The Wormwood Scrubs skyline is still under threat

Tom Ryland, the Chairman of the Hammersmith Society emailed me recently about the threat of ugly development on a massive scale near Wormwood Scrubs:

Tom says:

“In my previous reports and in our April Newsletter, we have reported on what is happening in the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation. Since then there has been developments on two worrying proposals in the area, both of which fall within our Borough boundaries. The first is the Oaklands site being promoted by Genesis Housing in conjunction with QPR. This proposal involves 611 new housing units and 27 storey and 17 storey towers on the western side of the OPDC area near Old Oak Common Lane/Wells House Road. This was the OPDC’s first major planning application and it unfortunately coincided with the consultation on the Draft Local Plan, so that many local residents and groups including ours were distracted and did not formally comment on the proposals : Our Council was consulted on the scheme and its Planning and Development Control Committee roundly condemned the proposals (Read minutes on Council website). Despite this, the scheme was initially put forward by the OPDC on its Planning Committee Agenda for 28th April with a recommendation for approval. As one of the first major schemes to be put forward, it looked like a worrying precedent. Fortunately, thanks to pressure from our Council and the efforts of Henry Peterson, Amanda Souter and others, the scheme was withdrawn for further consideration. Part of the problem seemed to be administrative teething problems at OPDC but the real problem is that this is an over large and rather boring development.

“The second is a development proposal on the eastern side of the OPDC area adjacent Mitre Bridge and Kensal Rise Cemetery in Scrubs Lane is 183 housing units. Members of the Hammersmith Society were invited to a presentation of the proposals and there were also public exhibitions held locally. Despite the OPDC’s guidelines for these ‘fringe site’ being 8 – 11 storeys, the developers and their architects, Allies and Morrison are proposing another 25 storey tower which will substantially overshadow the Listed cemetery and being very visible from Wormwood Scrubs and the Canal : Not only is the height extreme, but the density is excessive, considerably exceeding the London Plans maximum density figures. The scheme is still at pre-application stage and we shall be objecting to the proposals.”

In the earlier newsletter he referred to he says:

“The OPDC was set up in April 2015 and is likely to exist for about 30 years until the development is complete. Since the last Newsletter the Opportunity Area Planning Framework (OAPF) has been formally adopted, and the planning team set up; this has now assembled a draft Local Plan with all its statutory framework and consultations. Members of your committee extensively involved this, requiring a huge amount of work.

This huge project based around the intersection of Crossrail/HS2, other railway lines and the Grand Union Canal is set to be London’s largest project with 25,500 new homes and up to 65,000 jobs claimed. This is the equivalent of a complete new town and all that implies. The main station alone will be one of the largest in the country handling over 250,000 passengers per day. There are also two other new stations and major rebuilding of others including Willesden Junction. The cost of providing the infrastructure and decontamination of the land will be enormous – but who pays?

Although there are many commendable aspects to these ambitious proposals, we are questioning whether the housing and employment targets can be provided at a human scale.

Will it be an exciting, rewarding and original place for those that will live and work there?

How can it be sympathetically incorporate the existing local communities?

We believe the above targets, which could probably only be achieved with towers of 40 – 50 storeys, came before any real design work had been carried out, and need to be reviewed.

There is a lot of good will and energy coming from the community and a wish to create a great place. Are the political ambitions in terms of housing and employment too great? We urge the new mayor to review the OPDC proposals as a matter of priority.”

It is a great pity that Zac Goldsmith was not elected as Mayor of London – as he would have adopted an anti tower blocks policy and instead favoured attractive development following the agenda of Create Streets. A report for Savills concludes that low rise means higher density than high rise. But let’s suppose that in the case of Old Oak that does not apply and that Tom is right to say that the height is excessive because the density is excessive. Even then the most effective way of getting new homes built and easing the chronically constrained housing supply is for the homes the attractive and on a human scale. If new homes means making the neighbourhood hideous there will always be resistance to building new homes. Thus there is delay and sometimes nothing gets built at all and derelict land remains derelict.

Actually the problem with Tom (himself an architect) is that he is too soft on whole OPDC endeavour with his constant demands for “excitement”. Brutalist architecture does not claim to be attractive but “exciting”. Excitement is not always a good thing. War is exciting, bank robbery is exciting, being told that you must undertake a life threatening operation is exciting.

If the message to the planning officers and developers is to come back with a more “exciting” design then I would caution that we should be careful what we wish for…

More about the bus

Cllr Caroline ffiske writes:

Earlier this year, a group of residents who live in and around Blythe Road in Olympia / Brook Green presented Hammersmith & Fulham Council with a petition which asked: We, the undersigned, request that Hammersmith & Fulham Council consider introducing a bus route to link Hammersmith Road and Shepherds Bush Road via Blythe Road.  We believe it would benefit local residents and visitors.

The petition had above 100 signatures.  In response to this, and having been in receipt of the petition for several months, three weeks ago the Council sprang into action and put out a leaflet to local residents, telling hundreds who hadn’t that they had “asked for a bus” and inviting them to a public meeting to discuss how the service “could work”.  The meeting was taking place with several working days notice; so after a flurry of protest from residents the Council cancelled the public meeting with a day’s notice.

And then all has gone quiet…

In the vacuum, there have been innumerable emails circulating involving Councillors, council officers, residents groups, and individual residents all of which is taking up hours and hours of everyone’s time.   But there has been no further clear formal communication from the Council, to residents, explaining what exactly is going on…

Residents opposed to a Blythe Road bus service have begun a petition which has collected hundreds of signatures.   The area is incredibly well-served with bus routes; the little local group of shops is a lovely resource and would only be harmed by a bus service; and Blythe Road is currently earmarked for traffic-calming measures.

Last night, in an attempt to get information, quite a few residents attended the quarterly Olympia meeting, aware that LBHF and TfL officials would be attending.

TfL could not have been clearer in its message.  The gist was ~ TfL is not actively exploring or involved in any exploration of a bus route near or along Blythe Road.  

Residents therefore asked the Council officer present whether he could confirm whether: a) the Council is also not doing any further investigation of a Blythe Road bus service; or b) whether it is indeed undertaking an exploration of options eg for a small local-funded service.  The Council officer hadn’t come briefed to talk about this issue.  Nor were administration Councillors present who could give a briefing.

Residents who were both for and against the idea of a Blythe Road bus were in attendance and this was the first opportunity those present had to hear from each other. The main argument made in favour of a bus was to help people with serious mobility problems. The argument made was that this problem will worsen with an aging population.  Other residents queried whether Dial-A-Ride services could help here.  This is a fantastic service provided by TfL and the details can be found here:  https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/dial-a-ride/ .  I strongly urge people to look into this service and make use of it.  If the application process is difficult or the eligibility criteria too narrow, please let me know.  I completely agree that this service does need to adapt to an aging population.

It was interesting that those who had initiated the pro-bus petition were just as in the dark about progress as those who had first heard about it via the Council leaflet.

But pro- or anti- bus, most present could agree on one thing. The Council’s management of this issue has been worse than muddled…

Residents I have spoken to, pro-bus, anti-bus, (or more concerned about other matters); all can agree with this request.  Could the Council please formally confirm either:

a) that there is no work being done to explore options for a Blythe Road bus; or
b) that an exploration is underway, with X parameters, and Y timescales.
The vast majority of residents hope it is the former.

Let the grass grow

Cllr Caroline ffiske says: Let the grass growIMG_1614

In London’s largest parks, its long been a common sight to see areas of lovely long unmown grass.  In recent years, there has been a trend to have more of these long-grass areas.

For example, Margravine Cemetary, pictured here, has long had unmown areas.  Now the new normal seems to be unmown, with meandering walkways and a few mown areas.  It’s lovely.

MC againRavenscourt Park has a small “nature area” (pictured below) which is kept very wild (and has wonderful frogs and newts) – but its long grass is very much the exception.

Rav Park

I used to assume Western Civilisation spent a fortune mowing lawns for a good reason.  I assumed it must be something about the health of the grass.  But now I get the feeling it’s a 1950s hangover.  Too much overmown lawn in an urban enviroment belongs in the same camp as those 1950s-style urban flower beds you still sometimes see which are 95% concrete, brick, and bare soil, and 5% a few shortlived plants.  Grim to sit in, grim to look at.  Expensive to maintain.  Hot and dusty or cold and windswept.

I was hoping that not mowing grass might be a rare example of a win-win-win.  It looks lovely.  Surely it costs less.  And its unambiguously better for wildlife, insects, and the environment.

Sadly,  one of our local parks officers says “There are some downsides to creating longer grass areas, later in the summer they can become a fire hazard and also to maintain any show of flower they need to be cut and collected at the end of the summer to keep the nutrient levels low (high nutrient levels generally leads to nettles and thistles).  The cost of cutting and collecting is generally more expensive than grass cutting through the year as different/specialist equipment is required.”

Hmmm.  That cost argument is annoying.   But I’m told that we could mow grass less often.  And then that would save money.  This little stretch opposite the Lillie Road antique shops is never walked in – indeed it is fenced off and only gated at one end.  Look at these daisies.   Our parks officer says “the show of daisies is simply down to the early flourish of growth – a combination of damp and warm weather.”  Go daisies!  better daisies

Perhaps mowing less often, in areas like the above, could provide the cost saving to allow us to create many more long grass and wildflower areas.  Imagine if we did this.  Make unmown grass and wildflower beds the new normal?  Of course, we would decide that there should be very very large areas where grass should be kept short – for sitting, picnicking, and playing ball.   And then there would be areas – like the one above – where the grass could just be mowed less often, and daisies and buttercups could flourish.  This would create the cost saving for the third kind of area:  we would, by default, become aware of very very many more spaces suitable for long grass and wild flowers.  Every park has those long skinny areas around the edge or alongside paths.  Every park should have a long grass and wildflower area.

by riverAlmost every housing estate also has areas where long grass and wild flowers could flourish and where kids should  be able to spend their time spotting grasshoppers.  Here is a patch on one of our local estates where the gardeners have done a great job of maintaining long wild edges, and some nice not-too-frequently mown grass as well.  This is perfect for sitting on a summer’s evening.

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date – let the grass grow where and while it can.

A review of St Peter’s Estate by Jilly Paver

IMG_1170St Peter’s Estate

A history of St Peter’s Square and its neighbourhood

Jilly Paver

£7.50 if collected from St Peter Villas or £10 including postage and packing. Email st.peters-estate@btconnect.com

This is a slim volume, but it is packed with fascinating material about the development of this beautiful corner of Hammersmith.

The man responsible was George Scott who was born in 1780 and lived in a house at Lower Mall. In 1807 he married Hannah Lucy Stoe, the daughter of a market gardener, who brought with the marriage settlement £5,000 and a significant portion of land between King Street and the River. In 1812 they bought the Palingswick estate, including the Ravenscourt manor house and its grounds, for £15,000 and made it their home.

Then the 1820s and 1830s saw the building of the St Peter’s Estate – St Peter’s Square, Black Lion Lane, St Peter’s Villas, St Peter’s Road, St Peter’s Grove, Theresa Road, Theresa Mews, Beavor Lane and the part of Standish Road.

IMG_1171Sir William Bull, the Conservative MP for Hammersmith, wrote in his memoirs in 1922 , that as Scott had given the ground and “subscribed very liberally to the building of the Church, he secretly hoped that the Authorities would call the Church St George’s as a polite compliment to him. But he did not make his wishes known.”

How awkward. It just goes to show if you don’t ask you don’t get….

Incidentally, Sir William personally saved the garden in the middle of St Peter’s Square – buying it to prevent it from being built on. He took a considerable financial risk. But after some dithering, the Hammersmith Council bought the land from him, thus allowing the public open space we still enjoy today. It was not the last time that proposed overdevelopment was to be a source of local controversy.

It does sound as though Sir William was an MP with the right attitude to public service. He gave a fine speech in 1909 arguing that MPs should not be paid. One of his arguments being that we would then end up with councillors being paid. We would have “a very distinct class of professional politician” who went into Parliament for what he could make.

St Peter’s Square has been a cultural hub in various different ways over the years. We learn from this book that:

“In 1973 number 22 was sold to Island Records, which used it for offices and built a recording studio in the basement, nicknamed The Fallout Shelter. Here they recorded musicians such as Bob Marley, Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull, Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler.”

The poet and novelist Robert Graves lived at 35 St Peter’s Square. At that time the area had a bohemian reputation and was known as London’s “free love quarter”. Graves had ménage à trois with his first wife, the artist Nancy Nicholson and their four children, and his mistress, the American poet Laura Riding. My uncle Geoffrey lived there too. At one stage there was a supposed “double suicide” attempt. I was told this was a serious effort by Riding – who jumped out from the top floor and although she was seriously hurt, survived. It was more of a symbolic reflex by Graves – who took the precaution of running down a couple of flights of stairs first before making the gesture of jumping out of the first floor window and having a few minor cuts and bruises.

Naturally there is a chapter on public houses. Black Lion Lane was named after the Black Lion Pub (which opened in 1722). The pub already has skittles inside but Paver reports:

“There are current plans to reinstate the skittle alley in its original site in the garden.”

The Carpenter’s Arms opened in 1873. The Cross Keys pub, which opened in 1828, was named after the crossed keys – as in the keys to Heaven, the sign of St Peter.

There is also a chapter on schools. George Scott’s daughter, Hannah, endowed a girls school in St Peter’s Grove.  It opened in 1849 and is still going as a Church of England primary school for boys as well as girls.  Again, William Bull bought some land, at significant financial risk, to allow the school to expand. They eventually managed to pay him back.

IMG_1172Of course the A4 extension in the 1957 was a disaster for the community. As Paver says:

“The extension of the Great West Road through our area has been a change for the worse in many ways, not only because of the destruction of fine houses and gardens, the pollution and the noise, but it has effectively divided our neighbourhood from the riverside and families and friends from each other.”

A child’s poem protesting against it is reprinted. (“Thou vast and soulless ribbon of concrete/How many are the homes thous didst delete…”)

I am very keen to see the road tunnelised and the old street patterns and housing restored.

IMG_1173As someone who trudges around knocking on doors canvassing I was interested to hear where all the names of various streets and blocks of flats come from.

British Grove was named after the British and Foreign Schools Society. (Frederick Walton the inventor of Linoleum lived there and had an adjacent factory that churned out the squidgy floor covering.) Miller’s Court, down by the River, was on the site of Miller’s Bakery. Beavor Lane was named after a chap called Samuel Beavor who built a house there in 1757. Chambon Place was on the site of the Chambon Works, a French owned factory manufacturing printing presses that was apparently opened by General de Gaulle.

Standish Road was named (for no particular reason) after Myles Standish who was a military adviser to the pilgrims on the Mayflower. Samels Court, the three blocks in Black Lion Lane just south of the A4 built in 1967, were named after Bertie Samels – a confectioner who was Mayor of Hammersmith from 1926-31.

These are many more insights into the area – both poignant and entertaining. A must read for those lucky enough to live in the area – and even those that don’t.

Ravenscourt Park: The history beneath our feet

ravenscourt6.550Here is an update from the Friends of Ravenscourt Park on their archaeological exploits:

Remember our history project? This began in 2014 when, with partners the Museum of London (MOL), we held two History Days in the Park. The Museum commissioned a geophysical survey of the site of the hidden moated manor, using ground-penetrating radar to identify the footprint of the house and find the missing arms of the moat. That was stage one. The results were intriguing, and the event sparked so much public interest from all sides that we applied for and got a small grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to carry out a trial dig on the site. Much time last year was spent in planning, writing specifications, issuing tenders and appointing contractors. Advised by the MOL, and with the support and permission of the Council, we finally commissioned Archaeology South East (part of UCL) to carry out the works in the autumn.

By the date of our AGM at the end of September, the first-ever dig on this undisturbed site had only just begun. The weather was perfect. Three trial trenches were opened up, and finds soon began to emerge. Over the four days when digging was taking place our information stalls attracted over 950 visitors, and interest was intense. The local papers were enthusiastic: reporters and photographers came along to record the scene. The Gazette ran three stories and then posted 18 pictures on its website; the Chronicle pictured us on the front page, and followed up with half a page and more pictures inside. Our dig also featured on the Council website, and all the local online newsletters covered the event too. As heritage and local historic sites now form part of the national curriculum, several schools got in touch. This time we didn’t have the resources to work with them, but we hope to do so in future. The final ASE report revealed that part of the moat was found, and that the ancient cellars of the house survive. The evidence of history under our feet is now compelling.

So what happens next? What was found, together with our continuing research into primary sources, has important implications for Ravenscourt’s future. The presence and location of this valuable site will influence Council planning documents and the Park’s management plan. The current Archaeological Priority Area is in the wrong place, for example; we discussed this with Historic England. Another finding is that many existing descriptions and histories of the Park and the estate have copied secondary-source errors from one to another.
The earliest map we now have that shows the manor of Palingswick dates from the reign of Elizabeth I, but clues in later maps could indicate origins even earlier than the existing 14th century records. So in discussions with the MOL, we have agreed to go forward with a further grant application to enable us to explore the site at greater depth, involving local schools and the wider community as we do so. For the record, these plans will not get in the way of the local community continuing to enjoy the Park. And our history belongs to all of us, not just to a select few.

Westfield launches community grants scheme

ArtsFest-2015-e1449239921720As Westfield London’s expansion progresses they continuing to engage with the local community and  work as a positive force for change in the local area – whether that is through direct financial contributions, the significant job opportunities the centre provides, or the further inward investment that is attracted to the White City Opportunity Area.

As part of its expansion plans, Westfield London has recently launched a new community grants initiative, something that the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham is supporting. It is part of Westfield’s commitment to ensure that the investment in the shopping centre is felt across the local area. The community grants scheme will support local organisations, who are looking for funding of up to £1,000 with up to 20 projects being selected per year over the next two years.

At each round of funding, the community grants panel, led by representatives from local businesses, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, local organisations and Westfield London, will judge bids based on applications on three separate themes:

  • Innovative and creative approaches to employment, entrepreneurship and training
  • Opportunities for young people aged 16-24
  • Support for people with disabilities or health problems

Successful applicants should fit in with at least one of these themes and applications should be submitted no later than 17 June.

More information on the community grants scheme is available here.

Great news. I have encouraged the Sulgrave Club and the Grove Neighbourhood Centre in the Ravenscourt Park Ward to apply – not doubt there will be lots of competition with lots of good ideas for helping the community.

Disabled residents in H&F have to strip wash for six months waiting for bath adaptions

I have been in correspondence with council staff recently over a resident who was unable to safely use her bath.

After two months delay came the following response from the Occupational Therapy Service in Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s Adult Social Care Department:

“Due to client difficulties with transfers and lack of space/restricted bathroom layout and close proximity of bath to WC as well as need for long term independence with bathing, the OT has agreed to support level access shower with drop down seat in place of bath.

“This will be processed as a Major Adaptation and sent to the adaptations team as required for the installation of a level access shower.”

Good news. Except that it is estimated it will take another six months for the work to be done. What actually makes this all the worse is that it is entirely typical. I was told:

“I can confirm that the estimated time line for all major adaptations is approx. 6 months, some do happen faster but some do take longer, this is due to the vast myriad of different contributing factors.”

Six months is too long, isn’t it? If I broke a leg and needed some adaption done in my house it wouldn’t take a builder that long to get the work done. I wouldn’t have to strip wash for six months.

I am told other councils are as bad or worse. So what? We should minimise delay to the greatest possible extent. It
is much cheaper to help people stay in their own homes than for them to be put into care.

The assessments take 2-6 weeks even before we get on to the six months delay. I was told this is due to shortage of staff. Yet I have already highlighted how the £22.7 million a year in the Council’s Public Health budget is largely wasted.

The contracting process is very cumbersome and bureaucratic – apparently due to EU procurement rules.

Anyway I put through the following queries:

1. I note the point about a shortage of staff to process the work. Could we get more staff using funds from the Public Health budget? And/or more efficiency through a tri-borough arrangement or tendering the service? It seems to me that the 2-6 weeks it takes to get an initial assessment is an avoidable delay.

2. I also note there is sometimes delay getting a surveyor. Could we find retired surveyors willing to work for free.

3. I note that we take two weeks to send out the Disabled Facility Grant form. Could we email it to those who are on email? Could we get volunteers from Age Concern to help send out the forms and help people fill them in quickly? Also what if someone is too rich to be given a Disability Facility Grant – shouldn’t they be warned about this earlier so they could get on with paying for the work themselves making private arrangements? Also pleased provide the figures for the funding from central government for the Disabled Facility Grant for the last two years and for the Council’s spending on these grants.

4. I note that there is more delay with the contractors needing to get three competitive quotes from subcontractors for each individual job. Could that not be streamlined? For instance one firm contracts for all stair lifts in Shepherd’s Bush, or all adapted baths in Fulham, etc? I can see that requiring individual quotes for each job would cause delay – and perhaps increase costs?

5. What are the comparative costs to the Council for assistance for people to remain in their own homes and paying for them to have residential care? Would not a quicker service for adaptions reduce the risk of their condition deteriorating and thus reduce the number and thus cost of residential care placements.

This was the reply I had:

Dear Councillor Phibbs

Thank you for your recent enquiry.

Thank you for your email and concerns regarding trying obtain an efficient and cost effective Occupational Therapy Service for your residents.  We also share your concerns and are constantly looking at ways to improve to meet the growing demand for the Service.

Last year from April 2015- April 2016 the Occupational Therapy Service received over 1,400 referrals.  In order to ensure that clients with urgent needs such as people who are terminally ill, at risk of injury, or a breakdown in family relationships and care we operate a priority system as follows :-

*       If the case is urgent the client is seen within  1- 2 days and are seen by the Rapid Response Team.
*       If the case is awarded a Priority 2 they are seen within 2 – 4 weeks  depending on the urgency of the case.  This may be for Stair lifts, Ceiling Track hoists. Difficulty with Access.
*       A P3  is a low priority and will be seen within  6 weeks.  This may be for bathing assessments and showers..

The Occupational Therapy posts funded via the Public Health Funds (CLCH) will deal with Rapid Response urgent  cases.  The OT’s funded from the Local Authority will see the  P2’s and P3’s the more complex long term cases.

In regards to point 2,3,5 the Adaptation process is currently under review and a proposal has been drawn up to move the management of the Adaptations Service back to the Housing Department.  This should happen within the next 2 months.   Your comments will be passed to onto the relevant people who are looking at the existing processes and what needs to change to improve the Service.

The Disabled Facilities Grant is a very complex process. You first have to be assessed by an Occupational Therapist to determine if you meet the functional criteria for the provision of the Grant.  At this stage clients will be informed of the process and sent out a Preliminary Test of Resources Form to complete. Most people prefer to be assessed even if they do not meet the criteria and are over the financial threshold for a Disabled Facilities Grant  This is due to the fact that the  Occupational Therapist can still provide equipment, minor adaptations, advice, information, and if the client decides to pay for the Adaptations privately the OT can still work with the Contractor commissioned by the Client on their behalf.

I do not feel that using Volunteers from Age Concern would help this process as most clients struggle to divulge their personal financial information.  You also require specialist training to ensure that  the financial information received is processed accurately. I will provide the information you have requested separately regarding the funding for the Disabled Facilities Grant.   This is also under review by the Housing Department so I will also pass on your comments and suggestions.

In regards to point 5 I can assure you that once an Occupational Therapist or Social Worker completes a comprehensive assessment  if it possible for the client to remain at home in their own home environment then this would be the preferred choice. Placing someone in a residential establishment is the last resort and is only considered as an option if the person is unsafe , the family unable to cope or the home is not suitable to accommodate their needs.

Janice Blake

Manager of  the Occupational Therapy Grants and Adaptations Team
Hammersmith & Fulham Council