Thursday, 19 December 2013

People At Austerity's Sharp End Deserve A Smarter Approach From Their Council

It’s not the most festive graphic you’ll ever see on a Christmas card. The picture of a pound coin fizzing away in a glass is not a pleasant yuletide metaphor. It's worse for those struggling with the consequences of the bedroom tax, the council's inflation-busting rent hikes or other personal cost-of-living traumas because the image darkly sums up the cash nightmare they find themselves in. So who could have sent this Christmas card horror message to roughly fourteen thousand Hammersmith and Fulham residents?...
It was a relief to see that Cllr. Andrew Johnson (Con), H&F Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, had not donned a full Santa Claus get-up when he appeared on the BBC to explain his actions yesterday. Maybe he had decided that his latest threatening missive should be delivered straight-up, without a seasonal theme? Cllr. Johnson soberly told the BBC that his Christmas card had carried a "deliberately hard-hitting" message, reassuringly adding, "It would give me no pleasure to evict people in the New Year because they're behind on their rent".
I have sympathy with Cllr. Johnson's desire to tackle the staggering 46% rent arrears he is responsible for. It is also good to note that 54% of tenants pay their rent on time. But it is hard to believe printing and posting that Christmas card to all council tenants, irrespective of whether the recipient had ever been in rent arrears or not, was the cleverest plan he and his team could come up with - especially in these tough economic times.

This Christmas there are record numbers of local residents relying on local food banks to feed their families. There are record numbers of local homeless people, with many more threatened with homelessness. We need a better, smarter, more compassionate approach. This is not the first Christmas the currently Conservative-run local council has fallen short of that measure but I really hope it will be the last.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Let's Make This Christmas Small Business Christmas

Manjit Rana of the Tipsy Toad, Hammersmith Grove.
Where would our neighbourhood be without
independent shops such as this?
Last Saturday was Small Business Saturday. It’s a great initiative but with the Centre for Retail Research reporting that 22% of Britain’s current independent retailers will disappear by 2018 we should try and make this Christmas, Small Business Christmas.
Take, for example, the wonderful Tipsy Toad on Hammersmith Grove. Manjit Rana has stocked up. The store is packed with fine wines, organic luxury Christmas cakes, artisan breads and some of the most delicious chocolates you’ll ever eat. And, as it’s Christmas, I advise trying their locally distilled Sipsmith’s gin and vodka. As well as offering an excellent choice of organic, gluten free and everyday groceries, Manjit’s many kindnesses has put the Tipsy Toad at the centre of the Hammersmith Grove neighbourhood. It is a local institution - you can even buy your Christmas tree there from this Saturday.
Stocked up for Christmas
But each time small businesses like the Tipsy Toad stock up in this way they take a risk. Cash flow is vital for small businesses and getting it wrong can be fatal.
This shop, which I wrote about in 2007, has since disappeared. But our neighbourhood still benefits from great independent stores such as SISI (which is the best DIY store I know), the amazing Stenton’s Butchers, the lovely Brackenbury’s Deli, Bertotti’s Gelato Café and the many others who exemplify why small retailers are so important.
Ben Coleman with Alan De'Ath, Sharon Holder
and local residents in Fulham Broadway
Last month I asked Ben Coleman to be H&F Labour’s small business champion. Ben has worked on small business policy since the mid-1990s and is currently a key member of Labour’s national small business task force.
Consider that the government's own report, Understanding High Street Performance, shows that in "2000 49.4% of retail spending took place on the High Street" and predicts this is likely to fall to just "39.8 in 2014".

There are measures that can be taken locally. Ben Coleman will be considering how to reduce council red tape, lower business costs, encourage start-ups and make it easier for small firms to compete. Part of Ben’s work will involve consulting local businesses and residents. So what would you like to see as local small business policy in H&F Labour’s manifesto? Please email me here if you have an idea or want to contribute to the discussion at a manifesto meeting.
Meanwhile, you can contact the small independent, neighbourhood shops mentioned in this report here:
Tipsy Toad, 91 Hammersmith Grove, Hammersmith. Phone 020 8741 9358
SISI DIY and Hardware, 139 Brackenbury Road, Hammersmith W6 0BQ. Phone 020 8741 5463
Stenton's Butchers, 55 Aldensley Road, Hammersmith W6 9PL. Phone 020 8748 6121
Brackenbury's Delicatessen, 22 Aldensley Road, Hammermith W6 0DH. Phone 020 8748 7388
Bertotti Gelato Café, 87 Hammersmith Grove, Hammersmith, W6 0NQ. Phone 020 8616 7973
Happy Christmas and I hope you have some very happy Christmas shopping.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Standard: "Stars Queue Up To Reject New Riverside Studios Project By Hammersmith Bridge"

Concerned about the Riverside? Read this piece in The Standard
More on how plans to demolish and rebuild the Riverside Studios, as part of a luxury housing complex for overseas investors, threatens its survival as a community arts centre with this piece in The Standard. The paper is reporting that "Harriet Walter, Francesca Annis and Peter Blake have joined the founding director of the Riverside Studios arts complex in condemning plans to replace it with a new centre and giant block of flats." 

The Standard quotes Peter Gill, the artistic director when the Riverside opened in 1976, who explains how the proposed new media complex will be no more than a "fig leaf" for a property development. It's a shame Riverside did not attend the Residents' Consultation Meeting back on 18th November as Mr. Gill was there and they lost another opportunity to hear his valued opinion.
The Remarkable Group's controversial consultation came in for more criticism with the The Standard telling how, "Writer Stephen Poliakoff, who lives nearby, said the silence around the plans was “suspicious”. He added: “I knew nothing about it until the last 48 hours, and I was in the foyer in September." The solution to all of this is simple as you can read here.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

H&F Conservatives' Self-Confessed "Developer Friendly" Approach Is Killing Twentysomethings' Dreams Of Home Ownership.

See this excellent article in today's Independent
Today's Independent is reporting "Labour councils are building twice as many homes in their areas as Conservatives local authorities, new research reveals today. Since the last election, an average of 403 social and affordable homes have been built in each Labour council area, compared with 201 in each Tory-held authority." Well, it's even worse in Conservative run Hammermith and Fulham who have allowed no genuinely affordable homes to be built once they controlled the planning process.

In fact the biggest group of beneficiaries from H&F Conservatives' policies are international investors based overseas. London's land has become one of the most lucrative commodities to invest in at the moment. Its returns are better than many hedge funds. Our local Conservatives are all-to-happy to oblige this process by voting through changes of land use so former industrial or business sites become prime luxury real estate - devoid of any affordable homes to buy or rent.

This failure to properly use local planning policy for the benefit of residents means that St. George's Glenthorne Road and Fulham Reach sites have no affordable homes to rent, The Town Hall scheme has no affordable homes whatsoever and the current Riverside Studios/Queens Wharf commitment to providing residents with genuinely affordable homes to buy or rent is zilch - despite one of the developers being A2 Dominion, a housing association that's meant to be committed to providing affordable homes.

A2 Dominion's approach offers wider insights. On 3rd November 2010 they told me how they we're not going to propose building any genuinely affordable homes on the Queens Wharf site because H&F's Conservative administration had made it clear they didn't want that. Meanwhile, H&F Conservatives' wider plans to demolish social housing across the Borough has been well documented.

Few doubt there is a housing crisis in London at the moment. A critical part of the solution locally is for H&F Council to use its planning powers to ensure that a wider variety of homes are build with the priority being affordable homes for residents to buy or rent. H&F Conservatives' self-confessed "developer friendly" record speaks for itself. As long as they run this Borough the ultimate beneficiaries of their approach are more likely to be in Moscow or Shanghai than Fulham or Hammersmith.

The New Yorker: "By George, Britain’s Austerity Experiment Didn’t Work!"

The culprits? This piece in the New Yorker is well worth a read
It's always thought provoking to hear what our friends in other countries think and this view from The New Yorker magazine about George Osborne's handling of the UK economy is, to say the least, interesting.

It reports that Mr Osborne, whom it christens "the patron saint of austerity enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic" has cost "the average U.K. household a total of about £3,500 over these three years." because "after Osborne introduced his austerity drive, economic growth slowed down" having been on target to "expand by 1.3 per cent in 2010".

The author doesn't pull his punches adding "From an economic perspective, Osborne’s argument is hogwash. His effort to cure the patient by subjecting it to the equivalent of leeching—big cuts in government spending and higher taxes—a return to pre-Keynesian policies watched closely the world over, failed abysmally. Imposed at a time when the U.K.’s economy was recovering from the financial crisis of 2008-09, it subjected his countrymen and countrywomen to three more years of slump-like conditions, and it produced a dearth of public-sector and private-sector investment that will hobble Britain for years to come. It even failed to meet its own targets of drastically reducing the budget deficit and bringing down Britain’s over-all debt burden."

This isn't the first American analysis to contrast with the spin Mr. Osborne is currently giving: On 21st October 2010, Nobel Prize winning economist Professor Paul Krugman wrote this prediction and on the same day, Professor Brad De Long gave this critical view and called Mr. Osborne and his colleagues "clueless dorks". How the economic situation plays out politically, we'll have to see but the best economist are pretty clear that Mr. Osborne et al have made Britain's situation much worse and may well do so again.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Nelson Mandela

Reports of Nelson Mandela's ailing health over recent months did nothing to curtail the shocked sadness that I think all of us experienced at the news of his passing away on Thursday night. Not only was he the greatest political leader of our time, he set a mark of how to be the finest human being - even in the most adverse and cruellest of circumstances.
I was privileged to hear him speak in 2000 at the Labour Party Conference. He spoke briefly to a small party of us and delivered this uplifting and moving speech at the conference. As with everything else he said and did, the lessons of that speech are as important now as they were then.

Come On Riverside Studios - You're Better Than This!

This theatre frontage to be replaced by large garage depot-doors
It's now apparent that the application for the Riverside Studios/Queens Wharf scheme will be heard at a specially arranged meeting of the Planning Applications Committee on 19th December. At just six days before Christmas it appears this date has been chosen to curtail the numbers of local residents likely to attend. I encourage anyone who is interested to come along. It starts at 7.00pm and will most likely be held at Hammersmith Town Hall.

The shame of this project is that rather than go for a scheme that protects Riverside Studios as a community arts centre and protects all that's good about the immediate neighbourhood the developer has stubbornly opted to turn the site into an über-commercial media centre and property speculators' dream - with high end flats targeted mostly at international investors.

By building too high and replacing the current theatre frontage with large garage depot-doors, the developer apparently finds it acceptable to downgrade this currently vibrant neighbourhood into a darker cut through for local traffic - damaging the trade of small independent retailers in the process.

The public consultations have been unnecessarily fearful of genuinely consulting the public. They flatly refused to attend this residents' public meeting. All indications being that this remarkably naff approach was simply because their communications advisor, the Remarkable Group, hadn't organised it. 

Meanwhile, H&F Council looks set to nod this through despite having the conflict of interests of being the planning authority, owning the freehold and having been in private negotiations with parties behind this scheme for many years before it ever announced to the public what was going on.

Come on Riverside Studios, you're better than this! Come back with some amended plans.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Send Them Your Comments About The New Application To Privatise Hammersmith Park

The Council’s Conservative Administration and their partner Playfootball are bringing their application to turn a third of Hammersmith Park into a commercial business venture back to the Planning Applications Committee (PAC). Residents might want to send their comments into the planning officer by emailing her here and quoting the reference 2013/04980/FUL.
This is very unusual as planning permission has already been granted for everything Playfootball wanted by a majority vote of Conservative councillors on the PAC as recently as 31st July 2013 - as you can read here.
This new application is almost certainly the result of H&F Council’s fears around its likelihood of losing the Judicial Review which has been organised by local residents opposed to this awful scheme. This new application is virtually the same project but this time H&F Council will try to better explain why they didn’t bother to consider the damaging effects on the local environment, why they used the cynical ruse of leasing the site for 35 years knowing that if they’d sold it (which they are doing for all practical purposes) that would need that decision to be signed off by the Secretary of State and why they deliberately chose to take a very limited consultation ignoring many local residents and residents associations. H&F Council wants all comments in by 19th December but it is actually possible to send comments in after that and up until the PAC sits to consider the application.

This scheme is in a conservation area and will affect its character and appearance. These are the details of the application:
  • A third of Hammersmith Park is being leased to a private firm that will charge an estimated £50 per hour fee to use their facilities.
  • Part of the park will become a bar and a car park for 19 vehicles.
  • The bowling green will be ripped up.
  • The tennis courts will be bulldozed.
  • The playground will be built over
  • The current basketball pitch will eliminated.
  • Twenty four mature tree will be felled.
  • Valuable flower beds will be destroyed
  • New powerful floodlights will pollute the neighbourhood
  • An ugly 12 foot high fence will surround the third of the park that the commercial venture takes over
  • Noise from people playing football will go on late into the night.
  • H&F Council and Playfootball say they want to extend the opening hours of the 'pavilion' until midnight on Saturdays and until 11.00pm on Sundays.
To see more details please click onto the attached letter.

Residents who care about the Borough's other parks may want to take note of what's happening here. In the past H&F Conservatives have tried to turn local parks over for a wide variety of events such as wrestling shows, raves and other private ventures. I imagine that they won't want to admit to any  more alarming plans this close to the council elections but few doubt they have them.

Please forward this article to anyone who might be concerned about this and might want to let H&F Council know their views by emailing the planning officer on the above link.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Residents Push On In Bid To Be Heard After Riverside Studios/Queens Wharf Property Developers' No-Show

Residents from the immediate neighbourhood asking to be heard
Broadly speaking, on Monday night it was a good natured eighty-strong crowd of residents that turned up to consider the proposal to redevelop the Riverside Studios and Queens Wharf on Hammersmith riverfront. All were supportive of Riverside Studios as a local institution. I know that because they voted unanimously to say they were. But there was also a unanimous vote to say that they were concerned about a range of aspects about the scheme which they believed could well damage Riverside Studios viability as a community arts centre and cause unnecessary harm to the immediate neighbourhood which, as H&F Council admitted, is the Borough’s “most sensitive site”.

The Crisp Road Residents Association organised the public meeting and paid for the publicity and hall hire. You can follow them on Facebook here, or on Twitter here or email them here.

Oddly and I mean very oddly, nobody representing the development was there. They refused to attend despite being asked several times. This was presumably a decision they reached after taking advice from their communications consultants – the Remarkable Group. It was a remarkably silly mistake. In fact, they didn’t ask about the format of the meeting, they didn’t ask how it would be run, they clearly didn’t want to know. They just repeatedly said they weren’t coming and used a variety of changing and quite ridiculous excuses as their reasons – the last one being that they had already consulted and had “done nothing other than ask for people's views.”

Quite a lot of people disputed that which I think was the reason for such a large turn out on a cold winter Monday night. One person told me how after a recent visit to Riverside Studios they had been urged to fill in a card to support the scheme. Another said how all staff at Riverside Studios had been emailed at least twice asking them to respond positively to the consultation.
Consultations can be manipulated to such an extent that they are simply about generating positive responses rather than genuinely listening. I am sorry to say that this consultation has many of those characteristics.

It was a shame that nobody from Riverside Studios, A2 Dominion, Mount Anvil, Assael Architecture or even the Remarkable Group felt they should turn up, set out their case and hear what people had to say. Most of the residents in the room were the immediate neighbours of the proposed scheme. People often prefaced their remarks saying how much they loved the Riverside Studios before saying what they thought needed to be amended. Representatives of local residents associations were there from the Crisp Road Residents Association, HAMRA, the Hammersmith Embankment Residents Association, the Hammersmith Society and The Queen Caroline Residents and Tenants Association. Former Council Leader Barry Stead attended and spoke about how he had purchased the Riverside Studios’ freehold in the 1970s. Other notable people that came along included Peter Gill, the former Riverside Studios Artistic Director, Hammersmith Broadway ward Councillors Mike Cartwright and PJ Murphy and Andrew Slaughter MP.

If anyone from Riverside Studios had been there they might have been able to provide some more details around their stated belief that this development is “critical.”
Riverside Studios have written to me to say how they “were saved by support from the Arts Council in the early 2000's under their Recovery Programme. As part of this we undertook a "condition survey", which was one of their requirements. The result of this was a report that stated the building had a limited life of span of around ten years; and that it was not fit for purpose for the future. Which is why the Riverside Trust has been working on a re-development plan in recent years… We have lost all our Arts Council funding since last year and this outcome would severely impact our earning ability and in all likelihood would stop the viable operation of the building.” People disputed this view and raised concerns that this scheme could be more about securing the commercial venture, winning H&F Council a profitable return or simply about the profits of the property speculator. Others said this scheme would end Riverside Studios as a community arts centre.
The proof of the pudding will be in the numbers. The developer needs to set out what those are and explain the finances rather than just pushing this line. I must say I find it very hard to believe that this exact development without any changes whatsoever is “critical” to the future of Riverside Studios.
Councillor Peter Graham (Con), a representative of the neighbouring Fulham Reach ward, also turned up. Until recently he was a member of H&F Council’s Planning Applications Committee (PAC) and he has been a strong advocate and voted for many other property speculators’ schemes including St. George’s Fulham Reach development and the even more controversial 2011 Town Hall development - which was later quashed. I was chairing Monday night's meeting and despite asking my fellow ward Councillors Cartwright and Murphy not to speak as everyone wanted to hear from residents, I called Cllr. Graham to speak on two separate occasions as he insisted he had something very important to say. Rather predictably, he spoke in favour of this scheme and spoke longer than anyone else. Cllr. Graham explained that he was a council appointed member of the Riverside Studios board but ended up arguing with a variety of residents, wrongly accusing one Chancellors Street resident of telling “lies” and heckling others when they were making points he disagreed with. It would have been better if someone from the scheme was there instead.

My fellow Hammersmith Broadway ward councillors Mike Cartwright and PJ Murphy and I will continue to seek more details around this scheme and push for our constituents’ views to be heard and taken into account. There may well be more public meetings. We would urge all those behind the scheme to attend and fully engage in the residents’ consultations. It doesn’t reflect well on any of them when they refuse.
Meanwhile, with the help of residents, I have collated the concerns of many local people and will be writing to the developers, H&F Council and the GLA asking them to amend this scheme where it is reasonable to expect them to do so. Please email me here if you have any points you want my colleagues and I to make about this scheme. I will let you know how we get on.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Wrong Priorities: New £35m Town Hall Offices Approved After H&F Conservatives Gift £70m Of Public Land To Property Speculator And Set Aside £800k Parking Lot For Town Hall Officials

Flats for overseas investors on Nigel Playfair Avenue
Look at this photo of just some of the luxury flats about to be marketed to overseas investors and it is likely that the £70m price tag charted surveyors placed on the public land H&F Conservatives are gifting to their chosen property speculator is an underestimate. In return for this generous gift the property speculator is providing H&F Council with £35m of unnecessary Town Hall offices and £800,000 worth of private parking for senior bureaucrats.
H&F Conservatives could have used the council's planning powers to insist there would be affordable homes for residents to buy or rent but they voted not to do that arguing instead that the offices and private parking are a greater priority. That was negligent if you consider that Shelter says the likelihood of a Londoner in their 20s getting onto the property ladder during their lifetime is estimated to currently be at just 15%.
At least it wasn't the last scheme which local Conservatives
voted through in November 2011 despite
this residents' protest
But there is still a palpable sense of relief about this scheme. The type of relief one experiences when you're told something really bad is about to happen then something not quite so bad happens instead. That's because it isn't the scheme that H&F Conservatives argued for and then voted through at this meeting on 30th November 2011.
The residents behind stopping that scheme deserve our thanks. They ran a formidable campaign which ultimately had the advantage of getting thousands of people in south west London to pressurize the London Mayor just before the last GLA elections. He quashed their decision in the spring of 2012 and poured derision on the comments of H&F's Conservative councillors and planning team which had wrongly argued it was the only possible viable scheme.
Interestingly, at last week's planning committee aspects of this scheme were attacked by some Conservative members of the planning committee. They didn't like the design and some said they felt let down by the architects. People raised doubts that this was the best scheme to improve this part of Hammersmith but they all still voted for it anyway. Ravenscourt Park Councillor Lucy Ivimy (Con) turned up and spoke in favour of this scheme and I heard the property developer congratulating her on her speech on the way out. It was a different meeting to the last one in 2011.
My Labour colleagues and I think this is a waste of public money and land. Cllr. Mike Cartwright sums up our position here: “Residents will rightly question why their local Conservative councillors voted to gift £70m worth of public land to a developer to get £35m of worth unnecessary town hall offices and why the Conservatives set aside just short of another million pounds to ensure the most senior officials have somewhere handy to park their cars. The bigger priority should obviously have been build a good scheme that provides a good proportion of genuinely affordable homes for residents to buy and rent instead of the overpriced flats, targeted at overseas investors, that the Conservatives ended up voting to approve.”

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Public Meeting To Review The Impact Of The Proposed Riverside Studios Development

An example of the change in scale the proposed Riverside Studios
development will bring as viewed from Hammersmith Bridge
The Riverside Studios and neighbouring Queen's Wharf are both to be redeveloped to a single scheme increasing to an eight storey high block which will include 165 luxury flats (no affordable housing to buy or rent) and will be the landmark building next to the grade II listed Hammersmith Bridge. Mount Anvil and A2 Dominion are the developers behind the scheme which has been designed by Assael Architecture.

Residents in the neighbourhood immediately surrounding the Riverside Studios have arranged a public meeting to consider the developer’s rather ambitious plans for the site. It will take place at 7.00pm on this coming Monday (18th November) at St. Augustine's Church Hall, 55 Fulham Palace Road, W6 8AU.
You can also send your comments about this planning application in to Hammersmith and Fulham Council by following the details on this link. Please copy me in here if you do.
The journal Planning Design reports residents’ concerns that the plans appears to have been “drawn up in haste.” I have been briefed by a wide variety of people on the matter that does appear to be the case. Indeed, I have been told by more than one reliable source that Hammersmith and Fulham Council actually urged the developer to rush in a planning application so it could be dealt with (whatever that means?) before next year’s local elections.
While I think everyone I have spoken with supports the Riverside Studios as an institution people do have legitimate concerns about the size, density, loss of light and design of the scheme. Here’s is an excerpt from the residents’ flyer: “Local residents want Riverside Studios to thrive but believe that the redevelopment of a local cultural institution in a landmark riverside location on this scale should be done with care, consideration and the full consultation of the local people it will impact upon. Many are objecting to the planning application because of the height and density of the proposed development, which will put Crisp Road conservation area in shadow even in high summer. It seems that no thought has been given to the impact on the area from the loss of light, increased traffic and placing of car park and lorry entrances, vents and rubbish collection on Crisp Road - now a lively neighbourhood with cafe, shop and pub. Some think that the design of such a monolithic structure is completely unsympathetic to this stretch of the river, and would impact negatively on Hammersmith Bridge and river views.”
Residents will recall the out-of-character behaviour of Hammersmith and Fulham Council when it turned down this previous application on part of that site for reasons it has never put forward before or since, leaving many to question the administration’s motives and the goings on in the private meetings between Conservative councillors and the people behind varies schemes on that site.

Friday, 16 August 2013

These New Figures Don't Lie: H&F Conservatives' War On Motorists

To what extent are H&F Conservatives' CCTV
cash cows being misused?
Last June, the BBC's flagship documentary programme Panorama devoted most of its exposé about councils that purposefully entrap innocent motorists on our very own Hammersmith and Fulham Council. They demonstrated H&F's range of cowboy style tricks which the Conservative Administration is pulling to lift hundreds of pounds from thousands of hard pressed local car owners.

H&F Council's response was not to mend their ways. Instead, they spent thousands of pounds of tax payers' money on a misleading glossy leaflet which they posted to voters' homes across the Borough. They said they were not in fact practicing a range of horrible scams to raise money but were simply doing some pretty run of the mill traffic management that is designed to help traffic.

These figuresreleased by London Councils, underline why the Council's excuse is unlikely to be true. They demonstrate how H&F Conservatives have increased the number of moving traffic fines 17 fold in six years earning themselves millions of pounds in the process.
  • Year 2005/6 Moving Traffic Penalty Charge Notices 3,975.00
  • Year 2011/12 Moving Traffic Penalty Charge Notices 72,837.00
The London Councils’ figures also show how, despite being one of London’s smallest boroughs, Hammersmith and Fulham Council topped the list of the 33 London authorities with the highest number of moving traffic fines. H&F issued a staggering 60% more than any other local authority in London and many times more than in neighbouring boroughs.

In fact, H&F Council issued over four times more fines than nearby Wandsworth and two and a half times more than Brent. Some councils in London, including neighbouring Kensington and Chelsea, issued no fines whatsoever.

Panorama documented senior people in the Council celebrating the increased income from motoring fines and admit targeting council employees to raise millions of pounds in more fines. You can review some of the Freedom of Information files here.

Mechanisms for entrapping motorists include:
  • Fixing traffic lights to make it almost impossible not to get caught in a yellow box
  • Changing bus line times halfway down along a route
  • Combining new traffic rules with cameras
  • Camouflaged road signage to entrap motorists
There needs to be some better explanations than the ones provided by the Conservative Administration so far. The Sunday Times first featured the story here. Other local and national press have all asked questions but H&F Council expect this all to blow over and to be able to carry on regardless. I believe we need to get to the bottom of this. It needs to be urgently investigated and reviewed. I will report more as more details are uncovered.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Cutting Police Is Wrong When Shepherds Bush Is Britain's #2 Crime Hotspot

Crime hotspots require more police not less
Figures released last week reveal Shepherd’s Bush suffers the second highest crime rate in the UK. Meanwhile, Hammersmith and Fulham has lost over 60 police officers since the summer of 2011 and Safer Neighbourhood Police Teams have been slashed in half. The Conservatives are also planning to close Shepherds Bush police station - which was announced in January this year.

Cycle theft, is particularly bad. It is continuing to increase by almost 5% in the last year, with a total of 1,267 cases. This contrast starkly with what's happening elsewhere across London and in neighbouring boroughs. Cycle thefts dropped in London by 10% overall. Wandsworth enjoyed a 6% reduction and Kensington and Chelsea saw a 3% drop. 

Successful crime crackdowns require high profile
policing such as here in New York City
The Conservatives have been consistently cutting the police service since the last election. H&F Labour is calling for a halt to plans to close Shepherds Bush police station and for the already drastic cuts to police numbers to be reversed. 

Cllr. Lisa Homan (Lab), the Borough's Shadow Cabinet Member for Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour says: “The Conservatives response is the wrong one. You don’t cut police numbers and close police stations in the second highest crime hotspot in the country.

People fear for the safety of themselves, their families and their property. The Council needs to recognize that a high profile police presence is key to cracking down on crime as we see elsewhere - such as in New York.

The Conservatives are out of touch with what the public wants on this issue. They need to reverse the police cuts and ensure the area has a high profile police station."

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Properties For Overseas Investors Are The Wrong Housing Priority

H&F Conservatives' dubious manipulation of planning powers
means that over 80% of this Fulham Reach scheme is being
sold to overseas investors instead of UK residents
This Telegraph article highlight's how UK home ownership has fallen for the first time in over 100 years. Meanwhile, according to this report in the Independent, the average age of a UK first time home buyer is likely to be forty by the end of this decade, while the average twentysomething is likely to be well over fifty before they buy their first home. There is a housing crisis in the UK. It is worse in London and much worse in Hammersmith and Fulham - which has the fourth highest land prices in Great Britain.

So what is to be done? At a local level, land development policies are one of the key powers councils and the London Mayor holds. They both have a range of powers to insist that land can only be developed for housing if it fits local housing needs. That should mean that there are lots of low cost homes for first time and other resident buyers and lots of decent low cost homes for Londoners to rent. But that isn't what is happening in Hammersmith and Fulham.

H&F's Conservative Administration have cosied up to a series of property speculators and use a dubious planning ruse to allow them to build housing units that are almost exclusively for overseas investors. This Russian website is marketing the investment apartments on the controversial Fulham Reach development - in which over 80% of the properties built will be to sold to investors living in Russia, the Gulf and the Far East.

The consequences of this is hardest felt by people in their twenties. A generation ago many could reasonably expect to get onto the property ladder before they were thirty but now they face living in expensive and often unsatisfactory private rented accommodation for at least two decades before they achieve their aspiration of owning their own place to live.

This needs to change. Planning powers need to be re-enforced so they prioritise building new local, genuinely affordable homes to buy and to rent. This housing crisis can be halted. But that means government needs to act nationally, regionally and locally. I will certainly make sure that this issue will be a key local priority if the public vote for H&F Labour to run Hammersmith and Fulham Council next May.

UPDATE: 12.57pm, 15th Auguest 2013. The link to the Russian website has been mysteriously taken down. It had worked for a long while prior to appearing here. Now someone has apparently removed it. So, a competition! Whoever who finds the most new links to newly developed Hammersmith and Fulham homes being marketed at oversea investors and post them in the comments section wins.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Residents Stunned To Learn Bulldozers Set To Turn Hammersmith Park Into A Car Park, A Private Bar And A Private Commercial Venture

Cllr. Mercy Umeh (Lab): Leading the campaign
to Save Hammersmith Park
Last night the Conservative majority on the Planning Applications Committee voted that most of Hammersmith Park would become a private commercial venture for 35 years. Leasing it rather than selling it was a ruse that meant that H&F's Conservative Administration did not have to seek permission from the Secretary of State which is what is meant to happen when councils dispose of public parks. So their plan now is that the bulldozers will arrive and where before there was trees and greenery there will now be a car park, a private bar and a private sports facility.

The vast majority of local residents appear to have been deliberately kept in the dark about this and those that found out are outraged.

There is an unhappy record of our local parks being sold off or rented out as commercial ventures by H&F Council's Conservative Administration. Remember the Hurlingham Park polo debacle - which later turned out to be financially incompetent? Remember their unsuccessful attempt to allow Ravenscourt Park to be used as a venue for raves, late night drinking and wrestling?
Community facilities like parks, hospitals, village halls and libraries have all been given to us by previous generations of people who campaigned for them to exist. A council has a duty to be a good custodian of those often vital community facilities. Going by the comments of the vast majority of people who attended last night's meeting, I can't see this Conservative Administration being a trusted custodian of any of the Borough's community facilities - even by natural Conservative voters.

Ward councillors Andrew Jones (Lab) and Mercy Umeh (Lab) both delivered eloquent speeches in defense of Hammersmith Park but the Conservatives used their large majority to ignore residents' concerns and block vote it through anyway. Here is what Cllr. Mercy Umeh said:
"Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address this committee. I do so on behalf of the many residents who have contacted me to express their concerns about many aspect of this application. I recognise that this is the Planning Applications Committee and understand that it has the specific brief of considering this application with reference to planning rules and guidelines. I would however like to put on record the concerns my constituents have raised with me about the conflict of interests of majority of the Planning Committee’s members.
Everyone here tonight is aware that the changes being voted on by this committee form part of an agreement the Council’s Conservative Administration has already made with PlayFootball. It is therefore a policy of the Conservative Administration. My constituents are concerned that in the pre-meeting the Conservative councillors had this evening, just prior to this meeting, that they have already agreed to vote this through.
I hope my constituents’ fears aren’t realised and that you will listen to their concerns and vote accordingly.
So let me begin by raising the first planning concern: If this park was being sold to PlayFootball rather than leased it would have to be agreed by the Secretary of State. Instead of selling this park the Administration has leased it for 35 years. In practical terms, although I accept it is different legally, a 35 year lease is the same as a sale. PlayFootball will have control of this park for over a generation of people growing up in this neighbourhood. Given those circumstances, I believe this decision should have been reviewed by the secretary of state. That would have been in the spirit of what the law intended
I do not believe that the public have sufficient confidence in LBHF’s officials or its ruling councillors for such a long term decision to have been made otherwise. That brings me on to the second point.
The consultation: Many of my constituents simply have not been consulted. You will have hopefully read the letter of objection from Virginia Ironside, the Chair of RAPA. She makes the point (and I quote) that “We at RAPA have only heard of what is going on through rumour and have not been consulted at all.” Similarly, I have had many complaints from residents making the same point and I know my colleagues representing White City have too.
This looks to me like the Council deliberately chose to take a very limited consultation. Why?
Was it because it was aware that once people understood what was happening to their park they would object?
I think so…
We have a situation where a third of Hammersmith Park is being leased to private developers for a very long time. The park will be used as a commercial venue. It will include a bar and part of the park will be turned into a car park. Meanwhile, your Conservative administration has agreed to eliminate the bowling green; to eliminate the tennis courts; to eliminate the playground; and to eliminate the basketball pitch.
Your administration has agreed to fell 24 mature tree. It hopes to destroy valuable flower beds. And if this development is agreed it will severely curtail an important green oasis in an area with one of the lowest amounts of green space in the whole of England.
The erection of a 12 foot high fence around the project will not properly lessen the considerable amount of noise and will be completely unsightly. The light pollution will be bad for my constituents – particularly those in Batman Close.
Why do this? Why cut down trees? Why put a car park for 20 cars where that had been greenery, flowers and trees? Why do we need a private bar in this green park?
Why should residents face light pollution and the noise of car’s coming and going and people shouting and yelling until late in the night? Why do any of this?
I understood the Council was trying to change the image of its planning department. How do you think most people will view its behaviour over this scheme? Why do PlayFootball need to be given the opportunity to make £70,000 a year profits out of our public park?
Everyone who is on this committee, all the planning officers and anyone who has taken the trouble to read the planning guidelines will know that this scheme is in direct contradiction to Hammersmith and Fulham’s own guidelines for the Borough.
The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham has published concerns about there being not enough tennis facilities. It has pledged to do everything necessary to curtail traffic pollution; it states that the location of night-time economy must be sensitive to residential uses and most importantly that that social infrastructure facilities in the White City area should be clearly accessible to the members of the community they serve.
There is talk of PlayFootball charging around £50 per hour to use a pitch. This scheme will not be accessible to the vast majority of residents which is presumably why PlayFootball have asked for a car park.
This is clearly a change of use of land: From a park to a car park; from a park to a bar, from park to a commercial venture. It needs to be judged as a change of use.
The failure of Hammersmith and Fulham, the failure of its planning department and the failure of its Conservative administration to do that brings the reputation of this Borough into disrepute. I ask you to vote this scheme down."

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Would You Trust Them? These Are The People Running The Planning Department, Putting Out Political Propaganda And Introducing Nearly 600 Stealth Taxes

On the 12th June, the BBC's Panorama featured the tricks used by Hammersmith and Fulham Council to trap motorists so they can hit their multi-million pounds fines targets. You can view the programme by clicking here. The scams used are the type of thing one might expect from the worst type of cowboys. So the real question is what does this tell us about the people running Hammersmith and Fulham Council? 

One example profiled on Panorama was how the Conservative Administration fixed the traffic lights in Bagleys Lane so that it was virtually impossible to get through the yellow box, making it the most lucrative box junction in Britain for the folks back at the Council. Transport for London have helpfully advised that the traffic light sequencing could easily be changed to better manage traffic flows and let innocent motorist through unhindered but instead H&F Council trapped 40,634 residents in the financial year 2011-12. Another scam is to start a bus lane with one set of rules only to make the rules more stringent halfway down and again trap the innocent. This local news blog is running a competition. You can read the local newspaper's report here. If you believe you have had a couple of hundred quid wrongly lifted from your wallet by this crowd then you should follow this link to appeal.

This crowd are, of course, the same people who have agreed to sell off most of Charing Cross Hospital. They are the same crowd who, with straight faces, tried to put developments like the Town Hall Monster through and even granted permission for this oneThis crowd are the people behind the demolition of the Goldhawk Road shops, Shepherds Bush Market and thousands of affordable council homes. They are the people tricking the elderly and sick to stop using council services and even admit to "putting them at risk" by stealth taxing crucial services. And as Panorama demonstrated, they are going to extraordinary lengths to raise funds from residents with over 600 of some of the biggest and creative stealth tax rises ever put forward by any council anywhere. 

The Telegraph was the first national media to expose their lead in parking stealth taxes. The Daily Mail followed up with an expose of how they tax people for using local parks and many other media have detailed many other such scams.

It doesn't have to be this way. My colleagues and I have already identified how H&F Conservatives squander £20million of tax payers' money and we will identify more. Local government needs to be straight with the people it seeks to govern. The Panorama programme shone a light into one dark corner of our local authority and thousands of viewers got an insight into the sly, cunning and often deceitful culture that is prevalent throughout much of Hammersmith and Fulham Council. This needs to change.