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%

06 January 2012

Hammersmith flyover latest: when it will re-open is not the only question, says Andy Slaughter MP

Update from Andy Slaughter MP on the Hammersmith flyover

This morning’s statement from Transport for London (TfL) that Hammersmith Flyover will remain closed for at least another week is serious and disappointing, as traffic flows increase with the return to school and work after the holidays.

The official line is that tests continue and until TfL is certain every part of the structure is safe they will not consider even a partial re-opening (eg to cars and/or for one lane only).

I had a very frank discussion with TfL managers on Thursday about all aspects of the closure.  Of course, the priority is to get it open.  I was convinced that TfL are doing everything they can to do this, and that they have a solution to restore it to full operation in reasonable time.  I was not persuaded however that we need to be in this situation, or that there is a long-term future for the structure.

The Flyover’s method of construction is relatively rare in the UK, and there are few other similar structures – for which TfL and the Department for Transport (DfT) should be grateful.  It was built in 1961 by the family company of the then Minister of Transport, Sir Ernest Marples, who passed his shares on during his time in government – to his wife!

Its strength is provided by bunches of twisted metal rods that link separated sections of the concrete together.  The tension in the structure is such, I was told, that a simple demolition job would result in parts of the Flyover being fired into the Thames.  But water, aided by salt during gritting, has rusted the cables which have begun to snap.  The surface heating that should have negated the need for gritting apparently never worked.

The decay is exponential: as each rod weakens or breaks more stress is put on the remainder and so more break, and so on.  TfL inherited the Flyover from DfT, with all its obligations, in 2000.  They say they inspected it regularly, but as the rods are encased in concrete used ultrasonic rather than visual observation.  Last summer they concluded it had about a year of useful life without repair and started looking for ways to prolong this.  On 22 December, uncovering a bunch of rods showed significant damage where the ultrasound had indicated little or none.  This begged the question, had this happened throughout the half mile structure and was it in fact so decayed as to be in danger of imminent collapse?  Hence the emergency closure.

I accept all this – my initial suspicion was that there had been a convenient closure at one of the least busy times of year.  I also accept that TfL are working to check each section of the flyover to ensure the earliest possible safe opening.  But I do not think TfL should have been taken by surprise in the way that they were two weeks ago.  Knowing the history, significance and particular problems of the structure I think they have been complacent in not diagnosing both the degree of damage and a solution before now.  This must be fully and independently investigated.

The cost, not just to motorists and freight transport, but to local businesses, will run into millions, aside from the huge inconvenience to both local and through-commuters.  Mistakes like this by TfL are neither victimless nor blameless, and unless the consequences are fully itemised they will happen again.

TfL is a peculiarly unaccountable body.  While I have been an MP they have closed Shepherds Bush Central Line for a year, closed Olympia tube station permanently on weekdays, and are in the process of destroying (through their development arm) both Shepherds Bush Market and West Ken.

So where now?  The good news is that TfL have, under pressure, come up with a workable solution to restoring the Flyover to full weight-bearing capacity.  This involves threading new rods into the concrete, which can be done over a period of weeks and months (concluding before the Olympics) with night time only closures.

There are two caveats.  Firstly, we will not know for some days how much renewal will need to be done before the Flyover can be re-opened during the day.  I will continue to press TfL for an answer to this.

Secondly, the renewal will only extend the life of the structure by seven to ten years.  I realise that those waiting in a half mile queue to get onto the Broadway will not see this as a priority, but given the time and cost it takes to achieve civil engineering solutions in this country, we had better start thinking now what will replace the flyover.  In the process I have urged TfL to look at the whole issue of trunk road traffic coming into Hammersmith.  There are still too many fatal pedestrian accidents on the A4 and A40.  Both roads run through residential areas and give too much priority to road traffic which often exceeds speed limits by 20 or 30 mph.

The Flyover is one of Hammersmith’s most recognisable and iconic structures.  It has given good service and we must now replace it with something to serve both local and strategic transport needs for the next 50 years.   But first let us support and pressure TfL in getting West London moving again.

Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith

02 January 2012

New Year news from Andy Slaughter MP

King Street – victory or reprieve?
White City blues
Method in their madness
Developer round up
Imperial not minted
Never Feltham better
Babar Ahmad 
Air Passenger Duty
Loretto O’Callaghan
Christmas season

King Street – victory or reprieve?
Hammersmith was handed the Christmas present we most wanted by Save Our Skyline. The group’s four year campaign against the Council’s plan to ruin the historic riverside reached a crescendo in December. At the end of a four-hour planning committee, attended by 500 people, the seven Conservative councillors voted in favour of the universally-loathed scheme.  It would mean building on the cinema and Furnivall Gardens, replacing affordable homes with luxury high rise – and of course subsidising new offices for the councillors themselves.  
So SOS took the battle to City Halland the Mayor backed residents’ criticisms, forcing the Council to withdraw its request for approval. SOS were celebrating this week, while at the same time wondering if this was a tactical delay until after the Mayoral election in May.
That is certainly some pundits’ view, and many Boriswatchers would agree.  For the past four years he has been happy to rubber-stamp the maddest H&F schemes, including this one. He is also no stranger to the site’s developer, Helical Bar.  He also seems to have u-turned to back residents rather than the Council-developer on the plans to demolish homes in West Ken.
Can politicians be so cynical?  Yes. Could Hammersmith Tories resubmit the same scheme the day after the election?  Yes, but at some risk.  Although Boris, if re-elected, is unlikely to stand again after 2012 and has little to lose, the next Council elections are only two years away, and Hammersmith voters would not forget such a blatant betrayal.
So I hope we have seen the last of the towers and the footbridge and yet another Tescos.  What we get instead is another question – but one I hope will be answered by local residents not arrogant and out of touch councillors.
If, however, I am being festively over-optimistic, there is an easy way to resolve the dilemma. Vote for Ken.

White City blues
If the Council’s high-rise plans for the riverside and West Ken are on hold, in White City they are out of control.  I have now met each of the developers for the east side of Wood Lane – Imperial, Helical Bar and Westfield.  Each wants to build the maximum number of the most expensive properties on its site, some 5,000 in total in towers going up to 34 floors.  And because they are acting independently none is prepared to look at the overall needs of the area. So there is little or no open space, infrastructure planning or affordable housing.
This is a further blow to the Council’s plan to relocate White City Estate residents to the new development so they could redevelop the whole area around the BBC when TV Centre is vacated.  They have only themselves to blame, by giving free rein to developers before they had put planning policies in place.  Five years ago the White City Opportunity Area was part of a coherent plan with the BBC at its heart.  Now there is talk of the BBC leaving the area altogether, leaving only faceless tower blocks of flats unaffordable to even the wealthiest local residents.
The architect of the planning disaster that is Hammersmith & Fulham, is Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh, who last week bailed out, announcing his retirement just as his schemes were beginning to unravel.  But where is he off to?  Sadly, for the residents of White City he has promised to go and sort them out.  Needless to say none of the eight (Labour) councillors for the area nor I has been consulted on what he has in store, but we can guess.  Greenhalgh has form in the area, where the original plan was demolition as at West Ken.  He is surely the least suitable person for the job, as he proved on his last high-profile visit during the General Election.

Method in their madness
After 2006, Hammersmith & Fulham Council set out to reduce the amount of social housing in the borough and increase the amount of high-value mainly investment property.  Whole districts were to be demolished and rebuilt, major asset sales programme began and a blueprint for legislation was drawn up.  This proposed near market in place of social rents, an end to security of tenure, dramatic cuts in capital investment and removal of the duty to permanently re-house homeless families.  These have all been adopted by the Coalition Government, and along with cuts and caps to Housing Benefit will rapidly change the social profile of seats like Hammersmith.
LBHF quickly moved onto planning policy.  In 2007 they announced they were ‘open for business’ and began to cultivate developers.  In some cases, as with CapCo in West Kensington or Helical Bar in King Street, the Council became the developer’s partner.  In Shepherds Bush Market they effectively became the developer’s agent.  In every case the Council permitted or encouraged the developer to maximise the value of the site.  This meant the destruction of established communities, especially low-density or social housing and facilities serving local people, like cinemas and markets.  These would be replaced by high-rise luxury flats.  The key to achieving what were certain to be unpopular and controversial redevelopments was a pliant planning policy and process which always gave the benefit of the doubt to the developer.  This is exactly what the Government now seeks to achieve through the NPPF and the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
The third phase of this social engineering strategy takes on a moral dimension.  Communities, like West Ken and White City,  that stubbornly refuse to sign up to LBHF’s  brave new world are labelled ‘not decent’ and  ‘inward looking’  and targeted if not for demolition then for special treatment.  In the case of White City that might involve partial demolition and decanting, or the creation of special government vehicles to reward and punish the type of behaviour the council finds acceptable.  

Developer round up
Shepherds Bush Market is due at planning committee on 8 February.  I have asked the Council to meet a local delegation before this as none of the promises made to shopkeepers, traders and residents has been kept.  So far they have refused.
Nomis Studios:100 people turned up to oppose the plans to squeeze 55 flats into a space big enough for five terraced houses in Sinclair Road. As with the Town Hall development, planning officers were left to justify the scheme, while developers and Conservative councillors stayed silent.
Haymarket: A major local employer, Haymarket (prop: Michael Heseltine), have succumbed to the LIP (luxury investment property) temptation, whereby employment sites can now be redeveloped for residential use.  I met them this week and they are promising to preserve the existing 600 jobs by rebuilding their HQ on Hammersmith Road, but want to knock down their other site in Bute Gardens to build 50 flats.  Sacred Heart School and some Latymer Court residents are concerned that the new buildings are just too big for a very busy and constrained area, and I agree.  But at least they are talking.
West Ken: The Mayor’s 44 objections to the Council’s plans and the scuppering of the King St development have given new heart to campaigners in West Ken, who now include groups from Kensington and supporters in the media.

Imperial not minted
I finally got a partial answer to my question, how is our local health trust going to cut £130 million or nearly 20% of its budget? (What was that slogan? ‘I’ll cut the health service not the deficit’). A list has been published outlining where the first £45 million is coming from.  It’s still rather opaque I’m afraid, but what caught my eye was the £6 million saved by reducing the number of nurses and midwives.  Given an average salary of £25-30,000 this means hundreds fewer front line staff.

Never Feltham better
Having a broken leg was not a good enough excuse (the Whips informed me) to get out of by-election duty.  Anyway, I was glad to go along to support Seema Malhotra whom I’ve known for many years and will be an excellent MP. The 8.6% swing to Labour was a useful precursor to the London Mayor campaign that will start in earnest in the New Year.
Ken’s pledge to cut fares has already got the Government passing money to Boris to keep his rises down, but it’s not enough. Since 2008, a single bus fare has increased by 56%, a Zone 1-6 Travelcard by 22% and a weekly bus pass by 47%. Ken has promised a cut in the autumn of 2012 and freezing them in 2013, a saving of £800 over his four-year term.

Babar Ahmad
I recently spoke in the Commons debate on extradition triggered by 140,000 signatures on an e-petition organised to highlight the case of Babar Ahmad.  He has been imprisoned in a high security prison for seven years without charge while the US government tries to extradite him.  Like Gary McKinnon, Babar Ahmad’s alleged offences were committed in the UK, but British prosecutors have chosen not to bring charges.  Under pressure from all sides the Government has agreed to look at the issue afresh.

Air Passenger Duty
The unfairness of APD, that charges almost twice as much tax to fly to Jamaica as to California is something I have campaigned against under both this and the previous Government.  Before the election no less a person than the then shadow treasury minister, Greg Hands MP, promised to right this wrong – and start taxing private planes into the bargain. But just before Christmas, the Government reneged on both promises.

Loretto O’Callaghan
I was very saddened to hear that Loretto had died in December after a long battle with cancer.  She was one of the great community heroes of H&F, working tirelessly for the residents of Queen’s Club Gardens, where she chaired the residents’ association so formidably, and the whole borough.  At the annual Garden Party only a few months ago, she was her usual lively and positive self.  She will be missed by everyone who knew her.

Christmas season
As usual in Hammersmith, there was plenty going on up to the wire as Christmas Day approached. 

  • I heard some fantastic speakers from all our local secondary schools at the regional final of Jack Petchey’s “Speak Out” Challenge held at Lady Margaret’s.
  • The good news when I spoke at the Hammersmith and Fulham Refugee Forum AGM was that they were still in Palingswick House a year after the council said they were going to kick them out in favour of the Free School.
  • College Park residents rallied in support of their community centre and were not being chucked out this Christmas, though their future is not secure.
  • I met a delegation of Israeli Muslims visiting the UK to donate £500,000, collected from Palestinians in Israel, to the UK charity Islamic Relief for its work in Somalia
  • More good news at St Andrew’s Fulham Fields, where I was reading the lesson at the Christmas Carol Service.  The new community centre is a few weeks from opening and Father Guy Wilkinson, formerly the Archbishop of Canterbury’s inter-faith advisor, is to stay on permanently as parish priest
  • For the third year, the Crisis centre for west London was at West London College’s Baron’s Court campus, despite previous attempts by the Council to ban it from the borough for public order reasons.  I visited just before Christmas for the opening and, even in the milder weather, there were people waiting to get in.  There were nine centres this year with 750 volunteers and double that number of guests. 
  • In a new venture, 200 residents were given a Christmas meal and hamper at the Irish Centre by Barclay Hall Christian Fellowship, and I was asked to present an award to a long-term carer who had inspired others. One more example of how people in Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush are thinking of others, not just this week but all the year.
A Happy New Year to all my readers.