Selling council assets can also mean dealing with eyesores

IMG_6617The financial case for disposing of council assets is easy to understand. According to the Council’s Statement of Accounts we spent £15.92 million on interest payments on debt in 2014/15 with debt of £232 million. Most of that is for the Housing Revenue Account – meaning that millions a year in rent and leaseholder charges is swallowed up in interest payments.

There is also £66 million of General Fund debt with a £2.2 million bill for interest. To put this in context the total revenue from Council Tax is £52.5 million.

But there is also economic and environmental case not to have unused – or underused – council buildings and land sitting idle as eyesores.

For example there is an extraordinarily large single space, with a high roof, and according to LBHF assets list, about 910 square metres behind 50 Ravenscourt Gardens.

Tim Harvey, the chairman of Ravenscourt Gardens Residents asks:

“Are there, or could there be, any plans to restore 50 Ravenscourt Gardens to its former glory as part of any redevelopment of the store? As a result of this historic vandalism the house is in a very sorry state and is a blight on the Grade II-listed street scape as a whole.”

Nigel Brown, Head of Asset Strategy and Portfolio Management, responds:

“There are no current plans to dispose of Ravenscourt Stores. Building Property Management has been tasked by Councillor Schmid to undertake asset reviews of all its assets by late summer. Asset reviews are part of LBHF Asset Management Plan.”

I will let you know when I have more news.

Labour MP’s shock attack on “Toxic Tessa”

Tessa_JowellAndrew Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith, has made an astonishing attack on Dame Tessa Jowell, the front runner to be the Labour candidate for Mayor of London. He says she is unelectable given her support for a third runway at Heathrow.

Mr Slaughter says:

“Heathrow expansion is a politically toxic issue. Any Labour candidate for Mayor standing for office on the ticket of an extra runway at Heathrow would lose the support of swathes of voters in West London. I can’t see how they could beat a Tory candidate opposed to Heathrow expansion.”

There are a couple of problems. First of all Mr Slaughter’s preference is for his fellow lawyer Sadiq Khan. But Mr Khan has been completely duplicitous on the issue.

Another difficulty is that Mr Slaughter has failed to convince most of the local Labour councillors in the borough. Of the 26 Labour councillors so far 16 have signed up for Toxic Tessa.

They are:

  1. Lisa Homan
  2. Sue Macmillan
  3. Max Schmid
  4. Andrew Jones
  5. Larry Culhane 
  6. Daryl Brown
  7. P.J. Murphy
  8. Vivienne Lukey 
  9. Sharon Holder 
  10. Alan De’Ath 
  11. Ben Coleman
  12. Elaine Chumnery
  13. Caroline Needham
  14. Adam Connell 
  15. Sue Fennimore
  16. Stephen Cowan

Just how serious is Labour in Hammersmith and Fulham to opposing a third runway? They seem to be at each other’s throats.



Proposal to reopen Ravenscourt Park Hospital

ravenscourtparkhospTim Harvey the Chairman of the Ravenscourt Gardens Residents has made the following query with me about Ravenscourt Park Hospital:

“As you know this has now been empty for some years. Is the planning consent for conversion to a specialist cancer centre still valid – by now it may well have expired? As the years tick by it would seem that the possibility of converting this beautiful Grade II* building to a modern facility gets more and more remote. On costs, the last I heard it was £100m, with no takers. What powers do the council have to force the issue here, or even to reconsider its use, with reference to its sister building Ashlar Court, for instance?

Under a general heading of ‘regeneration’ isn’t it time that something creative was done to this huge building and very large area of the RP ward?

The buildings behind the hospital in the roadway between Ravenscourt Gardens and Ravenscourt Square continue to be a particularly squalid part of our conservation area. The Chiswick Nursing Centre have now been forced to lay huge concrete blocks on the pavement alongside the very dilapidated boiler house to prevent illegal parking and flytipping. It is a really horrible area, and we tend to avoid it at all times, especially at night.”

The Council has responded as follows:

“With regards to Ravenscourt Park Hospital, we have been advised that negotiations with a new investor and operator that runs a number of hospitals are at an advanced stage, in fact heads of terms have been exchanged. The agents are of the opinion that works were carried out on site to implement the earlier planning permission and they hope to be on site in the near future to complete the development. They have advised us that some minor alterations (mainly internal) may be required to the planning permission, and these would be part of a further planning application in due course.”

So good news.

Although I will still pursue Tim’s point about the dilapidated old boiler house and surrounding area.

20 mph zones slow down buses by 10%

Hammersmith and Fulham Council is proposing putting all roads under a 20 mph speed limit.

What would be the impact on bus journey times?

Transport for London tells me:

The potential impacts on bus passenger journey times of wide-scale introduction of 20 mph zones will be lowest during the daytime (where average speeds are slowest, at around 9mph). 80% of daily weekday journeys occur between 0700-1900, where the additional journey time on the average journey (with a length of 3.5km) will be of the order of magnitude of 5-10 seconds. Evening and night times have higher average speeds (around 12-14mph), with additional journey time on the average journey of the order of magnitude of up to 45-60 seconds.

So if you were going by bus in the evening the average journey is a couple of miles and takes 10 minutes. The 20mph zone would mean it would take 10% longer.

That might not sound much but given the busy leads we leave would be a source of frustration. There is also the damaging impact on air quality of having the buses crawling along more slowly.

It could also have a perverse impact of making bus travel less attractive compared to driving. This is because TfL claim that they would ensure bus drivers would follow the new requirement:

“Bus operators must ensure their drivers adhere to speed limits and schedule services accordingly.”

By contrast the police have made very clear that they would not enforce the new 20 mph limit. So in practice the new limit would be ignored by private motorists but, according to TfL, followed by bus drivers.

Therefore someone wishing to get from A to B as quickly as possible would be less likely to take the bus and more likely to drive.

Sadiq Khan challenged over duplicity on Heathrow third runway

There was a hustings this week. David Lammy made clear he was not convinced by his fellow Labour MP Sadiq Khan sudden claim to be opposed to the third runway at Heathrow. (About 1 hr 23 mins in.)

“We should not play politics with this issue. Sadiq was for Heathrow expansion in 2008. He was for it when he was Transport Secretary in 2009. He was for it on the Sunday Politics just a few months ago. Zac Goldsmith announces he running and suddenly Sadiq is against it.

“I think it’s important to be straight with people. To be honest with people. And not be playing the same Ed Miliband politics that got us nowhere.”

Cllr Andrew Brown: Proposed merger of Chelsea & Westminster with West Middlesex Hospitals – Good for patients or a huge risk?

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

Yesterday evening I attended, with my colleague, Cllr Joe Carlebach, a public meeting arranged by Chelsea & Westminster Hospital Foundation Trust. The purpose was to engage with local residents and councillors. The Chair, executives and governors of the hospital spoke initially about the challenges and also successes of the hospital, including the CQC report, but also the excellent A&E waiting times and world class HIV & sexual health services. The white elephant in the room however was the acquisition of West Middlesex NHS Trust, by Chelsea & Westminster.

There has been a serious lack of local scrutiny of this decision, and to give credit to the hospital’s Chair and executives, they gave a full, and in my opinion, genuine apology about the lack of communication on this issue and in general. It is refreshing to see that from an NHS body. But it is unfair for Chelsea & Westminster (C&W) to take all the responsibility for this lack of scrutiny, a point made by several people at the meeting.

Whilst C&W could have asked to present to our Health, Adult Social Care and Social Inclusion Policy and Accountability Committee – catchy title isn’t it – that is not really how the committee functions. The vast majority of attendees are asked to give evidence by the committee. There have been numerous occasions over the last year when important NHS issues have been discussed, such as A&E waiting times, or Shaping a Healthier Future, where C&W’s presence would have been welcomed and could have provided valuable information and the opportunity to discuss and scrutinise the proposed merger/acquisition.

Cllr Carlebach and I had to argue for Chelsea & Westminster to be called before the committee, as they are a very important provider of acute hospital services, especially paediatrics to a significant proportion of LBHF, but especially the south of the borough. It was revealed this evening that Labour’s cabinet member for health, Cllr Lukey, has not until last night, met the acting chief executive of Chelsea & Westminster, who has been in post for some time. This is concerning to say the least.

Onto the merger/acquisition itself. C&W were approached by West Middlesex NHS Trust a couple of years ago to investigate a merger. As a foundation trust, C&W have to acquire West Middlesex. This has to be agreed by the TDA, the Trust Development Agency. So far the acquisition has been approved by the Competition and Markets Authority. It is now being reviewed by Monitor, the NHS financial regulator, and then final approval is needed from the secretary of state for health.

Worryingly, this is all due to happen within the next few weeks, with the final acquisition proposed for September.

What I find most alarming is that we have so far, despite asking for it, received no in-depth clinical case, outlining how this will improve patient care, improve outcomes and save lives, and no financial case at all. We do not know what services will move between sites, or what additional services will be offered other than a brief suggestion of cardiology cath-labs, bariatric surgery (to tackle morbid obesity) and ophthalmology.

The Chair, pointed out the challenges facing NHS trusts due to increasing demand from an aging population and increased chronic disease, and how trusts have to work together and specialise to cope with demand, improve outcomes and reduce backroom costs.

At a time when there is great uncertainty in the NHS, especially in North West London, he conceded that this is a risk, but that it would also be a risk not to proceed with the merger. Chelsea & Westminster’s budget is currently in surplus but forecasted to fall into deficit.

Without the key clinical case and financial case it is impossible to scrutinise this decision or believe the risk is worth taking. Especially when we consider that C&W is soon to appoint a new permanent chief executive, needs to make significant changes to improve its CQC rating of requires improvement, and needs to improve its own leadership structure. There are also significant leadership challenges at West Middlesex, and hanging over that hospital is a PFI contract, a disastrously managed policy of the last Labour Government, that is a significant reason for the financial challenge facing the NHS.

We will hopefully have the opportunity to scrutinise this decision in great detail on the 7th July at the next health scrutiny committee. Only then will we be able to come to a conclusion on whether this will be good for patients’ outcomes and experiences, and save lives, and something that we should support, or whether the risks are too great. I hope that residents interested and concerned about changes to healthcare in our borough will attend that meeting.

If the acquisition is given the final go-ahead by the regulators and government, it is ultimately the decision of Chelsea & Westminster’s governors whether to go ahead. If there is significant uncertainty and local opposition against this proposal they will have a difficult decision to take. However if this proposal had received greater scrutiny during its process, we could have a lot more confidence that the decision was the right one. The fault for that has to be shared by Chelsea & Westminster and Hammersmith and Fulham Council, and its Labour administration.

Sore thumbs in Keith Grove and St Stephen’s Avenue

Quinlan Terry says that the highest praise for one of his buildings is to say that “it looks like it has always been there”.

Further to the Hammersmith Society awards which I wrote about yesterday I reflected that modernist buildings are more likely to win prizes because they stand out – even if it like sore thumbs.

Here are a couple of examples – which did not win prizes but understandably caught the Society’s attention.

23 Keith GroveFirst of all 23 Keith Grove, off Uxbridge Road.

Tom Ryland, the Society’s Chairman said:

“This is a rather intriguing new house built on an end of terrace derelict site – Not many of them around to provide a Grand Designs type experience.

I understand that the house has featured on C4’s George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces and it won a NLA Award.

Obviously the major feature is the huge picture window which reflects the street, the sky and the trees: We are not quite sure what the effect is inside – Is it like a big two way mirror?

The other rather charming feature is the front door where you actually enter through the number 23.

Overall the Committee had mixed views on this scheme – and interestingly it was some of the architect members who most disliked it.

The architects of the scheme were MATT Architecture.”

Then there was The Nook, St Stephen’s Avenue, Mr Ryland said:

The Nook, St Stephen's Avenue“This is a rather intriguing infill scheme at the Uxbridge Road end of St Stephen’s Avenue.

What you see on the street is rather deceptive as it is part of quite a large backland scheme at the rear of this building.

The block is an interesting and polite design solution to the street and not trying to emulate the Victoriana on either side by providing a simple brick box elevation.

We actually thought it could have been a storey higher!

Architects (and owners?) for scheme were Henning Stummel Architects.”

Polite? Hmmm. The great thing, I suppose, about not even “trying to emulate Victoriana” is that there is no risk of your attempt to do so failing. Much easier to indulge in the attention seeking “innovative” option and then you might win a prize – even if you ruin the appearance of the street.