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.