The council is failing to evict “neighbours from Hell”

Recently I asked Hammersmith and Fulham council:

“How many incidents of anti social behaviour were reported in 2014/15 where council tenants were the alleged perpetrators? Please advise both by number of incidents and by number of households accused of being responsible for at least one incident. How many evictions for anti social behaviour took place from 2014/15?”

The response from Mike England,

“I can confirm that the number of incidents of anti social behaviour that were reported in 2014/15, is as follows:

For cases received between 01 April 2014 to 31 March 2015, the number of individual perpetrators recorded as being council tenants was 361.

The number of evictions for ASB in 2014, between 1 January 2014 to 31 December 2014, was 10. For 2015, between 1 January 2015 to 29 June 2015, there has been one eviction for ASB.”

Of course some of the allegations are likely to be false. Others might be impossible to prove – but if this was a priority there are security firms that can gather evidence on persistent offenders. Court delays remains a problem though some action is being taken to help secure evictions. But an eviction rate of 1% or 2% seems pretty low to me.

The tenancy agreement says:

“In clauses a) and b) below, the tenant is responsible for the behaviour of anyone, including children, family, relatives and friends, who live or lodge at or visit the premises. The tenant shall
ensure that they do not act in breach of any of these clauses; nor must the tenant allow or permit them to act in such a way. This applies in the premises and anywhere in the local area.
Any breach of any of these clauses by others will be treated as a breach by the tenant. The tenant shall indemnify the council against all claims in respect of damage or nuisance caused by those others, including bearing the cost of making good or paying for any damage or defacement caused by those others.
a) Nuisance*
The tenant or anyone who lives or lodges at or visits the premises shall not do any of the following:
•threaten or use violence towards anyone in the local area, including council employees and contractors
•do anything that causes or is likely to cause nuisance or annoyance to anyone in the local area
•do anything that interferes with the peace, comfort or convenience of anyone who lives in the local area
•play recorded or live music at loud volumes in the property or in any garden or communal area
•cause damage to or deface property in the local area belonging to others or the council
•use the premises for any immoral criminal or illegal purposes, or be convicted of an arrestable offence in the local area.

b) Harassment*
i) The tenant or anyone who lives or lodges at or visits the premises shall not harass anyone in the local area on the basis of their actual or perceived colour, race, nationality, ethnic origin, sex, sexuality, mental or physical disability, religious beliefs or on any other grounds whatsoever.
ii) Examples of harassment include but are not limited to verbal or written abuse or threats, denigrating comments verbally or in writing, physical violence or assault, deliberate damage to property.

c) Domestic violence*
The tenant shall not cause use or threaten to use violence (including psychological abuse) against anyone else living in the premises. If the tenant does cause use or threatens to use such violence and as a result anyone leaves the premises, the council may take steps to evict the tenant.”

But is the tenancy agreement enforced? All too often it is not.

Remember that there are many who would welcome the chance of a council tenancy. There are 69 families placed in bed and breakfast accommodation in Hammersmith and Fulham at considerable cost to the Council Taxpayer. Altogether there are 1,197 households in temporary accommodation.

At present the council’s policy is to regard “eviction as a last resort” rather than adopting a “zero tolerance policy”.  Pride is taken that in the tiny number of cases taken to court the success rate is high – but that is due to the risk averse approach of waiting until a mass of evidence before taking tough action.

Labour may regard their soft approach towards yobs as “caring”. I do not. It is not caring for the vast majority of decent residents who have to put up with this misery. Nor is it caring for those in overcrowded, poor quality temporary accommodation who would be all to willing to honour their tenancy agreement if they were given the chance of a council tenancy.

Cllr Lucy Ivimy: To prevent flooding stop concreting over the borough

ivimyCllr Lucy Ivimy writes

Thames Water’s proposals for a large storm relief sewer to prevent basement flooding from the Counter’s Creek sewer has caused huge concern to local residents. They are rightly objecting, not just to the disturbance while it is being dug, but to the loss of precious green space in our crowded borough.

We do not underestimate the appalling consequences of having your home flooded by a mix of storm water and raw sewage. It takes weeks, if not months, to put right the damage, sort out the insurance and make a home habitable again. It is not acceptable that so many of our residents – 1,700 of them the last time this happened – face this risk every time there is a flash flood. Thames Water must take steps to prevent this flooding.

When we were in administration, we put pressure on Thames Water to do a clear out of Counter’s Creek – despite their insistence that the sewer was clear and not a problem. In the event they removed lorry loads of sludge and rubble from it, which has greatly improved the situation. More, though, needs to be done.

This problem, and its solution, needs to be sorted out at the local level by close cooperation between Thames Water, the Council and the residents. Central government cannot micromanage these issues. We do, though, call on the Labour party political appointees to the board of Thames Water to protect the interests of local residents and customers and ensure that they, rather than the interests of foreign shareholders, are paramount. They must listen to local residents and the Council about the location of their tunnelling points.

There are other aspects of the Thames Water proposals that we should question. Starting with asking if this is not a nineteenth century solution to a twenty first century problem and suggesting that Thames Water goes back to the drawing board, analyse the root problem of the flooding and seek to cure.

There has been a 17 percent increase in the amount of impermeable land since 1971 in the Counter’s Creek catchment area. Paving over front gardens for parking, often in neighbouring boroughs, would be a major factor in this. What is Thames Water doing to alleviate this? There are many, mostly small scale, solutions to this. Some things are happening, but not nearly enough.

For example, the Council should insist on water permeable surfaces for parking areas, Thames Water needs to increase the number of SUDS (sustainable urban drainage) schemes in existing streets, increase the separation of storm water into soak aways or rainwater butts in new developments, encourage small scale subsidies to householders for rainwater butts and soakaways, encourage green roofs on existing buildings as well as new. An experimental SUDS scheme in existing streets is going on in Askew ward. We wait for the results with interest.

These schemes would have the added benefit of adding to the greening and liveability of the borough rather than detracting from it. They would probably also cost considerably less than the £280 million that Thames Water estimates is the cost of the storm relief sewer.

Of course there is one major reason why Thames Water would naturally be drawn to the one big expensive engineering solution – a massive storm relief drain – rather than the very many small cuts at the problem. So many small initiative may well appear as costs rather than capital expenditure and so reduce rather than enhance the return to ultimate shareholders.

As to the location of the tunnelling site, realistically, if you are going to dig a massive storm relief sewer, there will be disruption wherever you place the sites. However, we are far from convinced that the ones chosen are in fact the least bad in all the circumstances. We do call on Thames Water to work closely with the Council and residents on this. But we call on them first of all to justify to us this major scheme rather than alternative ways of minimising storm water flooding.

Let’s close Wormwood Scrubs prison

wormwoodscrubsWhen I was waiting for my first daughter to be born in Queen Charlotte’s Hospital I spent a lot of time looking out of the window at Wormwood Scrubs Prison – I reflected on its fine architecture but also on the poor asset management of having a prison so close to central London.

So I am pleased that in a speech earlier today the Justice Secretary Michael Gove said:

“I think we have to consider closing down the ageing and ineffective Victorian prisons in our major cities, reducing the crowding and ending the inefficiencies which blight the lives of everyone in them and building new prisons which embody higher standards in every way they operate. The money which could be raised from selling off inner city sites for development would be significant.

It could be re-invested in a modern prison estate where prisoners do not have to share overcrowded accommodation but also where the dark corners that facilitate bullying, drug-taking and violence could increasingly be designed out.

By getting the law right, getting operational practice right and getting the right, new, buildings we can significantly improve the security and safety of our prisons.

But the most important transformation I think we need to make is not in the structure of the estate, it’s in the soul of its inmates.”

The think tank Policy Exchange has noted how the cost of prison places varies hugely.

Danny Kruger of the charity Only Connect has written:

“I once heard, from an officer at HMP Wormwood Scrubs, of a foreign national prisoner released one Christmas. He wandered out of the famous gates… and turned down Du Cane Road. A few minutes later he was back. ‘Excuse me,’ he asked the officers at the gate, ‘can you direct me to the community?’ Blank faces. ‘I was told I was being released into the community. Where is it?’”

We can do better than that.

Cllr Caroline ffiske: Save Gwendwr Park

ffiskeCllr Caroline ffiske of Avonmore and Brook Green Ward gave the following speech to the meeting of Hammersmith and Fulham Council meeting on Wednesday

Several Fridays ago Cllr Joe Carlebach and I met with residents from Avonmore & Brook Green and with representatives of Thames Water. The site of our meeting was Gwendwr Park.

For people living nearby, this small park is a precious pocket of green, lined with mature trees. Parents can kick a ball with small children, older children pop across on their own to play ball, people exercise their dogs, and neighbours meet.

The purpose of our meeting was to discuss the Thames Water Counters Creek sewer scheme. If this goes ahead in Gwendwr Park:

  • There could be 20 months of drilling.
  • The park would be unusable during this time.
  • Mature trees may need to be cut down.
  • Operating features would be left on the site.
  • The surrounding roads would manage the construction traffic at up to a peak of 32 heavy vehicle movements per day
  • There is also the possibility of odour being omitted from the permanent scheme.

All of this is made grim news for local residents.

If you go and visit Gwendwr Park you will see that the proposition is not acceptable. Local people’s lives would be made too unbearably miserable for too long. The noise and disruption would be unacceptable. The loss of the precious piece of green space would be unacceptable.

Here are the words of one resident:

“The local park is one of the few areas of green space within easy walking distance for a young child.  It is widely used throughout the year.  … the dog exercise area is used by a large number of dog owners.  I also think that the general principle should be to avoid using green space for this type of work as they are so rare in central London. “

Another local resident comments:

“I have lived at Gunterstone Road for 38 years and what is most important to me about the area … is the peace and quiet…  Gunterstone and Gwendwr road are exceptionally quiet roads, with very little traffic…. When I first received a letter from Thames Water in May about the potential construction site … my immediate reaction was how very disturbing and hard to live with the potential lorries, mud, digging, noise, traffic and parking disruption…  I feel even more sorry for the residents of Trevanion Road who literally overlook the site and cannot imagine how any of them can contemplate living through 20 months (minimum) of building disruption and noise …”

I understand that councillors from the administration and senior council officers have met with Thames Water and asked them to look again at alternative site proposals. Officers have said that Thames Water now have a new longer list of sites that they are exploring, and that they will come back to the Council with a revised shortlist of sites, for a Phase Two consultation some time in the Autumn.

What residents in Avonmore and Brook Green need is information and assurances as soon as these are available. I therefore urge the council administration to make public, as soon as it can, the new site options and timescales for consultations.

But equally importantly I urge the council to work with Thames Water to look at alternative anti-flooding measures and to make public the results of this analysis.

In the July 2007 storm there were 1,700 homes flooded in the two boroughs. There has been nothing on that scale in the last 8 years. And the good news is that if there was an equivalent downpour today around 600 of these homes would be protected as they have had anti flooding devices called FLIPs (flooding local improvement projects) installed. These mini pumping stations cost around £35,000 each. In contrast, the estimated cost of the Thames Water scheme is £300 million. If we divide that across 2000 homes that is a cost of £150,000. Is the greater use of FLIPS a better alternative?

And then what about greater use of SUDS or sustainable drainage? The current scheme in Australia Road is designed to reduce overall flow volumes to sewers by 50%. The cost of the scheme is around £800,000. A lot of money – but the Counters Creek proposal could buy more than 300 sustainable drainage schemes of this size.

I therefore urge the Council to work with Thames Water to undertake a much more detailed analysis of these alternative options, and then to make the results of that analysis publicly available. Working with residents should involve fully equipping them with the information needed to understand decisions that are being made. When we met with residents at Gwendwr Park a few weeks ago that information was woefully absent.

Cllr Joe Carlebach: Don’t let Thames Water sink Olympia

joecarCllr Joe Carlebach writes

Regrettably in my experience Thames Water have a long history of mistreating customers, throwing their weight around and some might say with justification abusing their monopoly position.

The current Counters Creek proposals are true to form. They have spread fear, uncertainty and doubt into the hearts of our residents and throughout our communities.

In my ward in particular the two sites they have proposed at Olympia and on Gwender Road both appear to be poorly thought through and very damaging.

I have worked over many months with Olympia to make clear to Thames Water that if they progress with the Olympia site they will effectively ‘sink’ Olympia’s business.

The location they wanted is the main marshaling area for the setting up and breaking down of shows. Without this area Olympia is no longer viable as a business.

To be clear Olympia is a large employer and community partner in my ward and our Borough. It brings significant economic benefits for local businesses many of whom would close without it. It is, I understand, the largest single ratepayer in the Borough.

I urge the Council’s administration as a matter of urgency to meet with Olympia’s management to listen to their concerns.

The Gwender Road site is described in the consultation document as an “open space”. Those who know the site would call this at best disingenuous!

It is in fact a much loved and used local park. The plans we have seen, appear to call for the cutting down of a number of mature trees and will change the area irrevocably to the detriment of residents.

The interim traffic management plan fills local residents and businesses with complete horror as they will bring near grid lock to an already heavily congested road network particularly at the junction of North End Road and Talgarth Road.

No one denies the very real damage and distress caused by sewer flooding and resolving this must be a priority. However Thames Water have failed to make the case that what they are proposing will fix this issue.

I have repeatedly asked Thames Water to provide assurances that the implementation of this scheme will not displace existing subterranean streams running throughout the local area and cause further additional flooding misery. To date I have received no reply.

I hope on this issue we can have both parties working together. This is what residents are, and have been demanding.

I would like to thank Cllr Barlow for her constructive approach to this issue in our ward. Along with Cllr ffiske we have shown residents and Thames Water that we are all opposed to the current plans. I would also like to pay tribute to the sterling work done by Cllr Donovan in Addison Ward who I know has championed residents concerns on this issue for many months, long before many of us were involved.

Finally many of you will know what a helpful fellow I can be and I will venture some help and advice to the Council’s Labour leaders.  Companies are controlled by their Boards, and if they really want to amend this dreadful scheme they will need to engage with the Thames Water Board.

I have found some contacts there as a starting point.

Firstly there is Mr Ed Richards who serves as a non executive director. I am told he is well known in Labour Party circles and was in fact the senior media advisor to Tony Blair. I’m also told with his support his partner stood as the
Labour parliamentary candidate in May for Carmarthen West. Here is a great chance for the Labour council leadership to phone a friend on behalf of our residents.

Also serving on the Thames Water Board is Mr Ian Pearson. He was a Labour MP from 1994 to 2010 for Dudley West and subsequently Dudley South. Indeed he held ministerial office with his last role being Economic Secretary to the Treasury fro 2008 to 2010. Labour councillors could call Mr Pearson and stop him doing to the residents of this Borough what he did to the country!

To conclude Thames Water have been arrogant and unhelpful. They have brought distress and angst to our communities. They have failed to make their case. Join with us in sending a clear message to them. This scheme as it stands is unacceptable and not fit for purpose

Cllr Lucy Ivimy: Noise directly affects people’s health

ivimyCllr Lucy Ivimy writes

The Davies Report has been an extensive review of the options for London airport expansion. It has taken years and looked at heaven knows how many documents from innumerable interested parties. It falls squarely into one of my unfailing rules of thumb as a city analyst, which was that the longer and more detailed a report, the greater the likelihood that its conclusions were plain wrong.

I have no doubt that Davies was swayed by the sheer weight of in its favour that Heathrow undoubtedly brought to the commission until he lost sight of fundamental factors and recommended the third runway at Heathrow.

In my view, Davies has come up with the worst of the conclusions that he might have reached. Thankfully there is a let out in that the Government has not bound itself to follow blindly his recommendation.

In contrast, I commend the hard work and sound common sense of the Council’s H&F Heathrow Committee, which came to a different conclusion.

On a pure business case, I am sure that Heathrow expansion makes excellent sense with its existing connections and infrastructure, ease of access, existing customer base and established workforce.

Clearly its expansion is far cheaper than starting afresh elsewhere.

But the objections to Heathrow expansion are not about business, and the decision is very far from being a pure business case. The single biggest objection is about noise. There are clear allegations that the commission played down the environmental and noise impact of an expanded Heathrow.

Noise directly affects people’s health. It also deprives them of sleep and sleep deprivation and disturbance has a significant impact on someone’s mental and physical health. These factors are difficult to measure, easy to downplay, but of paramount importance to the well being of west Londoners and the residents of this borough.

The northern runway at Heathrow will greatly increase the number of people suffering from this – bringing with it a flight path that goes down the Goldhawk Road rather than the river.

The severe curtailment of flying times and prohibition on night flights suggested by the Davies Commission is far from being a satisfactory answer. Planes do arrive late, or early. Five or six in the morning is a period of very deep sleep for many Londoners. Major hub airports worldwide operate 24 hours – with time differences and long haul flight times it is difficult not to. The pressure to extend flying times at Heathrow will be immense, and the expansion of much needed long haul destinations, particularly to China, will increase this pressure.

Another major objection is safety. It does not make sense to have the major flight path of a major airport directly over the centre of a major global city. If you were starting with a clean slate, no way would anyone put a hub airport just west of central London.

We concede the need for expanded capacity that can be brought on stream in fairly short order. Our preference is for a second runway at Gatwick and enhanced connections between the two airports, or, failing that, for the westward extension of the existing runway at Heathrow.

But these are still relatively short term fixes. Longer term, I believe we shall be building a major hub airport somewhere in the Thames estuary. Other cities have taken such bold decisions and I trust that at some stage we shall gather enough courage to do the same.

Meanwhile, I am pleased that the Council is unanimous in rejecting the Heathrow third runway proposals.