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...


No comments: