Celebrate diversity on your doorstep with our local Mayor

Join Cllr Mercy Umeh for an evening of dancing, food and music from around the world and help support two important local charities.

The Mayor of Hammersmith & Fulham is hosting this unique event on 11th March 2017 at the ‘Assembly Hall’ in Hammersmith Town Hall,  King Street. Built in the 1930s this is one of the largest halls in West London and the perfect venue to host a celebration of the rich mix of cultural diversity in Hammersmith and Fulham. Cllr Mercy Umeh would like to invite residents from all over the city to join the evening and help raise money for two local charities.

The evening will mix together international flavours, culinary delights and artistic performances from all corners of the world, and will include performances ranging from Irish folk music to a Caribbean steel band. Not only this, there will be dancing, drinks, canapes and a three course meal and an opportunity to win some great prizes from the raffle. The evening promises to be a vibrant showcase of what a dynamic and wonderfully varied borough Hammersmith and Fulham is.

The event is in support of the Mayor’s chosen local charities, Hammersmith and Fulham Mind and Hammersmith and Fulham Foodbank. H&F Mind is the boroughs leading resource for advice, support and empowerment in mental health. They run projects that range from befriending and counselling services to youth mentoring and carpentry courses for those facing mental health issues or suffering from isolation. H&F Foodbank works across the borough, providing emergency food, toiletries, and other necessities to local people in crisis who have been referred to them.  They also work alongside other organisations to provide professional advice to their clients; as well as running cooking courses and holiday clubs with the long-term ambition of eradicating food poverty. The mayor has championed these two locally impactful organisations since May 2016, and all money raised from the evening will be donated to these vital Hammersmith & Fulham causes.

Tickets are £30 per person or £25 per person for table bookings of 10 people or more. The evening will start at 6pm at Assembly Hall, Hammersmith Town Hall, King Street W6 9JU.

If you would like to purchase tickets for this charity evening please contact: mayor@lbhf.gov.uk or phone 020 8753 2013/2081

Landlord licensing scheme meltdown at Hammersmith & Fulham

A flagship London Labour Council licensing scheme for private landlords was facing collapse this week as a series of legal mistakes forced Hammersmith and Fulham to slash the number of properties covered. In a Leader’s Urgency Decision by Cllr Stephen Cowan published on 1 February, the Council revoked the designation of 44 streets out of 172 within weeks of issuing the formal legal notices, admitting having used “erroneous data” to choose the streets it covered.

And opposition and residents are calling for the whole scheme to be dropped.

Hammersmith and Fulham’s Labour Cabinet passed the Selective Licensing scheme for private sector landlords at a Cabinet Meeting on 2 November 2016. The Scheme originally included some 172 streets, allegedly chosen because antisocial behaviour in those streets was “attributable to occupiers of privately rented properties”. It would have required all landlord in those streets to register with the Council and pay a licence fee of £500. However, the list included:

Two entire streets of Council-owned properties (Charlow Close and Watermeadow Lane) which have been empty for years and are scheduled for demolition.

A street where all but one of the houses have been demolished, leaving one house which is not privately rented at all (Gorleston Street).

A number of streets of properties owned by Housing Associations, which are not subject to selective licensing (Gwyn Close, Mandela Close, St John’s Close).

A street where the only residents are two Catholic priests and a school caretaker (Commonwealth Avenue).

It later emerged many of the 172 streets had simply been chosen because they included pubs with high crime levels – rather than the crime being anything to do with rental properties. The Urgency Decision refers to the pubs as “commercial outlets”.

National landlord organisations argue Selective Licensing schemes simply push up rents for private sector tenants, as landlords seek to recover the costs from their tenants. The Hammersmith license fees are amongst the highest in the country.

The scheme is already in meltdown, and there isn’t a scrap of evidence the remaining streets have high levels of crime caused by rental properties. It’s just another Labour stealth tax, and a tax that will be paid by tenants.

Public Notice of the scheme with a list of streets was given on Legal notices were published on 13 December 2016. A copy is here.

Proposal to demolish hideous “Landmark House” – and replace with something even worse

landmarkhouseA planning application has been sent in to Hammersmith and Fulham Council to demolish Landmark House (right), the hideous 18 storey office block in Black’s Road.

But before you all cheer too loudly the proposal is to replace it with something just as ugly and even taller – 28 storeys (left).  The new scheme has been been designed by the architects Rogers Stirk Harbour – so it is hardly a surprise that it should be so awful.

If you wish to register your objection with the Council you have until February 28th – and can do so here.

The proposal should be seen in the context of plans by the Council and the Mayor of London to clutter the skyline with appalling new tower blocks in the Hammersmith Town Centre.

landmark_house_artists_impressionYet all this would seem to be quite in line with the Labour Council’s planning policy. A briefing from the Hammersmith Society says:

Site context:
Planning: current LBHF Core Strategy planning policy provides general guidance for the site development, seeking (Policy HTC) ‘…to encourage the regeneration of the town centre and riverside. …. to build on the centre’s major locational advantages for office development and to secure more modern accommodation…. to continually improve the environment and public realm, and to improve access between the town centre and the Thames… ‘. These general policy ambitions for the town centre appear to be reflected in the development proposals – subject to justification of the hotel use proposed. However the emerging LBHF Local Plan, due for adoption in summer 2018, refers to potential comprehensive changes to the town centre: a tunnel to replace the A4 flyover, improvements in the connection between the city centre and the river, the redesign of Hammersmith gyratory. Hammersmith Society is aware of an emerging masterplan for the town centre, with a valuable and radical vision for the future, which will be included in the new Local Plan. The Landmark House development could be a very significant first step in realising this vision, and it is essential that the application design is developed, and assessed, in the context of the future Local Plan…

Town centre: further design information is needed to understand how the development will relate to the immediate and general surroundings of Hammersmith. The division of the buildings into separate blocks, the evident modulation of the façade designs, and the open spaces around the buildings would together help to diminish the perceived bulk of this sizeable development. The impact on daylight and sunshine in King Street needs to be assessed. The lesser scale of the west side facing Angel Walk is welcome, but nevertheless the existing terrace will be dwarfed by the development. Angel Walk is in the King Street East conservation area: whilst there is no conservation area profile, common to all conservation areas is concern for the immediate context of the area, referring to the impact of adjacent development on the character of the area; on this count the proposals would fail.

Height: current LBHF Core Strategy planning policy BE1 identifies the town centre as ‘…an area where tall buildings may be appropriate but …not all parts of the town centre will be suitable. Any proposals for tall buildings will need to respect/enhance the historic context, make a positive contribution to the skyline emphasising a point of civic or visual significance…’.

A number of verified views of the development were shown at our meeting with the project team but do not appear to be included in the website information. Besides being visible in long views from King Street, the impact of the development on the Hammersmith skyline viewed from the river and the bridge is a critical consideration. The importance and sensitivity of these views is highlighted in ‘Thames Strategy – Kew to Chelsea’, a policy document endorsed by LBHF and The London Plan, where the Hammersmith river skyline is included in the listing of ‘Important Local Views’. A tall building is unwelcome, a tall building whose location is likely to appear random in the skyline context is more unwelcome, and a tall building which appears to have no locational or design relationship with future tall buildings on the Broadway site would be unacceptable. The development design has to be progressed in parallel with the emerging Local Plan, and with a specific LBHF policy which is needed for the town centre skyline.”

So lots of scope to object even within the constraints of the Council’s planning policy. But the fundamental problem is that the policy is at odds with the wishes of residents. For new development to be popular it must be beautiful, traditional and sympathetic.

Hammersmith Bridge will be closed next week

The latest missive from the Hammersmith Society includes the following useful update on Hammersmith Bridge from the Society’s Chairman Tom Ryland:

The bridge acts as the visual icon of Hammersmith and the silhouette of one of the towers forms our own logo, for example.

Any of you that have travelled over the bridge over the last few months cannot have failed to notice the problems – either with the decking and surfacing of the carriageway or the queues of single decker buses being marshalled by TfL officials at each end. Discussions between the Council who are responsible for the days to day operation of the bridge and TfL who are responsible for the bus routes using the bridge have been on going for months. Ultimately TfL want to permanently strengthen the bridge to carry double decker buses but there are arguments about how to do this, how long it will take and who picks up the costs.

This bridge was built in 1870 and is Listed Grade 2*. It now carries 20,000 vehicles per day – far more than was ever envisaged. A 7.5tonne temporary weight limit and width restrictions are in place and currently only one single deck bus is allowed on the bridge at any one time. The two authorities now seem to agree that the earliest a scheme of permanent strengthening can commence will be in the second half of next year (2018). This will involve the closure of the bridge for many months. (Visit the Council website – http://www.lbhf.gov.uk – Hot topics – Hammersmith Bridge).

Temporary closure

In the meantime, various temporary measures have to be put in place as a matter of urgency. The bridge will be closed to road traffic from early on 11 February – 20 February 2017 which coincides with most school half term dates. The decking and surface are to be replaced or repaired. The bridge will remain open to pedestrians and cyclists. Most of the existing six bus routes will terminate at each end and passengers will be able to walk across the bridge and rejoin a bus on the opposite side : Route 72 will be diverted via Chiswick Bridge,

Consideration of the colour scheme when re-painting?

Finally we assume that the bridge will be comprehensively repainted after completion of the major works. Would members like to see the so called ‘Harrods green’ retained (which is apparently historically accurate) or should consideration be given to a more playful, elegant scheme as many of us will remember from the days when the GLC was responsible for all the Thames bridges? We would like to open up a debate : Please let us have your thoughts!

H&F Council’s Public Health budget still beset by waste

The Public Health budget for Hammersmith and Fulham Council in 2017/18 will be £22,338,000. So slightly down on the £23,633,000 in this financial year. My concern remains that this spending is largely wasted.

One area where the funds can be used effectively is in getting specialist help for the homeless. A majority of those being put in general hostels should be placed in specialist hostels.  The Council tell me:

“Adult Social Care estimate that around 55 per cent of residents in the generic supported housing services for homeless people have support needs related to their mental health, often presenting with substance and/or alcohol misuse. Approximately 20 per cent of these residents will have severe and enduring mental illness.”

Only £551,000 – about two per cent of the Public Health budget is allocated to supported housing. This is spent by the Adult Social Care Department.

After some persistence I have now been told that the Council has agreed to an extra payment from the Public Health budget and that “General Fund Housing Budgets are receiving £298,300 in 2017/18 that will help support vulnerable households.”

Now there are still some concerns about this. One is that two departments in the Council – Adult Social Care and Housing – will be operating separately carry out the same role. They will each be arranging to find specialist accommodation for groups of people. It would make sense for this to be “joined up”.

Another basic point is that far more of Public Health budget – millions more – should be allocated to this. But at least there is progress. The £298,300 will mean proper help for some of those who would otherwise but shunted off to a general hostel or a bed and breakfast hotel where they don’t get the help they need and their condition is left to deteriorate.

Victory! H&F Council introduces automatic registration for free school meals

A year ago I wrote about the problem of children eligible for free school meals but who haven’t registered for them. This means  these children risk going without a decent meal each day and also that their school misses out on up to £1,320 each year in Pupil Premium funding to support their education. A report chaired by the Labour MP Frank Field noted that councils could use their Housing Benefit records to provide automatic registration.

I wrote urging Hammersmith and Fulham Council to do this. Cllr Caroline ffiske pursued the matter via the Children and Education Policy and Accountability Committee. I chased it up. Then chased up again. Then chased it up again. There were frustrating bureaucratic delays, reservations about data sharing,  other priorities.

But I am delighted to say that automatic registration is now a reality.

The Council tells me this means that 217 pupils in 25 schools who had missed out have now been registered as a result. The extra funding for those schools as a result for the 2017/18 financial year will be £286,440.

Frank Field has written to me to say he is delighted at this “terrific news” and hopes that other local authorities will follow the example.

Labour councillor can’t remember the name of the committee he is paid £5,000 a year to chair

larryculI have written previously about the expensive farce that constitutes the “scrutiny” process on Hammersmith and Fulham Council. The “Governance and Scrutiny” department costs the Council nearly half a million pounds.

Five Labour councillors are each paid to chair a committee. Each committee meets half a dozen times a year for an hour or two. For agreeing to chair these meetings each of the councillors gets an extra £5,000 a year. So £833.33p a meeting. A staggeringly large sum for so little work.

Those “special responsibility” allowances are handed out by the council leader. So it is a system of patronage. Any real scrutiny from any of those councillors would put them at risk of losing their £5,000 a year. So it is not merely money that is wasted. It is spending which diminishes the amount of scrutiny that would otherwise occur. It is counter scrutiny spending. Hush money. It is spending to silence criticism.

The Community Safety, Environment and Residents Services Policy and Accountability Committee is chaired by Cllr Larry Culhane. Towards the end of last week’s Council meeting he said:

“As chair of the PAC committee that I chair – I won’t say the name because I always struggle to remember it off by heart. Too many words in it, too many words in it.”

Shameless. But I’m afraid it was illustrative of the fundamental problem not just temporary absent mindedness. When I was on his Committee he failed to provide any effective scrutiny himself – and attempted to prevent me from doing so.