We don’t need more tower blocks in White City to have new homes there

whitecityblockstwoThe property developers St James have applied to Hammersmith and Fulham Council for permission for a hideous development by Wood Lane in White City – to include a tower block of 27 storeys and another of 28 storeys.

To object you need to email neil.button@lbhf.gov.uk by November 9th.

The site was recently sold to St James by Marks and Spencer – who used it is as dreary but low rise warehouses for testing their products. Given the housing pressure in this part of London  a change of use certainly makes sense.

The site is “4.2 hectares” (which means 10.3 acres). It is proposed to provide 1,465 new “housing units”.

Of course the planning officers claim that the only way to achieve new housing on that scale in such a space is to have the tower blocks. That anything else would not be financially viable.

Such claims are nonsense. They merely reflect the prevailing ideological prejudices of the establishment and architectural establishment. The developers also go along with this “group think” as the easiest way to get a quiet life.

chelseaembankmentBut we could have a similar number of new homes – and similar levels of profit for St James with a square of neo-classical mansion blocks.

Indeed a rather better profit as attractive properties sell for more than ugly ones. Much of our neighbouring borough of Kensington and Chelsea shows that high density can be achieved in this way – without high rise monstrosities. (See the example on left from the Chelsea Embankment.)

Even limited to six storeys mansion blocks can provide 300 homes per hectare. So that would be 1,260 homes on the the 4.2 hectare site. If we allow seven storey mansion blocks that would get us up to 1,470 – thus more homes than the tower block proposal.

While the tower block proposal includes 1.6 hectares for some green space “White City Green” how close to nature would you feel at the foot of 28 storeys? The mansion blocks would have less green space – but it would be far more pleasant.

In this borough in recent years the debate about regeneration has been unsatisfactory. Labour have effectively been anti development. They have expressed hostility to even talking to property developers – who they always call “property speculators” which is an odd term to use for people building new housing. They also refer to all new private sector flats as “luxury flats” – however modest they might be. Then they would finish off with the false and rather unsavoury claim that they would “all be bought by foreigners.”

Yet given that these days the state is not going finance developments where 100 per cent of the homes are for council tenants paying a small fraction of market rents a refusal to involve the private sector means a refusal to provide new homes. Setting impossible conditions – such as Livingstonian targets of 50 per cent “affordable” housing – amount to the same thing. Nothing be built.

Labour’s stance is a terrible betrayal. The “property speculators” are never going to starve. But the victims are residents in the wards Labour represents – who are stuck in deprivation and dependency.

Where the Conservatives have made a mistake is in agreeing to the development coming in the form of tower blocks. I have never made any secret of my view that this is an odd stance for Conservatives to take.

Thus in recent years Labour locally would pose as the anti tower block party. I think Cllr Michael Cartwright is actually sincere about it.

By contrast the Labour MP for Hammersmith Andrew Slaughter found it expedient to criticise the Conservative council for proposing them. Mr Slaughter was all for them during his decade as council leader – for other people at least. He would pontificate on the merits of modernist egalitarian architecture from the drawing room of his Victorian terraced house in Becklow Road.

Anyway at the council meeting in October last year Labour pledged that if they came to power there would be no more tower blocks. It came in a debate on the White City Area Planning Framework.

Cllr Stephen Cowan, then the Opposition leader now the council leader, declared:

“If we win in six months time we will make a radical difference and rewrite this document.”

Since then has done diddly squat about it, of course.

It may be that Cllr Cowan can’t given the byzantine nature of the planning system. But then he shouldn’t have made the promise.

What the council could and should do is to sit down with the developers and agree an alternative scheme that does not blight our borough with yet more tower blocks.

Slaughter left isolated as Labour councillors rebel against Mansion Tax

At last night’s Hammersmith and Fulham Council meeting the Conservatives put forward the following motion:

Standing in the names of:
(i) Councillor Charlie Dewhirst
(ii) Councillor Robert Largan

“The Council notes the recent proposals announced by Ed Balls MP, Shadow Chancellor, for a “Mansion Tax” on homes valued over £2m. It also notes that over 50% of all individuals who would have to pay such a tax nationally are within just five London Boroughs including Hammersmith & Fulham.

“The Council recognises that due to significant increases in local property prices, large numbers of residents living in average family homes, including many on low incomes, will be hit by this tax, paying bills starting from £20,000 per year. It recognises that this policy, if implemented, could lead to many local people being forced to move out of the borough.

“This Council deplores this ideologically led warfare against property ownership and resolves to oppose these proposals.”

After an amendment the motion – changed to simply agreeing to “lobby against the Mansion Tax” was carried unanimously. In other words the Labour councillors voted against their own Party policy.

This leaves the Labour MP for Hammersmith Andrew Slaughter completed isolated in his hapless efforts to defend a policy that would target his constituents so unfairly. Mr Slaughter has voted in favour of the policy.  As a Shadow Justice Minister he is bound by collective responsibility. But if he wanted to put his constituents first he could resign.

Here are the Labour councillors agreeing to campaign against Labour’s Mansion Tax:

Conservative Party Parliamentary Candidate for Hammersmith CllrCharlie Dewhirst said:

“I welcome the decision by local Labour councillors to join the Conservatives in opposing any new tax on the value of people’s homes. The local Labour MP should listen to residents and join our campaign against Ed Miliband’s appalling policy, which will force so many people out of their homes in Hammersmith.”

“If the Labour councillors are true to their word in opposing their Party’s manifesto commitments then they should not be campaigning for Ed Miliband in the lead up to the general election.”

Earlier the meeting sounded like a session of Alcoholics Anonymous as the Labour councillors declared their trade union membership

However they voted down a Conservative motion to stop Council  Taxpayers money paying for the salaries of union officials.

MIPIM leaves Labour in a muddle

MIPIM the property trade show is taking place in Olympia. Many local authorities, of all parties, regard attending as an effective way to find partners to regenerate areas providing new homes and jobs. It fosters competition – it is possible to shop around for the best deals available.

Speakers this year include the Shadow Housing Minister Emma Reynolds. However another Shadow Minister – the Labour MP for Hammersmith Andrew Slaughter was demonstrating outside with the far left group Radical Housing Network. It’s “network” includes London Left Unity – a new Communist political party set up by Ken Loach. Also in the Network is Unite the Union – who wrote to Hammersmith and Fulham Council urging them not to take part.

The council said thay had already paid £9,000 for a stall and thought that getting a refund might be tricky. Did they ask? Even if it was refused could they not have offered it a “mates rates” to another Labour council such as Southwark, Newham, Ealing or Hounslow? If the logic is that no conversations should take place with property developers then why go along at all? Yet the Labour council leader Cllr Stephen Cowan got inside to find out what the fat cats had to offer.

While Mr Slaughter was outside jeering with Cllr Vivienne Lukey.

Who is in charge of the clattering train?

There is certainly a challenge to come up with financially viable regeneration schemes that our attractive and provide a benefit for the existing inhabitants of our borough. Meeting that challenge involves talking to developers.

Refusing to contemplate any regeneration schemes means not talking to them.

Labour have got themselves into a muddle and risk leaving Hammersmith and Fulham Council a laughing stock.




Brian Mooney: Claims a blanket 20mph limit would improve safety are dubious

SyntekExifImageTitleA guest post from Brian Mooney of the Alliance of British Drivers. Brian is a management consultant and used to be a keen cyclist before his bike was vandalised. He also runs a personal website.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s website advises that there will be a public consultation on introducing a borough-wide zone with 20mph speed limits.

The cost of the consultation, including a ‘feasibility design’, will be £200,000, and will be the tip of the iceberg.

I find it irrelevant that the money will come from GLA funds – the GLA gets money from a levy on our LBH&F council tax bills. The money could be better spent on things like we actually want like improving health, better policing, or keeping our bus and tube fares down.

Obviously the cost of implementation will depend on the approach adopted, and is likely to be published next year. For now – I stress purely for illustration – I’ve looked at some very ballpark figures. They are based on cabinet paper costings from LB Croydon, another borough recently minded to consider wide-area 20 zones.

Hammersmith and Fulham already has some localised 20 zones, mostly in the north of the borough. This might still leave perhaps 250-400 residential streets joining a main road.

20mphAt £1,000 per junction, LBH&F would need £250k-£400k up front for signage alone (and at 8% pa, the annual maintenance cost might be £20k-£32k. Some assumptions made.)

Then there are monitoring/policing costs – assuming that the Police can/will police the limits.

In Worthing (with a similar population to LBH&F of around 183,000), the estimate for annual monitoring only was put at £16,000.

There, Sussex Police said that would only support introduction if the zone was ‘self-enforcing’, implying some kind of traffic calming. No traffic calming cost for LBH&F is included, but I note an estimate for implementation in Worthing was over £1m.

A previous Hammersmith and Fulham Council administration littered roads like Peterborough Road and Parsons Green Lane with speed bumps. This is not good for road safety as it can damage vehicle tyres and suspensions. It can also slow down ambulances and jar patients being carried; the vibrations from heavier vehicles can also damage properties.

I would say that there is scant democratic mandate on Hammersmith and Fulham Council. Council cabinet papers refer to the victorious Labour manifesto, but this only came out online on 20 May – i.e. just before polling day – and well after the postal votes.

What’s more, I didn’t receive any Labour election leaflets although I did from other parties.

It is interesting to review the experience of other areas. Despite vigorous lobbying from groups dedicated to suppressing car use to have a ‘one size fits all’ speed policy across the UK, it seems the public is not that keen.

A public consultation found that 58% were opposed to Birmingham City Council’s plans for wide area 20mph zones. (That has not stopped the council from going ahead, though). Londoners weren’t exactly sold either. A poll conducted for Green Party MEP Jean Lambert before May’s election showed that only a minority in the capital might support their extension.

ABD_Logo_2012_whiteProfessor John Wann of Royal Holloway College has warned against the zones, as they are not respected by drivers. (I would add that a downside of any ill-judged measures is that they tend to breed wider disrespect for the law). Widespread non-compliance after introducing zones has been seen in Islington, where the council ignored local police objections.

Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh recently caused amazement when she claimed that the wide-area Islington zone had resulted in “40 fewer deaths” and called for more zones so that children were free to “roam wild”. The zone, costing half a million pounds, actually saw higher average speeds, with drivers typically breaking the limit on 156 of the 158 roads covered.

In LBH&F, the police’s views should become clearer with the consultation. However a study into compliance during 2012 revealed only 10 cases of police catching drivers over 30mph (i.e. under one a month) in H&F. This implies either that LBH&F drivers are relatively compliant with established speed limits or it is not any priority to police compliance. In context, neither conclusion supports any case for 20 zones.

A number of local authorities are not convinced either. Norfolk’s transport director, Mike Jackson, stated:

“Within Norfolk at present, the commitment of funds to the implementation of ‘blanket’ 20 mph schemes would not offer good value for money compared to other measures to reduce casualties.”  He added: “The council should continue to prioritise schemes that target reductions in killed and serious injuries and should not divert resources to area-wide 20mph speed restrictions…

 Beware of glib claims that 20mph zones ‘prevent accidents’ or ‘have seen fewer injuries’. For instance, a review of casualties in the Portsmouth area (where I have a relative) shows that there was a downward trend before the zones were introduced and that injuries (noticeably Killed and Serious Injuries, ‘KSI’) have risen after they became established.

Independent road safety researcher Eric Bridgstock reviewed outcomes in Bristol, Oxford Warrington and Portsmouth after the introduction of the zones. In Portsmouth he observed

“[compared with a] 12% average reduction in KSI nationally, Portsmouth recorded a 6% increase in KSI… despite a 12% reduction in traffic volume within their 20mph zone.”

He regretted that Portsmouth’s School Children statistics recorded: “more casualties annually in the two years following the introduction of the 20mph speed limit scheme than the annual average for the three years before”.

Casualty figures are typically prone to fluctuation as they relate to individual actions, but it should not be assumed that reducing the speed limit is a panacea for preventing accidents. Speed is not the major factor in motor accidents – misjudgement, inattention or tiredness are far more likely to be at fault. Statistically, motorways are actually Britain’s safest roads.

Advocates of the zones often offer a justification that someone hit by a vehicle at 20mph might come off less badly than at 30mph, but this is missing the point.

Pedestrians and cyclists can be killed by traffic travelling legally at 20mph or even 10mph. Effective road safety policy should be about preventing them from being hit at any speed, through sound road user education and engineering out hazards.

No change to the law is needed around schools, where the Highway Code already requires drivers to adjust their speed to the conditions. Any driver compliance problems could be addressed by Improved signage or vehicle activated signs to help to ensure awareness, or as a last resort, police patrols.

Parents can do their bit, too, by educating their children on using designated crossing places, and teaching them not to “roam wild” or dash out. Growing up with a culture of mutual respect and consideration for other road users can only be good for society.

Piers Player: The extraordinary history of the Brunswick club

A guest post from Piers Player, Senior Youth and Development Worker of  the Brunswick Club

BrunswickDouble_tcm21-123239The Brunswick Boys’ Club Trust was established by a Declaration of Trust on 26 February 1945 by British officers held as prisoners of war in Oflag 79, a WWII prisoner of war camp on the outskirts of Brunswick in Germany.

As the war approached its end the prisoners of Oflag 79 conceived the idea that they should form a Club for “the boys who will be the Men of Tomorrow and who need opportunities to develop their potential. Let this Boys Club be a memorial to the comradeship we have shared in our captivity and let it be a living memorial to those of our friends who have fallen”.

In 1947, using the money pledged by the prisoners of war in Oflag 79 and money raised in subsequent fund-raising campaigns, the Brunswick Boys Club Trust purchased a site in the centre of Fulham – “a somewhat depressed area that had suffered substantial damage during the Blitz.”

The original object of the Trust was to “promote the bodily, mental and spiritual welfare of boys in the United Kingdom under the age of twenty-one.” On 14 May 1997 the Trust changed its name to The Brunswick Club Trust and the object was amended to “promote the development of boys and young men and girls and young women in achieving their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potential.”

brunswick13_tcm21-133094Initially consisting of two Nissen huts, The Brunswick Boys Club (as it was then called) has since been renamed The Brunswick Club for Young People and is now a purpose built youth centre offering a range of excellent facilities and services for the young people of Hammersmith & Fulham.

Currently it provides:

  • a three day a week Senior Youth Club for young people in school years 7 and above;
  • a two day a week Junior Youth Club in school years 2-6;
  • a weekly girls group for 11 to 16 year olds;
  • a weekly after school club for children with moderate learning difficulties;
  • a weekly table tennis club for children aged 5 to 11 years;
  • six competitive football teams from Under 9s to Under 15s;
  • seven weeks of Junior holiday activity schemes; and
  • an annual holiday residential to Hindleap Warren Outdoor Activity Centre in East Sussex.

The Club is also used regularly by other organisations providing services and activities for children and young people, including the Kixstar Dragon Taekwondo Club, Little Kickers Football Club and the Fulham Junior Chess Club.

Providing a range of services six days a week, with a membership of over 600 children and young people and an average daily attendance of 85+, the Club enjoys a good level of support and respect within the local community.

Flora Taylor: Turning round troubled families in H&F

floraA guest post from Flora Taylor the Chief Executive of Family Friends

Family Friends is a charity that works with disadvantaged families in the London Boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea.

Our aim is simple: to help families to help themselves. Our work changes lives by empowering families and building on their strengths.

Founded 20 years ago by Sheila Paget, following her work in a Barnardo’s boys home in

East London, Family Friends provides early intervention support by trained volunteers to troubled families. This prevents disastrous family breakdown, which devastates young lives and destabilises local communities.

We offer two services:

  • Parent Befriending for parents of children aged 0-16
  • Child Befriending & Mentoring for children aged 5-16

We provide a trained volunteer for a parent or child as a source of practical and emotional support. The volunteer visits the family in their home each week for a year.

familieshfOur experienced staff carefully monitor the volunteers and families, working closely with social workers, schools, GP’s, health visitors and other local organisations offering sensible, reliable, community based help.

In Hammersmith & Fulham the majority of families we support are via our Child Befriending & Mentoring scheme due to our funding from the Big Lottery. The children we work with are isolated and lacking in confidence while some are poorly behaved at school or bullied. Many of the families have a family member who is ill or disabled and they struggle to cope or give their children the attention they need.

Often children live in cramped housing where they have little room to expend energy or do homework.

Working with children, volunteers build aspirations for the future, provide a positive role model, raise self-esteem through developing interests, visits to museums and libraries and academic support, as well as encouraging consistent school attendance.

They also enable children to achieving better health through sport and exercise and cooking nutritious meals together.

What children say about Family Friends:

‘It is now easier to make friends and do activities out of school. I can now ignore bullying and stand up for my rights in an assertive way.’

‘Always getting 15 out of 15 in my spelling. She was helpful and great meeting her’

‘I am a different person – I was angry, now I am happy. She was wonderful’

What the referral agencies say about Family Friends:

‘We work together very well. They fulfil pieces of work we couldn’t. They have a different role – are not social services – people can grow to trust them, they are reliable, it’s just invaluable.’

Through the programme children develop confidence and self esteem, join clubs and libraries, make friends, develop interests, start using public transport, improve personal care, take more exercise, improve their diets, learn to cook healthy food and develop aspirations for the future.

Parents improve their homes, register with children’s centres, enroll on parenting classes, link in with health services, return to employment or education and improve their English.

Family Friends was presented with The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in September 2013. This is the highest award in the voluntary sector and just seven other London charities won the award last year.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer befriender/mentor with Family Friends please contact the office on 020 8960 9099 or visit our website to download an application form.

Andrew Johnson: The “Mansion Tax” – Labour’s tax on living in London

andrewjohnson2A guest post from Andrew Johnson

Labour’s proposals for the introduction of a “Mansion Tax” levied on homes worth more than £2m have been the subject of numerous headlines and newspaper column inches since Ed Miliband confirmed the party’s commitment to introducing it should they form a government after next May’s General Election.

Whilst the critics have been numerous, and rightly so, it is becoming clear that many within the Labour Party also do not believe the policy to be fair, credible or deliverable.

Take for example the comments made by prominent London Labour MP and London Mayor hopeful, Dame Tessa Jowell, who said: “I am concerned about my typically older families who are asset rich and income poor. They bought houses 40 years ago, which have appreciated enormously in value and they certainly can’t afford a mansion tax.”

Yet very little has been said by our own Labour MP for Hammersmith, Andrew Slaughter. This is rather strange, given that the Borough contains over 2000 homes valued at £2m+.

Of course this may be explained by the fact that Mr Slaughter is one of Miliband’s strong admirers and as a Shadow Minister has to be supportive of Labour Party policy.

However, let’s be in no doubt of the potential impact a “Mansion Tax” would have upon Hammersmith and Fulham, were it to be levied either at the starting threshold of £2m, or as some have suggested, at a lower rate.

Thus far Labour have been vague as to the details of the proposed new tax, but one thing immediately stands out – the £1.2bn target for annual income generation they have set. To raise a sum even close to this figure would require virtually no exemptions and a collection regime which ensured nearly 100% collection.

More likely, according to residential analysts, is that in order for future Labour Government to meet its income target, the threshold would be reduced to £1.5m or potentially lower once all the exemptions and cost of collection are allowed for.

Of course, Labour deny this, but the temptation to do so against underperforming collection targets would be a strong one to resist, especially if it meant making the funding shortfall up from somewhere else.

Nor can we discount Labour relaxing its position and allowing the real threshold to be lowered through the impact of property inflation and subsequent drag for properties currently just below the threshold as a means of achieving envisaged income targets.

So whilst under the last Labour Government the motorist was used as an unwilling cash cow, so it seems homeowners will be under a future Labour one. However, and here so far there has been very little focus on the consequences of the Mansion Tax, it won’t only be homeowners/owner occupiers who will be impacted by it.

The introduction of the tax will also have major implications for those in the private rented sector who rent properties valued at over £2m, typically in our Borough large family homes on our terraced streets.

Whilst the landlord will have to pay the tax will they absorb the cost? I doubt it. Or will they pass it onto their tenants through an increase in rents thereby driving up rents? Very Likely.

Key questions remain over whether social housing in high value locations like Hammersmith & Fulham will be exempt from the new tax. Again there has been little clarity of this issue from Labour.

For within H&F there are still a significant number of large family-sized social homes situated on some of the most expensive and desirable streets in the Borough which could be captured by the threshold for the tax, especially if it is subsequently lowered.

So what would then happen in this case if no exemption was granted?

Would councils and housing associations have to dispose of mansion taxable properties to avoid the levy, thereby displacing existing tenants, or would they have to pay the tax which would have to come from the revenue bottom line – surely it cannot be right in any measure that the poorest in society would have to pay for the “Mansion Tax” via their social rents?

Also, would we see an increase in the breakup of the large family homes the Borough so desperately needs into flats as owners seek to escape the new tax? For the temptation for a cash poor owner of a £3m property to create two £1.5m flats would be fairly strong.

So whilst all the talk thus far has been on the impact upon homeowners it is clear that those in the private rented sector and in social housing may be the victims of the unintended consequences of the tax unless Labour spells out clearly the detail of the proposal. For the reality is in Hammersmith & Fulham that all tenures will be captured in some way or another with potentially deeply negative results.

So far the local Labour Party has had very little to say on the matter, which is curious given the potential significant impact the “Mansion Tax” will have upon the Borough. It may, of course, help to focus the Leader of the Council’s mind if I point out that large family houses on streets like Inglethorpe would most certainly be captured by the tax or getting very close it.

Cllr Andrew Brown: Labour’s NHS claims start to unravel

andrewbrownA guest post from Cllr Andrew Brown, Conservative spokesman for Health and Adult Social Care

Last night’s Health Scrutiny meeting was as heated as expected, especially on changes to local A&Es and Imperial’s plans for the future of its sites, in particular Charing Cross.  The Committee also discussed food banks and the Council’s proposed £6.5 million cuts from the Adult Social Care budget.

Three claims that Labour made before the local elections were refuted by local NHS experts and doctors. They confirmed that Charing Cross hospital will continue to have an A&E, the specification of which will be finalised once Sir Bruce Keogh’s report on future of emergency medicine is published.

They also confirmed that Charing Cross hospital will not be a GP led clinic, but will be staffed by both primary and secondary care clinicians with patients treated by the clinicians most suitable to their needs.

Finally they confirmed that Charing Cross hospital will have a £150 million new building that once built, and only then, will replace some of the existing buildings on the site. This £150 million is part of a wider £1.1 billion capital investment in healthcare across North West London.

With these important clarifications by the local NHS came increasingly angry and aggressive questioning by Labour Councillors, especially Council Leader, Stephen Cowan. His questioning consisted of repetitively asking questions, manipulating peoples’ words and cutting off respondents when he didn’t like the answers. He appeared to have no genuine interest in scrutinising local doctors about how these changes would be delivered to ensure the greatest benefit to local residents and other NHS users. His behaviour was inappropriate towards NHS public servants, a feeling shared by shocked local NHS doctors.

Andrew Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith, missed the majority of the meeting. His only contribution was to ask questions that had already been answered. Like Cllr. Cowan he seemed more interested in asking the questions than actually listening to the answers. It was hard to avoid the feeling that both were more interested in scoring cheap political points than actually partaking in a sincere scrutiny process.

The new Labour administration is approaching 150 days in office and had many more in opposition to develop alternative plans for local healthcare services. It has had time to find clinicians and experts to support their views, but it has failed to do so.

What is even more concerning, is that the new Labour administration’s, especially the Council Leader’s, attitude towards local NHS doctors and experts is putting at risk the ability of the Council to work with the NHS to improve integration of health and social care,  coordinate public health and put in place the strategies desperately needed to prevent local people developing serious long term health conditions that are putting huge demand on our social care services.

If the new Council administration doesn’t find a way to work with the local NHS, instead of finding ways of closing the £6.5 million gap in adult social care funding, that gap will get much wider as people suffer from worst healthcare outcomes and require more NHS care and more local authority social care.

I understand why Andrew Slaughter wishes to keep kicking the political football of local NHS reforms, but Stephen Cowan needs to realise that he’s not fighting the local elections any more. He’s in administration now and needs to put local people first and find ways of working productively with the NHS.