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.



Cover up of H&F Council’s affordable housing failure

A year ago I obtained some startling figures on the extent of Labour’s failure on affordable housing in the borough.

In the financial year 2015/16 only new affordable homes were approved 165. This compares with 1,511 in 2013/14 – the most recent figures for when the Council was run by the Conservatives. Given that Labour was elected on a promise to increase the supply of affordable housing that is an astonishing betrayal.

A year later what about the figure for 2016/17? The Council refuses to tell me.  It says that it would be “prejudicial to the council” to provide it.

That doesn’t sound like a great improvement, does it?

At least a year ago council officials had the professionalism to admit failure. Why the change? With the council elections in May some may suspect political pressure to suppress inconvenient truths being allowed into the public domain….

Council has only evicted six “neighbours from Hell” in the last 18 months

I have written before about the Council’s feeble approach to tackling anti social behaviour on our council estates. I’m afraid this problem persists.

At a meeting I attended last night figures were released which showed 691 incidents recorded in the last 18 months – but only six culprits evicted.

Now it is true that evictions are not always needed. Sometimes an initial warning litter is reasonable and does the trick. There is also the complication that sometimes those causing the difficulty are alcoholics, drug addicts or mentally ill and should be placed in supported housing and provided with specialist treatment. This could be paid for from the Council’s £22.3 million Public Health budget – which is presently largely wasted. Often those is need of such help will agree to move voluntarily – whether they are involved in anti social behaviour or not.

But the reality is that there are “neighbours from Hell” causing misery who should be evicted who have not been. It will be entirely normal when I canvass a block of council flats to be told of one resident causing misery for everyone else in the block. Hammersmith and Fulham owns 12,500 homes. Only a very small minority of tenants cause persistent serious problems. Perhaps fewer than one per cent – but it’s certainly more than 0.05 per cent. Yet they are not being removed. That needs to change. We delay too long before going to court.

Of course gathering evidence is crucial. For instance previously the Council would release CCTV images of those urinating in lifts so that they could be identified. We should do this again.

Also we should tackle the environment that fosters anti social behaviour. The arrangements for removing graffiti are too bureaucratic. The Council spends time and money on admin assessing who owns the property and then write letters to them asking them to remove it. Different teams cover different areas. But one effective way of discouraging graffiti – which is often obscene or threatening – is for it to be removed quickly. As I have requested previously the Council should provide free, rapid, comprehensive graffiti removal service to cover all property in the borough.

Ugly office block plan for Wellesley Avenue rejected

I was pleased that last night Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s Planning and Development Control Committee rejected a proposal for an ugly office block in Wellesley Avenue.

The overbearing development would also have been harmful to residents in Dorville Crescent and have had a negative impact on the character of the conservation area.

Planning officers had recommended rejection and my only criticism was that they should have been more emphatic in doing so.

For instance it said of 14 Wellesley Avenue that the “timber cladding on the front elevation is not in keeping with the character and appearance of the conservation area.”

We can all sneer at “mock Tudor”. The building is rather idiosyncratic in the context of the local area. But the point is that the proposed replacement would be awful. So that would be a bad swap. Give me mock Tudor!

With regard to traffic the planning officers said:

“Regarding visitors to the office use it is considered that due to the good public transport accessibility in this location, people would be likely to use transport methods other than a private car to visit the site and therefore the proposal is unlikely to generate any increase in parking pressure or cause conditions detrimental to traffic conditions. “

Come off it.

The office would have 200 people and so there would be a lot more traffic – with all the couriers, Uber taxis, Amazon deliveries, etc.

That would be bad for local schools – with air pollution and congestion during the school run for those children dropped off.

The traffic caused by the existing workshop is very modest – they take in perhaps three cars a week. Also cars are currently parked in the garage, but in future all cars would be on the street.

By all means let’s have a change of use for the workshop – but it should be for new (but traditional) housing. That is what is needed rather than more offices.

Brackenbury Residents Association said the proposed scheme was “alien” and added:

“We value the benefits of mixed use within residential areas, but we consider this application would introduce the wrong mix, creating an inappropriate design for the street, an inappropriate commercial presence, and an insensitive neighbour to the existing houses.”

New developments don’t have to be unattractive. But all too often they are. Local residents and I left the meeting last night to allow the Committee to proceed with its work – remorselessly approving schemes to make our borough less and less beautiful.

But at least we had our victory:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ 
We are not now that strength which in old days 
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; 
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.



Mayor dithering over Flyunder scheme

While the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is keen to spend £70 million of our money on a flawed Cycle Superhighway scheme there is a complete lack of progress on Flyunder proposal. Yet that would offer genuine improvements to cyclists – as well as the rest of us.

As the Hammersmith BID has said:

“The Hammersmith flyover bisects the town centre, cutting off access to the river and inhibiting pedestrian and cycle movement. A tunnel would provide an opportunity to reconnect the centre of Hammersmith with the riverside, creating an opportunity to invest in new public space and making the area more attractive for tourists, people who work in the area and local residents.”

Two months ago Caroline Pidgeon, a member of the London Assembly, put in a couple of pretty straightforward questions about it. She hasn’t even had an answer:

Hammersmith flyunder (1)

Caroline Pidgeon (14-Sept-2017)

Do you support the Hammersmith flyunder project?

Officers are drafting a response which will be sent shortly.

Hammersmith flyunder (2)

Caroline Pidgeon (14-Sept-2017)

What action have you taken to implement the proposed Hammersmith flyunder?

Officers are drafting a response which will be sent shortly.