H&F Council must clean away graffiti from the borough

poskgraffIn June an incident of offensive graffiti at POSK in King Street prompted strong condemnation. But the wider problem often gets less attention. Graffiti – often threatening, obscene, racist or homophobic – is all too widespread.

The present Council service regarding this is very limited. I’m told:

“The Graffiti Action Team removes graffiti from the public highway and parks and open spaces. They do not usually remove graffiti from private or housing land. If there is graffiti on private land then the Council would contact the owner or person responsible for the land and request they make provision for removal of the graffiti. This would usually be completed by a private contractor. On occasions it is necessary to serve a legal notice on the property owner to ensure removal is completed. “

I would like to see the Council offer a free graffiti removal service for all property – business, residential, housing association, council housing, privately owned homes, shops, offices, TfL. It would seem quite likely that the cost of the extra work involved in graffiti removal would be partly offset by reduced admin costs. The availability of this service should be publicised on the Council’s website – with information of how to report it including an email address and a phone number.

The idea of serving a court order for someone who has already had the distress of obscene or racist graffiti painted on their home to get it removed would effectively mean punishing the victim twice. With the Council’s chemicals and jet sprays it would be pretty easy to remove it for them – but it might be quite expensive or physically challenging for an elderly or vulnerable person to manage it for themselves.

In practice enforcement action is not taken. Lesley Gates the Council’s Waste Contract Manager tells me:

“No graffiti removal notices have been served by the Council in the last 12 months.”

However 20 people were written asking them to arrange to have graffiti removed. Rather than flaffing in a jobsworth manner checking whose responsibility removal is we should just get on with cleaning it away.

The Council’s graffiti removal budget is currently £199,000 a year for highways and parks. Rather inefficiently there is a different service for council estates and the costs “not monitored separately.”

Let us accept that providing a free service for all property would probably require an increased budget even after improvements in efficiency. If the Council is serious about wishing to defeat hate crime it is spending that should be given a priority.

After all the Council spent £38,556 on a Unity Rally in July – not including the cost of staff time. Westfield chipped in £10,000 but that is still left a substantial sum for an event where only a couple of hundred people turned up. It would have been cheaper to give each of them lunch at the River Cafe.

The idea of the Rally was to send out a message that the overwhelming majority of people in the borough – Conservatives/Labour whether they voted Leave or Remain in the EU referendum – condemn bigotry. That was a positive theme. You can read Cllr Joe Carlebach’s speech here.

But wouldn’t a more cost effective way of delivering the same message be for the Council to provide a free, comprehensive and rapid service to remove message of hate sprayed on any building in the borough?

H&F Council is failing to promote cycling

peddleHammersmith and Fulham Council’s Air Quality Commission has produced its report.

Quite rightly the importance of encouraging cycling features prominently. It recommendations include:

“More people to take up cycling to travel around the borough and beyond.”

I’m sure the Council will agree. The difficulty arises over what happens in practice.

While the Council has an annual Public Health budget of £22.7 million none of this goes on promoting cycling. The only money the Council spends on this comes from Transport for London.

Recently a request for modest funding to facilitate second hand bike markets was refused. Peddle My Wheels has hosted such events in Westminster and Lambeth. It includes a free service to check the conditions of the bikes and carry out repairs. There is also the chance to encourage attendance at cycle training events (which is already funded by TfL.) Typically half a dozen markets would take place a year around the borough in various school playgrounds. The cost to the Council would be around £4,000 with over 100 bikes being sold for adults as well as children.

The people who would benefit the most are those who can’t afford to buy a new bike. To buy a new kids bike might cost £100 or £150. A second hand one might be £10 or £20.

Holding these School Bike Markets each year would make the difference between hundreds of children and adults a year being able to cycle or not. It would also help reduce childhood obesity and avoid the cost to the Councils of piling out bikes onto landfill sites. The cost would be 0.02 per cent of the Public Health budget.

It’s all very well for the Council to appoint a Cycling Champion and to produce reports. But when it comes to doing anything practical the Council are hopeless.

 

Labour MP for Hammersmith demands answers on UFOs

little-green-menAfter his resignation in the summer as Shadow Justice Minister the Labour MP for Hammersmith, Andrew Slaughter, is pitching himself to be the successor to Lembit Opik by taking a niche interest in UFOs.

Here is the query he has made on our behalf:

Unidentified Flying Objects:Written question – 43413

Q Asked by Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith)

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, how many sightings of unidentified flying objects have been reported in each of the last five years.

Answered by: Mike Penning
The Ministry of Defence does not maintain a central record of the number of unidentified flying object (UFO) sightings reported, following the closure of the UFO Desk in 2009.

If Mr Slaughter wants to restore the UFO then I hope this will not be another unfunded spending pledge. Perhaps there will be a localist solution and he can persuade his Labour colleagues to establish a UFO team at Hammersmith Town Hall with the specific of monitoring UFOs over Hammersmith and Fulham – in case the little green men decide to visit our borough.

 

To create what Theresa May wants, we need non-selective grammar schools for all

ffiskeCllr Caroline ffiske, a councillor for Avonmore and Brook Green Ward and Governor of the West London Free School, writes:

Theresa May has announced that existing grammar schools will be allowed to expand, new ones will be allowed to open, and existing non-selective schools will be allowed to become selective in some circumstances.  The government will publish a green paper setting out parameters and options.

We need to wait for the green paper to understand whether we can expect reform or revolution.  And of course there will be a battle to get any package through parliament.

Surely, though, the contradictions in Theresa May’s announcement are glaringly obvious to all.

She says:   “We are going to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.”  Ok – so “not just the privileged few” includes the vast majority of kids who won’t get into academically selective grammars.

She says “That is why I am announcing an ambitious package of education reforms to ensure that every child has the chance to go to a good school.”   So this means that all schools need to be good.

She says “A fundamental part of that is having schools that give every child the best start in life, regardless of their background.”  Okay, so these reforms are for every child, regardless of ability.

Hang on.  This is a policy announcement almost entirely focused on selection.   It focuses on providing a better education for the already more academically able!  According to The Times (Friday Sept 9),  under one option that will be explored, “only schools rated good or outstanding by Ofsted may be allowed to select”….   So the best schools will be allowed to turn away less academic pupils?  This doesn’t make any sense.

Surely, the unfairness of focusing better education opportunities on the already most academically-able is glaringly obvious to all.  What then is driving some Tory’s obsession with grammar schools?

I think we have a classic example of the tail wagging the dog.  It goes like this:

Dog:
– Grammar schools have traditionally offered a very good education and get very good results.
– Therefore we need more of them.

Tail:
– Grammar schools use academic selection
…Okay so we need academic selection.

Notice how the grammar school obsession tends to be 100% about the tail?  We just need more academic selection and by some mysterious process we will give every child the best start in life, including the vast majority who don’t get into grammars!

Shouldn’t we, instead, take a look at how grammar schools offer a good education?   And then make that as widely available as possible? Perhaps to all children?

So what is it that grammar schools do – and what should the Conservative Government really be trying to offer to all children?  The answer is at least two-fold.  Foremostly, grammar schools offer a challenging academically rigorous education.  Secondly, they have strong discipline and good behaviour.

Grammar schools offer a challenging academically rigorous education

Grammar schools tend to focus on a small set of core academic subjects and teach them rigorously, with extensive content, and high expectations around what the children will learn and retain.  Isn’t this what all children deserve? This has been the main focus of the Conservative’s education reform over the past few years.   At the school where I am a governor (West London Free School) this is the core of our ethos.  The refrain that the school has used is that we should teach pupils “the best that has been thought and said”.  If I had my way the school motto would be  “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”.  Isn’t this rigorous academic focus the good bit about grammar schools, and the bit that we should make available to all parents and children who want it?

Grammar schools tend to have strong discipline and good behaviour

The vast majority of parents despair when children bring home stories of disruption and poor behaviour in the classroom.  They don’t like their children seeing rude or aggressive behaviour from other children. They don’t like to think of the disruption to learning if teachers are distracted and having to spend too much of their time managing behaviour.

Parents will try to keep their children “away” from such behaviour by choosing schools where they believe behaviour is good.  We all know about the parents who “adopt a faith” to get their children into faith schools.   If you think about it, particularly at primary level where academic results do not have much visibility, the popularity of faith schools is, in huge part, driven by parents’ desire for their children to be in a school with perceived good discipline and behaviour.  I am sure this is also a large part of the popularity of grammar schools. Parents perceive that teachers will be able to get on and teach – and their children will be able to focus on learning.

Perhaps, then, Theresa May’s reforms should refocus on the dog and drop the tail.  What if more schools adopt a grammar school ethos, but without the selection?  This would mean we have more schools which teach academic subjects to all pupils and ensure they are taught rigorously with pupils building up and retaining extensive knowledge.  And we would ensure that schools have the tools needed to ensure strong discipline and behaviour.

Theresa May said:   “I am announcing an ambitious package of education reforms to ensure that every child has the chance to go to a good school … that gives every child the best start in life … regardless of their background“.

I hope this is, indeed, where we end up.  In order to give every child the best start in life, regardless of their background, we need “grammar schools” for all who want them, with rigorous teaching as well as strong discipline and behaviour, but without academic selection.

Labour’s housing claims in H&F unravel

letter-to-rt-hon-jeremy-corbyn-mp-leader-of-the-labour-party-1In a letter to Jeremy Corbyn, calling on him to resign as Labour leader, the Labour councillors in Hammersmith and Fulham, said:

“We’re building nearly 600 genuinely affordable homes.”

That sounds impressive. But is it true? The short answer is no – according to their own Council officers. But here is the full version.

I emailed John Finlayson, the Council’s Head of Planning Regeneration, as follows.

John,

Please advise

1. If the Council has any definition of what constitutes “genuinely
affordable” housing and if so what that definition is.

2.  Please advise the current schedule for “genuinely affordable
homes due to be built, the tenure, the schemes and the locations.
Please include how many have been built so far, how many are scheduled
for the current financial year and how many are scheduled for 2017/18.
Please advise how many are for social rent.

3.  Please advise how will be council properties and how many will be
built by others and by whom (eg housing associations).

Best wishes,
Harry

The response was as follows:

1) If the Council has any definition of what constitutes “genuinely affordable” housing and if so what that definition is. 

 The Council uses the affordable housing definition set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, 2012:https://www.gov.uk/guidance/definitions-of-general-housing-terms

 The Core Strategy 2011 sets out the current requirements for AH:

“On sites with the capacity for 10 or more self-contained dwellings affordable housing should be provided”.

2) Please advise the current schedule for “genuinely affordable” homes due to be built, the tenure, the schemes and the locations.

The Council does not hold a ‘schedule’ for development. The tenure, schemes and the locations will be completed as part of a wider housing monitoring exercise.

How many have been built so far.

During the 2015/16 monitoring year, the Council granted planning permission for 165 affordable housing units out of a total 1,363 dwellings. 132 affordable housing units of the 165 have been completed. These figures are currently under review as part of a wider housing monitoring exercise.

How many are scheduled for the current financial year and how many are scheduled for 2017/18.

See above. The figures identified in any monitoring year do not necessarily indicate the level of housing (market and/or affordable) that will come forward in future years. Such an exercise is done on an annual basis and therefore figures for 2017/2018 can only be ascertained at the end of that financial year.

Please advise how many are for social rent.

Not currently available at this time.

3) Please advise how will be council properties and how many will be built by others and by whom (eg housing associations).

Phase 1 is due on site in 12-14 weeks and will deliver 31 Council properties, phases 2 and 3 will deliver 33 and 20 properties.

Phase 1 – planning secured:
Barclay Close             6
Barons Court              2
Becklow Gardens         13
Spring Vale                     12

Phases 2 and 3 – planning submitted and pre-application

Jepson House            33

Commonwealth Avenue     20

Edith Summerskill             133

So the figure is not “nearly 600” but 132. If we stretch the meaning of “are building” to include “will build this financial year” the figure might get up to 165.

Incidentally that is accepting the official definition of “affordable” as “genuinely affordable”. Though they don’t give a figure for how many will be “social rent”. The Council is hostile to home ownership and so has cut the number of Discount Market Sale.

The truth is that progress has been very sluggish.  Apart from Jepson House the items on the list above are the Hidden Homes sites which secured consent back in the summer of 2013 under a Conservative Council. It is absolutely pathetic they have still not been delivered.

Barons Court was a converted basement which should have been ready in late 2014. Commonwealth Avenue, which had been planned for low cost home ownership, should have been finished years ago.

Even this modest effort is only possible due to the Right to Buy receipts. Of the 132 new affordable homes 84 are being funded by right to buy receipts. This shows the policy of funding right to buy replacements is working. But it is odd for Labour to claim credit for this while also denouncing the policy.

This follow up response from the Council confirms the figures:

“We apologise for the delay in responding to your further enquiry.

We have spoken to Firas Al-Sheikh, Housing Financial Strategy Accountant, who has provided us with the below response for you:

For affordable housing development to be funded by retained right to buy receipts they have to be let out at affordable or social rents.  This is a stipulation from the Department of Communities and Local Government.

The units that we can fund with Right to Buy receipts are the ones for Phase 1, 2 and 3.

However bear in mind that only Phase 1 has had budget approval and as mentioned previously, Phase 1 is due on site in 12-14 weeks and will deliver 31 Council properties.

As confirmed by John Finlayson in the first response, Phases 2 and 3 will deliver 33 and 20 properties.”

No wonder that Mr Corbyn doesn’t seem to have taken any notice of the letter.

 

Weeds growing out of control through pavement cracks across Hammersmith and Fulham

These pictures happen to be from Overstone Road but they could any street in the borough. We are becoming engulfed with weeds. They are emerging through the cracks in the paving stones.

What is going on?

David Page, the Council’s Director for Safer Neighbourhoods, tells me:

“As you are aware the Leader said the council world stop spraying Glyphosate on its roads, footways, estates and parks.

“Glyphosate was used by both Serco and Quadron in these areas. We are currently assessing alternatives and are likely to trial two options over the autumn to understand which one best meets our needs before we choose one or the other.

“They are both water based options that use no chemicals and are completely green.”

I’m all for being as green as possible. But this is a shambles. The Council should have had the trial first to check if it worked. Instead we have stopped spraying Glyphosate and have even attempted to kill the weeds with anything else yet.

weeds-1weeds-2weeds-3