30 November 2011

Now Harry Phibbs claims residents' support for Hammersmith Tory council's £7,000 jamboree

As local outrage grows that Hammersmith council wasted £7,184 on a leaving party for its retiring chief executive (see here), Cllr Harry Phibbs, Cabinet Member for Community Engagement, has told the local Chronicle that the knees-up was good for morale and "most [residents] would understand it's the right thing to do" (see here).

Cllr Phibbs was backed up by Tory leader Stephen Greenhalgh, who told the newspaper he would continue to fund such shindigs. And Tory boy Peter Graham, assistant to Fulham and Chelsea MP Greg Hands, said he didn't have a problem with the party because the council was making savings elsewhere (see here).

Labour leader Steve Cowan has made clear that such shameful waste will stop if Labour takes control of the council in 2014 (see here).

It is a disgrace that, under the shame-free Tories, it won't stop sooner.

28 November 2011

Andy Slaughter MP: "Decision time for Hammersmith's future"

  • Decision time for Hammersmith's future
  • The Masterplan takes shape
  • Residents vs. developers part 94
  • Asset disposals
  • Unhealthy finances
  • Olympia: end of the line
  • Good news!
  • Angela Dixon

Decision time for Hammersmith's future
The most controversial development in a generation comes before Hammersmith & Fulham’s planning committee on Wednesday.  At an extraordinary meeting to be held at Latymer Upper School, the committee will be asked to approve the redevelopment of the Town Hall site by the Council in partnership with Helical Bar. And there you have the problem. Thirty pages of the committee report are taken up just listing the objectors to the scheme, which include many national and local civic groups as well as thousands of individual residents.

What the scheme will add is universally decried:
  • 290 investment properties in blocks up to 15 storeys.
  • A footbridge across the A4 to give the flats ‘river access’.
  • Luxury officers for councillors and council officers.
  • Another supermarket.

What the scheme will destroy is universally applauded:
  • Hammersmith’s only local cinema.
  • The views and skyline of Hammersmith Mall and riverside.
  • Pocklington Trust’s affordable homes that house and support the visually impaired.
  • The quiet enjoyment of local homes.
  • Around a third of the open space in Furnivall Gardens.
Any sane committee member would tell the developer not to bother.  But the developer here is the planner’s boss.  The Council is the direct beneficiary of the development of its own land.  The co-developer has donated generously to the London Mayor, who has to approve the scheme.  H&F have lobbied the Mayor to exempt the scheme from the need to provide any housing for local people.
In theory the committee acts as an independent barrier to unacceptable development, but even when the Council does not have a pecuniary interest, it has a record of rubber stamping the grossest over-developments, like the Fulham Reach scheme approved two months ago.
It only takes two Conservative councillors to vote with the Labour Opposition to scupper the scheme.  We will see on Wednesday if they will.

The Masterplan takes shape
To us the Town Hall scheme is a travesty.  To the ‘open for business’ Council it is but one more step on the road to redesigning the borough, based around the five ‘opportunity’ areas.  If you have trouble keeping up with what’s happening... I think that’s the idea.  Here’s my 30 second guide to how to ruin one of London’s most popular places to live.

White City:
  • The new Westfield development (north of the current mall) will go to committee in the New Year.  It combines a new retail centre with around 1,650 flats, meaning the latter will be in blocks up to 25 storeys.  The Council asked for a quarter of these to be for families decanted from the White City and surrounding estates, which it also wants to redevelop, but Westfield told me they want no more than 6% of the properties to be for affordable rent
  • Imperial are expected to submit plans for phase two of their development on the former BBC Woodlands site north of the A40 flyover.  Residents already feel they have been conned by phase one, with forbidding 10 storey blocks opposite their two and three storey homes.  Worse is to come:  a 34 floor tower block, a major hotel and other commercial development, all dressed up as an academic campus.
  • Helical Bar (again) are to announce their plans for the missing piece of the White City Opportunity Area, between Westfield and Imperial, on Tuesday at White City Community Centre at 7pm. I’m guessing high-rise luxury investment properties (LIPs), but would love to be proved wrong.
  • Shepherds Bush Market could be at committee as early as December.  That’s if the Council breaks its word to the shopkeepers in Goldhawk Road and the Market Traders, that it would not grant consent for the current high-rise scheme until they were happy with it.  As all the shops will be demolished and the Traders have received none of the assurances about access, future rent or improvements, they are far from being so.

West Ken:
  • The Masterplan for 7,500 flats (mainly LIPs, up to 30 storeys, but I’m sure you guessed that) is subject to a revised application, but the developer (the Council is again co-developer and like Shepherds Bush Market this scheme is being challenged by judicial review) wants it rubber stamped by April.  Explanation: the Mayoral candidates for Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens have all visited the West Ken and Gibbs Green Estates that would be demolished to make way for the LIPs and looked unimpressed with the plans. 

Hammersmith Riverside:
  • After the Town Hall and the Hammersmith Embankment schemes comes the missing bit in the middle – a proposal by Arab Investments to demolish Riverside Studios and Queen’s Wharf and build...well in the plans I saw a couple of months ago it was mere 200 LIPs in a nine storey soviet era block of concrete.  Now, that’s just what you need as a background to Hammersmith Bridge.

Old Oak:
  • This actually is an opportunity area.  A genuinely brown field stretch of land that – provided the HS2/Crossrail interchange comes here – could accommodate substantial development.  But then I saw this video the Council has produced. I have shown it to some Old Oak residents, who love their homes on the edge of the Scrubs - built as ‘homes for heroes’ a century ago.  The video portrays them as slums, just as it did with West Ken and White City, and suggests they are gearing up once again to push the existing residents out.

Fulham Riverside:
  • Not my patch but of interest because of the new route for the Thames Tunnel.  As I explained in my last Chronicle column, the Council have shot themselves and Fulham residents in the foot by ending up with the main Tunnel entrance in Carnwath Road.  But their protests about lost jobs and lorry movements from the site ring hollow when their own plans are to demolish the businesses there and build a few hundred more LIPs – which of course will cause more disruption than the Tunnel.

Each of these schemes is an overdevelopment of already densely populated, poorly-accessed inner urban areas.  In combination they are a recipe for chaos both at the development phase (which could last for 20 years) and when occupied.  There is no one at present to put a brake on these schemes or insist that development serves the needs of existing residents rather than foreign or City investors, which is why we need a change of Mayor in May and of Council in 2014.     

Residents vs. developers part 94
  • Nomis Studios.  The plan to squeeze 55 flats into a space big enough for five terraced houses in Sinclair Road is meeting growing opposition, and there is a public meeting this Thursday 1stDecember at 7pm at St Matthews church hall.  This is typical of the medium-sized developments that are getting permission all over the borough.  K&C would not allow something on this scale with the extra traffic and excessive height in a conservation area – why should H&F?
  • Wormholt Library.  The old library has been used as a base for local residents on the Wormholt estate for 20 years.  First they were booted out, and then they were told it would be a school, which meant building on the open space directly in front of their homes.  Then they were told their road would be closed to give the school (which faces directly onto the Westway) more land.  At the planning committee the mainly elderly residents were ignored, now they are asking for a public enquiry to keep the road open.
  • White City Health Centre.  Should have opened in 2008.  This week we are told it may get the go ahead in January and be ready in 2014.  It will be a shadow of what was planned under Labour – no affordable homes, fewer benefits for local residents, fewer services and a poorer design - but still worth having. 

Asset disposals
The last round of public buildings to be put up for sale  - including the Irish Centre, Shepherds Bush Village Hall and Palingswick House - remain in public hands, if only just in some cases. But that does not mean the fire sale has stopped.

  • College Park Community Centre – the only centre in the far north of the borough – is to be sold in the New Year, even though it is busy every day.  Users were given less than two months to get out – after a century of community use.  A protest photo shoot is being held at 10am next Saturday 3 December.
  • Baron’s Court Library is not being sold – apparently because the Council does not have the right to do so.  But it won’t be a library either, or a Sure Start Centre or any of the other uses we were promised.  It will house the CAB, who are being forced off the West Ken development site, and whose volunteers will supervise a self-service book collection.
  • A ‘reorganisation’ of mental health services is a thinly veiled attempt to move several services into a single building in Ellerslie Road to free up other sites for sale.  This has clinical implications for some of the most vulnerable people in our society, but the duty to sell trumps the duty of care every time here.
  • Hammersmith Community Trust look set to lose their community centre in Beadon Road when the NCP Car Park development goes ahead.  Their volunteers also staff the Information Centre in the Broadway Centre, but that is closing too.
  • The former Fulham Cross and Avonmore Youth Clubs are up for sale.  So is Distillery Lane, the former after school centre.  But parks themselves are also at risk.  Around a third of the area of Hammersmith Park will be leased to a commercial company for the next 35 years.
  • But the biggest sell off is of council homes.  One of the 300 homes – that could be let to some of the 10,000 people waiting for affordable accommodation in the borough – was featured on Under the Hammer recently.  It sold for £221,000.  This, said the Council, was a good result as it has only asked for £185,000.  But the programme showed what happened next:  an investment buyer spent £6,000 redecorating and put it back on the market – at £310,000.  You can read my article about it here.

Unhealthy finances
Two months after Imperial College told me they would not close Charing Cross in their bid to save £130 million, I am still waiting for details of the first £45 million they say they have identified.  But Imperial – or rather its new Chief Executive – have been in the news for other financial reasons.  £2,000 a day is apparently the going rate for a health service fixer in these austere times. This came in the same month that H&F retired their Chief Executive from a salary of over £280,000 a year to a pension of over £100,000 a year.  They still employ the former Chief Exec of Bexley Council (from where he retired on an immediate pension of £50,000 a year due to permanent ill health) on £750 a day to arrange their more, er, sensitive development opportunities.  He is still the partner of the Chief Exec of Notting Hill Housing, who makes do with only £200,000 a year. Am I alone in finding the earnings of our local public sector fat cats obscene – especially at a time when thousands of low paid workers are losing their jobs, having their pay frozen and their pensions cut massively?

Olympia: end of the line
London Underground has a new head of strategy, so Brendan McGrath of MyOlympia and I went to see him to argue for a reprieve for the station that is closing to weekday tube passengers next month. But the new head’s strategy is the same as the old one – let’s close the station.  It seems the tube is easier to run without so many trains.  No concession, not even a less regular service or one outside peak hours.  No alternative provision like shuttle buses from Earl’s Court.  And not even a promise to re-open when the new trains and signalling come into operation (and supposedly solve the problems of congestion which justify the closure) in five years time. My suspicious mind still thinks we are the casualties of a sop to Tory MPs in south Fulham, Putney and Wimbledon.

Good news!
Don’t blame me if it’s all bad news so far.  Blame the people who are causing it – and don’t forget to vote them out, starting with Boris, who supports closing Olympia, ruining H&F, cutting police numbers and has put up bus fares by more than 50%.
In fact, most of what I do every day brings me into contact with good people, doing brilliant things for their community.  Here are a few examples from the last few weeks:
  • Food Cycle at Hammersmith & West London College.  They take surplus food from supermarkets and cook meals for homeless and destitute people.
  • Phoenix Canberra Presentation Evening.  A celebration of the outstanding achievement of pupils at Phoenix High School, and Canberra Primary School.
  • Rotary.  Meeting a delegation of inspirational young professionals from Argentina.
  • Remembrance.  A moving service at the Shepherds Bush War Memorial in brilliant autumn sunshine.
  • Macmillan Cancer Care’s world’s biggest coffee morning.  A massive fundraiser hosted by Barclay’s in King Street – who also talked me through their initiatives for lending to small business.
  • World Teachers’ Day.  Organised by the NUT locally to celebrate the role teachers play in the success of all our lives.
  • Shakespeare Schools Festival.  Excellent performances from local schools at Riverside Studios, including Canberra and Sacred Heart.  I remember appearing there as a sixth former in 1977!
  • Memorial services for two much-loved members of the local community, Jimmy Barzey at Askew Road Church and Clive MacSayton at St Michael and St George, White City.
  • Opening the new St. Paul’s community centre – a wonderful building completing almost £10 million of improvements to Hammersmith’s parish church.
  • Guest speaker at the Askew Business Network, which is doing so much to improve the area where I live.
  • Vision Care for Homeless people.  Opening of the new optician’s service at Broadway’s hostel in Shepherds Bush.
  • Awards for Broadway and first prize for the Upper Room at the Andy Ludlow Homelessness Awards, presented by the Speaker.
  • Visiting Lamenier to talk to Year 6 for Parliament week.
  • Hosting meetings in Parliament on conflict resolution for Kurdish and Basque groups.
  • Speaking at Albanian National Day celebrations at Hammersmith Town Hall.
  • The Christmas season beginning on Sunday with the Advent service at my local church St Saviour’s.
  • The wonderful care I received at Charing Cross when I clumsily broke my leg.  And the many messages of sympathy and support I received.  I hope to be pretty much back to normal activity rates in about a week.

Angela Dixon
There are a few people whose contribution to local life defies commendation.  Angela stood down as Chairman of Hammersmith & Fulham Historic Buildings Group last month after 24 years.  She has been tireless and fearless in championing the borough and its heritage.  In Marie-Lou Jennings she has found a fitting replacement, but – particularly in the current climate – I am sure that we have not heard the last...


27 November 2011

Why is the Tories' Peter Graham avoiding a straight answer about £7,000 Hammersmith council knees-up?

Although only elected last year, Tory councillor Peter Graham is increasingly seen as no more than an apologist for whatever the Conservative administration does.

Not only did he go against his constituents' wishes and argue and vote in favour of the atrocious scheme by property developers St George's to throw up a nine-story, riverside tower block of flats in Fulham Reach, where he is a councillor.

Now he is is refusing to condemn the council's appalling decision to spend over £7,000 on an extravagant goodbye party for its former chief executive Geoff Alltimes (see here).

Cllr Graham has spent most of this Sunday trying to avoid giving a straight answer to a straight question posed on Twitter by the Hammersmith and Fulham Chronicle: "Do you support the use of 7ks worth of public money for CEOs leaving do, yes or no?"

First Cllr Graham spun one way, wrongly claiming "about half the current Labour group were at the event". We gather that only four out of Labour's fifteen councillors were and they had no idea it was costing so much, nor that the council was footing the bill. (Mr Alltimes is getting a final £270,000 tax-free lump sum and a £104,000 pension: paying for the party himself would hardly have bankrupted him.)

Then Cllr Graham spun another way, bizarrely arguing that "the move to a shared CEO is saving money". This makes us wonder on what other inappropriate things the Tories will be spending any savings from the merger with K&C.

Here is a flavour of the Chronicle's persistent but ultimately fruitless questioning of Cllr Graham via Twitter (see here for more):

  • "you haven't answered MY question...It's a yes or no answer, Peter!"
  • "would you please answer my question? And if not, why not?
  • "people will think spending that amount of money makes a mockery of the council's socalled savings drive wont they?"
  • "do u not agree that spending such an amount on a party when the council is ramming home its debt crisis is crass?"
  • "You can't spin the figure. The amount is 7k. I'm asking you whether you think that's acceptable in this climate."

26 November 2011

Andy Slaughter reveals the real impact of the Sure Start cuts in Hammersmith

Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith, says:

"Revelations that Hammersmith and Fulham Council were cutting the borough’s Sure Start budget by 45% – the second deepest cuts in the country when compared with other boroughs – were met with boastful claims from the Tory administration that, despite this, they were not only able to prevent any centres from closing but were also able to open a new one.

"However, analysis of the funding arrangements for the sixteen centres in the borough has revealed that ten of the centres will receive less than £25,000 per year as of April 2012. Under the current funding arrangements, the Wendell Park Family Centre received £62,500 in the first quarter of this financial year – the equivalent of £250,000 for the year. The funding earmarked for the 2012-2013 financial year is just 10% of that figure at £25,000.

"There is a similar story at Shepherd’s Bush Families Project and Children’s Centre. Whereas the current funding arrangement allocated £62,500 in the first quarter of this financial year, just £5,000 per quarter is allocated thereafter. The substantial cuts to funding will mean that nine out of the fifteen centres currently open will no longer be able to operate as Sure Start centres as the services they are offering do not fulfil the legal criteria.

"What these figures show is that the Council is quite happy to leave Sure Start centres hanging by a thread as long as they don’t have to face up to the consequences of slashing funding.

"Hammersmith and Fulham Tories need to answer two questions: why are their cuts to Sure Start among the biggest in the country? Furthermore, why are they pretending that centres aren’t closing when their own figures show that nine out of fifteen will cease to operate as Sure Start centres and will only be used for outside events?"

Next Wednesday is last chance to stop Tories' brutal Hammersmith Town Hall scheme

Next Wednesday, Hammersmith Tory councillors intend to nod through their brutal plans to build themselves new council offices and let property developers throw up 290 luxury flats.

In the teeth of opposition from local residents, the Tories intend to ram through the construction of four huge tower blocks that will mean the demolition of a home for the blind, an art deco cinema and part of Furnivall Gardens, the undermining of local shops and, of course, the destruction of much-loved view of Hammersmith from the river. There will also be no social housing in the scheme.

Please come to the meeting to show your opposition. While the audience will not be able to speak at the meeting, having a packed hall will leave the the council, the Greater London Authority and the Secretary of State in no doubt about the strength of local feeling.

Hammersmith council's Planning Application Committee is meeting at 7pm on Wednesday 30 November 2011 at Latymer Upper School, 237 King St, London W6 9LR. The meeting will be held in the main hall, located just behind the entrance gates on King Street. This is a last chance to show the council the real strength of feeling in the community. 

Why not write to the councillors on the Planning Committee to urge them to listen to local people and do the same? They are:
  • Alex Chalk (chair of the committee), Addison ward, alex.chalk@lbhf.gov.uk
  • Victoria Brocklebank-Fowler (vice-chair of the committee), Fulham Broadway ward, victoria.brocklebank-fowler@lbhf.gov.uk
  • Oliver Craig, Town ward, oliver.craig@lbhf.gov.uk
  • Rachel Ford, Fulham Broadway ward, rachel.ford@lbhf.gov.uk
  • Peter Graham, Fulham Reach ward, p.graham@lbhf.gov.uk
  • Andrew Johnson, Fulham Reach ward, andrew.johnson@lbhf.gov.uk
  • Alex Karmel, Munster ward, alex.karmel@lbhf.gov.uk
  • Colin Aherne, Wormholt and White City ward, colin.aherne@lbhf.gov.uk
  • Michael Cartwright, Hammersmith Broadway, michael.cartwright@lbhf.gov.uk
  • Wesley Harcourt, College Park and Old Oak, wesley.harcourt@lbhf.gov.uk

And please show your opposition by printing out and displaying one of these excellent posters produced by Save our Skyline, which is leading the fight to stop the proposals going through.

Download Save Our Skyline Poster - Sold Down The River - Pink
                               Download Save Our Skyline Poster - Sold Down The River - Green
    Download Save Our Skyline Poster - Sold Down The River - BlueDownload Save Our Skyline Poster - Sold Down The River - White

25 November 2011

Outrage as Hammersmith Tories splurge £7,000 on fat-cat party

When Hammersmith Tory councillors aren't puffing their efficiency, they are praising their own transparency. So how can the Tories justify having spent £7,184 on a slap-up retirement party for the council's departing Chief Executive Geoff Alltimes? And why was it left to Labour to ferret this out?

Geoff Alltimes was already one of the highest-paid council Chief Executives in the country, earning nearly £300,000 a year. He got a £20,000 pay rise in 2009, has a £104,000 pension and is leaving with a tax-free lump sum of £270,000. See here and here for the full story.

We suppose that £7,000 seems like small change to Geoff and his Tory bosses. But not to the Hammersmith and Fulham businesses who are cancelling Christmas parties to save money. Or to the local voters who are facing daily cuts to their services. 

Do we detect a pattern of inefficiency and cover-up here? This the same council that scandalously wasted up to £12 million on sub-standard consultancy contracts and then fought tooth and nail to stop Labour exposing it (see here).

08 November 2011

5% cut in rail, tube, tram, DLR and bus fares with Ken Livingstone's 'Fare Deal'

Ken Livingstone has today issued this message to Londoners.

Fare Deal

Fares are too high in London, and it makes life even harder. That's what people have told me time and time again.

The problem is they are planned to rise every year for years to come.

Today I’m launching my ‘Fare Deal’ for commuters. This January fares are going to rise. But if elected in May I will cut rail, tube, tram, DLR and bus fares by 5% with an emergency fares cut. I will then hold them lower than planned. I will save the average transport user £800 over 4 years. That is my guarantee.

I want you to be involved. I’m not going to sit around and let a Conservative mayor raise transport fares to their highest levels in history whilst slashing the police officers in our communities that are keeping people safe.

If you agree with what we’re saying, join our campaign for a Fare Deal. 


Ken Livingstone
Labour Candidate for Mayor of London

01 November 2011

Knife crime against young people in Hammersmith is up yet the Tories are cutting the youth offending team's budget

The government has today launched a so-called anti-gangs strategy at the same time that anti-gangs funding is being cut across London.

In Hammersmith & Fulham alone, the Tories have cut the Youth Offending Service's budget by 26%, even though knife crimes against young people soared by 17% last year.

The council's own website states "The main purpose of the service is to reduce offending by children and young people". How will cutting its budget by more than a quarter help achieve this?

Boris Johnson said when he was elected that he would never accept "defeat" in the fight against knife crime but it has risen every year of his term in office.

Meanwhile, Tory H&F council - which promised to reduce crime by 60-80% in three years - is also cutting neighbourhood police sergeants and slashing the police budget by more than £600,000 this year and nearly £2 million over three years.

As always, look at what the Tories do, not what they say.

The London borough-by-borough figures - dug out by Ken Livingstone's team - for Youth Offending Team budget cuts are here and for numbers of knife crime victims aged 13 to 24 are here.