Let’s clear up the eyesores in Ravenscourt Gardens

Ravenscourt Gardens is a lovely street just to the west of the Park. It includes Ashlar Court – which used to be a back-packers hostel but is now an attractive block of flats.

However there are a couple of eyesores which could and should be cleared up.

I was pleased to report last summer on plans to reopen Ravenscourt Park Hospital. But work has yet to get under way.

Catherine Smyth, the Council’s Team Leader for Planning Applications says:

“Applications for planning permission and listed building consent were made by London International Hospital Ltd, and approved in February 2008. They allowed the refurbishment of, and various extensions to, the hospital, including new radiotherapy facilities – refs: 2007/04211/FUL; 2007/04212/LBC.

“The applicants submitted a certificate of lawfulness application (ref: 2015/03600/CLE) which was approved in September 2015. This confirmed that building works on the scheme approved in 2008 had commenced  before the expiry of the planning permission in February 2011. With this certificate in place, it means that the applicants can lawfully continue with the development works.

“A letter from the planning agent submitted in support of the certificate application stated that the application had been formally made to enable the sale of the property to the applicants which was imminent, and to allow the works on site to progress.”

Catherine Thornton, the Team Leader for Planning Enforcement, adds:

“We have looked into this matter on several occasions;  and previously we have written to them asking them to clean up the litter and overgrown vegetation from the pathways.  I have arranged for  an officer to go down to the site and inspect it and if necessary we will write to them again.”

Also the Council’s Waste team say that Serco have been asked to ensure the bins are emptied regularly.

Then there is also Ravenscourt Stores, a large council owned site behind 50 Ravenscourt Gardens. Last June I was told it was “under review”. The latest news is it is still “under review”.

IMG_6617Sebastian Mazurczak, the Professional and Property Services Team Leader says:

“The review is still in progress to ascertain what would be the best proposals for Ravenscourt Park Stores. Currently options looked at are either redevelopment with Cost to Benefit analysis being undertaken currently or usage as part of the “Sweating the Assets” initiative to see how and if  it is viable to generate further income to the council.”

This lack of progress is very disappointing . Selling this site and restoring it to its former glory would reduce the Council debt and thus its interest bill which is a burden on the Council Taxpayer. It would also make the borough more beautiful.

The Council should get on with it.

Trees replanted along the diagonal path in Ravenscourt Park

IMG_1168Often it can be frustrating for councillors just as much as residents when it comes to coping with the council bureaucracy. The replanting of trees along the diagonal path in Ravenscourt Park is something that has been agreed to not merely for months but years. Agreement is one thing. Implementation is another. There would be meetings. There would be emails. The ward councillors would push. The Friends of Ravenscourt Park would push. Tim Harvey of Ravenscourt Gardens would push. But nothing was planted.

Until now.

Small victories like this are very heartening. It shows that even in opposition that councillors working with their residents can make a difference with enough persistence.

As Teddy Kennedy used to say:

“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

H&F Council delays housing maintenance programme – while refusing to sell properties left empty for over a year

Labour councillors in Hammersmith and Fulham have attacked the Conservative Government’s requirement for a cut in council rents. Labour have used it as an excuse for delays in the Council’s housing maintenance programme. I have asked for the new schedule which is here (with accompanying notes here).

The Council says that over 10 years the lower rents will amount to collecting £76 million less money. But simply allowing the programme to slide in response to lower than expected revenue is a lazy option. They should instead consider what further savings or additional revenue could be achieved.

What about reducing management costs? The Housing Department has so far failed to negotiate any shared service arrangements. Yet the savings here could be millions annually – and thus tens of millions over the decade under discussion.

There should also be an end to the policy of hoarding empty derelict properties. Currently the council has 26 properties that have been empty for more than a year. So those properties are worth millions of pounds but are sitting empty.

Many more will have been empty for over six months. A trigger mechanism should apply for the council to sell properties it can’t afford to repair. What is the point of leaving homes boarded up? I think a “use it or lose it” deadline of six months would be reasonable.

There could also be revenue gained through “hidden homes” on estates. Plans in this regard are feeble. But the potential is great. Funds could be gained by using surplus land or unused buildings – such as empty garages or redundant boiler rooms or pram sheds – to provide new homes. This revenue could provide millions of pounds for capital works as well as much needed new housing – both social housing and market housing.

Of course the revenue would depend on the tenure mix. Suppose, for instance, that the council was provided with a hundred new homes at no cost. This could be funded by the proceeds from the sale of other homes on council land at the full market value.

There would then be the rent on those hundred properties. The council rent is around £100 a week so that would be half a million a year or £5 million over the ten year period. If it was “affordable rent” (up to 80 per cent of market rent) it would be revenue of perhaps three times that.

That’s before we consider the more ambitious agenda of full scale estate redevelopment. Labour now seem to favour this but only if they entire council housing stock is hived off first.

Every tenant and leaseholder will have their own ideas as to how the housing department could save money and operate in a more business like manner. Yet the Labour councillors approach seems to be to passive. They propose to collect their councillor allowances, delay the maintenance programme and blame the Government. If pressed their solution is to give up entirely – with a stock transfer proposal that would mean the abolition of council housing in the borough and thus allow them to abdicate responsibility altogether.

H&F Council plans to spend £436,500 on hotel accommodation in the coming financial year

I had an interesting meeting with housing officers on Hammersmith and Fulham Council this week to go through their proposed budget for the coming financial year.

One significant item is an estimated £436,500 for spending on emergency hotel accommodation for the homeless.

That is expensive – it is equivalent to nearly one per cent of the Council Tax. But it is also highly unsatisfactory for those being place in hotels. Frequently they are vulnerable people – for example those with a mental illness, or drug addicts or alcoholics.

It is a situation that is avoidable.

I have written before about how most of Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s £22.7 million budget for Public Health is wasted. One small bit of that budget (just over two per cent of it) that isn’t wasted is the following item:

“Supportive housing:contribution to the core LBHF housing support services under the condition that commissioners ensure that the housing providers are addressing both physical and mental health needs of residents. Allocated Spend for 2014/15 was £551,300.”

Essentially that half a million pounds goes to funding suitable housing – specialist hostels whether inside or outside the borough – that provide the help and security that is relevant to needs.

If more of the Public Health budget was allocated to this (perhaps if it was doubled to £1 million) rather than being wasted then we would not need to put up homeless people in hotels. Instead they would get suitable accommodation and we could fund a one per cent Council Tax cut.

20’s plenty of confusion for Cowan

20mphLabour council leader Stephen Cowan doesn’t update his personal website much these days. He made an exception recently to promote the extension of 20mph speed limits, a topic that has been attracting several complaints to councillors.

Cllr Cowan snipes “H&F’s Conservative councillors claim the council’s consultation responses show a 55% majority against any form of extension in the number of 20 mph safer zones… Others are peddling the Conservatives’ line too.”

That’s a desperate misrepresentation. Cllr Cowan should read his own propagandistic consultation material which proposed a borough-wide 20mph speed limit on all roads managed by Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

Residents responding rejected this by 55% to 45%. Cllr Cowan is so confused that he seems to forget his own manifesto commitment that “all residential streets, not trunk roads, become 20 mph”. He might be forgiven for this as Labour’s 2014 manifesto was so hushed-up that it was only really circulated as a post-election manifesto.

He has been telling some residents that the Labour manifesto commitment is sacrosanct, but others there will not be a blanket borough-wide 20mph scheme. Sooner or later, he will have to come clean and disappoint someone, as facing both ways can only lose trust. On that count, he also promised to be fairer to motorists, who are not surprisingly livid with him after the rigged consultation.

Cllr Cowan wants many more 20mph zones (with measures like speed humps; the Council blatantly admits the aim of “discouraging motorised transport” – i.e. hindering residents in their everyday lives).

However he totally loses the plot when he cites a newspaper story in support of this. An aunt fails to properly control a child in her care and he rushes out into the road. She rushes after him just feet in front of a car and both are hit.

Only the car is travelling at 20mph – within Cllr Cowan’s magical speed limit. From the information given, there is no hint that the driver is in any way negligent. The accident would still have happened at 10mph (i.e. within thinking distance). What would have prevented a collision at any speed would have been the child’s parents properly teaching him road safety rules – but Cllr Cowan proudly disagrees.

The Highway Code is quite clear that parents and carers should use the Green Cross Code in full when out with their children (Rule 7). It is quite explicit that they should keep young children in their care under proper control.

What would its authors and the child’s parents think of Labour’s shadow transport spokesperson, Mary Creagh MP? Before the general election, she shocked the media by advocating 20mph speed limits on the grounds that children would be free to “roam wild”?

She also attracted ridicule by praising Islington Council’s blanket 20mph speed limits for producing fewer casualties. Only it was found that drivers were routinely ignoring the new speed limit and average speeds had increased on many of the roads. Shortly afterwards she was moved and her ‘policy’ was visibly left out of the election manifesto.

Chiswick resident Anne Naysmith died recently after being hit at just 9mph. Her Labour Council in Hounslow was elected with a specific pledge for 20mph outside schools. This has become spuriously inflated towards having blanket 20mph limits. Plans include main roads like the Chiswick High Road, threatening to worsen congestion on our side of the borough boundary.

Bristol’s Labour councillors showed more sense when they voted with their Conservative counterparts against blanket 20mph speed limits. Labour’s Ron Stone described the policy as a “stupid waste of public money that doesn’t make sense”, but the majority were over-ruled by George Ferguson, the city’s eccentric Mayor in the mould of Ken Livingstone. Recent reports show that drivers widely disregarded limits they felt to be unreasonable, with council employees and the Police exceeding them by several mph.

They are not the only ones with reservations about the claims made for 20mph speed limits. The Department for Transport has engaged consultants for a more in-depth review of their operation and aims to report back by the end of 2017.

Improvements proposed for Hammersmith gyratory

gyratoryTransport for London is proposing a new road layout around Hammersmith Broadway to improve cyclist safety.

The transformation of Hammersmith gyratory would include:

  • A segregated two-way cycle track on the north side of Hammersmith gyratory
  • Cyclist-specific signals at junctions to separate cyclists and motorised vehicles
  • An increase of cycle parking
  • Pedestrian countdown signals at the crossings of King Street, Beadon Road, Shepherd’s Bush Road, Queen Caroline Street, Hammersmith Road and Butterwick
  • Widened sections of footway on King Street to provide more space for pedestrians
  • A new bus lane on Beadon Road between Glenthorne Road and Hammersmith Broadway to improve bus reliability

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said:

“We want to completely overhaul this stretch of road and make some serious improvements for pedestrians, bus users and cyclists. Our proposals would greatly improve the area for everyone using it and I hope we’ll see a positive response to our consultation.”

The improvement work is part of TfL’s £4bn Road Modernisation Plan to radically transform the way the Capital’s roads and public spaces are used. Work on the improvements at Hammersmith, subject to consultation, could begin in 2017. It is separate to a long term aim of burying the Hammersmith flyover. Members of the public can respond to the Hammersmith gyratory consultation, which closes on Tuesday 15 March, here.

TfL keeps London’s traffic moving through a variety of methods. Technology, such as Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique (SCOOT) – proven to reduce delays by up to 12 per cent and being expanded across London, is used. Up-to-the-minute traffic information is provided via digital road signs, TfL’s traffic status page and TfL’s Twitter feeds to better manage the network. TfL also has the ability to control temporary traffic lights from its central traffic control centre, to help further ease traffic and minimise disruption.

Pedestrian Countdown shows exactly how much time is left to cross the road, meaning pedestrians are less likely to hesitate or stop in the middle of the road. An off-street trial of the technology demonstrated that more than 85 per cent of pedestrians felt safer and more confident when crossing the road with countdown

Cyclist journeys through the area will be improved by up to a minute.

The sessions will take place at St Paul’s Church, Hammersmith, Queen Caroline Street, London, W6 9PJ on:
•Thursday 18 February 15:00-19:00
•Wednesday 24 February 9.00-12.00
•Saturday 5 March 09:00-12:00

H&F Council still refuses to take practical action over poor shingles vaccination rates

Cllr Lukey: Refusing to take practical action.

Cllr Lukey: Refusing to take practical action.

Last week I reported on the terrible news that Hammersmith and Fulham has only half vaccination rate for shingles as the national average.

I suggested that the Council could make a difference by using a relatively modest amount from its £22.7 million Public Health budget with practical measures to increase the take up of the jab.

The Council could write to all qualifying residents to urge them to take the jab. They should back this up with visits. They could fund the NHS to make it as easy as possible – for instance offering the vaccination on site in sheltered housing accommodation and indeed in residents’ private homes. They could also pay for the vaccine itself for borough residents aged 73-77? (At present those who were 70, 71, 72, 78 or 79 years old on the 1st September, 2015 qualify for a free vacine from the NHS.) Preventing elderly residents from getting this very unpleasant disease would actually save the Council money in terms of the adult social care budget.

I have wrote to Cllr Vivienne Lukey, the Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care urging her to take action. I’m her reply read to me like a collection of excuses for doing nothing very much at all. She rejected my proposals – but didn’t offer any very tangible alternative – apart from holding lots of meetings. Here is her reply in full:

“Dear Cllr Phibbs,

Thank you for your email. Shingles is a horrible condition – you may have had family experience of this, as I have. Prevention is better than cure and I am determined that we get our health partners to improve on past performance.

I am unclear as to whether you have misunderstood the letter from Stuart Lines or have chosen to disregard what he has explained. NHS England has both the duty and the budget to commission GPs and NHS providers to carry out immunisations . There is no funding for this within our Council Public Health budget, which (as you well know)  is being cut by the Government. Given the other pressures on our funds, it makes no sense to me to attempt to take on a job which other bodies are paid to do so I cannot accept your original suggestions. I realise you put forward  these ideas before you had been briefed about statutory duties and am sure you were trying to be helpful.

But of course we will want to do the best we can to reduce shingles in our borough. We have an absolute commitment to defend our NHS services and improve health outcomes for our residents.

What we will do is to use our health and wellbeing leadership role to hold our partners to account and use our Council , voluntary and independent sector communication channels to encourage take up by educating residents about the consequences of getting shingles and signposting them to immunisation. I have asked for further work to be undertaken about eligibility for the vaccination (since it is restricted to older people) so we can see whether we need to lobby the Government for wider access.

We  set up a multi agency partnership group last summer which is led by the Council, and attended by myself and Cllr Holder. It has developed new ways of publicising  immunisation across the sectors and increasing take up in a wider range of venues and at weekends. This has proved a very effective forum for pressing NHS London Public Health officials and GP management for a proactive and sustained programme , which the Council can in turn promote. As Stuart Lines explained to you in his letter, this  will be our vehicle for driving up performance.

Thank you for taking an interest in what we are doing.

Best wishes

Cllr. Vivienne Lukey
Labour Councillor for Fulham Reach Ward
Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care”

I have replied as follows:

Thanks, Vivienne.

I do think that your reply is quite disgraceful.

Just because we do not have a statutory requirement to do something does not preclude us from doing it. Nor do I accept that there is not the funding available given that there is £1.8 million unallocated from the Public Health budget for this year and that much of the total £22.7 million budget is ineffectively spent at present.

While you say that you wish to reduce the level of shingles in our borough you fail to back any practical measures for doing so but instead offer bureaucratic waffle.

Best wishes,

Cllr Joe Carlebach: H&F Labour councillors reject plea to engage with vulnerable residents

joecarCllr Joe Carlebach is a councillor for Avonmore and Brook Green Ward and the Hammersmith and Fulham Vulnerable People’s Champion

It’s a mad world!

The words of the song by Tears for Fears ( a band of the 1980s for those of you who are too young to remember them!) came to mind last week at the Hammersmith and Fulham full Council meeting. If you have never been to one of these meetings, they are usually three hours of solid political banter with occasional glimpses of debating prowess on the part of both parties.

My approach to Council meetings has always been one of constructive engagement. It is an opportunity, when in power, to listen to what the opposition has to say and, when in opposition, to constructively hold the administration to account. This is what I believe residents would expect. So it was with sadness and surprise that in a debate on a motion about the Administration’s new Area Health Forums I tabled what I thought was a constructive unpolitical amendment, and it was voted down!

These new forums do, on the face of it look like a positive development. I would support any opportunity where residents have the chance to express their concerns and views on all aspects of health care in our borough to health care providers.

I know from painful experience that residents from vulnerable groups have a disproportionately difficult time gaining fair access to health care. I have worked on many cases where this has happened and I am confident there are many cases out there that I do not know about with exactly this experience. It was in light of this that I tabled the following amendment to the motion, expecting (perhaps naively) that all Councillors would feel able to support it.

For your information here is the exact text of my amendment. For those well versed in the intricacies of Council life, this was an addition to the Administration’s text, not altering it in any other way:

Amendment to Special Motion 7

– The Council recognises that the health needs of our vulnerable residents are often complex and diverse requiring specific detailed multi disciplinary care solutions.

– The Council will make every effort to ensure that invitations are extended to the Neighborhood Health Care Forums to groups representing our vulnerable residents and in particular those representing and working with children and adults with all forms of disabilities as well as the frail elderly.

I am still at a loss to understand why this amendment was voted down.

One of the main reasons given on the night was that these forums are for individuals not groups. I have to say, having worked with many of the groups representing vulnerable people for many years, they are almost entirely made up of service users and families of people with disabilities, complex needs, the frail elderly etc. So for me this reasoning is not correct nor does it sound reasonable. Our residents will make their own judgement.

I would like to end with the statement that I started with which is in opposition I have done my best to take a constructive approach to ensure that the needs of vulnerable people are addressed. However (I say again) I also believe it is the role of the opposition to hold the Administration to account when the situation merits it. That is how good democracy works.

The rejection of my amendment was very disappointing and I would go so for as to say incomprehensible. The real losers of this disagreement will be the very people we are all trying to help, namely the most vulnerable residents in our borough and that is deeply regrettable.

Ever the optimist I am hopeful that the administration will experience a change of heart and see sense. As Martin Luther King said “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Conflict of interest? H&F Council pockets nearly a million pounds in fines for bus lane infringements

Last week I wrote about the emphatic refusal of Hammersmith and Fulham Council to allow electric cars to use bus lanes. The policy makes a mockery of the Council’s claims to be concerned about reducing air pollution – despite it killing 72 residents in the Borough a year. The objection was that lots of motorists would switch to electric cars thus making the bus lane of far less significance. But, of course, that scenario would be triumphant from the point of view of those of us who want to breathe clean air.

Could there be a cynical explanation for the Council’s rejection of the policy being so emphatic?

I asked the Council to give me the figure for the total amount of revenue to the Council for the financial year 2014/15 as a result of fines for infringements of bus lanes.

The response?

The total amount received in 2014-15 for bus lane PCNs was £941,846.