Charlie Dewhirst: Mistake for H&F Council to downgrade crime fighting

Cllr Charlie Dewhirst writes

At last night’s Full Council meeting the Labour administration passed a change to the Council constitution to remove the post of Director of Safer Neighbourhoods and transfer of all their responsibilities to Environmental Health. This is a disturbing development and provides a troubling insight into the local Labour Party’s priorities.

The previous Conservative administration had a very proud record on crime reduction in this borough – working with the police to reduce crime by 25% over eight years.

I did think for a while the current administration was at least giving the impression of taking crime as seriously. However, this strikes me as a particularly counter-productive decision at a time when the picture is alarming.

In the last year crime has risen overall by 4.5% across London. Robbery is up 12%, theft up 7% and sexual offences up over 9%. Moped-enabled crime has risen seven fold in the last two years to over 7,500 offences a year – more than 20 each day in the capital.

Locally in our borough, violence against the person is up more than 4%, sexual offences up 11% and robbery up by a staggering 28% in the last year. In addition, the Mayor of London is cutting the local Crime Prevention Fund in Hammersmith and Fulham by 33% next year.

Now is clearly not the time for the Council to be pushing crime down the list of priorities. Tackling crime and anti-social behaviour will be a primary focus for a future Conservative administration in Hammersmith and Fulham.

H&F Council refuses to publish Fire Risk Assessments and rejects plea for sprinklers in all council housing blocks

There was a Hammersmith and Fulham Council meeting last night which saw hours of filibustering by Labour councillors to curtail time for discussion on their fire safety record.

The motion they didn’t want debated stated:

1. This Council reaffirms the commitment to the safety of tenants, leaseholders, residents and their families in its housing stock which lies at the heart of its public service provision.

2. This Council notes:

a. The ‘Limited Assurance’ audit report issued in July 2016 in respect of the Council’s Housing and Regeneration Department (“HRD”) Health and Safety Checks.

b. The reports to Audit Pensions and Standards Committee of 13th September 2016, 7th December 2016, 13th March 2017 and 21st June 2017 relating to deficient and late implementation of health and safety checks and remedial works, which included gas safety, electrical installation, asbestos management, communal hot water tank chlorination and fire risk assessments.

It also said:

4. This Council resolves to:

a. Eliminate immediately the backlog of HRD health and safety checks and remedial works of all kinds identified by the reports to Audit Committee.

b. Install sprinkler systems in all blocks of Council flats.

c. Set for a date for the removal of the hazardous panels to the Charecroft Estate.

d. Set a date for fitting sprinklers in the Charecroft Estate as requested by residents of that estate.

e. Publish immediately copies of fire risk assessments and other health and safety reports for all Council owned housing blocks in the borough on the Council’s website.”

When it eventually came they voted to reject my proposal that all Fire Risk Assessments for all council blocks should be published on the transparency section of the Council’s website. That was a shameful decision which they struggled to even attempt to justify. The Council leader told me there was a lot of anxiety among residents. Indeed. Does he really imagine that secrecy helps?

The Charecroft Tenants and Residents Association have obtained the fire risk assessments for their blocks and published them on their website. It gives the address for Roseford Court and Woodford Court as Hammersmith Grove. That does not exactly instill confidence. Nor that the Council is still resisting publication of documents relating to the Shepherds Court fire put in as FOI requests by Inside Housing magazine. They say it would not be in the “public interest”….

I have put in a Freedom of Information request for the Fire Risk Assessments for all blocks in the borough of over six storeys and I will publish them on this site if I get them. Then I will ask for the lower rise blocks.

So far as the sprinklers are concerned I was told that they would be installed in tower blocks. But how were tower blocks defined? How many storeys? “You should already know,” the Council leader told me as if it was a game. “We will tell you afterwards.” Then he said it was 12 storeys. Later he told me it was six storeys.

What happens if there is a fire on a five storey block? Or a two, three or four storey block?

The Chief Fire Officers Association points out that nobody had ever died in a fire in the UK in a property with a properly installed sprinkler system.

Ronnie King, an acknowledged expert in this field, has told me the case for installing sprinklers in all blocks of flats is overwhelming. This was what the Labour councillors voted against last night with an amendment deleting making any such undertaking.

This report from a study of a retrofitting project in Sheffield says:

“Perhaps the key finding of the project is that the installation cost is less than £1,150 per flat. This is significant in that it is significantly less than had been estimated and illustrates how economically such a scheme can be retrofitted in occupied premises without undue disruption.”

As I have argued before that spending should be given priority in the context of the Council’s £30 million annual capital spending. Council leaseholders should not be charged. Myths – such as that the sprinklers might go off by accident – need to be busted. Fire officers should be encouraged to tour the estates to meet residents to explain the need for the sprinklers to be installed.

The Council needs to provide transparency and show some leadership. Rather than dithering and delaying it needs to take the action that is clearly required to keep residents safe.

 

 

 

Community gardeners are at it again

Cllr Caroline ffiske writes:

Earlier in the summer W6 Garden Centre kindly donated more plants for community gardening.  This time plants went out to community gardeners on the Cheesemans Estate, the Lytton Estate, and to St Andrews Church in Barons Court.

The plants, of course, make these areas more beautiful.  But they also help create communities as people come together over a pleasurable activity.

Thanks, as ever, are due to W6 who not only donated the plants, but delivered them free of charge to a central pick-up place.  W6 are located close to Ravenscourt Park and if you have not tried out their lovely cafe – you must.  A perfect place to escape the heat of a hot summer’s day.

Here are some of the plants dropped off to their new homes or on their way.

As Rudyard kipling wrote:

There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick,
There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick
But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done,
For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.

 

 

 

 

Residents complain of helicopter noise

The Brackenbury Residents Association – as well as a number of individual residents – have complained about helicopter noise getting much worse recently.

I have raised this with the Council who have responded as follows:

As a local authority we do not have any powers over helicopter flight routes although there are certain rules and regulations (“Rules of the Air”) that helicopter pilots must adhere to when they are flying over London.

Single-engine helicopters are required to fly along designated routes, which includes along the River Thames for helicopters flying over H&F. These routes avoid flying over built up areas as much as possible. However, helicopters with more than one engine, typically twin-engines, are allowed to deviate from the designated routes if they have Air Traffic Control (ATC) clearance to do so. Most helicopters in London airspace these days are multi-engine, so they have greater freedom (subject to ATC permission) to fly where, in the past, most helicopters would not have been allowed to go.

In general, unless helicopters are landing or taking off, they should be 1000 feet (c.300m) above buildings etc. The Police Air Support Unit and Emergency Services Air Ambulance are subject to special requirements and may need to operate at lower altitudes or hover over specific locations.

If a resident thinks they have seen helicopter activity that breaches the Regulations, the CAA will investigate, although they need adequate information to do this. Reports can be submitted online here: https://apply.caa.co.uk/CAAPortal/terms-and-conditions.htm?formCode=ABL.  The council also has representatives on the London Heliport Consultative Committee who can raise local helicopter related issues for discussion and investigation, although the focus is mostly on heliport activities.  Further details can be found here: http://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/info/200439/get_involved/443/battersea_heliport_and_helicopter_noise/3

We do indeed have a local councillor London Heliport Consultative Committee – but he hasn’t turned up for over a year. So a fat lot of use that is. Yes I am looking at you Cllr Larry Culhane.

Anyway I have logged a further query with the Council. It may not have any legal powers itself but I don’t think it is reasonable for it to provide some leadership and assistance to local residents. My new query is as follows:

I note the minutes of the London Helicopter Consultative group says:

“Stephen Dance and Luis Gomez-Agustina from London South Bank University gave a presentation on the first stage of the noise monitoring study that had commenced at the beginning of May. Members were told of the results of measurements taken from balconies at Prices Court (150m from heliport on Wandsworth riverside) and also at Blantyre Tower (approx. 1250m from heliport on the flight path on Kensington and Chelsea riverside). It was noted that measuring equipment is powered by a car battery, meaning no requirement for residents to plug cables into their supply, and that the intention was to monitor for no longer than a month at each location. Stephen Dance said that measurements over the 19/5 to 23/5 period showed many incidences of high noise levels attributable to helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, sirens and also drilling in the River Thames, with particular ‘spikes’ during times of high heliport use. These findings required further analysis and collaboration. Residents had also been asked to keep a log of helicopter movements and Stephen Dance also confirmed that ‘spot measurements’ would be taken on expected high volume of movement days around Ascot, Formula 1 Grand Prix, etc. “

Please could the Council encourage (finance?) such monitoring in our borough with a view to reporting the findings to the CAA if the rules have been broken.

Best wishes,
Harry

I will let you know of any further news. There is also a survey that you can fill in – which I suppose can’t do any harm in ensuring that the extent of concern is recorded.

H&F Labour in a muddle of Right to Buy

Labour councillors in Hammersmith and Fulham oppose the right to buy for council tenants claiming that it fails to fund replacement homes. Yet if this were to be the case that they can’t manage it then all the proceeds have to be handed over to central government for the Homes and Communities Agency to build the replacement homes instead.

According to Labour’s own council officers in the borough this has not been necessary.

The Housing Department’s Head of Financial Investment & Strategy tells me:

“We monitor Right to Buy receipts every month and currently don’t anticipate having to pay the receipts back to central government. 

“As at 30th June 2017 we have used £5.1m of Right to Buy receipts to provide additional affordable homes, 38 of which have already been provided and 184 are currently in progress.

“Further receipts will be used towards completing the 184 homes in progress and on further additional homes as and when approval is granted.”

Do Labour councillors not talk to their own housing officers?

The makes Labour’s refusal to sell high value voids (even a vacant council house in Parsons Green worth £2 million or £3 million) absurd. Clearly it would be possible to pay for several much needed replacement homes with the proceeds.

Perhaps Labour councillors, many of whom enjoy home ownership for themselves,  want to deny the opportunity for others.

Return of the Triffids

In streets across the borough weeds continue to grow out of control.

The Council are only attempting to get rid of them using a “hot water spray applicator”.

It is pretty ineffective – perhaps taking four or five times longer than the previous arrangements.  A large van is required so parking to get the hoses out was a problem. It is supposed to be eco-friendly as it does not use chemicals. But is even that true? A noisy diesel generator to be running the whole time to run the water heater and the pumps – so much for the greenest Borough. They do this twice a year – and it still doesn’t work. Previously spraying weed killer happened once a year and did the trick.

Council refusing to keep the Ravenscourt Park paddling pool open

Last year I called for the Council to keep the paddling pool in Ravenscourt Park open into September.

This would be a very modest cost for the amount of pleasure it gives to residents. In good weather the pool is full of young children happily splashing and laughing. Of course the weather in September is unreliable – but then it is the rest of time too. On average September is warmer in London than June.

But this year the pool will close on September 10th.

I am also campaigning for the lavatories next to the paddling pool to be kept open longer. At present they close at 5pm.  In practice they are sometimes closed earlier. The Council says they are “quite secluded and likely to suffer from anti-social behaviour and/or vandalism.” That is an argument for keep them closed the whole time. Pretty feeble.

New cycle hire scheme blocking pavements

Picture by Nigel Walley

I am all for encouraging cycling – especially given the problem with air pollution in the borough.

Also I yield to nobody in my admiration for innovation and entrepreneurial zeal to promote choice and competition. However there is a difficulty with oBike cycle hire scheme which is that their bikes are being strewn all over the pavement.

I have written to the Council’s Director for Transport and Highways who replies:

“This is a commercial enterprise that has rolled out these bicycles across London without proper consultation with local authorities. There is no regulation that requires cyclists to only leave their bikes at designated locations (such as attached to cycle racks) so by implication the bikes can be left virtually anywhere on the highway. The only caveat is that the Highways Act prohibits placing any object on the highway where it causes an obstruction to other road users, and we have the powers to issue a fixed penalty notice or to impound the bike. There is also the factor that they are operating a business on the highway without permission.

“We have been in contact with oBike and notified them that we will take enforcement action if the bikes are not removed. They have agreed to remove the bikes they have deposited in the borough and to meet us to agree the ground rules. I believe the bikes are now being removed. I suspect they are having similar conversations with the other boroughs.”

Hammersmith Academy named as RHS School Gardening Team of the Year

A 31-strong group of secondary school pupils from Hammersmith Academy has been named RHS School Gardening Team of the Year 2017. An award designed to identify an outstanding school team that has shown excellent teamwork and made a difference to their school environment.

The Hammersmith Academy team was commended for not just establishing a garden from scratch in a previously grey area of the school grounds, but their work in the local community. They have greened areas outside the school and have made the garden of a local care home more wildlife friendly. This year, they have started to run workshops to share their gardening skills with local primary schools.

Patrick Kirwan, the KS5 Science Coordinator at the school said:

“In just two years our students have made an outstanding horticultural contribution to our school and local community. Our inner city school lacked a much needed area for nature and wildlife and our students have created a tranquil setting where people gather to unwind and relax.”

Zephaniah Lindo, competition judge and a lecturer in horticulture at Capel Manor College, London said:

“It’s wonderful to see a group of secondary school pupils so enthusiastic about gardening. They are always encouraging other students to join the gardening club and embrace opportunities to get involved in the wider community.”

Hammersmith Academy’s winning team will be presented with their prize of a Classic ‘Eight’ cedar greenhouse, donated by Gabriel Ash at an event later in the year. They will also receive £500 worth of National Garden Gift Vouchers and a celebrity gardener will spend a day at the school to work with the gardening team.