Thursday, 23 July 2015

Rosemary Pettit To Chair New Independent H&F Air Quality Commission

H&F suffers five of the country's air pollution black-spots
Hammersmith Flyover is the fifth worst air pollution black-spot in the country and the borough suffers four of the UK’s other worst areas for filthy air.

At the end of June I asked Rosemary Pettit to chair The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham’s Air Quality Commission which she kindly agreed to do. That independent commission will examine the problems and recommend a comprehensive series of actions for the council to consider and undertake.

Rosemary is a non-political appointment. Until last month she chaired the Hammersmith Society and prior to that she was the membership secretary of the Brackenbury Residents Association. She will lead a review that engages both experts and residents from across the borough in one of the most important but low profile issues affecting all of us.

Air pollution is a silent killer. It’s linked to lung and heart conditions, breast cancer and diabetes. The health problems air pollution causes is estimated to cost the UK up to £20 billion a year to treat.

Roughly 30,000 Britons are believed to die prematurely each year because of the UK’s dirty air and London’s air is the filthiest with the 50 top worst black-spots in the country.

All of us who live and work in London breathe in unhealthy levels of the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The UK signed up to the European Union’s limit of 40 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre on average per year. The latest figures demonstrate that people living, working or simply passing by Hammersmith Flyover are breathing in air that has 114 micrograms of NO2 in it. Other spots around the Westway were also well over EU safe limits. That can’t be allowed to continue.

You can find out about air quality near your home, work or children’s school by checking this excellent website.

Where we can, we try to work with residents rather than having their council do things to them. There are a number of resident led and independent working parties working with us to develop better policies across a range of areas.

It’s important that H&F Council take a different approach to improving our air pollution and also encourages the GLA and the government to find greener solutions too. I am grateful to Rosemary and the other people that will join her on this critically important piece of work.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Please Vote Yes For A 20 MPH Hammersmith And Fulham

I’m in favour of speed limits being lowered to 20mph. It saves lives and significantly cuts the chances of people being seriously hurt in traffic accidents. That’s particularly important for children but also for other pedestrians and cyclists too.

You can help make H&F 20mph by taking part in the consultation here.

Lowering speeds to 20mph has some interesting side effects. Studies demonstrate how it changed the tone of the neighbourhoods where it happened - even apparently statistically increasing the chances of people knowing their neighbours.

If residents vote to lower speed limits in Hammersmith and Fulham the bill for the changes will be picked up by Transport for London (TfL) which is chaired by the London Mayor.

Shortly after I was first elected in 1998 my fellow Labour ward councillor and I led a residents’ working party to consider cutting speeds in an area of Hammersmith north of Glenthorne Road and bounded by Goldhawk and Dalling Roads and the Hammersmith and City tube line. I recall that 624 people took part in that consultation with over 75% voting to say yes to 20mph and the introduction of the Grove Home Zone.

Walk around what’s now become known as Brackenbury Village and it’s a peaceful place. Less cars use the area as a cut through and far less cars, motorbikes and vans shoot past at 30mph and above which has made it a much safer area. If you haven’t seen this wonderful neighbourhood for yourself, I advise a visit - especially if you want to know how the area you live in might change for the better if the speed limits of vehicles are lowered.

You have a chance to make that happen because H&F Council is consulting residents on the proposals to cut speed limits to 20mph for all residents. My fellow Labour councillors said we’d do that before the election and wrote that pledge into our manifesto for one clear reason: it saves lives and reduces injuries.

It takes two minutes to take part via the freepost consultation packs arriving in homes across the borough and you can fill in the consultation form online at:

Over the seventeen years I’ve been an elected representative I have met many constituents. The most harrowing meetings was with the mother of a child who had tragically been killed in a local traffic accident. That still happens to too many families.

The data clearly demonstrates how lower speeds equate to lower accident rates. So please take a moment to ensure we have safer streets across Hammersmith and Fulham and vote yes to 20mph.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Raising Commercial Revenue For H&F Will Be Crucial As David Cameron's Government Has Introduced The Most Draconian Cuts To Local Government In Modern Times

Cllr. Ben Coleman
taking on responsibility for
generating commercial revenue
for H&F Council
Shortly before Christmas the government announced that it would deliver another consecutive year of funding cuts to Hammersmith & Fulham Council – this year that amounts to a real terms reduction in our budget of over ten percent.

On taking office last year my fellow Labour councillors and I cut our special responsibility allowances (our pay) by 10% and cancelled hundreds of thousands of pounds being wasted on council produced magazines and lamp post vanity banners - which often portrayed leading Conservative councillors. By the time of our first full budget in February we had made £24 million of the £71 million of spending reductions we need to make to balance the books over this four year term.

But we need to raise money too. That's why we will shortly be interviewing for a new commercial director. We have also hired a new cabinet member for commercial revenue and resident satisfaction as we want to do everything possible to minimise costs, to residents, protect vital services and put more money back into residents' pockets.

We have rejected the blanket stealth tax approach of the last Conservative administration. We had inherited proposals to: introduce an immediate 14.7% hike in parking charges; to increase over 500 council charges by much more than inflation; and to freeze council tax. We binned all of those.

Instead, we used the savings we had made in our first year's budget to freeze parking charges, abolish home care charges for disabled and elderly residents and cut meals on wheels prices by 33%. We have frozen the vast majority of council charges and are the only council in London to cut council tax this year.

We need to modernise much of the way the council works making it more innovative, more business-like and more responsive to residents.

Zero-based service reviews are one new initiative we had in our manifesto which we're now introducing. That seeks to reinvent established services. We’re already finding more efficient ways different departments and different organisations can work together to save money and in many cases improve results.

But we need to find innovative ways of raising money too. So we will work with residents to help the Council become more business-like in its approach and raise commercial revenue - the proceeds of which will be used to benefit residents across the borough. 

Sunset Over Hammersmith Bridge

I took this photo of Hammersmith Bridge a couple of weeks back.

The photo captures some of the beauty of that evening (Sunday 28th June) but it was much more stunning than my phone was able to capture.

I've always found walking along Hammersmith and Fulham's share of the river bank to be an uplifting experience but that sunset was really something.

We've Negotiated 510 New Affordable Homes In Our First Year And Won £52.15 Million More For Residents On Deals H&F's Former Conservative Administration Had Already Done But The Government Needs To Act To Help Tackle The London Housing Crisis

Tackling the London housing crisis needs to be a key priority for all parts of government. My fellow Labour councillors and I argued for that in our manifesto last year and since being given the opportunity to lead Hammersmith and Fulham Council we have so far negotiated with developers and housing associations to ensure that 510 new affordable homes will be built. And we're in negotiations to deliver more.

Changing the nature of H&F Council's relationship with developers away from what it had been under H&F Conservatives was critical to this. Unlike our predecessors: we do not take hospitality from property developers; we publish meetings with developers on the Council's website; and on occasion we invite residents to attend and take part.

Where we could, we re-opened property deals Conservative councillors had already agreed with developers and we renegotiated them. By last summer we had won £16.2 million in extra funds. Now that figure stands at £52.15 million.

That extra money paid the largest ever number of council funded police officers to be put on Hammersmith and Fulham's streets in the Borough's history. And the rest is being used to build 231 new affordable homes and to buy and to rent.

Our first new deal with a developer went to the planning committee some weeks ago. We negotiated just short of £100 million for the Borough. That will be used to build another 279 new affordable homes to buy and rent. That’s a better deal than any other deal done in this borough in recent years.

Under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the government used to provide millions of pounds in grants specifically to build new affordable homes. That was abolished by the last Conservative/Lib Dem government.

So now, negotiating a fair deal with developers is essential to ensuring we have any funds to build new affordable homes. The London Mayor's London Plan says that forty percent of new developments should be set aside for "affordable housing".

But there are too many property firms who play the system. They wrongly claim their schemes will not sustain anything but a little and sometimes no affordable new homes. Viability reports are at the heart of this scam. So it’s not uncommon during some of our tougher negotiations for me to take a developer’s viability report and drop it into the bin. The BBC's Sunday Politics programme featured our approach in this video and the Guardian refers to it in this informative feature.

Apart from removing funding, it is evident that the government does not understand what is happening to the London property market. Government inspectors often get it wrong accepting developers' viability assessments at face value thus robbing the public purse of millions of pounds that should have gone to pay for vital infrastructure and services. And the government have made disastrous changes to the planning system that are simply not appropriate for London. That includes changes to Permitted Development Rights, Local Development Orders on Brown Field Land and Vacant Building Credit all of which reduce the ability of borough councils to secure important funding and affordable housing.

Meanwhile, the West London property market continues to resemble an international gold rush with developers and speculators from around the globe reaping returns that often exceed what could be earned in hedge funds and other high return investments. With Hammersmith and Fulham at times seeing the fasting rising land prices in the country developers are literally scouring the borough looking for sites that might allow them a share of this bonanza.

And even the term "affordable" has been twisted when used as the government's definition for housing as that definition includes too many homes that are simply unaffordable for the vast majority of Londoners.

All this makes finding a good home in London difficult. At one end people in their twenties and thirties struggle to get onto the property ladder and (as Shelter says) face spending a lifetime living in expensive and often unsuitable private rented accommodation.  At the other end of the problem there are record numbers of people undergoing the personal calamity of finding themselves homeless. Surely we as a country can do better that that...

I understand and support the need for businesses to make a return on their investment but developers need to do their bit and help deliver the necessary homes Londoners can afford and need.

My fellow Labour councillors and I tell every property developer who seeks to negotiate with us, that this new administration serves at the pleasure of the record 22,163 borough residents who hired us to represent them. We have a very clear job specification to build "homes for residents, not overseas investors" and to "put residents first, not property speculators".

Good developers recognise that we needs homes for some residents at social social rent, we need other types of genuinely affordable housing and we need genuinely affordable homes that residents can buy to get themselves a foot on the property ladder. We now need the government to do the same and work with us to face down the challenges and do everything we can to help tackle the London Housing Crisis.