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.