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.

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