Council approves a hideous new building in Hammersmith Road

bechtelHammersmith and Fulham Council’s Planning Applications Committee has approved plans for Bechtel House at 245 Hammersmith Road to be demolished and for an equally hideous building, slightly taller (ten storeys instead of nine), to replace it.

Local resident Ned Pakenham commented:

“Much of the building is to be clad in concrete.  Not the brutalist finish of the 1970s, but concrete nevertheless.  In ten years rain and traffic fumes will have stained parts of it a mottled and dirty grey, and we won’t be able to clean it because concrete cannot be cleaned satisfactorily.  Surely this important site deserves stone or brick.

“The window reveals are to be clad in an unspecified red metal, and it looks like the architects/developers want aluminium powder-coated with red paint. Again, this is not a long-lasting material or finish and will degrade in twenty-five years to the point where another replacement building will be sought. Aluminium is cheap and looks cheap. If metal is to be used, let it be bronze which won’t deteriorate and will develop an attractive patina.

Sheppard-Robson-Hammersmit_636“Finally, the additional height of the proposed building is a small but significant skyline grab from Brook Green, Wolverton Gardens and Rowan Road. One has to question why a building no greater than the existing height cannot be insisted upon by planning officers. When did it become okay for developers to build higher just because they are replacing an uglier building?”

All the usual excuses for agreeing an ugly building are trotted out. The building it replaces is ugly anyway. It is not in a conservation area . There are already lots of other ugly buildings in the vicinity – although in their report the planning officers acknowledged that the “Brook Green conservation area is located to the north and the Hammersmith Broadway conservation area is to the west. There are several listed and locally listed buildings opposite the site on Hammersmith Road. Include the Sacred Heart Convent and School..”)

Another excuse is that it is for offices – as if such building must inevitably be ugly.

baker-streetfrancisThen there is the description of the building as “modern”. What the planning officer means is modernist. Yesterday’s future. These concrete slabs might have been modern in the 1950s, by the 1960s they were pretty routine. Since then the dreary design has persisted but has become increasingly dated, discredited and unpopular. It is nonsense to suggest that modern building must be modernist. The building on the left is a new office block in Baker Street (designed by Quinlan and Francis Terry Architects).

It is modern. It is not modernist.

One of the most absurd justifications is that the proposal gained a positive response from the Council’s Design Review Panel. But that is just one bunch of modernist architects approving the work of another bunch of modernist architects. Ditto with the endorsement with sometimes hear about from CABE.

Then we get into similarly circular territory with schemes where modernist planning officers in City Hall endorse the prejudices of the modernist planning officers in Hammersmith Town Hall.

Or the further tautology from the planning officers that modernism is fine because it says so – in the planning policies written by the planning officers. (“Contemporary architecture is encouraged…” “policies should not stifle innovation, originality or initiative through unsubstantiated requirements to conform to certain development forms or styles..”)

Then there can be the defence of the Bechtel House plans which is to challenge the premiss that the new building would be ugly. I would be surprised if anyone actually claimed that what was proposed was beautiful – modernism entails the rejection of beauty as a creative ideal. However the planning officer’s report says it would be a “sympathetically designed” building – which I think means in sympathy with the other concrete blocks.

A valid point would be that Legal and General should have been encouraged to produce a quite different design much earlier in the planning process. I have asked what design brief they were given. Had the planning officers told them to produce something ugly then it would have been understandable if they had then been a bit miffed at such an application then being turned down. The meeting note of September 15th shows their representatives went through the plans with three Labour councillors – Cllr Michael Cartwright, Cllr Andrew Jones and Cllr Guy Vincent. There is no reference to any of these councillors raising any concerns about the designs. They should have done.

Then we have the box ticking about the “key stakeholders” being squared. The routine here is for amenity groups to make footling points over the details and then to feel sophisticated and important when some of their efforts at turd polishing are grudgingly accepted. Thus we end up with Hammersmith Society in their newsletter giving the pronouncement that this is a “good scheme”. Who says so? The Hammersmith Society committee? One or two members of the committee? Good relative to what? Would you like to live in such a building? Or live opposite it? Or work in it? Or eat or shop in it? I fear that Society is setting their standards pretty low to offer such an emphatic endorsement.

More box ticking comes with a wider consultation. 20 people attended an exhibition over two days, eight of them left responses. Eight. The planning report then adds without apparent irony: “The comments made were largely supportive of the proposals yet some comments focused on the design of the proposed building.”

At this point it is usual form to scold the other residents for being too apathetic to attend the exhibition. But would it have made any difference if they had. As I have stated before the real way to empower residents would be to have offered a choice of designs, of broadly equivalent densities and financial viability, with at least one of traditional character. I am all for development and that means allowing the company that undertakes it to make a profit. I don’t think that means ten storeys, preferably it would mean below nine. There can always be some flexibility in making less onerous demands for Section 106 payments if a building is attractive.

So let us offer development choice. Let the people decide.

Slaughter is still backing the Mansion Tax – and slams “irresponsible” Labour council

mansiontaxgraphicThe Labour MP for Hammersmith, Andrew Slaughter, is still backing the Mansion Tax.   Here he is, earlier this month, responding to a constituent:

“Thank you for taking the time to email me.

I do not have an objection in principle to levying a tax on very high value property, especially where this is used as a mechanism for laundering money through the UK property market in a way that both avoids income and other taxes and distorts the market to the detriment on UK residents trying to get on the housing ladder – or simply find a home.

As you may know from my opposition to schemes like the King Street, West Kensington and White City developments – which are specified as high-density luxury properties primarily for the foreign investment market – I would like to see a more mixed economy of housing in the borough.

The Government is belatedly taking some steps to address this, such as the increases in stamp duty and infrastructure levies, but the market seems as buoyant as ever in Hammersmith & Fulham given the council’s irresponsible attitude to planning policy.

With regards to the specifics of the policy, Ed Balls has said that £2 million (uprated by the rise in property prices each year) would be the starting point, so there is no question of lower-valued properties being sucked in.

Secondly, I believe no one should be forced to pay, let alone move, because they are asset-rich but cash-poor so there will be a scheme to defer payment until the property is sold.

Whilst this information is helpful, I think a lot more work needs to be done to clarify on whom the tax would fall and at what levels it should be set. The objective of such a tax – as the name implies – is to correct the anomaly in council tax whereby ‘mansions’ are treated the same as modest family homes, because the banding system stopped abruptly at £320,000 (at 1991 values). The main beneficiaries of this are foreign investors who are paying nugatory sums annually for owning properties worth £10m or more.

Of course, the purpose is defeated if the tax catches more modest properties but is still relatively inconsequential for the super-rich. Ed Balls has addressed this also by saying there will be a banding system for the mansion tax.

However, I will be asking for more information on how the tax will avoid penalising residents for whom it would be neither fair nor affordable, and will be happy to share this with you in due course.

Thanks once again for emailing me.

Yours sincerely,

Andy Slaughter
Labour MP for Hammersmith”

This is an unsatisfactory response in various ways.

Here are just a few:

First of all he suggests that the increase in house prices in our borough is due to “the council’s irresponsible attitude to planning policy.” This is an outspoken attack from a Labour MP on his own Labour councillors. Perhaps given they recently left him isolated by voting to campaign against the “Mansion Tax” this is his revenge.

Secondly, the increase in house prices reflects a general London trend. So his explanation of blaming the local council is, in any event, implausible. If anything a more restrictive planning policy to wards more high value properties – which he seems to favour – would have constrained supply and resulted in scarcity driving up prices even higher.

Thirdly, regardless of the cause, given that the reality is that normal terraced house have valuations of over £2 million – why won’t Mr Slaughter state clearly that the policy is unreasonable and the reference to “mansions” a misnomer? The difficulty could be that he would have to resign as a Shadow Minister.

Fourthly, why does he regard it as acceptable that those of his constituents who he acknowledges to be “asset rich, cash poor” should be prevented from passing on their family home to their children when they die, by a mechanism that would be a second Inheritance Tax? Why does he want to break up communities and have family being forced to put up their homes for sale to Russian oligarchs?

Fifthly, though he says there is “no question of lower valued properties being sucked in” his fellow London Labour MP David Lammy says houses worth £1 million could be hit. Mansion Tax – The Homeowners Alliance have warned that the experience with Stamp Duty shows that what is imposed at the top end of the market then moves down. Anyone who believes Mr Slaughter’s assurances on this point is being naive – especially as he is not exactly Captain Honesty.

Sixthly, his response ignores all the practical difficulty. For example, people splitting their houses up – just as during the Window Tax era they bricked up their windows.

Seventhly, the reference to asking Mr Balls for “more information” is obfuscatory and weak. When will he be asking for this further information? Mr Slaughter is a Shadow Minister – if he doesn’t understand Labour policy, why should he expect the rest of us to vote for it to be implemented?

 

 

Grot spotting in Hammersmith Broadway Ward

The efforts of local Conservatives to clean up the borough with a grot spotting tour of some streets in Hammersmith Broadway Ward by Cllr Charlie Dewhirst and Rochard Owen.

Among the grottiest spots? A sofa at the south end of Southerton Road, a mattress and Boris Bike outside Elizabeth House on the Queen Caroline estate and mattresses and other mess outside 1 Cambridge Grove.

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Michael Angus: Please help the Barons Court Project

angusA guest post from Michael Angus, Manager of the Barons Court Project

The Barons Court Project is a small charity which operates a Daycentre for people vulnerable through mental health issues and for street homelessness people. We have been operating in the borough of Hammersmith  & Fulham since 1985. Our aim is to provide a safe and welcoming environment that meets the needs  of our users.  The alcohol and drug free project has a drop in on Monday’s to Wednesday’s from 2-5pm.

At the drop in we have a variety of services including showers, laundry, clothing bank and a cost-price café. These services allow street homeless people and those affected by mental health to meet basic their needs to be clean and also to have healthy nutritious meals.  We also have a TV Lounge and front room where people can meet, chat, play games and take part in activities and run relaxation and stress management sessions

bcpsignOn Thursday we run structured activities to teach life skills including cooking and computer classes to groups of eight people for eight weeks at a time. On Friday we have a Women’s group and a Black and Minority Ethnic Group (Green Palm) that meet at the centre.

The staff also have 1-1 meetings in the mornings with Service Users to give advice, guidance and information on subjects such as budgeting, benefits, housing, education, employment and training and accessing services in the borough.

Through this diverse mix of services we work hard to improve the quality of life for around 500 service users per year.

The aim of the project is to improve the quality of life of people that use our Daycentre by offering them the opportunity to partake in social activities that most of us can take for granted. At our monthly Community Meetings Service Users decide the activities for the month and that will improve their mental and physical health and wellbeing.

We are part funded by the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and also the National Health Service but this grant funding only meets about 50% of our costs. We are reliant on raising money from trusts and other grant making bodies to meet the shortfall.

You could help the project in a number of ways. We need the following items to give to users or for use in the centre.

Toiletries including:  Shower gel, disposable razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste and shaving foam and  Bath Towels for the people who use our shower, 975 showers were taken here last year.

Clothing: New Men’s socks, T’ Shirts and Underwear for the street homeless people we serve. Last year we gave out 376 items of clothing.

Tea, Coffee, Tinned Food and dry goods such as Pasta and rice, to use in the kitchen and keep our  costs down. Last year we served 3,195 meals.

We are looking for volunteers for a range of roles, so that we can open more hours and increase the activities for the people we serve.

We also need new trustees for the project

Finally monetary donations to help cover our costs and cover the deficit

Please contact Michael Angus – Project Manager via email:  michael@baronscourtproject.org or by phoning 0207 603 5232, if you able to help with any of the above.

Cleaning up Sands End

More evidence that under Labour street cleaning has ceased to be a priority can be seen from a “grot spotting” exercise by Cllr Jane Law, Cllr Steve Hamilton and Cllr Robert Largan in the Sands End Ward.

Here are just some examples of what they saw. As I have mentioned before the slide in standards since Labour took control of the council is no surprise – they have abandoned the rigorous monitoring that used to take place with Cabinet Member/Serco “walkabouts”. They have given Serco a clear message that the pressure is off – they will ge paid whether they do a good job or a bad job. Conservative councillors are doing all we can to challenge this culture.

We are demanding this grot gets cleaned up.

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Hurlingham and Chelsea School to become an academy

hurlinghamchelsealogoHurlingham and Chelsea School is to become an academy from January sponsored by the United Learning trust. Planned improvements for the school include the opening of a sixth form. Langford Primary School will also become an academy as a partnership arrangement.

The Interim Executive Board has set out it’s objectives for the schools in a letter to parents:

“A summary of the IEB’s vision and expectations:

• The schools would be defined by rigorous academic education, the highest standards  of behaviour, outstanding musical and cultural opportunities and a strong emphasis on  competitive sports.

• A world-class primary education

unitedlearninglogoThe style and quality of education at Langford would be at least as good as that more  commonly found in the best London independent pre-prep and preparatory schools. It  would focus on providing a traditional style of academic education for local children  across the full range of ability, regardless of background.

• Sixth Form at Hurlingham & Chelsea

The IEB believes strongly that the school would benefit enormously from the addition of  a sixth-form and that it should be implemented without delay.

• Bilingual Course

There are compelling arguments for considering a bilingual course (French and English) for 30 pupils in each year group at KS3 and KS4 at Hurlingham & Chelsea.

• Curriculum

The schools would develop their own knowledge-rich curriculums, based on the new  National Curriculum, in which pupils would be expected to study a foreign language  throughout KS2, KS3 and KS4, with a high proportion studying for three separate sciences at KS4 for the GCSE.

• Homework

The schools would have a systematic and organised approach to the setting, completion and marking of homework.

• Extra-curricular provision

Pupils would be offered a wider variety of extra-curricular activities and clubs, which should certainly include choral and instrumental music, drama, debating and competitive sports.

Meanwhile, the IEB’s priorities will be supporting the pupils and teaching staff and improving standards in both schools. Please be assured that we shall keep parents informed of progress and arrange a further meeting for parents before the end of the summer term.”

The schools sponsored by United Learning have generally achieved excellent results.

This summer GCSEs became harder. This meant the percentage “achieving 5+ A*-C GCSE or equivalents including English and mathematics” – which is the standard measure of achievement – declined slightly.

But while there was a decline of 2.9 per cent among the average of state schools nationally, United Learning academies saw an improvement of 1.5 per cent.

United Learning has an ethos based in its Christian roots but welcomes children of all faiths and none to its schools. It has independent as well as state schools in its group. Its first school – Surbiton High School opened in 1884. It now has over 30 academies and 13 independent schools – a powerful contribution to breaking down the “Berlin Wall” between the two sectors.


 

Grotspotting in Addison Ward

More complaints have been coming in at the way that street cleaning in the borough has deteriorated since Labour took control of the council. It is the most basic of services but it no longer seems to be given a priority – either in terms of clearing up the mess or in catching the culprits..

Here are some examples from Addison Ward a group of streets running off the northern half of Shepherd’s Bush Road – where local Conservatives, including Cllr Belinda Donovan, recently carried a spot check. I’m afraid the pictures below represent only a small sample of what was found.

Sulgrave Road, Lakeside Road and Shepherd’s Bush Road were all particularly badly hit.

Rubbish attracts more rubbish. The longer litter and fly tipping are without being cleared up the more they are added to.

Although Conservative councillors are now in opposition we will do all we can to keep up the pressure for higher standards.

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Cllr Marcus Ginn: Labour Council takes £1.6million from Charing Cross A&E

mginnA guest post from Cllr Marcus Ginn

The Labour administration in Hammersmith Town Hall confirmed in a Cabinet report on 3rd November that it plans to receive £1.6 million pounds from the NHS next year – funds which would otherwise have gone to pay for local emergency services including Charing Cross A&E.

Cabinet members have agreed to receive quarterly payments from the Hammersmith and Fulham Clinical Commissioning Group as part of the ‘Better Care Plan’ to spend more NHS resources in the community rather than in hospitals.

It is rank hypocrisy for this Labour Council to claim it will ‘Save our Hospitals’ when in the background it is making secret deals to take money from our local hospitals.

These changes may be supported by clinicians and beneficial to patients, but the Labour Council must be honest with us about its agenda instead of hiding behind slogans .