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."