Football hero George Cohen to be made a freeman of Hammersmith and Fulham

cohenbookTomorrow there will be a special Council meeting to make George Cohen a freeman of Hammersmith and Fulham.

His excellent autobiography makes for fascinating reading – not only about his life as a footballer but also his later life and the early days growing up in Fulham.

Cohen was born in Cassidy Road in Fulham then moving to a Walham Green council flat.

Times were hard – although quite as hard as he momentarily thought. He recalls:

“After the street market at North End Road had closed in the evening I would see old women collecting scraps of vegetables, cabbage leaves, that had fallen from the barrows and I imagined that they were eking out a very slender diet. ‘Oh these poor people,’ I thought, ‘poking around to find something to eat.’ But my brother Len explained that the vegetables were to feed the rabbits which were kept in the little backyards of flats, and were, because of their energetic breeding habits, a wonderful addition to the food supply. You have to remember that in those days a chicken was a rare delicacy. I didn’t taste one until I was eleven years old.”

Jellied eels were his passion.

Cohen was public at Fulham Central School in Fulham Palace Road (later absorbed into Henry Compton). He says that the corporal punishment of the time “the slipper” did not do him any harm. Indeed he adds:

“This was especially so when the slipper was administered by Mel Roberts, a maths teacher and running coach. Roberts was, when I think of it, one of the key men in my development as a boy of good physical gifts who make just make it as a professional sportsman.”

He played for Fulham Football Club between 1956 and 1969 (his highest weekly wage after tax was £80). He was also in England’s victorious 1966 World Cup squad. After the match Nobby Stiles gave him a “big toothless” kiss. “What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” said Cohen. “It’s like being kissed by a liver”. 34 years later they were each awarded an MBE.

After being forced to retire from football due to injury at the age of only 29 he went on to work for the Cecil Gee clothes shop. (“What are you doing here?” one of his customers, Chelsea fan Sir Richard Attenborough asked.)

Another job was with a building firm Brickman Properties. “Fortunately my education at Fulham Central had been technical so I could make sense of the drawing and do some of my own,” he said. “I also had to learn about planning law, which meant that a lot of my time was spent reading the works of Sir Desmond Heap.”

He went on to set up his own business, with some success. Although later on there was a serious setback when a scheme to build retirement homes in Tunbridge Wells was blocked by Kent County Council despite “conforming to all their demands.” Despite this it did not go through: “We were devastated. We had put so much time and money and now the purchase of the school and grounds was a waste of money.” He had to sell his house: “My capital had been destroyed.”

Worse was to come. His mother was killed by a juggernaut on the junction of North End Road an Lillie Road in 1971 at the age of only 62. Then in 2000 his brother Peter was killed in a nightclub he owned in Northampton by a gang of thugs.

In the 1980s George Cohen overcame bowel cancer and went on to help  cancer and dementia charities.

Earlier this month his statue was unveiled at Craven Cottage.

So a fascinating life of triumph and tragedy. I am pleased it is being honoured.

 

Will H&F Council take a Business Rates windfall while more shops are forced to close?

Property values in London (especially closer to the centre) have for years been increasing faster than the rest of the country. This means that a revaluation of Business Rates will results in higher bills in Hammersmith and Fulham – while bills will fall in, for example, Yorkshire and the north east of England.

We don’t yet know what the transitional arrangements will be. It is expected the changes will be phased in over a number of years. Nor do we yet know the impact on council finances. Initially the money is likely to be redistributed among councils so there won’t be much impact. However it is likely in the coming years Hammersmith and Fulham Council will be able to keep a growing share of Business Rates revenue.

Hitesh Jolapara, the Council’s Finance Director tells me:

“Initial figures from the Valuation Office show a 36% increase in rateable values for Hammersmith and Fulham.‎ The increase is not uniform. It will vary according to different property types, such as commercial or retail, and location and by rateable values The government are consulting on transitional arrangements that cap the level of increase in any one year. It is also not yet known what the change will be in the business rates multiplier (the rates payable is based on the rateable value x the business rates multiplier). The unknown  but potential impact on the Council finances is likely to be an increase in appeals. From a finance perspective detailed work is now in progress to determine the impact on businesses, on the council as a ratepayer and schools.”

A big increase in Business Rates threatens to drive more shops and pubs out of business. The Council could already use its discretion to cut this burden on small firms. But so far has refused to do so. It will be quite wrong, and in the long run self defeating, for the Council to allow itself a revenue windfall of increased revenue from Business Rates but with more and more shop fronts boarded up along our high streets.

Ker-ching! Council makes £2.4 million in 18 months from the Bagley’s Lane box junction

bagleysThe BBC reports that Hammersmith and Fulham Council has made £2.4 million in Fixed Penalty Charges from the Bagley’s Lane/New King’s Road box junction in the last eighteen months.

Now it is important that drivers do not feel they can get away with blocking box junctions. So a failure to have any enforcement would not be in the interests of motorists generally as it would lead to more congestion.

The conflict of interest comes in the traffic management and the level of fines meaning that the more people the Council catch and the more they fine them the greater the revenue for the Council. That means it has become a tax. Apart from anything else this is unconstitutional. The principle that taxes must be approved by Parliament goes back to the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights.

When Cllr Stephen Cowan, the Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, was opposition leader he said that the money raised from the Bagley’s Lane was part of a “sly, cunning and often deceitful culture”. He now seems to see some merit in the “money box” junction.  Labour’s manifesto pledge to cut fines which they said were used “for entrapping innocent motorists” has been quietly dropped.

What I propose is that for a first offence a warning letter is sent first.  It could be to the owner of the vehicle, where
we have no previous record of an offence by anyone driving that vehicle. The Council said the DVLA wouldn’t allow it. So I asked the DVLA – who told me they would:

“We would provide vehicle keeper details to the local authority if they intended to send a warning letter.

“Vehicle keeper data is provided to local authorities by law for purposes involving traffic management.  Regulations do not prescribe the method by which such traffic management operations must be carried out.  So long as those activities are lawful, it is for the local authority to consider how best to achieve this.”

 

Virginia Ironside: New threat to the Shepherd’s Bush Palladium

pallshepVirginia Ironside writes:

We are faced with another threat to Shepherds Bush Common and Conservation area:

Dorsett Hotels, who did a sympathetic conversion of “Odeon I” (on the right, below), failed in their bid to demolish the Shepherd’s Bush Palladium next door.

They have now submitted a new application to build 7 storeys of “serviced apartments” which would retain only the Palladium’s façade and top it with a red brick “Gotham City” tower with fins which bears no relation to the style and character of the original Edwardian building.

The top-heavy tower appears to be trying to squash the original theatre into the ground! The Palladium has huge historical value: it was the second cinema theatre built in London.  It was built to stand alone, not to serve as the foundations of a monstrous tower.

A sympathetic renovation, with the gaudy paint removed, would restore the Palladium and the West side of Shepherds Bush Common to its former glory.

The Palladium is a locally listed “Building of Merit”.  It forms a vital link in the chain of older buildings on the West side of the Green, with the locally listed Bush Hotel and Grade II listed Empire to the South and the re-vamped Odeon 1 to the North.  Together these buildings form a distinctive and unique townscape which should be protected.

The Conservation Area Character Profile is at

https://www.lbhf.gov.uk/planning/urban-design-and-conservation/conservation-areas/shepherds-bush

The Palladium is in “pages 5-9” para 5.11. The proposed tower’s effect on the Empire Theatre (5.10) and the Bush Hotel (5.14) as well as the revamped Odeon I (5.12) would be disastrous.

If you agree that this abuse of a loved and historic building should not be allowed, could you write and state that you OBJECT to the application in the strongest possible terms and forward to any groups or individuals who would be interested?

Objections have to be in by October 25th.

This link takes you to the planning application page where you can object with the “make a comment” button:

http://public-access.lbhf.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=makeComment&keyVal=ODE8MZBI04F00

Let’s keep the Ravenscourt Park paddling pool open into September

paddlingThe weather is unreliable. But just as July and August can sometimes be rather miserable it can sometimes be hot and sunny in September. So I’ve asked the Council to consider keep the paddling pool open into September so that when the weather is fine – as it was this year – it can be enjoyed. On September 14th, for example, many residents were disappointed to arrive to find the pool open on a sweltering day.

I asked Ian Ross, the Parks Manager, about the costing and feasibility of doing keeping the pool full for longer.

I have had the response which I thought sounded rather encouraging:

Dear Councillor Phibbs,

Thank you for your email.  In response to the points you raise:

1.      The cost of commissioning and decommissioning the facility is circa £2,500 per annum; any defects/repairs required are charged additionally.  The chemicals required for operating the paddling pool are circa £50/week and an additional seasonal member of staff is employed, whose duties include the paddling pool, at a cost of circa £450/week.

2.      Extending the operation of the paddling pool is not as simple as it would seem; the decommissioning needs to be booked in months in advance to ensure we have a slot that is timely following the end of season; making a late decision to extend could mean we then have to wait several weeks to decommission, which wouldn’t do the operating system any good being sat dormant.  Additionally, the closing date is key to our ordering of chemicals to ensure we only have a minimum on-site for the winter so by the last days we are almost at zero stock.

3.      At this stage an easier option would be to look to extend the paddling pool season until mid-September and we will be taking a recommendation accordingly to Cllr Harcourt shortly for next year.

It is worth noting that last winter we spent approximately £25,000 repairing the surface, updating the dosing unit and repairing pipework.

I am aware we are not fully able to answer your question in terms of an additional price per week but hope the explanation above outlines why.

Kind regards,

Ian

Kensington and Chelsea has welcomed Syrian refugees – why hasn’t Hammersmith and Fulham?

zaatari_refugee_camp_jordan_3Recently it was confirmed to me that three Syrian refugees have settled in Kensington and Chelsea.  This is under the Government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement programme which aims to find room for 20,000 Syrian refugees in this country by 2020. Central Government funds the scheme from the Overseas Aid budget – local councils find the places and provide the help needed.

So three is a pretty modest number. But Hammersmith and Fulham Council is still on nil. The Labour council has been full of moral indignation while failing to do anything practical. For instance it has failed to email residents seeking offers of accommodation.

Their Policy Officer offered me the following explanation:

Dear Cllr Phibbs

We have no plans to email residents to seek offers of accommodation for Syrian refugees as the Home Office scheme is targeting vulnerable people who have escaped a war zone.  They will need secure accommodation with appropriate care and support which we can not expect to be provided in the private homes of residents of the borough.

We have, instead, contacted housing associations and private landlords to secure accommodation that will be appropriate to the assessed needs of vulnerable refugees, once referred to us by the Home Office.

Kind regards,

Peter Smith

I replied as follows:

Thanks, Peter.
But I’m afraid your reply is completely unsatisfactory for two reasons.

1. What is “essential” is for as many Syrian refugees to be granted sanctuary – even if it is in a spare room rather than self contained accommodation. I note your personal view but I have asked (via another email chain) as to whether or not it reflects Council policy. If it does then that is a complete disgrace,

2. Even were the Council to cravenly follow the hopeless Home Office guidance there still might well be residents willing to offer self contained accommodation. (For instance a homeowner with a basement converted to a “granny flat” for an elderly relative who has subsequently died.) Were we to request this to the 25,000 residents on
the Council’s email list this would cost nothing. Even if only one property was made available as a result that would be a worthwhile exercise.

Best wishes,
Harry

I had not had any proper response to that but last week Peter Smith did email to say

“I can confirm that the Council still has no plans to email residents to seek offers of accommodation for Syrian refugees.”

An absolute disgrace.

 

 

Why ending the sheltered housing waiting list would make sense for everyone

johnbettshouseI noted recently how the Labour council were caught out making false claims about the number of new affordable homes being built in the borough.

But apart from numbers it is also a matter of what priority is given to what is built.

A report put before the Council’s Economic Regeneration, Housing and the Arts Policy and Accountability Committee last month stated that 100 people on the waiting list for sheltered housing and there is “a waiting period of around 13 months for an offer to be made.”

I asked the Council how many new sheltered housing units are currently planned and by what date are they due to be completed?

It would seem common sense to make this a priority if it means building one bedroom units to free up three bedroom flats.

It doesn’t mean that the sheltered housing has to be run by the Council itself – it could commission others – such as Hammersmith United Charities (HUC) who provide excellent accommodation – to provide new places in return for nomination rights. HUC’s current properties include John Betts House, pictured, who has a strong sense of community.

Glendine Shepherd, the Head of Housing Options, replies:

“At the time the draft Older Persons’ Strategy was written, there were 100 people on the waiting list for sheltered housing and the average waiting time was 13 months for an offer. The position has improved as there are currently 94 applicants on the waiting list and 11 of these have been made offers.

We, unlike many London authorities provide an assisted choice scheme, which allows applicants to not only choose sheltered housing but to specify the scheme they wish to be housed in. This may delay their offer but residents see it as positive because they are offered the property they want, in the location they want. We are making efforts to get applicants to widen their choice of scheme to minimise the time they wait for an offer, by organising open days at schemes so they can see for themselves what each scheme is like.

This average waiting time does not reflect the fact that some tenants have received an offer in 4-6 weeks. Compared to 4 other authorities we recently benchmarked with in London, we have the shortest waiting times and the lowest number of applicants on the waiting list.

The Council has facilitated a scheme for its partners to build an extra care scheme with 80 beds in the borough by 2021. This will provide move-on accommodation for our sheltered tenants who require more support and free-up their current accommodation for those on the waiting list.

We are working hard with our partners to look at every opportunity to increase the supply of new accommodation in the borough. In addition, we have a range of schemes to support tenants who wish to move to smaller accommodation and free-up their larger homes, for example we offer £2000 for every bedroom they release. Many tenants in 3-bed accommodation do not want to move to 1-bed accommodation and prefer to keep a spare bedroom for relatives to stay, consequently we have an adequate supply of 1-beds but a shortage of 2-bed accommodation.”

The trouble is that with an ageing population by 2021 the demand for sheltered housing will probably have increased.

It is absurd to have people in three bedroom properties wishing to downsize who are having to wait for a year. The most cost-effective way to help everybody is to focus on increasing the supply of good quality, attractive, well managed sheltered housing. So ideally not run by the Council but by the HUC or other independent charitable bodies with a good reputation.  The Council’s role should be to provide the funding (via Section 106 receipts from property developers) to make it happen. That would allow the larger homes to be made available to families in overcrowded conditions or temporary accommodation.