Council Leader’s false housing claims rebuffed – by his own council

This is becoming a habit. Last month I reported on how claims by Labour councillors to building nearly 600 new council homes were false – according to their own Council officers.

Then at the Council meeting last week there was an absurd claim from the Council leader Cllr Stephen Cowan (which can be heard at the end of Audio Recording Part 3) that the previous Conservative administration had produced proposals to demolish two thirds of Council estates. When challenged Cllr Cowan said he had seen the Council document and would publish it – although when asked when he became rather vague.

To clarify matters I emailed the Council’s Head of Planning Regeneration as follows:

John,
There was a reference made at the Council meeting on Wednesday evening to a council document containing “plans to demolish two thirds of the council estates in the borough.” Please advise if you or any of your colleagues are aware of any such document having been produced by the Council in any form at any stage. If so please send me a copy.

Best wishes,
Harry

I have received the following reply:

“Dear Councillor Phibbs

Thank you for your enquiry, which was received on 21 October 2016.

I am not aware of the document you describe. I have also asked colleagues who work in Housing Regeneration and they have similarly informed me that they are not aware of such a document.

Yours sincerely,
 
John Finlayson
Head of Planning Regeneration”

Perhaps the best thing would be for Cllr Cowan to get on and publish it. Otherwise some might assume that no such document exists and he made the whole thing up – to divert attention from his own Council’s all to real plans to abolish council housing in the borough which are all to real.

 

Listed status for Margravine Cemetery’s Reception House

margreceptA 19th Century building used to store the dead prior to burial has received Grade II listing from Heritage Minister Tracey Crouch.

The reception house in Hammersmith’s Margravine Cemetery is a rare example of the buildings that were used to address the repeated cholera outbreaks in London between 1832 and 1866.

With disease continuing to spread throughout the city, Edwin Chadwick, the Secretary to the Poor Law Commission, led a nationwide review of the sanitary conditions of the poor. He found that most families could not afford a funeral, so a body was often left on a table in the house while money was raised for a funeral. These health conditions contributed to the spread of cholera throughout London. Chadwick called for reception houses to be built to house coffins between death and the funeral to prevent the spread of disease.

There were also calls for reception houses to address a common fear at the time of being buried alive. Across continental Europe ‘waiting mortuaries’ where bodies would be held until signs of decomposition were evident were already established.

Heritage Minister Tracey Crouch said:

“This reception house gives us a glimpse into how cholera outbreaks changed Victorian attitudes to burials and public health standards. It’s an important part of London’s history and I’m delighted that it will be listed.”

 

The Margravine Cemetery reception house is the only one of its kind remaining in London. It survives in its original condition and the interior remains largely untouched. The building contains stone slabs on the walls to hold the coffins along the five sides of the house.

Nine mortuaries were constructed across the city, but they were much larger and provided coroner’s facilities, rather than just spaces for housing the dead. Undertakers were then introduced in the 1880’s, making reception houses unnecessary.

The decision to list was made based on the building’s rarity, architectural interest and for adding to our understanding of Victorian funeral practices and improvements in public health.

Roger Bowdler, Director of Listing at Historic England, said:

“The history of death is the history of life as well: of how we remember, how we improve public health, and how we separate the living from the dead. Nowhere tells this as eloquently as a cemetery, and Margravine Cemetery contains some truly eloquent reminders of the London Way of Death”.

Ruth Savery, Secretary of The Friends of Margravine Cemetery said:

“We’re proud to have this fascinating piece of local history in Margravine Cemetery to add to our three listed monuments. It’s remarkable how well the reception house has survived and we’re delighted it is gaining this recognition.”

Labour councillor denounces the anti extremism Prevent strategy

de'athThe last Labour Government launched the Prevent strategy designed to combat Islamic extremism and violence. It aims to limit the risk of radicalisation of Muslims and the resulting terrorist threat.

The programme has continued under the Conservatives and has cross party support.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council says:

“We are fortunate to have dedicated tools available to support schools with this duty, and to help them tackle radicalisation and extremism.”

It adds:

“What is the Prevent Strategy?

Prevent is part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy and aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. Prevent works at the pre-criminal stage by using early intervention to encourage individuals and communities to challenge extremist and terrorist ideology and behaviour.

The Prevent Strategy makes clear the important role that schools have to play in achieving these aims. It is an extension of the same safeguarding processes which the education sector already employs in order to effectively safeguard children from drugs, gang violence, alcohol abuse, and other forms of harm and crime.”

So it was disappointing that at the Council meeting on Wednesday evening one Labour councillor – Cllr Alan De’Ath – attacked the programme as “Islamophobic”. Of course he is entitled to attack Council policy – he is not a Cabinet member and thus not bound by collective responsibility. Constructive criticism is always welcome. But to undermine the Council’s work in this particular way was pretty irresponsible. His comment was absurd – the strategy involves boosting mainstream, moderate Muslim groups.

Ian Heggs, the Council’s Director for Schools emails me to confirm:

“We do indeed fully support and participate in the Prevent strategy.”

Not that De’Ath’s outburst was the worst of the evening. His fellow Fulham Broadway Labour councillor Ben Coleman made some astonishingly crass comments during a discussion on anti-semitism.

In a brave speech by Cllr Joe Carlebach about his personal experiences. “I know what it is like to stand outside a synagogue and have sharpened coins thrown at you,” he said.

Coleman’s speech immediately followed. He said: “Sometimes people in the Jewish community think they are the only Jew in the village.” For good measure he then said that concern about anti-semitism in the Labour Party were “overblown”. Really disgraceful.

Emergency lighting failed during Shepherd’s Court fire

firetwoOn August 19th there was a fire at Shepherd’s Court on the Charecroft Estate on Shepherd’s Bush Green. Thankfully there were no serious injuries. It was caused by a faulty Indesit tumble dryer. The manufacturers Whirlpool still advise they are safe to use.  But the London Fire Brigade – who don’t give out this sort of warning casually – have urged those with the relevant brands to unplug them and stop using them until the company carries out the modification.

What about the role of the Council, the owners of the block?

I was concerned to hear that during the fire some residents had to escape via the lifts as the lighting on the emergency stairs was not working. There is some dispute over whether the lights were broken or simply inadequate to cope with the smoke – one of the ward councillors, Cllr Adam Connell, understands its the latter. Either way it needs to be sorted out.

Also the fluorescent numbering of staircases should have been visible and was not.

I asked for the most recent Fire Risk Assessment for the building which the Council sent me. The document from October 2015. There was a long list of deficiencies listed in the “Summary of Significant Findings and Action Plan”. Some had been sorted out before the fire but others had not.

Norman Whyte, the Health and Safety Manager for the Housing and Regeneration Department says:

Dear Cllr Phibbs

Thank you for your enquiry, we have looked into the case and can now response as follows:

With regard to the “Summary of Significant Findings and Action Plan” please advise which of the actions specified had been undertaken before the fire took place

The following items from the significant findings were undertaken before the fire at Shepherds Court:

  • The latest five-year electrical test certificate that we have is dated January 2016
  • The lightning protection system test documentation was up to date and the latest certificate is dated April 2016.
  • Ventilation – automatic dampers were fitted to all grills (controlled by smoke detectors and an intelligent fire alarm control panel).
  • Dry riser testing – there is a dry riser testing programme in place. These were used during the fire with 5 hoses taking water from the dry risers and no issues were found during their use.
  • Fire stopping – our fire surveyor didn’t agree that a non-fire rated product was used for fire stopping in the electrical cupboards. Consequently, this product/material was not removed. The work we did carry out made the area even safer than the work recommended as we upgraded the fire doors, door closers and seals to the fire safety cupboard.
  • A suitable testing procedure for emergency lighting is in place, with various testing carried out every month as per the British Standard. The last test before the fire was carried out in July 2016.

     Further general information

The overall risk rating identified in the Shepherd’s Court FRA was tolerable, as defined by the risk rating evaluation within the FRA, any issues identified on FRA’s as high risk are undertaken immediately. The Fire Risk Assessment cycle for communal areas in residential buildings six stories and higher are carried out annually.

The follow on works in the Shepherd’s Court FRA will be progressed together with the fire damage works, which have been scoped by our contractor, a quotation raised and work agreed. We aim to have all the work completed by the end of February 2017.

Yours sincerely

Norman Whyte

Health and Safety Manager

One of the ward councillors Belinda Donovan believes the back stairs lights are still not working properly: “God forbid if there were a fire tomorrow we might have casualties as a result of this non action,” she says.

Chris Took, Chairman of the Charecroft Tenants and Residents Association says:

“The passive smoke system has been boarded up and I am not aware of any automatic valves in the building.

There is a Section 20 notice (PPM0076), issued on 6 January 2014, for AOV Installation and External Louvre Replacement across the Charecroft estate.”

I agree with challenging Whirlpool but as the landlord the Council also needs to take action after this alarming incident.

H&F Council only agrees to take 10 unaccompanied refugee children

In August the Hammersmith and Fulham Council leader Cllr Stephen Cowan went on a publicity seeking visit to the Calais Jungle.

With the Labour leadership contest under way at the time he felt it was an appropriate opportunity to boost Owen Smith’s campaign with a swipe at Jeremy Corbyn. He said:

“Yes, I’m attacking Corbyn – it’s not coming from the frontbench of the main parties and it should be.”

But soon he warmed to his more familiar theme – telling us what a caring and moral person he is and how uncaring and immoral the Conservatives are. Cowan declared:

“This is a crisis. I don’t think we can walk by on the other side of the street. There’s a moral imperative that we act. We want to do more than our bit. We can’t look the other way.”

Once the camera’s stopped rolling the facts began to emerge.

The Council has only agreed to take ten unaccompanied children. Even then terms and conditions apply. Central Government must pay the full costs. The children won’t be placed in the borough – simply managed by the Council’s social workers.  So far as the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme is concerned the Council has only taken three people. That is over a year after it attacked the Government’s national total of 20,000 over five years for being too low.

The Council has not yet written to residents inviting them to offer accommodation. It hasn’t even put a link to this document from the Hammersmith & Fulham Refugees Welcome committee on its website. That document gives practical advice. The Council just keeps putting out boastful press releases.

So the reality is that the Council is walking by on the other side. It is not doing it’s bit – let alone more than its bit. It is looking the other way.

Will Cowan apologise for such staggering cynicism? Don’t hold your breath.

Labour’s H&F councillors back squatters

In February there was a serious problem for residents in Ravenscourt Gardens after squatters invaded the Ravenscourt Park Hospital site. There was an incident later this year with squatters in the Bradmore Centre in Bradmore Park Road.

An early incident in a family centre in Shepherds Bush involved lengthy delay and council resources on legal fees to obtain an eviction.  In fact there have been various instances of squatting across the borough including in Sands End.

At the Hammersmith and Fulham Council meeting on Wednesday evening the Conservative Group put forward the following motion:

“This Council:

1. Notes recent difficulties over squatters in the borough on non-residential and public land.

2. Welcomes the fact that squatting has been made a criminal offence on residential land and buildings.

3. Calls on the Government to extend the law to make it a criminal offence on non-residential and local authority land as well and thus avoid the delay involved in civil proceedings during which time the police are unable to act.”

squatamendI had hoped the Labour councillors would support these changes. But it turned out they were in Corbynista mode.

Of course genuine housing needs must be met but squatting is not the answer. Indeed it is often more of a political statement – with  middle-class youths, who could probably afford to pay for their own housing, seeking the radical chic of an “alternative” lifestyle as their protest against capitalism.

So instead the Labour councillors pushed through a “wrecking” amendment which even opposed the existing law of squatting being a criminal offence in residential property.

By voting to placate left wing activists in their own Party these Labour councillors made clear they are not on the side of residents.

Corbyn appoints Slaughter to be the Shadow Housing Minister

Andrew Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith, has returned to the Labour front bench. Jeremy Corbyn has appointed him as the Shadow Minister for Housing and the Shadow Minister for London.

This is a rather extraordinary turnaround.

Here are a selection of “Tweets” from Slaughter over the summer detailing his opposition to Corbyn.

 

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Here is Slaughter resignation letter to Corbyn from June:

slaughterresignationletter

What has changed since June 27th? What has Corbyn done to win Slaughter’s confidence? Is Corbyn now the “best person to maximise support” for Labour?

Local Labour supporters even hosted a rally for Owen Smith at the Lyric Theatre. Slaughter stood next to him as personal attacks were made on Corbyn – including when at one stage Smith seemed to call Corbyn a “lunatic” while Slaughter smirked and the audience tittered. Smith later apologised

Of course Corbyn and Slaughter do have much in common – for instance their views on Hamas. Nevertheless the circumstances are bizarre. Slaughter resigned in June on the grounds that the Leader wasn’t up to the job. A principled resignation. Labour have the same leader who still isn’t up to the job. Yet without any explanation here we are in October and Slaughter has returned.