Lucy Ivimy: Setting “affordable housing” quotas too high means no new homes are built

ivimyA guest post from Cllr Lucy Ivimy

It is helpful if you want to solve a problem to understand what it is that is causing it. What is causing the housing crisis and why?

In essence, of course, it is the substantial growth in the UK population and overwhelmingly, growth in the population of London. And this trend of growth will continue for some time.

Of course if you have more people, higher demand, prices will go up if you are not building the homes to match. Even if more homes are being built, the relative cost of homes in more central locations will rise. That makes housing less affordable to all Londoners.

With this population growth, we must build more homes. That is what, as a Conservative council in Hammersmith and Fulham, we concentrated on.

The number of homes built is more important than the tenure mix.

People who are already owners are not feeling the pain of this.

The people most affected are the young looking for their first home, whether to rent or to buy.

There are enormous difficulties being faced by young workers in London. That is why our Conservative administration gave treat support to H&F Homebuy, which is designed to help first time buyers with a discounted price on properties. That is why we encouraged the various forms of low cost home ownership, shared ownership, discounted market sale.

Why we encouraged the affordable quota of new developments to be in this form.

But it is critical to remember that for a large new housing development to actually happen, it must be financially viable. Otherwise it will not be built out. As an administration we would rather have the new homes built than not built. That is why some schemes had less affordable housing than we would have wished.

Some developments were approved with little affordable housing because they give some other form of public benefit. The proposals for the new Hammersmith Town Hall are to provide much needed new civic offices and a cinema; the Riverside studios scheme is rebuilding the wonderful Riverside Studios. To demand that the developer subsidise affordable homes as well as these other public benefits would make these unviable.

The Conservative administration has worked on and set up schemes that should provide over 12,000 new homes over various regeneration areas over the next ten or fifteen years.

My plea to the incoming Labour council is: “Please do not kill this much needed housing by trying to insist on quotas of affordable housing that are not achievable. That will be the greatest disservice you can do to the young would be home owners of the borough.”

Hammersmith and Fulham Council is spending £389,596 a year on membership subs

moneyHammersmith and Fulham Council has made good progress over the last eight years in achieving better value for money.

Even with the change in political control there are further substantial savings already set up – for instance with reduced spending on debt interest and cutting management costs through tri-borough and bi-borough arrangements.

In some areas though there are more savings to be made. One modest example is on the council’s membership subscriptions. A response to a request I made shows that it all comes to £389,596 a year.

Some of the larger items – such as £26,577 to the Local Government Association and £162,427 to London Councils I know to be a complete waste of money.

It is highly likely that many of the smaller sums to assorted special interest groups are also of dubious merit.

Then there is £177,505 to the “London Boroughs Grant Scheme”.  This goes into a general £9 million soup of spending by all the 32 London boroughs.

Again much of the money spent by this scheme is wasted. For instance £650,000 goes to Shelter – a lobbying outfit who don’t provide any housing for anyone. Plus another £173,759 for Stonewall Housing – to which the same point applies. Another £304,000 goes to the Women’s Resource Centre – which again seems to be more about lobbying than providing practical services.

Wouldn’t that £177,505 be better spent on local voluntary groups that actually provide practical benefits to local people – including the homeless and women suffering from domestic violence?

Any cuts in spending on local voluntary groups by Hammersmith and Fulham Council will have to be justified by the Labour Party as to why this spending on London wide lobby groups is being continued instead. Why is it a higher priority?

UPDATE

There were two missed off the original list I was given:

LEDNET (London Environment Directors Network) – £1,500 p.a.

London Parks and Green Spaces Forum – £1,500 p.a.

 

 

The latest Ravenscourt Park Ward e-bulletin

Dear Resident,
I hope you have all being enjoying the beautiful Hammersmith weather.

A few items to update you on:

CHARING CROSS
To recap… In 2012 the NHS published proposals for a very severe downgrading of Charing Cross Hospital. While accepting the case that a move from general hospitals to specialist hospitals would save lives – especially for those needing life saving operations at weekends – the then Conservative-run Council regarded the proposals as unacceptable.

That was because they failed to ensure that residents would still be able to obtain the routine treatment they needed locally.

After some considerable lobbying there were substantial changes. In February last year the revised proposals were published detailing how 85% of those using the hospital would continue to do so.

In May this year Labour were elected to run the Hammersmith and Fulham Council on the basis of their (false) claim that the hospital was due to close and the (false) claim that the proposals had not been changed.

They also gave an “early pledge” to “block” the proposals. That has already proved to be dishonest bluster.

The latest version does indicate there has been a further change to what is proposed….but it actually seems to be a step back from what was agreed last year.

There will still be a £150 million new hospital on the site – financed by some of the existing land on the existing site being sold for housing. (This has been described as being for “luxury flats” although their size, luxuriousness and tenure has yet to be determined.) That is good news as the current building is defective – also much of the site is already used for housing.

The Accident and Emergency unit will remain at Charing Cross. (The NHS has rebutted the Labour MP Andrew Slaughter’s claim to contrary here.)

But I am concerned that what was agreed last February in terms of the elective surgery continuing at Charing Cross should be honoured. I am seeking clarity on this point. Residents are entitled to assurances that the 85% figure mentioned above still applies.

One of the problems with the NHS is that they come up with these proposals with hundreds of pages of impenetrable jargon. They explain them in meeting to “key stakeholders” leaving most people baffled. Constant lies have been left unchallenged. Complicated revisions have added to the confusion. The NHS do need to do a better job of persuading people of their case.

Still however frustrating the process might be I hope and believe that at the end of it we will have better health care than at present.
COUNCILLORS FORUM

This is scheduled for Thursday September 25th at 7pm at Holy Innocents Church, 35 Paddenswick Road. I will be there with my fellow Ravenscourt Park Ward councillors Lucy Ivimy and Charlie Dewhirst. Do come along to discuss any local matter of interest and join us for a glass of wine afterwards.
We plan to hold further meetings in different parts of the ward.

LOCAL BLOG LAUNCHED

I have started a new local blog called the Hammersmith and Fulham Forum. You can find it here or via my Twitter profile.

The blog is intended to be quite broad with guest contributions – including from non-Conservatives – and include borough wide matters and non-political subjects. Do let me know if you would be interested in writing something.

GOOD NEWS ON JOBS

Unemployment in the Ravenscourt Park Ward fell from 148 in May to 127 in June. It is below half the level of four years ago – when it was 305.

HAMMERSMITH LIBRARY

Hammersmith Library in Shepherd’s Bush Road has now reopened. There is now a substantial collection of local archives. The building has been smartened up and now has wi-fi, more comfortable seating and new shelves. However the beauty of these 1905 Grade 11 listed building has been maintained. Do go and visit it.
PLAYDAY
There will be “Playday” in Ravenscourt Park on Wednesday August 6th from noon until 4pm. JW Panham will be running a number of free fairground rides. There will also be music, basketball coaching and face painting. Jolly good show!
PLEASE HELP

  • Ravenscourt Park Ward has more Neighbourhood Watch schemes than any other ward in the borough. They help reduce crime – especially burglary. If you would like to start one in your street please email our Safer Neighbourhood Team on RavenscourtPark.SNT@met.police.uk
  • If you would like the Conservatives to regain Hammersmith and Fulham Council please consider joining the Hammersmith Conservatives or making a donation. You can do so via our website or by sending a cheque to Hammersmith Conservatives, 4 Greyhound Road, London, W6 8NX. (office@hammersmithconservatives.com 020 7385 1002.)

Best wishes,
Harry

Councillor for Ravenscourt Park Ward

Follow me on Twitter.
Follow Lucy on Twitter.
Follow Charlie on Twitter.

Cllr Lucy Ivimy: The Conservatives fought effectively for a better Charing Cross Hospital

ivimyA guest post from Cllr Lucy Ivimy

The old, and still current in many cases, model of the A&E department at your nearest hospital was that it would be staffed at night and the weekend by someone called an A&E consultant who was basically a general surgeon with some specialist emergency training.

He could deal effectively with the great majority of people and injuries turning up at A&E. But if you turned up at the weekend with a stroke, a serious heart attack, a smashed skull, or been run over by a bus he would do his best to patch you up until Monday morning for the serious specialists to do their job. People died.

People who would have been saved if they had had specialist surgery immediately, died. It is called the weekend effect.

The NHS started some years ago setting up specialist units to counter the worst of the weekend death toll. The major trauma centre at St Mary’s Paddington is one of a small number in London staffed by specialists round the clock. The ambulance knows to take you there if you have a smashed skull and the brain surgeon will deal with it immediately. This has saved many many lives.

The brilliant Charing Cross stroke unit will start specialist remedial treatment immediately so your chances of walking out rather than being pushed out, crippled, in a wheelchair, are hugely higher.

Survival rates for heart attacks have gone up by 40% since ambulances take you straight to the specialist heart unit at Hammersmith Hospital.

The NHS ‘Shaping a Healthier Future’ proposals were designed to take this one step further, so that all life threatening conditions would be automatically taken to a major specialist emergency centre with the full range of specialist consultants on duty twenty four hours a day seven days a week. For minor emergencies, which is about 80% of all the people who currently turn up at A&Es, the nearest hospital would still deal with it.

But the NHS made three serious mistakes:

  • First, they failed to explain clearly what they were doing and why
  • Second, they refused to allow anything except these new ‘super’ A&Es to call themselves that, so everything thought that they were withdrawing all accident and emergency services from many hospitals – and even now they still can’t decide how to define an A&E
  • And, catastrophically, they decided that on the back of the A&E changes they would close virtually the whole of Charing Cross.

Clearly, we could not agree to that.

But as an administration, during the course of the intense scrutiny of the consultation period, we realised that we were going to lose the argument with the NHS to make Charing Cross the major A&E – despite its better geographic location than Chelsea & Westminster, which was the alternative.

So we set about trying to save everything else at Charing Cross that would otherwise have been closed. All the specialist clinics where so many people go for superb treatment. I believe that we succeeded as well as was possible at that stage, and extracted from the NHS a further proposal – call it the Enhanced Option – which they unveiled to the Joint NorthWest London Scrutiny Committee in Febuary 2013:

  • We saved the full range of diagnostic facilities, including MRI scanners, computer imaging, endoscopy, ECG and ultrasound.
  • We saved the cancer clinic, with cancer diagnostics, chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.
  • We saved the Maggie’s Centre.
  • We saved the West London Sexual Health clinic – which does fantastic work with FGM victims
  • We saved the Mental Health Clinic.
  • We saved the Imperial College teaching facilities.

The essence of all this was formally agreed at the February 2013 meeting of the JCPCT (Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts) which was the formal commissioning body, where this enhanced option together with the original basic option was formally agreed as a single package.

However the latest proposals seem to represent a step backwards. I am personally very disappointed.  I acknowledge these latest plans are still hugely better than the total closure we were originally faced with. But they do appear to represent a retreat from what was agreed last year. We need urgent assurances as to their implications.

Sarah Woodside: To hear the birds sing come and visit Wormholt Park

A guest post from Sarah Woodside of Friends of Wormholt Park

wormholt1Wormholt Park is a small Edwardian Park located between the Uxbridge Road and the A40 in the northwest of Shepherd’s Bush – even some of the locals don’t know of its existence but it is a much needed green space in what is becoming an increasingly built-up part of West London. The many residents who do use it include myriad dog walkers, families, the elderly and groups of friends who gather for picnics on the grass.

In its heyday the park had a bowling green, fountains, herbaceous beds and a  secluded quiet garden but over the years it has become rather run down.

What it still has, however, are two free tennis courts and some spectacular mature trees – oak, poplar, plane and conifers amongst the others – plus a large variety of mixed, flowering shrubs and open areas of lawn.

In this recent hot weather, the shade from the trees has provided welcome relief for many residents baking in stifling flats and back to back housing; the large grassed areas, usually teeming with scampering dogs and small, shoeless kids who like to feel the grass between their toes, is full of sunbathers and people exhausted by the heat.

wormholt2Amazingly in such an urban setting, Wormholt Park has a thriving wild bird population including breeding Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Long tailed tit, Great tit, Blue tit, Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Dunnock and Wood pigeon.

In this year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch only 0.009% of Britain’s smallest bird, the Goldcrest, presented across the whole of Greater London (which includes the huge Royal Parks) but Wormholt Park has its very own breeding pair, attracted by the yews and conifers… What a delightful privilege.

House sparrows and Starlings, both on the critical list in England; Pied wagtails and the occasional Song Thrush (also endangered) use the park together with the jolly, bright green Ring-necked Parakeets. In Spring, the birdsong is so intense one could almost be in the countryside and it is crucial that we retain the trees and bushes that these birds need when the imminent redevelopment of the park begins.

Wormholt Park will soon be getting ‘a make-over’ tied in with the erection of the new Health Centre and Apartment Block on its Eastern side. Locals with children eagerly anticipate the new playgrounds, which are long overdue, but the loss of the two dedicated tennis courts is hugely unpopular – the cricket nets are being sacrificed too.

No-one wants the ambiance of this traditional park, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2011, to be lost. Set in the Wormholt Conservation Area it needs to retain its historical place and still be a green lung in this polluted part of London; it is our escape from the Cityscape and a rest from the urban environment. For many local children this is the only easily accessible place that they can be close to Nature.

wormholt3wormholt4wormholt5wormholt6

Greg Smith: Labour proving clueless at managing the council budget

gregsmithA guest post from Cllr Greg Smith, Leader of the Conservative Group on Hammersmith and Fulham Council

Labour promised an emergency budget in June; instead we have an interim report in July.

They promised £20 million of additional savings; instead we have a dubious £4 million of proposals. 61  days into the Labour Administration, they remain a party without a plan, at odds with their manifesto and clutching at straws.

In a 14-month search for £20 million of unnecessary costs, it seems Labour’s cost-cutting Tsar didn’t get beyond six figures. Perhaps he should stick to his day job of counting fish?

Let me be clear: finding in-year savings is the right thing to do. A budget should always be a limit and not a target. And in every year of the previous administration, we started with challenging gaps to meet, always succeeding.

At the start of this report, they say in paragraph 1.1 that we face a budget gap of £24.4 million next year – somewhat inflated from the £15.1 million in the Medium Terms Financial Strategy when the current budget was set. Nevertheless, they trumpet in paragraph 1.2 their belief that at Annual Council “action was taken towards addressing the gap” – how I hear you ask? By reducing Special Responsibility Allowances by 10% – which, as we’ve found out, has actually INCREASED the overall spend on councillor allowances by £10,000, not to mention the 16% hike in cabinet member allowance spending.

An innumerate start by Labour – and reminiscent of the now Leader of the Council’s Politics Show interview some years ago where he intimated he could cut council tax by more than the last administration by turning the lights off in the town hall extension.

But let’s get back to the report. On page 4 of the Ocean’s Consulting Labour Manifesto – the much parotted absurd line about 600 stealth taxes raising £64.5 million features prominently. We dispute that figure – as we know your workings took into account statutory charges and other fees that still didn’t cover the cost of delivering services that remained subsidised. But let’s put that to one side and take a look at what this interim budget report sets about actually doing. It removes one charge around burials at 24 hours notice that in paragraph 4.7 they admit will be revenue neutral because no charge has actually be raised by it yet! Where’s the bold action to marry Labour’s rhetoric to practice? It’s not there, because they haven’t got a clue.

And so the report goes on. Communications spend. Page 5 of the uncosted Labour Manifesto stated “Conservatives spend £5 million on propaganda”. More bogus numbers, as unlike the pre-2006 Labour Council who spent £400,000 a year on HFM magazine alone, the previous administration’s comms spend was underpinned by advertising.    But we all know Labour don’t want to accept that – so let’s see what they’re doing now. Of the alleged £5 million spend, they are cutting, err, £241,000 – much of which is not real savings as there will be revenue loss involved.

So where’s the £5 million savings? It’s not there: just a figment of Labour’s imagination.

Then we come to libraries: a £30,000 cut to the budget for buying books.

Whilst Labour Councils across the capital were shutting libraries, it was the Tri-Borough Conservative Councils who kept all ours open, whilst saving millions. Now there is a Labour Council in H&F, they’re putting less books on the shelves of those libraries in an attack on reading and literacy. E-book lending is great, but it is in its infancy – and certainly won’t
replace hard copy books that quickly.

Those odd choices aside, this report depends on banking departmental underspends now in the hope that they hold until next April and removing provision for inflation in the hope costs don’t start rising.

No genuine savings.

No real reforms.

Labour are clambering around in the dark – with no idea how to implement their manifesto and taking pot shots at anything they think they can get away with.

Serious reform is the way forward to save the tens of millions needing to be found – principally taking tri- and bi- borough to the next level.

It’s time for Labour to wake up and smell the coffee.

Labour stuff committees with their crony co-optees – at £504 a time

In February 2006, a few months before Labour lost power in Hammersmith and Fulham, they introduced a system of paying co-optees to sit on council committees. There is no legal requirement to pay co-optee allowances – under the Local Government Act 2000 and the Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003, a co-optee can be paid an allowance if the Council elects to do so.

They decided lining the pockets of their cronies with money from the Council Taxpayer was a key spending priority.

Now they are taking up where they left off. They are proposing at this evening’s meeting council meeting a big increase in the number of paid co-optees. They will be paid £504 a year for half a dozen meetings – even if they don’t turn up!

Over seven committees that means a bill to the Council Taxpayer of £17,640. They claim this will ” be met from this existing budget” but no details are given as to what will be cut to fund Labour’s cronyism.