabled; if you're a local motorist, or even someone who uses a personal trainer in one of our local parks, you have been targeted with extra fees and new charges.
And let's take a moment to unpick Hammersmith and Fulham Conservatives' rhetoric of efficiency you touched on by considering just three of the projects they waste public money on. The Conservative chair of the culture, media and sport parliamentary select committee rapped their knuckles for wasting millions of pounds on "political propaganda". They have been shown to have wasted millions more on unnecessary consultants and, last December, they voted to build £35m worth of new town hall offices, but will gift up to £70m of land to make the deal work.
So maybe this flagship Tory council offers wider lessons for the country. Let's get past the easy left-right stereotypes and examine the real economic and financial choices before us. Financial management of public money matters. In Hammersmith and Fulham Labour is not standing on a tax-and-spend platform. We know where there is waste to be cut and different choices to be made. We will fight the next local elections with those issues at the forefront of our campaign.
Cllr Stephen Cowan
Labour leader of the opposition, councillor for Hammersmith Broadway ward

Monday, 16 April 2012

H&F's Press Office Up To Its Old Trickery Again

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams opening the
St. Andrew's Star Centre on 22nd March 2012
The ever vigilant and wonderful Cllr. Mike Cartwright (Lab) has spotted this bit of jiggery-pokery by H&F Council's ever sycophantic press office.

On Thursday 22nd March the Archbishop of Canterbury's office published this press statement titled "Archbishop opens community centre at St Andrew's Fulham Fields". The opening paragraph explains that "The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has joined Baroness Margaret Eaton and over 200 members of the congregation and community at St Andrew's Fulham Fields, to open a £3 million project to renew the church and create a new community facility, the St Andrew's Star Centre." In the eighth paragraph it mentions how "attendees at the opening included local dignitaries such as Councillor Stephen Greenhalgh, leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council."

Contrast that with our very own H&F Council's press release published three weeks later on Thusrday, 12th April which proclaimed"Leader opens renovated church." I suppose they should be congratulated for their restraint by not claiming he went on to perform a series of miracles but H&F's press office have still won themselves another Brown Nose Award which they can add to their crowded shelf of gongs - in the Deliberately Misleading the Public section.

This mildly amusing incident is one of H&F Press Office's more minor offences. It does give an insight to the toadying culture that's rife amongst senior officials and the press team at H&F Council but more importantly I cannot see how it is value for money to employ teams of PR people to write this junk. This is a time of austerity and one when H&F Conservatives are cutting £22.6m from this year's council budget. It's the same as we stated at the last election, if we win in 2014 we will slash the size of H&F's press office and save up to £5m for local residents in the process.

UPDATE 18th April 2012: H&F's Press office have now changed their press release to read "Archbishop and Leader open renovated church." Now they just need to change all the other misleading propaganda they've put out over the last six years.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

H&F's Pension Deficit Crisis

The Taxpayers Alliance has just published details of local authority pension deficits. Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s Conservative Administration is at number seven on the national list of the highest pension deficit per head of population. H&F now has a shocking £1,899.00 deficit for each resident of our Borough.

This makes H&F Conservatives' £270,000.00 tax free, lump sum pay-off and £104,000.00 annual pension to the Authority’s former chief executive; their dubious practice wasting a possible £12m by hiring employees as "consultants;" and their £15m possible back taxes and fines for acting outside of UK tax laws all the harder to swallow.

H&F Council are also on the list of local authorities where pension assets over liabilities are less than 60%. And all this from the Party that tries to tell us they’re good with public money?

Let's Focus On The Issues And Give London The Best Plan For the Next Four Years

Mr. Johnson's negative campaign can only backfire on
someone as ambitious as him. Let's focus on the
issues that matter to Londoners instead
The real issue that will be decided on the 3rd May is what will happen to London over the next four years. The two likely candidates to become Mayor have both published their manifestos. There is little doubt that Ken Livingstone's manifesto is more comprehensive, more strategic and better suited to all Londoners' needs as the Guardian touches upon here.

But the election is sadly devoid of much genuine assessment of how our great city's future could be shaped. Instead Boris Johnson (Con) is running a bleakly negative and personal campaign against the Labour candidate. The Johnson campaign has been put together by Lynton Crosby whose Wikipedia entry says is a "master of the dark political arts". It is designed to depress the Labour vote in an assembly election that is often decided by turnout.

This is a dangerous and damaging strategy as all the candidates could chose to do the same. Would Boris Johnson really want more investigation into this Daily Mail exposé which reported how he allegedly tried to use inside contacts to help an old Bullingdon Club friend have a journalist beaten up? HFConwatch  details how Boris Johnson has blatantly misled residents and traders about his actions on the Super Sewer and Shepherds Bush Market and done so to the point where he could only have lied. The Shepherds Bush blog nails Boris Johnson on both those deceptions here and here - as does the Guardian on his Super Sewer dishonesty here. Is this and more the type of things that could characterise this election or should the public be given a choice about the differing possibilities for their city's future?

I guess last January's Full H&F Council Meeting was instructive on how the Conservatives hoped the Mayoral election would play out. H&F Conservatives put up seven speakers to their rather silly motion attacking Ken Livingstone. However, they inadvertently dammed Boris Johnson by the faint praise demonstrated in their list of his "achievements" - many of which were small or bore no relation to anything he's actually done as you can see on page seven of these minutes.

There are eighteen days to go before London decides what its next one thousand, four hundred and sixty-one days will look like. I hope they look like this and think the best way for our democracy to work will be if we chose our governments on their proposals to deal with the issues that matter.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Mr. Livingstone's Manifesto For London: Housing Committments

Ken Livingstone launched his Manifesto for London on Wednesday. It's full of possible improvements across every area of London life. Dave Hill of the Guardian is impressed. He says,  "Ken Livingstone's programme for London is obliterating Boris Johnson's in so many ways it's almost embarrassing." You can make your own minds up by taking a peek here.

I've cut and pasted Mr. Livingstone's housing commitments below - he even mentions Hammersmith and Fulham.

Today Ken has also launched his campaign for a London Living Rent. You can click here to sign his petition in support of that.

You can read more about the London Living Rent and see Ken's whole Housing Manifesto for London below. Here it is:

"Good quality housing is central to our quality of life and the rising cost of housing is one of Londoners’ top concerns.
Average rents in the private sector rose by twelve percent in the past year, more than four times the rate of inflation. Social housing rents increased eight per cent. The huge deposits now needed to get on the housing ladder are beyond most first time buyers. The supply of new affordable housing has all but dried up. In the last six months for which figures are available, just fifty-six new affordable homes started construction in London. Three hundred and sixty thousand Londoners are on social housing waiting lists and the effect of welfare cuts is likely to make inner London the preserve of the better-off, forcing thousands of less well-off families into cheaper suburbs and beyond.

Business leaders believe that the lack of affordable housing is a serious constraint on growth. Bad housing is a major cause of health inequalities; overcrowding damages family life and makes it harder for young people to succeed. This is Boris Johnson and the Tory-led government’s housing legacy to London.

My focus will be two-fold. First, to drive down costs and drive up standards across all housing tenures including those who rent from private landlords, those who rent from social landlords and those who own, or are buying, their own homes. As a priority, I will help reduce the price and improve standards of private rented accommodation by establishing a not-for-profit lettings agency that saves tenants and landlords money by avoiding rip-off estate agents’ fees, and creating a Tenants’ Charter that sets minimum standards for rented accommodation. No-one should have to spend more than a third of their earnings on rent and we will develop the case for a London Living Rent. 

Second, to address the long-term housing crisis we simply have to build more new homes and they need to be affordable to ordinary Londoners to rent or buy. That means making maximum use of land controlled by the Mayor for housing development, and enforcing tough planning regulations so that private developments reflect the needs of all Londoners, not just the very wealthy.

Lower rents, better rented homes and tenants’ rights
About a quarter of Londoners now have a private landlord. In more than half of London boroughs the rent for a two-bedroom privately rented home is more than half the average salary. More generally, the high cost of housing is a major problem for hundreds of thousands of Londoners.

London needs a thriving and successful private rented sector and most landlords try to provide decent homes on fair terms. I want to support them. But there are too many rogue landlords and rip-off lettings agents. Unlike Boris Johnson I will not wash my hands of the needs of 850,000 London households on the ideological basis that it is wrong to ‘interfere in the market’. Londoners have a right to expect the Mayor to do something about the private rented housing crisis.

I will:
  • Encourage fairer rents and better tenancy agreements through a London Lettings Agency. Building on good initiatives by some London boroughs, we will establish a London Lettings Agency. This will free good landlords from estate agents who can charge up to ten per cent of annual rental income for marketing properties, which in turn pushes up rents. Tenants will enjoy a one-stop-shop where they can go to find good quality accommodation at fair rents. The National Landlords’ Association has welcomed our proposal.
  • Establish a Tenants’ Charter. I will establish a Tenants’ Charter, setting out what private tenants can expect from their landlords. This will include a series of standards including: protection for tenants’ deposits; a commitment to make reasonable repairs when required; good standards of energy efficiency. I will encourage councils, housing associations and private landlords to sign up. Only landlords that do so, and abide by its terms, will be eligible to be listed via the new London Lettings Agency.
  • Set up a London-wide landlord registration scheme. I will push for a mandatory landlord registration scheme similar to the model operating in Scotland. Tenants should at least be entitled to know who their landlord is and landlords should have to demonstrate that they are ‘fit and proper’ persons offering decent standards of accommodation.
  • Campaign for a ‘London Living Rent.’ No Londoner should have to pay more than one-third of their income on rent, so we will research and set a benchmark for assessing the reasonableness of rents being charged. The Mayor does not have powers to regulate rents, but I will campaign for legislation for a fairer system of controlling rent increases based on successful schemes in other countries.
  • Lobby for better regulation of the private rented sector. I will lobby government and, if necessary use the Mayor’s powers to promote parliamentary legislation, to tackle rogue landlords, protect good landlords, provide increased security of tenure for tenants and raise standards across the private rented sector.
  • Improve home insulation. I will lead efforts to secure London’s fair share of national energy efficiency funding to massively expand a programme of better insulation (see the environment section of this manifesto). We will also work with borough councils to use their existing powers to ensure private landlords achieve high standards of energy efficiency and London takes a lead in operating Energy Performance Certificates.
Protect social tenants’ rights and homes
Tory Hammersmith and Fulham is the policy template for the Tory Mayor. They have stopped building genuinely affordable homes and are selling council estates to private developers over the heads of tenants and leaseholders.

The Tory Government has launched an all-out attack on social rented housing (owned by councils and housing associations). Homes are being sold off and not replaced. New so-called ‘affordable’ homes are only available at much higher rents. To make money, existing housing association homes are often being re-let at these much higher rents. New social tenants often do not have security of tenure. Social tenants with a spare bedroom will have to pay a punitive ‘bedroom tax’. And some boroughs want to sell-off whole estates. The Tory government is reducing housing benefit without doing anything to address the housing shortages that have pushed up rents. Large numbers of people on low incomes require housing benefit support. Disabled Londoners are four times as likely as non-disabled people to be in receipt of housing benefit and so are likely to be particularly savagely hit. Many thousands of Londoners will also be branded as living in ‘under-occupied’ properties and see housing benefit fall further. In the first instance this will only be applied to working age households, but many older people are worried it will eventually force them out of the home many have occupied for most of their adult lives.

I will:
  • Campaign against government cuts which will see families, and particularly disabled people, forced to move out of inner London because housing benefit will no longer cover their rent.
  • Use the Mayor’s planning powers to block developments which involve the loss of social rented or other affordable housing without replacement that meets local housing needs.
  • Campaign against any attempts to force older people to move away from their homes against their wishes. Older people who need to move into sheltered accommodation should be able to stay in their own neighbourhoods if they wish.
Support for home owners and people wishing to get on the housing ladder
More than half of householders in London own their own home outright or are buying it with a mortgage. The proportion of owner occupiers has decreased due to high housing costs, but many people still aspire to own their own home.

As Mayor, I introduced a statutory target that fifteen per cent of all new homes should be for ‘intermediate’ affordable housing for people on modest incomes. This resulted in thousands of people being able to get on the property ladder with a part-buy/part rent, or shared ownership home. Boris Johnson has abandoned this target.

I will:
  • Seek to maximise the number of new homes built to take pressure off the housing market (see below).
  • Improve access to home insulation to cut the cost of heating bills for owner occupiers (see environment section).
  • Change the London Plan to ensure that a proportion of new affordable homes are available for people who wish to purchase equity shares as well as providing new affordable homes to rent.
  • Support community land trusts and housing co-operatives, which can help to make low cost home ownership a reality.
  • Investigate providing mortgage deposit guarantees for people who are able to service a mortgage, but not able to access the large deposit needed to get on the housing ladder.
Increasing new housing supply
The Tories’ decision to stop new council house building still haunts the capital. For thirty years not enough homes have been built. One of the main reasons that house prices and rents are so ridiculously high is simply because there isn’t enough housing to meet demand.

London needs to build around 35,000 new homes a year. In 2006/07, when I was Mayor, we reached 32,000 homes started, within touching distance of what was needed. Since then, construction has fallen through the floor. The Tory Mayor has relaxed planning rules that I brought in to stop boroughs and developers from mainly building luxury flats and to ensure that half of new homes are affordable to people on average incomes. Building more homes creates jobs in construction and the supply chain – people who pay taxes and come off benefits. London needs a Mayor who understands the housing pressures facing ordinary people and will get something done to increase housing supply.

I will:
  • Maximise the use of Greater London Authority land to build new homes. As Mayor I created a large ‘land bank’ so that new homes could be built. Boris Johnson made great claims about building on this GLA land - he said he would ‘put his land where his mouth is’ - but he has completely failed to deliver. I will release GLA land on a long term equity share basis (so London taxpayers get their money back) to housing associations and other developers but on condition that they commit to a clear timetable for getting homes built and occupied.
  • Support boroughs to build new council houses. Some London boroughs have started building council houses again, and more could do so, using council-owned land. I will work with boroughs to increase the number being built as an excellent way of meeting housing needs.
  • Investigate new options for financing affordable homes. As development picks up I will expect private developers to contribute to the provision of affordable as well as market homes. I will work closely with them to remove the barriers to development that hinder them. I will work with pension funds to encourage them to invest in affordable homes - which produce excellent long-term returns benefiting pensioners better than an over-reliance on volatile stocks and shares.
  • Support other initiatives that will help produce more affordable housing. There are ideas around that have potential to help us produce more and better homes and I will promote such schemes. In particular, I will encourage Community Land Trusts and other forms of co-operative and mutual housing, and
  • Fast assembly eco-housing: environmentally high-performing modular homes that can be assembled in just six weeks.
  • Re-establish affordable home targets. No borough should be able to get away with failing to build affordable homes for its residents. I  will again expect 50% of homes built in London to be affordable and will move as rapidly as possible towards ensuring that at least one third of new homes are for social rent. I will also set an ambitious target for family homes.
  • Launch a London-wide empty homes strategy. Nothing annoys Londoners more than the sight of empty homes when there is so much housing need. Some borough councils have done excellent work but struggle to deal with large landlords who operate in several boroughs. I will support the boroughs with a London-wide strategy to take more dynamic action to bring empty homes back into use.
  • Support the London Accessible Housing Register and Lifetime Homes. I will encourage all London boroughs to sign up to the London Accessible Housing Register, that addresses the housing needs of the estimated 30,000 Londoners with an unmet need for wheelchair accessible housing. I will require all new homes to be built to ‘Lifetime Homes’ standards and 10% of all new homes to be suitable for wheelchair users.
Help rough sleepers find a home
Under a Tory Mayor the number of people sleeping rough in London has gone up by over twenty per cent. The Tory Government’s failed economic policy and assault on those on the lowest incomes through changes to the benefits system look set to drive many more vulnerable people on to the streets.

I will:
  • Launch a new drive to end homelessness in all its forms using all the Mayor’s powers and responsibilities (across housing, skills and training, health, and policing) and coordinating with other agencies.
  • Make the case that the bulk of central Government funding for tackling homelessness in London should be disbursed via the GLA to ensure that we get pan-London solutions to what is a pan-London problem.
  • Use the Mayor’s new health powers to make sure that no-one with a mental illness has to sleep rough.
  • Work with the NHS to tackle Hepatitis C among homeless people – a serious but treatable infectious disease which with the right focus we could now eradicate in London."

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Planning Chaos As Approval Is Deferred For Flats That Have Already Been Built

Cllr. Mike Cartwight (Lab) said last night's
PAC meeting descended into "chaos"
Last night, St. George’s farcical application to build their already constricted show-flats on Hammersmith Embankment went to H&F Council’s Planning Applications Committee (PAC). The PAC had to sit through an Orwellian presentation delivered by H&F Council's notorious planning team, which included assurances of what would be done “before development commences.”

Here’s Cllr. Mike Cartwright’s report:

"The papers that officers presented to members of the Planning Applications Committee did not even mention that this building had already been built. They did show photographs of it but admitted they had not written to St. George to complain. Officers explained that the man in planning dealing with this application had left and gone to live in New Zealand. They said they were therefore unsure if St. George had met with him. It was pure chaos.

I told the committee they had to put a marker down and not follow the planning officer’s advice to approve this scheme or St. George would run amok. I moved that we defer making any decision and the PAC members agreed.

I guess you can understand (at a stretch) why St. George tried their luck. Developers think this Conservative Administration is a push over. Many residents will remember how, at Imperial Wharf, St. George built an additional 30 flats without planning permission. The Council only found out about that when the electoral registration department could not reconcile the numbering of the flats. The Conservative Administration then promptly nodded through that post-build planning permission."

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Win It For London

Here's Labour's latest election video for the London Mayoral and GLA elections. As Ken Livingstone says, "this one's a bit different":

Please click here if you would like to find out more and read Ken's Manifesto for London.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Gelato Mio: Expanding Fulham Ice Cream Business Bucks The Trend

Is there a better time to consider some of the finest ice creams ever made than in the middle of the Easter school holidays? Gelato Mio is an independent start-up business making and selling a mouth-watering array of fresh ice creams and sorbets They opened their first shop in Holland Park on the 1st July 2008 and set up their factory and shop on the Fulham Palace Road in 2009. The Fulham shop closes for the winter months but re-opens as the weather warms.

This year’s beautifully sunny spring (well, sort of until yesterday) has seen queues lined up to indulge in classic gelato recipes. You can watch their alchemy-like ice cream making taking place in the kitchens via a glass panel at the back of the shop. Having the factory in the building means that the preservative free gelatos and sorbets don’t come any fresher - making the Fulham shop the best place to visit.

My kind of place: They pledge "We will
never use any... conservatives"
The pistachio gelato is amazingly good. And the sorbets are whisked so quickly during the making process it gives them a misleading creamy taste despite being diary free - I recommend the strawberry. The menu varies slightly as the seasonal ingredients change.

Carlo Del Mistro was in his twenties when he started Gelato Mio with the stated goal of restoring the Italian gelato art to its former glory. He has worked with master ice cream makers from Italy to compile a range of classic dishes and now has eight stores around the capital.

It is encouraging to see entrepreneurs such as Carlo do well in this economic climate. It’s particularly good to see a retail business like this expanding by breaking new ground in a fairly old industry.

You can sample the wonderful gelatos and sorbets for yourself by visiting Gelato Mio’s shop at 495 Fulham Palace Road, Fulham, London, SW6 6SU. You can visit their website here; you can email them here; follow them on Twitter here and like them on Facebook here. Their telephone number is 020 0011 3907.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Fait Accompli?

The new St. George's Fulham Reach show house
on Hammersmith Embankment
H&F Conservatives are becoming infamous for developing relationships with property speculators that residents say are too close for comfort. 

Contentious schemes such as Shepherds Bush Market, Hammersmith Grove, the Town Hall tower blocks and many more have all been block voted through by the Conservative majority defiantly ignoring residents' concerns.

You’d think therefore that when it came to granting planning approval the Conservatives would be a little bit sensitive to these accusations. For example, they should at least insist developers waited for the Conservative members on H&F Council's discredited Planning Applications Committee (PAC) to give their unquestioning go-ahead before a brick was laid. Well, take a look at page 16 of next week’s PAC meeting.

On 11th April the PAC will sit down to consider whether or not to give a green light for a “variation of Condition 2 of planning permission” granted to St. George for their Fulham Reach development last autumn. Somewhat predictably, H&F Council's planning officials recommend “that the application be approved” and go on to urge a condition that“the development shall not be erected otherwise than in accordance with the approved drawings.” But the show house it refers to is already finished and has been erected as you can see in the photograph.

Residents wishing to see how the Administration deals with this should turn up to Hammersmith Town Hall at 7.00pm next Wednesday. Prior to that, you can also send any objections you might have to Jason Kaye, H&F Council's case officer, by emailing him by clicking here and quoting 2011/03596/VAR.

New Blog Detailing H&F Council's Flawed West Ken And Gibbs Green Dealings

Richard Osband
Richard Osband, a West Kensington resident, has started this new blog detailing concerns about the financial viability, the legal contracts and the housing allocations processes surrounding the Conservative Administration’s West Ken and Gibbs Green demolitions programme. Mr. Osband’s insights carry more weight than most because until the 27th January this year he was a member of H&F Council’s West Kensington and Gibbs Green Steering Company.

In his resignation letter to H&F Council, Mr. Osband explains “the Council has misled the public in the present consultation, that it has covered up the details of the draft CLSA [Conditional Land Sale Agreement].” He goes on to detail other serious concerns.

Mr. Osband had worked with H&F Council for the last two years. He was taken into the Conservative Administration’s confidence, attended many meetings with Capital and Capital & Counties Properties PLC (Capco), the developer, and led a team that sought to negotiate a good settlement for his fellow residents.
But he didn’t like what he saw. I have written to Cllr. Andrew Johnson (Con), H&F’s Cabinet Member for Housing and also to H&F’s director of housing to see what actions the Administration has taken to deal with Mr. Osband’s deeply worrying alligations. I will let you know if I get a response I am able to publish.

ComRes Poll: 72% Agree "This Government Is Out Of Touch With Ordinary Voters"

There’s some uncomfortable reading for the government in the latest poll carried out by ComRes for the Sunday Mirror and Independent on Sunday. As Winston Churchill famously said “Governments lose elections; oppositions don't win them.” Whatever the truth of that statement, it’s pretty clear that messrs Cameron, Clegg and Osborne hardly look like winners going by these figures:

This Government is out of touch with ordinary voters
Agree 72%
Disagree 17%

It is right that pensioners should have their age-related allowances frozen, the so-called Granny Tax, to bring them in line with other taxpayers
Agree 21%
Disagree 64%

The Government has created an unnecessary panic over the fuel crisis
Agree 81% 
Disagree 11%

The Chancellor was right to extend VAT to hot pies and pasties
Agree 17%
Disagree 71%

You can read the ComRes’ poll in full by clicking here.

It would be interesting to see such a poll for Cameron’s favourite Council. What with the Conservative Administration's £12m waste on unnecessary consultants, its £70m Town Hall vanity project, new stealth taxes for using local parksparking and more. And let's not forget the Administration's too close for comfort relationship with property speculators. It's hard to imagine H&F Conservatives coming off as being in-touch with the real concerns of local residents.