26 July 2012

Godzilla returns to King Street

As we warned would happen if Boris were re-elected, Hammersmith & Fulham Tory council has confirmed it intends to go ahead with its widely opposed scheme to build stonking blocks of luxury flats on King Street. Their one concession to public feeling has been to cap the height of these at eight stories.

This would still mean:
  • Knocking down the art deco cinema
  • Knocking down the home for the blind 
  • Eating up a third of the small Furnivall Gardens park for a footbridge
  • Not including any new social housing in the development at a time of crying need for more affordable homes, with the "planning gain" money spent on doing up the town hall instead.

New Tory council leaer Nick Botterill has said, "We got it wrong with the previous King Street proposals and we have learned from it." So far, the evidence of that is thin indeed.

Yet all is not lost. The council also says "KSD [King Street Developments] will be reviewing the scheme over the coming months and a further consultation with residents’ and amenity groups will follow later in the year."

You can let them know now what you think here.

26 June 2012

West London Tories are letting Hammersmith hospital swing in the wind

In a shock move, the NHS in London is threatening health services for local people by proposing  to shut the Accident and Emergency departments and other facilities at Charing Cross and Hammersmith hospitals. This is happening because Tory-led cuts mean the NHS in North-West London is facing a £332 million funding gap by 2014/15.

Hammersmith and Fulham Tories have taken a view that they have to be seen to oppose the cuts at Charing Cross hospital but they are letting Hammersmith hospital swing in the wind. All their statements - from the Tory council's anti-closure petition to Tory Fulham MP Greg Hands's website to every peep from Tory H&F councillors - mention only Charing Cross.

NHS bosses said at a meeting last Thursday that they had consulted local councils. What did H&F Tories tell them behind closed doors?

Please join in the campaign against BOTH A&E closures by coming to a public meeting organised by Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith, at 6pm this Thursday, 28 June at Rivercourt Methodist Church, King Street W6 9JT. 

27 May 2012

Hammersmith Tories admit their housing policies are based on numbers plucked out of thin air

A truly shocking council meeting last week confirmed that, when it comes to housing, Tory Hammersmith & Fulham council is doing nothing for local people and is justifying this with figures plucked out of thin air.

Labour leader Steve Cowan asked what analysis had led Cllr Johnson, H&F’s Cabinet Member for Housing, and his cabinet colleagues to pick £40,000 as a household income limit for families to get onto the social housing waiting list. Cllr Johnson said he didn’t know and joked about plucking the figure out of thin air before admitting that no such analysis had been undertaken.

Steve says on his blog: "There is a housing crisis in London at the moment.... In Hammersmith and Fulham, virtually no genuinely affordable homes to buy or rent are being built.... There are no serious measures to improve conditions in the private rented sector. Instead, H&F Conservatives' housing strategy prioritises building new luxury flats for international investors often in new, ugly tower blocks detested by local residents. That's hardly the right approach, which is why my Labour colleagues and I will change that if the public vote us into office in 2014"

His full piece is well worth reading here.

25 May 2012

Stop Press: Hammersmith council acted illegally over market, rules High Court

The High Court has today ruled that Tory Hammersmith & Fulham Council have been acting illegally in pushing through unpopular plans which allow developers to make profits from the destruction of local communities.

This is a landmark judgement and marvellous news for local people who have been working hard to save their shops and businesses and neighbourhoods.

Andy Slaughter MP explains:

"Today’s decision by the High Court to uphold the Goldhawk Road shopkeepers’ judicial review of the Council’s planning policies should prove fatal to the Tory Council’s controversial planning strategy.  Under these plans, first announced in 2007, much of the borough would be redeveloped as high-rise luxury investment flats, with existing homes and small businesses destroyed.

Mr Justice Wilkie handed down his judgment in the Goldhawk Road case today.  He had heard evidence that the Council had broken the rules repeatedly in trying to help developer Orion build 212 luxury flats on the site of existing local businesses and affordable homes.

This has been a difficult fight, with traders, shopkeepers and local residents all pulling together to tell the council that they have simply got these plans wrong. The councillors for Shepherds Bush and I are all delighted that we could play a part in what has been a  real community effort.

On a personal level, I am delighted for the Goldhawk Road traders, and their thousands of supporters. The Council should protect long-established and well-loved businesses such as Cooke’s Pie and Mash Shop from rapacious developers, not collude  in their destruction. Cooke’s and the world-famous fabric shops in the same row have already suffered years of stress and uncertainly.  It is always difficult to take on the Town Hall and win, but they have done so by their courage and determination – and the assistance of some very able lawyers.

This case has been made necessary by the arrogance of the Council, which is out of touch with its residents and always acts  always in the interests of big developers and for political gain.

They have wasted so far over £200,000 in lawyers’ fees alone – many times this in officer time and propaganda.  This is our money, which as usual they feel free to waste.  Now they are talking about appealing the decision and pressing on with the demolition in spite of the Court’s verdict.

Next week the Council elects a new leader.  This should be a chance for it to pause and review some of the more controversial planning projects, including Shepherds Bush Market.  To spend more taxpayers’ money trying to overturn this decision or to continue to support the developer would be obscene.

All of the Council’s dodgy planning and housing policies will now be under legal scrutiny and if they do not fundamentally rethink their approach they will be back in court again and again."


The press release issued by the solicitor who acted for the traders can be viewed here.

More information can be found on the Shepherd's Bush blog here.

18 May 2012

Please help Hammersmith Community Law Centre

On Monday Andy Slaughter MP will be joining the staff of Hammersmith and Fulham Community Law Centre for the London Legal Walk...

…in which the whole of the legal establishment, from the Lord Chief Justice down, takes to the streets and walks in aid of legal charities.

There is a desperate need to raise funds for the internationally-renowned Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre. After Tory Hammersmith & Fulham council withdrew all its funding, the irreplaceable work the Law Centre does in west London was severely curtailed and is under constant threat of worse. And of course, as a Shadow Justice Minister, Andy has been fighting central government as it pushes through massive cuts to legal aid.

Without the money that efforts like this raise, there is a real danger that the service that places like the Law Centre will simply disappear, leaving thousands of people helpless and adviceless in the face of legal problems.

Please sponsor Andy and help the law centre – every pound you give via this link will go directly to supporting the work of the centre and supporting the worst-off members of our community at a time when they need it most.

08 May 2012

Stephen Greenhalgh is Boris's first cock-up

Back to the usual shambles at City Hall as Boris Johnson seeks to make Stephen Greenhalgh his deputy for Policing, despite this being illegal.

You're not allowed to hold two local government posts at once, and Greenhalgh is still leader of Tory Hammersmith & Fulham council until he hands over to another wasteful, tone-deaf Tory on 30 May.

Boris made the same mistake last time round. You'd think he'd learn. Well, no, you wouldn't.

Meanwhile, with the Olympics and the Jubilee around the corner, the Met is left watching and waiting.

You can read the full story here.

02 May 2012

Andy Slaughter MP: Hammersmith and Fulham shows where Tory housing policy is going next

This sharp analysis by Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith, of where Tory housing policy is going has just been posted on the excellent Red Brick website.

The borough of Hammersmith and Fulham has become the laboratory for national Government housing policy.  Where H&F goes first, the Government will follow.  And the policy at present is to deliver no extra social rented housing despite the borough’s housing needs. 

Housing Benefit costs in London are so high because there is a shortage of affordable housing, and in particular social rented housing.  Under Gordon Brown the Labour Government began to build new social homes, but this has now almost entirely stopped.  The explanation, at least for the cuts in Social Housing Grant, is austerity economics, although other projects to stimulate the construction industry are going ahead.

But this is not the true picture.  Tory policy is actually to eradicate social rented housing, or confine it to perhaps 10% of current tenants, those with physical or mental health conditions requiring supported housing.  Just as the blueprint for current policy (as enacted in the Localism Act) can be read in the 2008 publication, Principles Of Social Housing Reform, so the practice in  Hammersmith & Fulham (‘Cameron’s favourite council’ and the ‘apple’ of Eric Pickle’s eye) shows how council and housing association homes can be gradually extinguished nationwide.

Pickles and Shapps were both briefed on the 2008 discussions and Shapps attended the seminar which drew up the key elements of H&F policy and discussed social rented housing in disparaging terms.

Here are the four main techniques currently being used to socially and politically change the population of the borough.

1.     No Planning Consents For Social Housing
At least 13,000 new homes will be given planning consent in Hammersmith & Fulham this year on current plans.  Not one will be an additional social home for rent.  This is despite Boris Johnson’s London Plan requiring 25% social rented homes in any such new development, a waiting list of 8,000 families many of whom live in very overcrowded or unfit dwellings and have waited five years or more for re-housing, and only 6% of private accommodation likely to affordable to HB claimants under new benefit regulations. H&F is one of the councils moving residents to Derby and Nottingham.

2.     Demolition
The first major demolition scheme is of 761 good-quality, popular, recently-refurbished houses and flats in West Kensington

After much lobbying the Council did agree to ‘replace’ the demolished flats somewhere in the development area (which will include 7,500 new flats).  Whether residents, many of whom are freeholders or leaseholders, elderly people or temporary tenants will take up this offer is doubtful, given the site will be developed over 20 years.

The development is mired in controversy, from the £105 million windfall the Council will get for delivering vacant possession, the dubious nature of the developer and lack of due diligence, or the refusal to take residents’ views into account.  They voted 3:1 against the scheme in last month’s consultation on a 70% turnout but the Council is pressing on.

3.     Selling council properties
300 council homes are currently being sold by auction to raise in excess of £100 million.  These appear to be selling undervalue, and can only be sold to developers rather than prospective residents under Government rules.  One featured in the BBC programme Under the Hammer.
The first call for the proceeds of sale is likely to be the purchase of leasehold and freehold interests in West Kensington so vacant possession can be delivered to the developer, despite earlier claims that they would be reinvested in housing.

4.     New tenancies
The Council’s new tenancy strategy, which we have been leaked in draft but will not be published until after the Mayoral Election, takes advantage of the Localism Act, the housing sections of which mirror Principles of Social Housing Reform.  
  • Short term (2-5 year) tenancies with no right of succession,
  •  Up to 80% market rents (an increase typically of 200-300%)
  • Discharge of housing duties permanently into the private sector, almost exclusively outside the borough
  • Allocation of Council accommodation no longer on the basis of need.

The real housing argument is about building homes for social rent for households on low incomes.  The Tories clearly do not want to build any.  The argument about Housing Benefit costs versus displacing thousands or families, and the economic and social costs that will follow, is a false choice.

27 April 2012

April newsletter from Claude Moraes MEP

Welcome to my April newsletter
Welcome to my newsletter for April. This monthly report is a chance for me to keep you up to date on what your London Labour MEP is doing on your behalf, as well as to give you a regular analysis of developments in the EU.

This month, I piloted my report on protections for seasonal and vulnerable workers in the EU through its committee stages and led for the Socialists and Democrats on the anti-terorism PNR agreement. I also wrote for Next Europe about the state of the Greco-Turkish relationship, as well as for Labour List about the presidential elections in France. Please feel free to get in touch and I always welcome any feedback.
Claude Moraes MEP
French elections show far-right's rise
What we're seeing there is a far-right triumph, with Marine Le Pen winning just under 18% of the popular vote. Whilst it now seems likely that French socialist candidate Francois Hollande will win outright, the damage to French society has been done by such a resounding endorsement for the Fascist agenda in Europe. Sadly, many of President Sarkozy's anti-diversity policies have helped create Le Pen's success.
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A new wall between Turkey and Greece
That one country, acting unilaterally by building a new border wall, can influence Europe’s overall relationship with so many other countries is wrong. It is also sadly a sign of  the growing influence on mainstream European politics of new far-right political strategies.
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Seasonal Workers in the EU
After a year's work, my report on the protection of seasonal workers was successfully voted through the European Parliament's committee stage on April 25th. It gained all-party support. This legislation provides basic legal protection against employers who exploit temporary workers and undercut the working conditions of established workers in the European Union.
This report is controversial at a time of austerity, as any report in the area of migration would be, but I was careful to ensure that basic protections would be available by law, and that we worked closely with trade unions in guaranteeing that workers' rights were not compromised in any way.
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Data sharing between the EU and US
I led on this issue for the Socialists and Democrats Group, as reported by BBC Democracy Live. MEPs achieved important concessions on rules for sharing data and also clarified the legal position on behalf of EU citizens in 27 Member States.
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MEPs vote for a Single Seat
This was the highest ever majority in favour of one meeting place for the Parliament, with 429 in favour, 184 against and 37 abstentions.
Over a million signatures have been collected to the end "travelling circus" to Strasbourg and all Labour MEPs agree.
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Opposition Watch
This month, Tory MEPs voted against demands to combat tax fraud and tax evasion, despite a damning Treasury report released in April. The report shows billions of revenue lost to tax avoidance in the UK.
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Labour Party News
During hard times, Ken's promises on cutting fares and police numbers will really help Londoners. Let's make sure on May 3rd that we elect Ken as London's Labour Mayor.
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25 April 2012

Cllr Harry Phibbs is a hypocrite, says Private Eye, for taking 60% extra while criticising council salaries

The Hammersmith Tory councillors who have sneakily hatched a secret plan - which they have tried to cover up - to ensure Boris's agreement for the loathed Town Hall plans if he wins are the usual roll call of rotters.

They include Stephen Greenhalgh, Nick Botterill, Mark Loveday, Greg Smith and Andrew Johnson. And of course, Harry Phibbs. No such list of shame would be complete without him.

On which note, our attention has been drawn to yet another exposé of El Phibbo in Private Eye (in the 6-19 April issue). Last time, the Eye claimed Phibbs was pompous. This time they reveal he is a hypocrite, enjoying a  60 per cent increase in his allowance while criticising much smaller increases in local council salaries.

The Eye also recalls its description a quarter of a century ago of Phibbs as "The world's most unpleasant Young Conservative". As a grown-up, we'd say he has quite a lot of competition, not least in Hammersmith & Fulham.

Secretive Tory Hammersmith: Britain's least transparent council puts two fingers up to freedom of information

So the Hammersmith Tories and Boris look likely to push through the monstrous King Street development if Boris wins. One of the many grubby aspects of this shocking story is the Tories' desperate attempt to keep their plan secret.

How did Britain's self-proclaimed "most transparent council" do this? By exempting the minutes of the relevant meeting from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

If the document hadn't been leaked to Andy Slaughter MP, we would be none the wiser.

What weasels these Tories are.

Confirmed: Hidden Tory plan to push through loathed King Street plan if Boris wins

Well, we've said it all along. Contrary to misinformed reports at the time, Boris Johnson did not put an end to the monstrous King Street development in December.

We said then that all he had done was ask the council temporarily to withdraw the proposal as he thought it would lose him votes. Hammersmith Tory council was free to submit it at any time.

And that is exactly what it is now clear the Tories will do if Boris wins.

As the Shepherd's Bush blog reports today, our MP Andy Slaughter has come across secret council documents that reveal the council is currently preparing three options for King Street to submit to Boris.

Only the first option, called "As is", would not require restarting the whole planning process. And there is no way the Tories want to reopen the whole can of worms

So if Boris wins, it looks as though "As is" will go ahead. Blocks of luxury flats will be thrown up that destroy the riverside views, a home for blind and an art deco cinema will be demolished and a local park will be cut up.

We agree with today's statement by the leader of Hammersmith's Labour group, Cllr Steve Cowan: "The evidence is now clear, re-elect Boris Johnson and get the Town Hall scheme back."

Cllr Cowan adds: "Local residents will view this as a serious blow to Boris Johnson's integrity and it comes off the back of his less than honest approach with the Fulham Super Sewer and the Shepherds Bush Market demolition. Mayor Johnson and H&F Conservatives should now release all the minutes and records of the secret conversations they had about the Hammersmith Town Hall office scheme and tell the public exactly what was plotted last December."

11 April 2012

Did Hammersmith Tories know Boris was misleading voters about his opposition to the super sewer?

So Boris Johnson misled voters when he said at a public meeting on 7 March that he was opposed to Thames Water locating one of its main tunnel sites in Carnwath Road SW6, having actually approved Thames's application one month earlier on 7 February (see details here).

One of the questions this now raises is whether the Hammersmith & Fulham Tories knew Boris was being less than honest when after the meeting they proclaimed "Boris attacks Super Sewer" on their blog.

This stated, "Speaking at the Hammersmith Town Hall on Wednesday evening the Mayor of London Boris Johnson attacked the self serving proposal from Thames Water for a gold plated £4.1 billion Super Sewer. If the scheme goes ahead it threatens terrible environmental damage and pushing many households into water poverty with higher bills" (see here).

When they made this claim about their mayor, we presume the local Tories couldn't have known Boris was being misleading. He was doubtless pulling the wool over their eyes, too, wasn't he?

Documents expose how Boris has deceived west Londoners over Shepherd's Bush Market and super sewer

Official documents reveal that Boris Johnson has been deceiving Hammersmith & Fulham residents over his support for the Shepherd's Bush Market property speculation scheme and the siting of Thames Water's super sewer in Carnwatch Road. He has given the impression he is opposed but has signed off on documents that show the opposite. This raises questions about will happen to the suspended King Street scheme if Boris is re-elected.

Deception No. 1: Shepherd's Bush Market
Property speculator Orion's plans for Shepherds' Bush Market will see Goldhawk Road shops demolished, market traders losing their rights and seven-storey blocks of flats looming over the Green. At the People's Question Time on 7 March, Boris feigned ignorance of this and said it was a matter for H&F Tory council. The next day, he told the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle, "I will do whatever I can to protect the traders at Shepherd's Bush Market" (see here).

Yet it now transpires that Boris had ALREADY told the council in a letter of 29 February that he had no objection to the market redevelopment. He knew about it and he supported it. 

Well done to Andy Slaughter MP for ferreting this out and to the Shepherd's Bush Blog for spelling out what appears to be a straight lie (see details and documents here).

To make matters worse, as Andy points out (see here), Boris's early approval enabled the Tory council to rush the market scheme through before 1 April, enabling the developers to avoid paying a Crossrail levy that will take some of the Crossrail cost burden off taxpayers' shoulders. A further blow by the Tories for property speculators over ordinary people. 

Deception No. 2: Super sewer and Carnwath Road
At the People's Question Time on 7 March, Boris also gave the impression he was against the proposal to locate Thames's Water's super sewer at Carnwath Road in SW6.

Yet it turns out this was far from the truth. Boris had actually ALREADY supported the use of the Carnwath Road site on 7 February in his formal response to a consultation.

Well done again to Andy Slaughter for exposing this (see here). The Shepherds Bush Blog goes into useful detail, including Boris's subsequent attempt at spin, here.

Deception No. 3: King Street?
Boris Johnson's proven track record of deception means that those who persist in believing the loathed King Street property speculation scheme is dead need to think again.

As we have made clear (see here), Boris has NOT killed the King Street scheme off but has just forced Tory H&F council to put it on hold for now. On his form to date, if Boris is elected, we have no doubt the plan will be resubmitted and he will approve it. A home for the blind and an art deco cinema will be demolished, a local park will be chopped up and skyscrapers of luxury flats will blight the skyline.

There is an alternative
Electing Ken Livingstone will mean an end to any dodgy dealings between the Tories and property speculators. On a recent visit to Hammersmith, Ken pledged that as mayor he would "immediately open up the records to examine any areas of inappropriate collusion" between property developers and the council or the Boris Johnson mayoralty and campaign.

The Guardian's London blogger Dave Hill has set out Boris's super-sewer lies in great detail here. Dave says, "Is any more of this sort of business going on as Boris seeks to hold on to his support in inner west London? I think you will be told."

30 March 2012

Property developers behind Hammersmith Tories' West Ken demolition plan arrested for corruption

Just a week after the Guardian featured West Kensington residents' pain and frustration in the face of Tory Hammersmith & Fulham council's plan to demolish their estate, the two property speculators behind the scheme have been arrested for corruption. See details in the ever-sharp Cowan Report here.

What this means for the Tories' much-loathed plans for the estate isn't yet clear but on past form, we're unlikely to get a straight answer any time soon.

After all, less than a fortnight ago, Tory councillors twisted every which way to justify not putting their plans to a vote of the West Ken residents because they knew they'd lose. See details here.

They also tried to cover up their intentions from the very beginning. As Labour group leader Steve Cowan recalls, when the Fulham Chronicle first exposed the planned demolition of the West Ken and Gibbs Green homes, "The Council's PR department actually threatened that newspaper with legal action unless they retracted the story. But within six months the Council had officially started consulting on its proposal and last Monday night they altered the Council’s planning documents to make it easier to demolish all the homes in that area."

Ken plans Energy Co-operative to put £120 back in Londoners' pockets

News from the Ken campaign - a great idea to help ordinary people in place of Boris's bombast and bluster

Ken Livingstone today announced his support for the Big Switch campaign and released his plan for a London Energy Co-operative, the latest of his policies to put money back in Londoners’ pockets.

Through harnessing the buying power of Transport for London, the biggest purchaser of electricity in London, and the rest of the GLA Group, the London Energy Co-operative will be able to purchase energy on the wholesale markets, giving Londoners a cheaper alternative to rip-off energy suppliers.

Members of the co-operative would be given a stake in their own energy company. Savings will be realised through both lower bills on average, as well as an annual dividend if the co-operative operates at a profit.

It has been estimated that through setting up the co-operative, Ken Livingstone could save Londoners up to £120 off their bills.

Ken is also supporting the Big Switch campaign, led by Which? and 38 Degrees, which he believes will be able to negotiate cheaper bills for Londoners now.

He said: “Soaring energy bills are hitting Londoners hard. I’m pledging to tackle London’s rising living costs on everything from fares and housing to childcare and energy bills.  

"The collective purchasing approach taken by the Big Switch is a simple but potentially trailblazing way to help bring down soaring energy bills. When people come together, they’ll have more power to negotiate cheaper energy bills with the big energy companies.”

“But to break the stranglehold of the ‘Big Six,’ and get a better deal in the long-term we will need more competition. I will set up a London Energy Co-operative that will seek to break the power of rip-off energy companies and provide a cheaper alternative for the millions of families that are struggling with their bills.”

“Average energy bills have risen by over £300 per year while Tory Mayor Johnson has been in office, yet he has failed to act. At the heart of this election is a clear choice for Londoners – a Mayor who will take action to ease the squeeze Londoners are facing or an out of touch Mayor who will cost Londoners dear.”

21 March 2012

Private Eye unpersuaded by "pompous" Harry Phibbs as Hammersmith Tories panic over exposé of their tax-dodging use of consultants

"There's rising panic among the Tories who run Hammersmith and Fulham council as scrutiny of their easy-going attitude to the employment of tax-avoiding 'consultants' in senior roles increases", according to the latest Private Eye (see full story below).

For those coming new to this scandal, details of the council's overuse of consultants and its related tax dodge are here.

Now Tory councillor Harry Phibbs has penned "a pompous letter" protesting about the Eye's exposé of this scandal. He also attacked the BBC because a recent edition of the award-winning File on 4 carried the story of Hammersmith's dodgy dealings - see here.

As Private Eye points out, when it comes to facts - as opposed to foam - Phibbs offers nothing to refute the accusation that the Tories have not been tax-compliant in their use of consultants and are potentially looking at a whopping £15 million bill for back tax.

Indeed, Phibbs and his his colleagues in Britain's self-proclaimed "most transparent" council blocked a recent Labour request to make all the figures public.

Until the Tories open the books, all the pompous bluster in the world won't take away the smell of fish in Hammersmith town hall.

Private Eye, 23 March-5April 2012

07 March 2012

Hammersmith Tory council faces a £15m black hole in its finances thanks to dodgy tax arrangements

“H&F currently owes HMRC around £15m in unpaid taxes and fines”. So says this week’s Private Eye (see below - and see previous blogs with more detail here and here).

£15 million is equivalent to a 25% increase in council tax.

In other words, if HM Revenue & Customs rules against the hopelessly inefficient Tories, local residents could end up paying a quarter more for their services. Or face yet more cuts.

To make matters worse, Britain’s least transparent council is blocking any attempt to shed light on the matter. 

When Labour councillors at last week’s budget meeting called for the council to ensure its tax obligations were met and up to date and to report full details of any back taxes and fines issued by HMRC, Tory councillors voted to block this.

A £15 million potential black hole and a refusal to be open. Only in Tory Hammersmith & Fulham.

Private Eye, "Rotten Boroughs" section, 9-22 March 2012

01 March 2012

Hammersmith teenagers will benefit from Ken's plan to restore education allowance in London

One of the most short-sighted things the Tory-led government did when they took power was to end the education maintenance allowance (EMA), which helps teenagers from poorer backgrounds stay on at school.

The EMA offered every young person a chance to get ahead, no matter their background. It kept the dole queues down and gave the country a better-educated workforce. Sadly, that wasn't how axeman Michael Gove saw it.

Now Ken Livingstone has promised to restore the EMA in London if elected.

In a day dominated locally by news of Hammersmith Tories' cuts to services for women, children and young people, this is good news.

And well done to Hammersmith Labour's own James Mills, who leads the Save EMA campaign.

All we need to do now is kick Boris out. You can sign up to help the Ken campaign here.

22 February 2012

Potty-mouthed Hammersmith Tory Greg Smith told to apologise by Standards Committee

Tory Hammersmith councillor  Greg Smith, whose boyishly fruity tongue has been amply discussed in this blog, has been the subject of an official complaint by a member of the public who took exception to the stream of bad language on Cllr Smith's Twitter feed.

Private Eye carries the story as the second of a record two Rotten Boroughs pieces in the latest issue (see the other one here). According to the Eye:

When the council's Standards Committee told him to apologise, Cllr Smith, in a typical rush of blood to the head, claimed his language was "not inappropriate".

Private Eye lapses from its own high standards of propriety and good taste when it describes Cllr Smith thus:

Hammersmith council may have to pay "significant back taxes", says Private Eye

Private Eye logo
Hammersmith Tory council is in Private Eye again, this time for possible tax dodging in its lavish use of consultants.

The Eye says, "Tory flagship council Hammersmith & Fulham is employing tax-avoiding 'consultants' on a far greater scale than anyone has realised." That's 69 at the last count.

Where consultants effectively act as full-time employees, the council is required to pay National Insurance contributions and tax. Apparently, for "a significant proportion", this isn't happening.

So Tory Hammersmith is not only cutting services by £22 million and paying "record amounts" to consultants, but the council - for which read local residents - may also end up having to pay "significant back taxes" to HMRC

What a nasty mess from one of the country's least efficient councils.

21 February 2012

News from Andy Slaughter MP

  • How recent planning decisions will change the face of Hammersmith forever
  • Developers now call the shots as residents are squeezed out
  • In other news
  • Work in progress

How recent planning decisions will change the face of Hammersmith forever

What do bankers, private health companies, insurers and property developers have in common?  They all are benefiting from legislation that exempts them from regulation, increases their profits at consumer expense or allows them to take over great chunks of the public sector.

Indeed they are often asked to draft the legislation themselves. And of course they all donate generously to the Conservative Party.

This is a very different approach from previous right-of-centre governments that would have seen the interests of the individual rather than the corporation as the guiding dogma – think council house sales or anti-union laws.

A lot of these battles are being played out nationally - in votes on the Health or Legal Aid Bills or adoption of the National Planning Policy Framework (the developers’ green light).

Now attention is turning to the local impact.  In Hammersmith we have already seen advice centres close and continued rumours of hospitals closing.

But it is the rise of the property developer that singles out this borough as a warning of what happens when due process breaks down.  And we should not be surprised.  It is the planning function that regulates change.  The planning officers and planning committee who act as a break on unrestrained development and mediate between the wishes of residents and developers.

So what happens when the planning process becomes the cheerleader for the developer?  When political imperatives dictate supposedly independent planning decisions?

We have a partial answer to this in the Hammersmith Riverside schemes approved by committee last autumn.  St George at Hammersmith Embankment and Helical Bar at Hammersmith Town Hall were the first two identikit schemes to pass, though it has proved electorally convenient for Boris Johnson to put the Town Hall scheme on ice.

Maximum density, maximum height, small luxury properties for the investor market.  Of no benefit to the locality.  They were hugely contentious not least for their spoiling of sensitive sites, but their size – 750 and 300 units respectively – is dwarfed by the decisions taken on the past week to approve the Westfield and CapCo developments at White City and West Ken.

Developers now call the shots as residents are squeezed out

Two planning committees, a week apart, have sanctioned billions of pounds of development along the borough’s eastern boundary.  On 8 February Shepherds Bush Market and Imperial Wharf.  On 16 February Westfield and Seagrave Road.

These and the further applications to come for Earl’s Court, Imperial and Helical Bar White City will commit the whole area to 20 years of continuous development and at least 12,000 new flats.  The Victorian and Edwardian streetscape will be replaced by the concrete slab 10-35 storeys high as the borough’s defining architecture.

There is a reason for squeezing so much into so little time.  Actually, two.  Ken Livingstone has visited the Riverside, the Market and West Ken Estate and did not like what he saw in the plans.  Developers do not want to gamble on a change of Mayor, so the council has been told to get all its rubber stamping done before May.

And there is the Crossrail levy.  Major developments approved after 1 April must pay towards the cost of Crossrail.  Given that many of them rely on Crossrail if they are to be viable this seems entirely reasonable, but the council is happy to help them beat the deadline even though they are in no fit state for approval.

No planning policy.  As you would expect with developments of this size, there is a detailed process to go through.  Opportunity Areas are defined, Supplementary Planning Documents (SPD) are consulted on and taken through Full Council, Masterplans are prepared by the developer for outline consent before detailed applications are considered.  But that all takes time, and time is of the essence here.

So we were treated to the unedifying sight of planners repudiating their own policies, either because they weren’t ready or because they were being legally challenged.

When considering the plan to demolish the area around Shepherds Bush Market , councillors are instructed they ‘should place no weight on the SPD’ for no other reason than that the Goldhawk Road shopkeepers have won leave to judicially review it, and the review won’t be heard until after the May election. Shepherds Bush Market and the shops on Goldhawk Road were featured on the BBC programme ‘Inside Out’, which you can watch here, starting 19 minutes in.

I wrote, for the first time ever, to the Director of the Environment and Chair of the planning committee to ask that they defer approving 800 new homes for Seagrave Road until they could consider the SPD and Masterplan for the area.  The new homes will be built on the car and lorry park for Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre and will replace in part homes on the West Ken Estate.  But until a decision is taken to demolish the Exhibition Hall and the estate there is no logic at all to this application.

Westfield’s 20 storey tower breaks current guidance but there is once again no adopted detailed policy for the area.  Other than: what Westfield wants, they must have, and what Westfield gets sets a precedent for the other White City developers.

Planning at war with housing.  Every week now I have families coming to my surgery with eviction notices because the Government’s Housing Benefit cuts mean they cannot pay private sector rents in Hammersmith.  I also have newly homeless people who have been to the town hall for help.  They are being told to move to Dagenham or Margate.  It used to be Croydon, but now that is too expensive and Croydon itself is sending people to Hull.

These are mainly families who have lived in the borough for many years, who work locally, who have kids in local schools and family support networks here.  I spoke about this in the Commons debate on the benefit cap.

They have also often been on council waiting lists for many years.  A council or housing association property would not only provide a secure home it would be affordable, and save the taxpayer thousands a year in Housing Benefit.  

H&F Council is already notorious for selling off empty homes rather than using them for the 8,000 waiting families.  But the current planning consents compound this abuse of power.  Ninety five of the 1522 Westfield homes will be affordable (and these are decants not additional properties), none in Shepherds Bush Market, no additional homes in West Ken.  And yet the council’s Core Strategy, adopted last October, says 40% affordable housing is required on each of these sites.

The one feature that could mitigate the major developments would be if they provided affordable homes – family houses for local people on low or average incomes rather than stopover flats for City traders.  If we were building for the community rather than private investors.  If they tried to solve the appalling housing crisis in west London.  These plans will make it worse.

No access to information.  The reason there will be almost no affordable homes on these major brownfield sites is – the council-developer says – because they are not viable.  Viability studies have been done which prove this, they add.  But you cannot look at them, they conclude, you must take our word for it.   I have been refused permission to see any of them.  Councillor Mike Cartwright, the Labour lead councillor on the planning committee has seen one, the Westfield study.  He cannot however tell anyone else what he has read, and was made to sign a six-page confidentiality agreement, which defines everything from the ‘appropriate security arrangements’ when he is reading the study to the fact that the developer will indemnify the council against any attempt by the courts to get it to reveal the precious information.
These are complex issues and we are lucky to have in H&F bodies like the Hammersmith Society, Historic Buildings Group and individual residents’ associations who are prepared to take on the developers, as they did over the Town Hall site and are in West Ken.  Many communities would lack the expertise, funds and organisation to do this.
But that misses the point.  We pay our taxes so that professional planning officers protect our environment and heritage.  So that local politicians act morally as well as efficiently to assist people in need and promote social cohesion.   When the local authority becomes the instrument and voice of the developer, Hammersmith & Fulham is the result.

In other news
  • I met Thames Water for an update on the Thames Tunnel but also to discuss the risks of drought this summer.
  • As an officer of the new All-Party Britain-Kosovo group in Parliament, I spoke at the 4th Independence Day celebrations held at Hammersmith Town Hall.
  • I was re-elected to the Hammersmith and Fulham Community Law Centre management committee at their AGM.  This will be their toughest year yet thanks to cuts in council and government funds.
  • Co-hosted the Parliamentary re-launch of Street Games, a national programme of sporting events in the community, which not only runs projects locally but gets £1 million sponsorship from Hammersmith-based Coca Cola GB and Ireland
  • As a member of Fulham Supporter Trust I attended the Commons meeting of Supporters Direct to champion the fans’ role in professional football.
  • I spoke to a wide range of schools about Parliament and politics from Melcombe Year 6, to Latymer 6th Form, to the Hertha Firnberg vocational school, visiting from Vienna.
  • I attended the White City Neighbourhood Forum which is looking to take control of all public services in the area, and also Rainville Road Residents’ Association who have longstanding management and maintenance problems with their landlords – a toxic mix of H&F and Notting Hill Housing.
  • The manager of our local King Street cinema took me on a tour that revealed some hidden secrets.
  • I did an hour-long interview for Egyptian TV on the failure of the British government to investigate fugitives and stolen assets of the Mubarak regime now in the UK.   

Work in progress

I am busy with meetings about or investigations into the following issues, which I will report on soon, but please let me have any information you think is useful:
  • The sale of Hammersmith Park – why is a private company being given a third of one of our major park on a 35 year lease?
  • White City Health Centre – is it finally going to be built?
  • Imperial’s next planning application – the Shepherds Bush shard
  • College Park residents’ fight against eviction from their community hall.
  • Riverside Studios and Queen’s Wharf  - will the new plans be better or worse than those turned down last August?
  • Nomis Studios, Sinclair Road – can we stop this folly, including the two-storey underground garage of the kind that has caused so much chaos in Westminster and Kensington?
  • Haymarket’s plans for new flats overlooking Sacred Heart, to pay for their new offices in Hammersmith Road – overlooking Latymer Court.
  • The ‘air rights’ over Planetree Court  – no longer up for sale.  A victory for the elderly residents who would have lost daylight and peace and quiet, but are there other plans to dispose of  sheltered housing?


18 February 2012

Is Tory Hammersmith & Fulham Council engaged in tax dodging? The three questions they must answer.

Today’s papers (see below) carry the shocking news that Hammersmith & Fulham's Conservative-controlled council may be breaching Inland Revenue tax rules in the way it employs consultants.

The Tory council has apparently engaged two sets of accountants from Deloitte and PwC to undertake two separate investigations into whether or not the council is operating within tax laws.

Hammersmith Tories claim to run Britain's most transparent council. So they should have no problem with these three questions:

  1. Will they publish the terms of reference given to Deloitte and PwC so that local residents can assure themselves that the accountants were asked to look at the right things?
  2. Will they publish the Deloitte and PwC reports in full (with names redacted if necessary to ensure confidentiality)? 
  3. If it is shown that the council did break tax rules, will any Tory councillors' heads roll?

Today's Guardian says:
At Hammersmith and Fulham, in west London, council leaders have brought in Deloittes and PWC to see if it has breached Inland Revenue rules by employing consultants.
Deloittes said its audit of "personal service companies identified serious weaknesses in both the use and sourcing of consultants by the council".
It is alleged that many "consultants" at the high end of earnings are former local government employees who have "retired".

Today's Financial Times adds:
A London council has hired investigators to examine whether 30 self-employed consultants have broken tax rules…
A Hammersmith official told the Financial Times that it had hired Deloitte to examine “mid to low-income” staff rather than directors. The move last week follows a separate investigation last year which found “significant problems” in relation to self-employed contractors at the council.” 

This follows further coverage in the most recent Private Eye of the shocking tale of Nick Johnson, which this blog has covered ad nauseum. The Eye's website carries only the headline HAMMERSMITH & FULHAM: How paying top staff as consultants rather than employees could attract the attention of the tax man but The Bureau of Investigative Journalism gives a detailed report of the Eye's piece:

Private Eye provides further examples of tax avoidance ‘in the upper echelons of local government’....
High on the list is Nick Johnson, of Hammersmith and Fulham council, says the Eye. In November 2007, Johnson retired from his position as chief executive of Bexley council due to ill health, following which he began receiving a local government pension (totalling £50,000 per year, according to the Daily Mail).
Just four months later, in April 2008, Johnson was taken on by Hammersmith and Fulham council, on a salary of more than £1,000 per day. Ordinarily, Johnson would have had to relinquish his lucrative pension. However, says the Eye, because Johnson was employed through his company – ‘Davies Johnson Ltd’ – he was able to ‘get round the letter, if not the spirit of such regulations’.
After an internal review concluded that, in paying Johnson this way, the council had been operating outside UK tax laws, ‘Johnson cannily took out insurance to indemnify himself against any action from HMRC’, alleges the Eye.
Meanwhile, says the Eye, seemingly undeterred by the internal review, Hammersmith and Fulham have also recently instructed Johnson’s company to ‘supply’ him as a consultant on a plan to demolish housing estates in Earl’s Court. ‘“Davies Johnson Ltd” will be paid £71,710 for 101 days’ work,’ the Eye reveals.

09 February 2012

Déjà vu as Hammersmith Tories' favourite son Shaun Bailey fails to file his accounts on time

On this date last year Shaun Bailey, Hammersmith Tories' failed Parliamentary candidate and a Big Society ambassador for David Cameron, was nine days overdue with filing the accounts for his charity, My Generation. He finally filed them 17 days late.

Now we see that this year My Generation is again nine days late with its accounts (and counting). The charity has been late in filing in four out of the five years since Bailey set it up, according to the Charity Commission's website.

The HMRC website says, "You must pay the tax your charity owes on time. If you pay tax late, HMRC will charge you interest and you may also be charged a penalty." 

How much donors' money has Bailey wasted in this way?
Yet another inefficient Hammersmith Tory.

Tory favourite son's weak compliance history 
Source: Charity Commission

08 February 2012

Lest we forget: a year since Hammersmith Tories voted to sell off our community's buildings

It was at a heated Council meeting almost exactly a year ago, in the midst of a property slump, that eight Tory Hammersmith & Fulham councillors voted to sell off eight much-loved community buildings.

In the teeth of residents' fury and Labour opposition, Councillors Stephen Greenhalgh, Nicholas Botterill, Mark Loveday, Helen Binmore, Joe Carlebach, Harry Phibbs, Lucy Ivimy and Greg Smith all voted to flog off Palingswick House, the Irish Cultural Centre, Sands End Community Centre, Fulham Town Hall, the Distillery Lane Children's Centre, the Shepherd's Bush Village Hall, the Askham Family Centre and the Greswell Centre.

The battle to save some of these is still ongoing. For others it has been lost.

Selling the community's property on this scale betrays future generations. Doing so in the middle of a slump is typically rubbish Tory economics of the sort that property developers love.

This is the same Tory council that has lavished millions on unnecessary consultants and is prepared to waste up to £35m on new Town Hall offices. They are neither caring nor efficient.

Ken pledges to reverse Boris's police cuts in Hammersmith & Fulham

As burglary and motor vehicle crime increase in Hammersmith & Fulham (see below), Ken Livingstone is launching a major campaign on crime and policing. Our streets are getting less safe and the Tories’ answer is to cut frontline police officers.

Boris Johnson has admitted cutting 1,700 police officers. If elected, Ken pledges to reverse Boris’s cuts. He will also reinstate sergeants to all 600 Safer Neighbourhood Teams, including those cut by Boris and the Tory council in Hammersmith & Fulham. More of these teams will be beefed up to a minimum of nine officers. 

In the last four years, Boris Johnson has raised transport fares to record levels, cut 1,700 police officers and had a £250,000 second job he describes as “chicken feed”. He has taken London dangerously in the wrong direction.

Ken wants to put this right. He wants to cut fares and put police back on the streets. 

Crime figures in Hammersmith & Fulham

Whole-year comparisons (2010 vs 2011)
Burglaries (residential): Up 11%   (1,845 in 2011 vs 1,668 in 2010)
Burglaries (non-residential): Up 14%   (685 in 2011 vs 599 in 2010)
Motor vehicle crime: Up 21%   (3,348 in 2011 vs 2,769 in 2010)

Monthly comparison (Dec. 2010 vs Dec. 2011)
Burglaries (residential): Up 14%   (169 in 2011 vs 148 in 2010)
Burglaries (non-residential): Up 8%   (63 in 2011 vs 58 in 2010)
Motor vehicle crime: Up 19%   (275 in 2011 vs 232 in 2010)

16 January 2012

Lest we forget: how Hammersmith Tories were cocking up the borough last January

If a week is a long time in politics, twelve months is an age. We look here at the mess that Hammersmith & Fulham Tory council was already making of our borough in January 2011, as reported by HFConwatch.

And one piece of good news: five years after Labour did the deal, it is announced the Hammersmith Academy will finally open in September.

10 January 2012

Tory Hammersmith & Fulham in worst third for child poverty in London

A third of children in Tory Hammersmith & Fulham are living in poverty. Up to half of children live below the poverty line in College Park & Old Oak and Wormholt & White City wards, and almost two in five are living in poverty in North End, Shepherd's Bush Green and Sands End wards.

Overall, H&F has the tenth highest share of children living in poverty of the 33 London councils, with 33% of children living in families below the poverty line. In its triborough partner Westminster the figure is 38% and in Kensington & Chelsea it is 26%.

These shocking figures are revealed in a report just issued by End Child Poverty: see here for the London figures and here to get the full report

Figures for each H&F ward are as follows:

Local Authority: Hammersmith and Fulham
Percentage of children in poverty: 33%

College Park and Old Oak 50%
Wormholt and White City 49%
North End 39%
Shepherd's Bush Green 39%
Sands End 38%
Hammersmith Broadway 36%
Fulham Broadway 35%
Askew 34%
Fulham Reach 29%
Ravenscourt Park 28%
Town 27%
Avonmore and Brook Green 27%
Addison 24%
Munster 19%
Parsons Green and Walham 15%
Palace Riverside 9%