Thursday 30 January 2014

Sulivan Primary School Deserves Better Than This

It was the Full Council Meeting last night. Nearly all of the meeting was taken up with H&F Conservatives' highly controversial decision to close Sulivan Primary School - recently graded the 233rd best out 16,884 in the country. My Labour colleagues and I urged all councillors to vote for this "motion":

"This Council congratulates Sulivan Primary School on the recognition received from both Boris Johnson, the London Mayor and David Laws MP, the Minister of State for Schools, in respect of the school’s excellent academic results. The Council supports the addition of a high quality secondary school in the south of the Borough but agrees that the excellent Sulivan Primary School should remain open and a new site found for the free school that does not involve cannibalising Sulivan Primary School".

Cllr. Georgie Cooney (Con), the Cabinet Member for Education moved a wrecking amendment which changed the subject and removed any reference to agreeing "Sulivan Primary School should remain open". That was voted through by a majority of Conservative councillors.

Then there was another vote on Sulivan Primary School. As reported, the Sulivan School closure has been called into the Borough's Education and Children's Services Select Committee.  This is the first time a call-in has ever been issued in the history of H&F Council. But Conservative councillors decided to book the meeting at a highly unusual start time of 10.00am next Wednesday morning. To put that in perspective, no Select Committee meetings ever happen at 10.00am. They're always at 7.00pm so the public and councillors can easily attend. Now consider that that Administration broke with long-standing custom and practice and did not ask Opposition councillors or co-opted committee members if this time or date would be suitable. Instead, they just went ahead and announced it after, I am reliably informed, they had consulted with enough Conservative committee members to ensure the committee would be quorate. So it is evident that they are deliberately trying to make it difficult for the teachers, parents and governors to attend and are clearly trying and fix the vote by also making it hard for opposition councillors and co-opted committee members to attend and vote. The Chair of the School's governors formally complained. Her request to change the timing was clearly reasonable. My fellow Labour councillors called a vote and presented the wording below.

Cllr. Stephen Hamilton (Con) a school governor at Sulivan Primary School had earlier expressed support for our first motion so we were all more than a little surprised when he slunk out of the room and failed to argue for or vote in favour of this:

"The Council notes with concern the email sent at 1.38pm today by the Chair of Governors, Sulivan Primary School to the Administration, which reads.

“I would like to formally register my complaint to the Council for the timing of the meeting. I have looked back over Council meetings and I have struggled to find any examples of Council meetings scheduled for the morning. I put it to you that this time has been selected specifically to make it difficult for both members of the Committee and the public to attend the meeting.  I would ask you to consider postponing the date and time, selecting a new date in the evening, as has always been the practice by the Council, when its officers, councillors and the public, have more opportunity of attending.  Do you think this would be a more democratic approach? I also would have appreciated the courtesy of an email to the Governing Body and the Head Teacher at Sulivan, informing us of the meeting, given the meeting has been called to discuss Sulivan Primary.  Another example of an unjust and at worst, flawed consultation process and administration by the Council. I hope you will consider my request and advise me of the date when the meeting will be rescheduled.”

Sewing as school's
future is debated
The Council urges Cllr. Donald Johnson, (Con) the committee chair, Cllr. Tom Crofts (Con) , Cllr. Charlie Dewhirst (Con), Cllr. Belinda Donovan (Con), Cllr Harry Phibbs (Con), Cllr. Matt Thorley (Con) to work with opposition and co-opted members of the Education and Children’s Services Select Committee in recognising the reasonable nature of this request, to consult with governors of Sulivan Primary School and other stakeholders to agree a more suitable time and date for the issues raised in the call-in to be properly considered".

The meeting finished late. Those members of the public that attended were very disappointed. Conservative councillors appeared uninterested in making any worthwhile points about Sulivan Primary School. Cllr. Helen Binmore (Con), the Cabinet Member for Children's Services didn't turn up despite being one of the people that engineered the closure. Many people complained that the Borough's Deputy Mayor Cllr. Adronie Alford (Con) was apparently engaged in embroidering a piece of cloth with what a member of the public identified as a picture of a cheetah. She was clearly uninterested in any of the facts presented about the school but voted with her Conservative colleagues on the school's future at every point throughout the evening.

Meanwhile, here are some children from Sulivan Primary School singing "Save Our Sulivan". They deserve better than this.

Monday 27 January 2014

Conservative Councillors Agree To Turn Quiet Residential Avenue Into Route For 77 Foot Long Lorries Into Europe's Biggest Building Site

Larry Culhane, Cllr. Daryl Brown and Alistair Dixon of
Kensington Hall Gardens campaigning for a Council re-think
Earlier this month H&F's Conservative councillors voted through a plan to turn residential streets off the North End Road in West Kensington into the central 24 hour delivery route for articulated lorries and other heavy vehicles into what is planned to become Europe's biggest building site. Residents were more than a little shocked not to have even been consulted. In contrast, the developer was extensively consulted by our self confessed, "developer friendly Council".

The Council report can be read here on page 74. It details how:
  • “Heavy vehicle access to the depot during the Earls Court development will be from Beaumont Avenue and emergency access will be from Aisgill Avenue.”
  • “Large 77ft long articulated lorries will access/egress the LUL depot site approximately 6-9 times a day from Beaumont Avenue.”
  • “Very long 99ft lorries will need to access the site approximately 4 times a year.”
  • “There are also 60 parking spaces on the LUL depot site for transit vans that will need to access/egress the site throughout the day.”
This Wednesday, at the Full Council Meeting, Larry Culhane will ask the Leader of the Council to think again, work with local people and come forward with better proposals. You can read his question on page 474 of this report. My Labour colleagues and I will then vote to side with residents and overturn this decision.

This shouldn't be a party political matter. It's common decency for a local authority to consult residents and work things out with them - especially, in these circumstances.

The situation is best summed up by Alistair Dixon, the Chair, Kensington Hall Gardens residents association. He says “As you’d expect, I was astonished to learn the Council’s plans for Beaumont and Aisgill Avenues. This would bring intolerable amounts of extra traffic from heavy vehicles, we are told some will be as large as 99ft. The council has not properly considered residents’ needs or the danger of increased road accidents, extra noise, extra dust, extra pollution or damage to properties. They must stop this and I call for an immediate re-think”

We hope Conservative councillors will join my Labour colleagues and I to ensure these plans are voted down on Wednesday night. We will let you know how we get on.

Unprecedented: Borough Select Committee Calls In Conservatives' Decision To Close Award Winning Sulivan Primary School.

Last Monday’s decision by the Borough’s Conservative Cabinet to close the award winning Sulivan Primary School has been suspended after an unprecedented “call-in” issued on Friday by a majority on the Borough’s Education and Children’s Services Select Committee.

All four independent co-opted voting members of the Select Committee joined with three Labour Opposition councillors to produce a majority of one. The controversial closure will now be reviewed at an emergency meeting.

There is much that needs to be considered about the curious goings on behind all of this. Here's just two of the most important questions:
  1. Why close a primary school whose latest SATs results place it as 233rd out of 16,884 primaries in England and put it firmly into the top 2% of schools in the country?
  2. Exactly what does this closure have to do with the proposed Fulham Boys School (FBS)?
On Monday, Cabinet Members Cllr. Helen Binmore (Con), Cllr. Georgie Cooney (Con) and Cllr. Nicholas Botterill (Con) all claimed the answer to that last question is absolutely nothing. But here’s what we know:
  • Sulivan Primary School has been set aside by the Conservative Administration as the site for the FBS.
  • There was a well organised campaign during the statutory consultation on the closure of Sulivan Primary School to encourage people to write in and state their support for FBS.
  • Conservative councillors agreed to count around 950 of those FBS statutory consultation responses amongst those they claimed were backing Sulivan’s closure in the report that was presented to the Borough's cabinet.
  • Sulivan is the preferred site of those behind the FBS bid. On 24th November 2013, a council official wrote an email which stated: “I spoke to Alex Wade, the founder of the Fulham Boys’ School last week… He also confirmed that, should the proposals go ahead, he did not see your alternative plan as workable and that the clear preference of the Fulham Boys’ School governors and Head teacher would be for a new secondary school on the larger and more suitable Sulivan site.”
  • Conservative councillors have taken legal advice: one on whether or not to publically declare a "friendship"; and two on whether to declare a “number of people they know” behind the FBS bid. They have been advised "this declaration is not a declaration of interests required under the code" and they have "no interest to declare". While nobody is suggesting anything improper has happened, we do now need to see a full list of all dates that elected representatives met with people behind FBS and discussed or referred to the bid or potential sites.
  • Minutes from a meeting on 20th November 2013 with Greg Hands MP for Chelsea and Fulham, allege other excellent schools were also considered for closure so FBS could take their sites. The minutes state: “Greg commented that it was extremely difficult to find sites for new schools within the Borough. Greg was aware that FBS has looked at many sites over the last two years. Greg personally had tried to help FBS to find a site controlled by local or central government including the MOD site in Rylston Road, All Saints vicarage, All Saints School and The Moat School – none of which has proved suitable for FBS.”
It appears that the FBS proposals have absolutely everything to do with the proposed closure of Sulivan Primary School.

It is also apparent that the pupils, teachers, parents and governors of other Borough schools could have faced the same calamity as those currently befalling Sulivan with every likelihood that the Conservative Administration would have put up other similarly spurious reasons for closing them.

The seven Select Committee members who called in this decision appear to have done the Borough a very big favour. This is the first time any Select Committee has ever called in a cabinet decision. I know it won't have been done lightly. This is a summary of the reasons they gave:
  • The Cabinet has not properly considered the school’s excellent performance.
  • The Council have miscalculated the detrimental effect the closure will have on the children’s education.
  • The Council effectively blocked attempts to increase the school’s numbers.
  • The Council has misled the public during the consultation on the schools results, popularity and the reasons for its closure.
  • The Cabinet has given undue consideration to the views, requirements and preferences of the founders of the Fulham Boys School.
It would be unwise for the Conservative Administration to play down this call-in or try to bulldoze the process through. It would also be a huge concern and raise questions about their credibility if the six Conservative councillors on the Education and Children's Services Select Committee (one of whom is the Conservatives' newly selected prospective parliamentary candidate for Hammersmith) failed to properly take up their responsibilities to look into and act on these matters.

If you'd like to write to any councillors on the committee please follow these links:

There's no good reason to mess with these
children's education
Conservative Select Committee members
Cllr. Donald Johnson, (Con) the committee chair, Cllr Tom Crofts (Con) , Cllr Charlie Dewhirst (Con), Cllr Belinda Donovan (Con), Cllr Harry Phibbs (Con), Cllr. Matt Thorley (Con)
Labour's Select Committee members
Cllr Caroline Needham (Lab) the committee vice-chair, Cllr Elaine Chumnery (Lab) and Cllr Mercy Umeh (Lab).
I was one of the people behind bringing the Hammersmith Academy to the Borough and I have been very impressed by the excellent West London Free School in Hammersmith. I think it is important to provide an additional, and high performing, secondary school in the south of the Borough but I do not believe this is any way to go about it.
It is highly questionable that anyone should think turfing very young children out of the wonderful Sulivan Primary School, or any other high performing local school, is reasonable or sets a good moral example for young people of what is a decent way to behave.

This Wednesday is the date of the next Full Council Meeting. It's a public meeting which you can attend and view the papers for it here.  Sulivan's parents, teachers and governors have submitted questions to Conservative cabinet members which you can read from page 475, 476, 477 and 478. My Labour Opposition colleagues and I are calling for a vote on the school and you can read what we're proposing on page 536.

It is ironic that the Conservatives', now suspended, decision to close Sulivan, was made almost a month to the day after the school received a letter of recognition by the Government's Minister of State for Schools. On 17th December he congratulated Sulivan Primary School on the “excellent performance of your pupils, particularly your disadvantaged pupils”. The Mayor of London also awarded Sulivan Primary School the Gold Club distinction, “recognising good work for disadvantaged pupils”. Those awards alone should have given food for thought. Now the Conservative cabinet have an opportunity to revisit their decision and do the right thing - which is keeping Sulivan Primary School open.

Friday 3 January 2014

Over To You Now Boris After H&F Conservatives Force Through Unnecessary Riverside Studios/Queens Wharf Development

Will the Mayor call for a re-think on damaging
Riverside Studios/Queens Wharf Scheme?
Despite the public expectation that the Riverside Studios/Queens Wharf planning application had already been agreed by H&F’s Council leaders, there was still a palpable shock from the seventy or so strong audience, when all the Conservative councillors raised their hands in unison to formally give the go-ahead. The arguments for refusals and delay had been overwhelming. Now it falls to Mayor Boris Johnson (Con) to force a re-think. 

You can review the GLA's planning papers here. This is the team considering all aspects of the application.

GLA Planning Decisions Unit:
Colin Wilson, Senior Manager - Planning Decisions
020 7983 4783

Justin Carr, Strategic Planning Manager (Development Decisions)
020 7983 4895

Lucy Bird, Case Officer
020 7983 5826

If you'd like to also raise your concerns directly with the Mayor you can email him here:

This was just one of two of the Borough’s most important development schemes that went before a hastily arranged Special Planning Applications Committee (S-PAC) meeting just six days before Christmas. By 11.00pm there was still the BBC Television Centre application to start. I don’t think anyone seated around the Council Chamber believed the Conservative Administration's denials that they had insisted the Riverside Studios/Queens Wharf scheme was rushed through before the New Year in the hope that time would dull the memories of such a controversial approval long before May's local elections.

Here’s some of what we have learnt:

Loss of a community arts centre
The theatre and community arts facilities essential to the current Riverside Studios appear downgraded in the design. Instead, the media business interests of Riverside Television which also occupies the current site, appears to have been prioritised. While last minute changes had been made, planning officers admitted that negotiations were still on-going to deal with concerns about this. It obviously would have been better to conclude those negotiations to secure the community arts centre first, before granting planning permission and thus weakening the hand of H&F Council to strike the best deal. But that hasn't happened and many leading theatre luminaries are still not convinced.

Putting the profits of the developer over the housing needs of residents
If H&F Council is not yet not confident it has protected Riverside Studios as a community arts centre, why allow Mount Anvil and A2 Dominion to duck out of their planning obligations to build homes “Londoners can afford”? In fact, the developers have been granted permission to build luxury investment units targeted at speculators in China, Russia and the Middle East. That contravenes both the London and Borough's own planning guidelines and is reason enough for the Mayor to now block this planning application.

Another questionable viability excuse
All but one of S-PAC’s Conservative councillors admitted they hadn’t read the “independent viability report”. I guess they felt they knew what it would say as its conclusions were much like every other such report produced for H&F Council, predictably saying it isn’t viable to build the homes they are obliged to do which “Londoners can afford”.
So let’s consider what we know about this scheme.
We know A2 Dominion had purchased Queens Wharf for the knock down price of just £12.8m. We know H&F Council owns the freehold for the Riverside Studios. A2 Dominion told me that it would cost them about £25m to build their original Queens Wharf scheme. So we have a good idea of what it will cost to build across the whole site. Consider that the previous owner of Queens Wharf had paid well over £30m for the site alone.  Now consider how this planning permission spectacularly changes the value of the land at a stroke. It’s easy to understand how lucrative this project is for the business interests behind it and how badly the administration has negotiated on behalf of residents.

Meanwhile, according to Nationwide, Hammersmith and Fulham has seen property price rises of 25% during the year ending 31st January 2013. That's the fastest rise in the UK but H&F Council's assessment was based on inadequate valuations carried out months ago, last summer.
It is clearly possible to strike a much better deal that protects the arts centre and the neighbourhood.

Damaging the immediate neighbourhood and local businesses
Officials admitted that the removal of the theatre entrance on Crisp Road and replacement with large garage doors including a delivery depot would damage that neighbourhood.
Officials also admitted that it was likely that the newsagents, cafĂ© and pub would lose business as footfall took alternative routes but said they hadn’t done any assessment of how badly those businesses would be affected.

The same officials indicated that the extra height, particularly viewed from Chancellors Street would be worse than what is there at present. To counter this they unconvincingly argued that there was a precedent for sticking a large ugly building at the end of roads containing residential housing near the river.

Damaging “the Borough’s most sensitive site”
On 3rd August 2011 a senior planning official told the PAC that the Queens Wharf site viewed from Hammersmith Mall and the west of Hammersmith Bridge was “the Borough’s most sensitive site”. It was therefore very odd that two years later none of the photo reconstructions that were shown to the S-PAC contained any image from Hammersmith Mall.
It also became apparent that there had been insufficient consideration of the heritage of the conservation area and the damage this scheme does to it particularly the aspects around Crisp Road and Chancellors Street. Residents alleged they had been told this had purposefully been left out to avoid spotlighting planning concerns. Officials denied this.

A remarkably cynical consultation
The developers’ consultation and approach to residents appeared cynical and uninterested. They refused to come to meetings or answer the most fundamental questions and even consistently refused to respond to allegations that the Remarkable Group, their consultation advisor, had been investigating local residents who had objected to their scheme.

Height, massing, density, affordable homes, un-neighbourliness
After nearly four hours it was clear that there were many reasons for this scheme to be blocked. In fact, H&F Council could have used these reasons below which are the exact same reasons they used to block the original Queens Wharf scheme in 2011:

“Inappropriate height and massing”
“Failure to provide a suitable affordable housing provision”
“Excessive density”
Lack of “residential amenity”
Harm to “the character and appearance of the conservation area.”

More time to fix the inadequate and rushed design
Lord Richard Rogers, one of Britain’s world famous starchitects, joined critics of the design. Along with film director Sir Richard Eyre, actress Francesca Annis, architect Will Alsop and others, Lord Rogers wrote to The Times on the day of the S-PAC to say: “We believe that there has been insufficient consultation for such an important site, next to the Grade II listed Hammersmith Bridge, and on this rare riverside location, in a development in which arts facilities look likely to play a secondary role to privately-run TV studios.” They called for a “more informed and constructive discussion about the future of this important arts centre”.

These views should have been taken on board but were bushed aside, with one Conservative councillor attacking Lord Rogers' views as being those of just another "Labour Party member.”

What needs to happen now?

I think everybody wants a good scheme to be developed across the two sites. One that protects the Riverside Studios as a community arts facility, adds to rather than damages the immediate neighbourhood and is good value for residents.
The only real deadline for planning permission is that Mount Anvil have a contract with A2 Dominion that says they need to have gained planning approval for their joint scheme otherwise A2 Dominion can go ahead and build the Queens Wharf scheme they already have  permission for.
The Queens Wharf scheme does not have any affordable housing in it. Instead, A2 Dominion have chosen to build luxury flats targeted at overseas investors. That is very peculiar because A2 Dominion are a housing association who are obliged to build and manage affordable homes. I believe we can get a better scheme agreed within any contracted deadline between A2 Dominion and Mount Anvil. But even if there are difficulties contracts an be re-negotiated and I find it hard to believe that any reputable housing association would push ahead with a its own project that not only ignores its responsibilities to tackle London's Housing Crisis but would kill any chance of maintaining a much loved community arts centre.
Mayor Boris Johnson needs to block this scheme and force the developers and H&F Council to think again.