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.