How big should hedges be?

I often get correspondence about hedges.  Sometimes it is requested that the Council ensures that property owners do some pruning to avoid obstructing the pavement – as with the example pictured.

But there is controversy as to how much pruning should take place. Sometimes it is the Council that owns the hedge. I have already noted the comments from the Biodiversity Commission about street trees.

This is what they say about hedges:

“Shrubs are being over-pruned and rubbish-laden compost strewn too heavily under trees and shrubs to reduce maintenance, causing the death of some shrubs. Often there is no budget to replace these shrubs and, when there is, there is reluctance to plant as it means additional maintenance. Regulation has also gone too far – shrubs/ hedges have been emasculated in order to reduce anti-social behaviour but the balance is not right. There are virtually no intact hedges in parks or gardens of council housing estates and similarly few shrubs above chest level height. This, coupled with the loss of garden space discussed in 3.2, has resulted in a very severe decline in habitat area and variety in the Borough and has contributed to the fall in small bird populations in inner London.”

The Parks Manager responds as follows

“The Biodiversity Commission have looked at the maintenance of hedges from purely ecological/biodiversity perspective, which is to let hedges flourish with only minor pruning.  Hedges at the moment are pruned in accordance with horticultural practice but also often to minimise anti-social behaviour (referenced in the report).

“There is also an aesthetic factor as well in how we manage hedges; ones managed for biodiversity will tend to have a ‘wilder’ look.  That said, there is no reason why a compromise cannot be met and as a team we’re looking forward to working with the commission and improving biodiversity in parks and cemeteries.  Any changes in management practice will need to be coupled with a level of education explaining the benefits.”

So far as the council estates are concerned the Head of Estate Services says:

“We believe that we have struck the right balance between the need for shrubs and hedges that are attractive and flourishing, and the needs for clear lines of sight for CCTV, and the avoidance of blind spots that facilitate antisocial behaviour.  We manage these issues on a case by case basis on our housing estates, relying on advice from the Police, and the local knowledge of residents. Any walkaround of our estates would demonstrate that they are full of greenery and flourishing hedges, managed in a sensitive manner. Our supplier of gardening services, Idverde, are fully aware of this approach and do not cut hedges or shrubs in the nesting season, or when they are flowering. They are also using an innovative form of hot foam weeding to avoid the use of over 100 litres of potential toxic chemicals.

“This specific activity is set within the context of our Greening Strategy which itemises our plans to encourage bio-diversity through our choices of plants, and establishes our strong approach to protecting the green tree canopy through sympathetic pruning, replacement of dead trees, and through significant additional planting. We have planted over 750 trees in the last three years, of which over 150 have been on our estates.”

So we are all agreed that there should be a balance. The only question is what the right balance is. In a way perhaps sending in photographs of examples of where it has gone wrong might inform the Council of how to improve and allow a reasoned consensus to emerge.

By the way cutting hedges and trees should be avoided between March and August as this is the main breeding season for nesting birds.

Tall crane was to blame for helicopter noise

In July many residents in Hammersmith complained about helicopter noise. As a result I persuaded the Council to hold a meeting about it. This took place last week and the report that was presented said:

“Occasionally, extra airspace restrictions are implemented in London that impact on helicopter activity over H&F. An example of this is when tall cranes are erected on large construction sites. These can be 300 feet (91.4m) or taller and present a potential obstacle to helicopters. These are notifiable to the CAA and the heliport. Pilots are made aware of these obstructions and the avoidance area around it (typically a radius of 1 nautical mile). In the summer, a tall crane in RBK&C was erected as shown in Figure 3 in the Appendix which impacted on helicopter movements from July to September, causing them to fly over areas not usually impacted. This can be very noticeable for residents and the causes are not immediately obvious. A temporary airspace restriction was also put in place at the time of the Grenfell Tower fire and remained in place for several weeks.”

While the problem has abated we still discussed various ways the situation could be improved.

Before 2005 the minimum altitude for aircraft from 1,500 feet but it was then reduced to 1,000 feet.  This is covered under the EU’s Standardised European Rules of the Air.  After Brexit we will be able to set our own laws. Perhaps that could include requiring a higher minimum altitude so that the aircraft don’t cause such a noise nuisance.

Transparency is another area.  Heathrow Airport provide real-time information on arrivals and departures and H&F residents can use the WebTrak facility to check on flights over the borough. Why not provide a similar facility for helicopters which could show arrivals/ departures at the Heliport and other helicopter activity in London airspace, so that residents could check activity in their area?

There is also more that the Mayor of London could do to seeking powers to limit the overall number of helicopter movements in London’s airspace in order to manage their environmental impacts, particularly in relation to noise.

H&F Council’s annual stealth taxes on motorists hit £23 million

A big theme from the Labour Party at the last council elections was to cut “all taxes”. They pledged to cut the Council Tax at a faster rate than the Conservatives had achieved. But they also promised to cut “stealth taxes” – most significantly on motorists.

Back in 2013 the then Labour opposition leader Cllr Stephen Cowan declared:

“These fines and fees are the worst type of stealth taxes demonstrating once again that Hammersmith and Fulham is a high tax borough.”

That was in response to the figures from 2012/13 which showed the Council made a “surplus” or profit on its parking operation of £19.395 million. As Council leader Cllr Cowan has made a difference. The latest figures –from the RAC Foundation – show the amount is now £23.077 million.

So local drivers having been promised the stealth taxes would be cut are instead fleeced by an extra £3.7 million a year. Any of them who believed Labour’s promises are entitled to feel angry,

London Fire Brigade issues enforcement notice on Robert Gentry House

Hammersmith and Fulham Council has stalled on my requests – both a councillor enquiry query and a Freedom of Information Request – to provide the fire risk assessments for the council housing blocks in Ravenscourt Park Ward. They say they intend to provide the information in February. So far they have only provided the information on high rises.

A reminder that this is not enough comes with the news that the London Fire Brigade has issued an Enforcement Notice against the Council over Robert Gentry House, one of its blocks in Barons Court. I have asked the Council for an explanation.

Housing associations should also show greater transparency. The Shepherd’s Bush Housing Association has had enforcement notices issued for Cairns House and Down House in Wandsworth Bridge Road, Kelway House in North End Road and Ismailia House in Townmead Road.

What street trees should we plant in our borough?

Three new trees at corner of Ancill Close and Crefeld Close. Alder, birch and unknown. Joining the chestnut tree planted in 2012

I was interested to see the report of the Hammersmith and Fulham Biodiversity Commission which was presented earlier this week.

The trouble with these Resident Commissions is that they produce long lists of proposals (often for bodies other than Hammersmith and Fulham Council to pursue). The Council then accepts all of them. There is much mutual congratulation. Then nothing actually happens.

That would be a pity with this report.

Of course you need to scroll down through the gush and the mush and the virtue signalling – eg “appoint a permanent Ecology Officer”  (groan).  It is necessary not to be provoked by undeserved praise for the European Union – which has been a complete disaster for the environment.

Then there is the predictable weakness of a committee to promise anything terribly bold. For instance where is the call for a cull of the grey squirrels?

That all sounds rather rude to the Commissioners – Morag Carmichael, Professor Derek Clements-Croome, Cathy Maund, Vanessa Hampton, Louise Barton, John Goodier, Moya O’Hara, Dr Nathalie Mahieu and Alex Laird. On the contrary I  have considerable admiration for what they have done and would be sorry to see the relevant aspects of their report ignored. There are several important, practical, proposals which I am keen to see pursued. They are a group of residents with formidable collective expertise who have put in considerable (unpaid) effort to produce a formidable piece of work.

For instance with regard to street trees they say:

“Significant weight should be given to the biodiversity aspect of trees in all planting situations. This means, for example, more oaks, willows, silver birches, pink/white hawthorn, rowan and alders and fewer exotic trees or double-flowered cherries in future planting.”

I have asked the Council’s Principal Arboricultural Officer for a response.

He says:

“The main criteria we use for selection of species for planting on street trees is set out in our policy guidelines which are published on the council’s website. You can access this from the links in the  “Trees in Public Places” page which is in the “Environment” section. The main points are outlined below:
 1. Trees should be of such size that they do not cause undue light restriction,encroachment or subsidence problems.   

2. Trees with excessively large, sticky or prolific fruits should be avoided wherever they are likely to cause a nuisance.

3. Trees with poisonous fruits, bark or wood should be avoided.

4. Hazardous trees, e.g. trees with large spines on the trunk, or which are known to shed branches easily should be avoided.

Assuming the above are satisfied we would want to give preference to species that provide bio-diversity and habitat benefits ideally help improve air quality.

We already plant significant numbers of Birch, and Rowan and quite a few Hawthorns. The scope for larger species like Oak is limited and Willows are very unlikely to be suitable for our narrow streets. Unfortunately species that encourage wildlife tend to be “dirty” trees and generate more complaints from residents about mess or insects .

Flowering Cherry and Blossom trees are the most commonly requested by residents and it is often an uphill struggle to persuade them to have something more biodiversity friendly.”

What do you think?

Constance Craig Smith: Hartswood Tennis Club is thriving – with a record membership

A guest post from Constance Craig Smith.

Hartswood Lawn Tennis Club, off Hartswood Road in W12, has been around since 1914, when – so rumour has it – it was founded by men going off to fight in World War One in order to give their wives something to keep them occupied.

The British public only gets excited about tennis at Wimbledon time, or when Andy Murray or Jo Konta pull off a high-profile win, or when the ATP Finals are on at the O2 Arena, as they are this week. But at Hartswood we play tennis all year round on our six outdoor courts. We are a hardy bunch and unless it’s raining, or the surface is icy, we play on whatever the temperature even if we are swathed in hats, gloves and layers of thermals.

The club used to have several beautiful but high-maintenance grass courts but these are now a thing of the past, as is the ‘all white’ clothing rule. These days we play on tarmac courts; easy to maintain and incredibly quick to dry, if rather hard on middle-aged knees. The courts have a devilishly high bounce, which baffles visiting teams and gives us quite an advantage when we play home matches.

While the Lawn Tennis Association  reports that many clubs are struggling to keep up their numbers, Hartswood is in the happy position of enjoying record membership with over 400 members; there may soon have to be a waiting list for those wanting to join. It’s partly because our rates are reasonable, but mainly because we try very, very hard not to live up to the stuffy image of so many tennis clubs. New members are welcome even if they are complete beginners, and once you have joined you can book courts as often as you like at no extra cost. There are inexpensive group coaching sessions for players of all ability, and juniors are particularly well catered for. The club is fierce in its commitment to younger players and Saturday mornings during school term time are for juniors only – no adults allowed! There’s also a lively programme of social events.

Apart from technical stuff like court maintenance, and the services of a handyman one day a week, the club is run entirely by its members. Accounts, public relations, gardening and the clubhouse bar are all organised by volunteers. We are proud of our involvement in the local community, with twice-yearly fundraising tournaments for the Chiswick branch of Macmillan Cancer Support, and regular events in aid of The Upper Room.

The great thing about tennis is that you can take it up at any age and improve rapidly. I started playing in my mid 40s, encouraged by a neighbour who is a Hartswood member, and from a very low base I have risen to the dizzy heights of captain of the ladies’ fourth team. I think (hope) I am still improving now I’m in my 50s, and I plan to keep playing for many years to come. But belonging to Hartswood – or any other tennis club – is about far more than honing your forehand. You will get fitter, rediscover your competitive instincts and develop an unhealthy interest in different brands of tennis clothing. Above all, tennis is a social game, and by belonging to your local club you will make lots of new friends and feel part of a community – something that many of us in London are looking for.

Membership details here.

To really help cyclists let’s fix the potholes – not waste money on the “superhighway”

The Times has reported that the refusal of councils to bother filling shallow potholes is a threat to the safety of cyclists.

According to an FOI response earlier this year from Hammersmith and Fulham Council:

“The Council works to an investigatory level of 40mm in the carriageway in line with the Well Maintained Highways – a code of good practice and the Council’s Highway Maintenance Management Plan.”

Yet the report in The Times says:

“Lawyers acting on behalf of accident victims said that many councils only fixed potholes that were deeper than 4cm, despite the risk of accidents in shallower cracks.”

More than 100 cyclists died on Britain’s roads last year. A further 3,397 were seriously injured, a 5 per cent increase from the previous year. Department for Transport figures show that 467 cyclists over five years were involved in accidents in which “poor or defective” roads were a factor.

While Transport for London proposes spending £70 million of our money on a grand scheme for a Cycle Superhighway – which many ordinary cyclists don’t want – the basic priorities are ignored.

The general point seems to be that the depth of an inch or two might not matter too much for motorists but can be a serious risk for cyclists.

I have raised my concerns with the Council about this. The General Maintenance Team Manager has responded:

“The Council currently operates under the existing ‘Well Maintained Highways – a code of good practice’ which was drafted by the Roads Liaison Group and was recommended by the Department for Transport. This document was replaced in October 2016 with a new document – ‘Code of Practice for Well-Managed Highways Infrastructure’. Each Council has until October 2018 to make the necessary changes to existing polices to align with the new code.

“The Council is currently undergoing a series of workshops to review existing topics such as intervention / investigatory levels as the new Code of Practice document encourages Councils to assess risk in a wider context than the previous document did. Once these workshops have been completed, a new Highway Maintenance Management Plan will be drafted in line with the new CoP – this document will cover topics such as intervention levels, frequency of inspections and repair timescales.

“In the meantime, should you have any particular areas of concern where you feel that a defect poses a risk to a cyclist, please let me know and I will arrange for a Highway Inspector to carry out a thorough investigation.”

The website Fill That Hole says cyclists have reported 363 hazards to the Council via that website but that only 45 have been fixed. That performance puts the Council well down the league table.

I have asked for an explanation.