King Street – victory or reprieve?
White City blues
Method in their madness
Developer round up
Imperial not minted
Never Feltham better
Air Passenger Duty
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.
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.
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.
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.