14 July 2011

Andy Slaughter MP's lively newsletter - Sure Start, Murdoch and more

  • Sure Start
  • Intentionally Homeless
  • Pravda Mk III
  • Westfield
  • Olympia Public Meeting
  • Passmore Edwards and Shepherds Bush
  • Putney By-election
  • Any More Fairs?
  • Murdoch and Coulson

Sure Start

Extraordinary developments in the past 10 days in the long-running battle to save Sure Start in H&F.

Sure Start Children’s Centres are universally praised not only by the millions of families who use them but by all political parties.  This didn’t stop the Coalition Government cutting their budgets by 12% this year, but answering questions from me in the Commons, Ministers still said they wanted all Sure Start centres to survive.

But last Christmas H&F Council put out a report rubbishing Sure Start and proposing to close nine of the 15 in the borough. In the outcry that followed, they backtracked, promised some money to the closing centres (albeit taken from the ones staying open) and called it ‘hub and spoke’.

I said at the time this was cynical PR but I don’t blame the Centres for trying to negotiate the terms for staying open. Last Thursday, after being misled, bullied, blackmailed and treated with contempt by councillors and officers for six months they’d had enough and summoned the head of children’s services to a showdown at Flora Gardens Primary School.

There he admitted for the first time that the so-called spokes would have to de-register as Children’s Centres (ie close) and cease to have any formal relationship with the council.  The ‘hubs’ – the six Centres that still have funding – will continue to operate but most have re-written their contracts with the council, which was trying to put extra burdens on them without the necessary funds – including redundancy costs for staff.

This will give the Centres the freedom to manage their own services but it doesn’t solve the money problem.  Then the following day Cathnor Park parents won a spectacular victory over the council in the High Court.  Facing the prospect of losing a Judicial Review the Council caved in and signed an agreement to restore most of the services at Cathnor.  Congratulations to the parents and their solicitors – who may now like to do a similar job for some of the other unfunded Centres. 

Intentionally Homeless

A letter leaked to the Observer reveals that the Government’s changes to Housing Benefit will make 40,000 families homeless – and cost the taxpayer money.  This is not Shelter’s view it is Secretary of State Eric Pickles (no bleeding-heart he) writing to David Cameron.  After Westminster and K&C, H&F is likely to have the largest number of families affected, and I have asked how many that will be.

What is the morality of a Government that will see families uprooted from schools, jobs (most people on HB work in low-paid jobs) and community life?  What is its competence if the cost of moving the families elsewhere is more than the money saved?  It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the motive here is what Boris Johnson famously called ‘social cleansing’.

Pravda Mk III

The Council’s latest attempt to get round their own Government’s restrictions on propaganda is a 72 page glossy magazine that makes H&F News read like the Independent. All your favourites are here – promos for the council’s preferred developers, lots of photographs of  Tory councillors, and the council leader’s own “vision” for the future. He wants to create an ‘economic lung’  by tripling density and blotting out the sun with 30-storey blocks of flats along the Kensington borders.

But a story in the Telegraph last week suggests local Tories may not be popular with the PM if they carry on with their plans:

‘The threat of a major development on your doorstep throws up a debate both ethical and practical, as David and Samantha Cameron are discovering.  Plans for  three 30-storey towers in White City, London, which will loom over their north Kensington  home, have outraged  neighbours who claim their sunset views (and their light) will be ruined by the 100m-high buildings.  The Camerons, of course, currently reside in Downing Street and their £1.5million house is being rented, but experts say an unfavourable development in the doorstep can have a dramatic effect on property prices. William Marsden-Smedley, a director of the property acquisition  firm Prime Purchase, believes the loss of a great view can wipe a third off the value of a property.’

In the meantime I will set about finding the true cost of this latest piece of vanity publishing which is in addition to the propaganda pages in the Chronicle.  When they tell you these are good value for money they don’t mention the army of press officers in the town hall churning this out (15 staff are credited in the magazine), or the council advertising that subsidises it.


I met Westfield management to hear about their new planning application for the land between their existing Centre and the Hammersmith & City line railway.  Currently an industrial estate, they bought it mainly to stop Tesco taking it over, but now want to develop it. It is common gossip that there is going to be a major John Lewis store on the site – but Westfield are playing this down and just say it will be a ‘department store’.  A cynic might think that they are dangling John Lewis much as the Council dangled Waitrose as part of the Town Hall development to sweeten the pill.
The pill in this case is 1,700 flats up to 22 storeys (though mostly around 12). A lot of the flats will be built above and around the new shops. It already looks uncomfortably dense and crowded and the architecture is the same depressingly anonymous stuff we have seen planned for Fulham Reach and West Ken.
The flats will be smaller units, tightly-packed together. I reminded them that the Council wants a quarter of them to be for residents moving from the White City Estate.They said they did know, but they didn’t look like they were rolling out the red carpet.
As a postscript to my visit to Fulham Reach last week, St George sent me the revised schedule of properties in their new planning application.  In place of 38 two-bed affordable rented flats at 61 square metres and 37 three-bed flats at 86 square metres, there will now be 73 bed-sits for sale at 41 square metres.  Remember that next time you hear Boris or local Tories talking about how they want to build affordable larger family homes.

You can see my response to the White City Opportunity Area Consultation by clicking here.

Olympia Line Closure - public meeting

Olympia not only carries visitors to the exhibition centre and serves one of London’s most densely-packed neighbourhoods,  it provides stepless access to the tube. LU’s suggestion that there are other stations around a mile away  is of little comfort to wheelchair users.
Many, many people have written to me asking for my help in keeping it open; there is a well-organised group which has the support of local residents groups, disability support groups, transport groups and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

London Underground have at least acknowledged the strength of feeling by extending the deadline for the consultation until 15th July, but they are still intending to press ahead with the closure of all weekday services.
Where is Hammersmith and Fulham Council in all this? I wish I could tell you: if you look at their website you will find that they initially supported the closure, then they opposed it. But prominent local Tories including Greg Smith, Cabinet member for Residents’ Services and Greg Hands, MP for South Fulham  are energetically campaigning for the line’s closure:

With great difficulty I have persuaded Richard Parry of London Underground to come to a public meeting to discuss this proposal with local residents.  The meeting will be held at 7pm on Tuesday, 26 July in the Pillar Hall of Olympia.  This will be an opportunity for you to put your points across directly to LU and to demonstrate the importance of Underground service to Kensington Olympia. I encourage you to join me on the 26th of July in the hope that we can get LU to re-think this outrageous plan.
Passmore Edwards and Shepherds Bush

On Wednesday I was treated to a Cornish cream tea by the MP for Falmouth and Truro, Sarah Newton - to celebrate the  publication of author Dean Evans' book on the life of Passmore Edwards.

John Passmore Edwards was an 19th-Century Cornish MP from very humble beginnings who made a fortune in publishing, most of which he gave away to build school, hospitals and libraries around the UK. One of his projects was the building of Shepherds Bush Library, which opened in  in 1896 and operated as a public Library until Hammersmith and Fulham Council intervened in 2009. Their attempts to sell off the building after moving the library to Westfield were frustrated by the covenants protecting its public use.
Now the building has become the new permanent home of the Bush Theatre. I went to their first performance recently, which put the new venue through its paces before the official opening in the Autumn. This promises to be an exciting new chapter in the cultural life of Shepherds Bush, and a testament to Passmore Edwards, who understood the value of public buildings to local communities. What a shame that Victorian wisdom cannot be emulated by our council, who are still trying to sell off many of the venues that local people have been using for decades – Shepherds Bush Village Hall, just across the road from Passmore Edwards’  bequest, to name but one…
Putney By-Election
More out of solidarity than expectation Hammersmith Labour members joined me campaigning in the recent by-election in Putney, and went back to help on Election day.  We had an excellent candidate, Christian Klapp, and a superb campaign run by Sean Lawless and ex-Hammersmith agent Adam Gray, but this was an ultra-safe Tory seat.  Not any more – the 16% swing to Labour is one of the biggest recorded in any recent election.  Hammersmith Tories may want to take note that a major issue was the overdevelopment of the riverside with high-rise luxury flats.

Any more fairs?

  • I still haven’t won a raffle prize even after attending summer celebrations at Lena Gardens, Greenside, St Stephen's, Wendell Park and Phoenix schools.  The Lena Garden BBQ was headteacher Callum Fairley’s 25th.  I’m not going to win the balloon race at St Stephen’s as my balloon went straight up.  And I think William Atkinson’s spectacular event at Phoenix, complete with funfair and boy bands, is more Glastonbury than school fete these days.
  • Flora Gardens did something different – the Flora Oscars.  I found myself walking down the red carpet to present the award for best voiceover with Keanu Reeves.  Other staff came as Kylie, Cruella and Audrey Hepburn
  • I spoke at a conference on Palestinian human rights with political leaders from Israel and the occupied territories, and chaired a meeting in the Commons for Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Sha’ath, in Britain to lobby for support in recognising Palestine as an independent state at the UN in September
  • I was a guest at the Askew Business Network BBQ, celebrating their expansion and success in getting improvements to the Askew Road.
  • I organised a meeting for Oxfam, Amnesty and other NGOs fighting Government proposals to prevent UK-based multinationals being sued by people they have injured in developing countries. 
  • I attended the Cathnor Park Area residents’ AGM, where the new Hammersmith academy was the main item for discussion.

Murdoch and Coulson
So life goes on – even without the News of the World to tell us who the heroes and villains are. (I think we are working that out for ourselves). But if you are one of the more than 200 people who have written to me about News International, Coulson and the Met, asking me to take these issues up with Cameron, rest assured I will - and will put the correspondence on my website.


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