We need a proper Council Leaseholders Charter

Council leaseholders often feel they are being treated unfairly by the Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham Council – with good reason.

Concerns are raised of excessive charges, poor service, secrecy, and bureaucratic obstruction.

The average service charges for council leaseholders in Hammersmith and Fulham is £827 a year. Some other London boroughs charge much less: in Hillingdon it is £378.73p; in Harrow it is £357.90.

Examples of outrageous costs for extra work abound. Replacing a lift in our borough costs the Council £125,000 – in Wandsworth it is £51,000. Yet our lifts frequently break down. The Council spent £5.6 million on scaffolding last year – often left up for months with no work being done.

Sometimes council leaseholders are forced to pay for “improvements” that are not wanted – such as replacing sash windows with PVC windows.

This must include a better deal for Council leaseholders with a proper Leaseholders Charter. The Council has offered a very insipid version full of meaningless promises such as to “consult”, “hold meetings”, “carry out satisfaction surveys”, “continue to develop the knowledge of our housing staff”and “ensure we charge leaseholder a reasonable cost for major works undertaken”.

We real Council leaseholders charter would include the following:

1. We will reduce leaseholder charges each year and ensure they are below the London average by 2022.

2. “Public works” costs, such as upkeep of footpaths and play areas on estates which are generally used by the public, will be charged to the General Fund and not to the Housing Revenue Account. This greater fairness will help cut service charges and improve maintenance.

2. At present it is difficult or impossible for leaseholders to check their bills are correct. We will simplify the charges and provide greater transparency. Council leaseholders will be granted full estimated costings in the “Section 125 notices” – rather than just a total figure and a vague reference to what the work is for.

3. When leaseholders own two thirds or more of the flats in a block they have a legal right to buy the freehold. We will use our discretion to lower this threshold for council properties and allow leaseholders the chance to buy the freehold in council properties where they own at least half of the flats.

4. Often those who undertake shared ownership get charged 100 per cent of the leaseholder charges. That is iniquitous. We would ensure they are only charged the proportionate sum.

5. Equal treatment. Council leaseholders must no longer be treated as second class citizens compared to council tenants. For example with the Council’s ill-judged stock transfer proposal they would have been legally obliged to give tenants a vote on the plan – but refused to guarantee this for leaseholders.

6. We will appoint an independent ombudsman to address leaseholder complaints when they are not resolved within a specific time period.

7. We will end the absurd excuse of “commercial confidentiality” used by the Council to escape scrutiny over its spending. If council leaseholders can identify areas where the Council is being ripped off they should be thanked – rather than face hostility; which happens under the current administration.

A better deal and a greater say for our leaseholders is in everyone’s interest. Tangible changes are needed to make that a reality – not just bland waffle.

Labour have effectively abandoned the Flyunder scheme

Last month I wrote about how the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan delayed answering a question about his stance on the Flyunder proposal. This scheme would mean a tunnel would replace the Hammersmith Flyover and a stretch of the A4 extending to the Hogarth Roundabout. It would mean huge benefits in terms of transport, the environment, new housing and making the borough a more beautiful place to live in.

The Mayor has finally provided the following response:

“TfL completed a feasibility study for the Hammersmith flyunder in 2015. The scheme looks to address issues of congestion, mitigate against noise and air pollution from traffic, provide space for new housing and make the area more appealing for walking and cycling. The study indicated that it would be technically feasible to build a tunnel to replace the flyover and provide opportunities to regenerate Hammersmith town centre.

“The likely construction and operational costs of the scheme were found to be significant and could not be covered through local sources and from proceeds from associated development in the town centre. As this is primarily a regeneration scheme, it is being considered further by the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham who are developing a Supplementary Planning Document for the town centre.

“While I am supportive in principle of schemes such as the proposed Hammersmith flyunder, any such schemes need to being fully funded by development in the local area. TfL will work closely with the Council, but the scheme has to demonstrate that it can deliver the benefits and meet the key challenges before I can fully support the it.”

Given the vast sums that TfL is prepared to spend on assorted unwanted schemes the refusal to offer any money at all is unreasonable. Not to mention splashing out £100 million to bodge up the Hammersmith Flyover. This is a TfL road and for the current Mayor to show a complete lack of interest is a dismal contrast to his predecessor Boris Johnson.

Val Shawcross, Deputy Mayor for Transport, says the Flyunder idea is “bonkers”.

In any case just shrugging and saying it is up to the Council to come up with a proposal is pretty hopeless unless we get a change of administration in May. Labour promised to back the plan but have failed to make any progress with it at all.

Council still sitting on funds provided for improvements to Ravenscourt Park

Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s leadership has been boasting for the last three years about the the vast extra sums it has supposedly negotiated from property developers in Section 106 payments – where funds are provided for community projects in return for allowing new buildings to appear. Not much of the money has materialised in reality. Furthermore a lot of money that was paid over to the Council from earlier periods sits ring fenced in the bank account still unspent.

Specific undertakings for improvements to Ravenscourt Park, yet to materialise, give an illustration of the wider story of mismanagement. Funding from the 282-292 Goldhawk Road are an example already documented on this site.

A year ago I wrote to the Council’s Planning Change Manager. I queried the sums the in the Section 106 schedule current at the time:

By my tally we seem to be sitting on £591,906 of Section 106 money due
to be spent on parks that came from developments near Ravenscourt Park
(see my list below).
Please may I have an update on when and how this money is due to be spent.

Best wishes,
Harry

684 Goldhawk Industrial Estate, 2A Brackenbury Road £90,000.00 Parks

 684 Goldhawk Industrial Estate, 2A Brackenbury Road £100,000.00 Parks

805 258 – 264 Goldhawk Road £10,000.00 Parks

725 Ashlar Court, Ravenscourt Gardens £75,000.00 Parks

784 282 – 292 Goldhawk Road, W12 9PF £76,221.00 Parks

784 282 – 292 Goldhawk Road, W12 9PF £20,685.26 Parks

805 258 – 264 Goldhawk Road £70,000.00 Parks

830 271-281 King Street, W6 £150,000.00 Parks

He replied:

“The contributions above are received to enable the Council to mitigate against the impact of each of those developments which would include improvements to the park together with enhanced operation.  The Council’s parks team and residents groups are aware of the funds and proposals are being put forward for consideration by members as to how the funds can be spent.”

A year later and the new schedule shows nothing much has changed.

Yet there is no shortage of work that is needed. The Friends of Ravenscourt Park are never short of ideas. Neither am I. Better drainage would be welcome. So would more litter bins. So would enhancing the condition of the lavatories.  Or smartening up the lake.

Of course dealing with bureaucratic delays is something we are all familiar with but this really is pretty hopeless. Especially when the Council’s dysfunctional leadership is so quick to complain about “austerity”…

New Head chosen for West London Free School

Congratulations to Clare Wagner who has been chosen as the new headteacher of the West London Free School from January.

She takes over from Hywel Jones who has left to become primary director at the Inspiration Trust.

Clare was previously headmistress of Watford Grammar School for Girls.

The Times Educational Supplement says:

“The history graduate entered teaching in her early thirties after having children, and trained at what was then the Slough Grammar School.

“She taught in the independent sector, at Southampton High School and North London Collegiate School, a top performing girls’ school where she was inspired by the headmistress at the time, Bernice McCabe.”

Asked what attracted her to the West London Free School, Clare told the newspaper:

“I think it’s the ambitious curriculum, and being ambitious for the children, and wanting to give them all the advantages of a really good education, and that’s an all-round education.

“I think it’s great they all learn Latin, I think that’s very important, but all the subjects are very strong there. Also, the competitive sports are brilliant – it’s so good for kids to be out there playing and playing hard.”

“I know our country would be poorer if you left and I want you to stay” – Theresa May’s letter to EU citizens in the UK

As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I am proud that more than three million EU citizens have chosen to make your homes and livelihoods here in our country.

I greatly value the depth of the contributions you make – enriching every part of our economy, our society, our culture and our national life. I know our country would be poorer if you left and I want you to stay.

So from the very beginning of the UK’s negotiations to leave the European Union I have consistently said that protecting your rights – together with the rights of UK nationals living in EU countries – has been my first priority.

You made your decision to live here without any expectation that the UK would leave the EU. So I have said that I want you to be able carry on living your lives as before.

But I know that on an issue of such significance for you and your families, there has been an underlying anxiety which could only be addressed when the fine details of some very complex and technical issues had been worked through and the foundations for a formal agreement secured.

‘When we leave the European Union, you will have your rights written into UK law.’

So I am delighted that in concluding the first phase of the negotiations that is exactly what we have achieved.

The details are set out in the Joint Report on progress published on Friday by the UK government and the European Commission.
When we leave the European Union, you will have your rights written into UK law. This will be done through the Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill which we will bring forward after we have completed negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement itself.

Your rights will then be enforced by UK courts. Where appropriate, our courts will pay due regard to relevant ECJ case law, and we have also agreed that for a period of eight years – where existing case law is not clear – our courts will be able to choose to ask the ECJ for an interpretation prior to reaching their own decision. So as we take back control of our laws, you can be confident not only that your rights will be protected in our courts, but that there will be a consistent interpretation of these rights in the UK and in the European Union.

We have agreed with the European Commission that we will introduce a new settled status scheme under UK law for EU citizens and their family members, covered by the Withdrawal Agreement.

If you already have five years of continuous residence in the UK at the point we leave the EU – on 29 March 2019 – you will be eligible for settled status. And if you have been here for less than five years you will be able to stay until you have reached the five year threshold.

As a result of the agreement we have reached in the negotiations, with settled status, your close family members will be free to join you here in the UK after we have left the EU. This includes existing spouses, unmarried partners, children, dependent parents and grandparents, as well as children born or adopted outside of the UK after 29th March 2019.

Your healthcare rights, pension and other benefit provisions will remain the same as they are today. This means that those of you who have paid into the UK system – and indeed UK nationals who have paid into the system of an EU Member State – can benefit from what you have put in and continue to benefit from existing co-ordination rules for future contributions.

We have also agreed to protect the rights of those who are in a cross-border situation at the point of our withdrawal and entitled to a UK European Health Insurance Card. This includes, for example, tourists for the duration of their stay, students for the duration of their course and UK nationals resident in another EU Member State.

The agreement we have reached includes reciprocal rules to protect existing decisions to recognise professional qualifications – for example for doctors and architects. And it also enables you to be absent from the UK for up to five years without losing your settled status – more than double the period allowed under current EU law.

There will be a transparent, smooth and streamlined process to enable you to apply for settled status from the second half of next year. It will cost no more than applying for a passport. And if you already have a valid permanent resident document you will be able to have your status converted to settled status free of charge.

We are also working closely with Switzerland and EEA Member States to ensure their citizens in the UK also benefit from these arrangements.

I have spent many hours discussing these issues with all of the other 27 EU leaders over the last eighteen months as well as with President Juncker, President Tusk and the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier. I am confident that when the European Council meets later this week it will agree to proceed on this basis. And I will do everything I can to ensure that we do.

So right now, you do not have to do anything at all. You can look forward, safe in the knowledge that there is now a detailed agreement on the table in which the UK and the EU have set out how we intend to preserve your rights – as well as the rights of UK nationals living in EU countries. For we have ensured that these negotiations put people first. That is what I promised to do and that is what I will continue to do at every stage of this process.

I wish you and all your families a great Christmas and a very happy New Year.

It’s official. H&F residents who are citizens of other EU member states VERY welcome to stay

To be honest there was never really any genuine doubt about it. But now it is official. The 37,000 residents of Hammersmith and Fulham who are citizens of other EU member states will be very welcome to stay after Brexit.

The Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU resolves:

“to provide reciprocal protection for Union and UK citizens, to enable the effective exercise of rights derived from Union law and based on past life choices, where those citizens have exercised free movement rights by the specified date.”

The “specified date” is the day the UK leaves the EU.

The deal refers to “Union citizens who in accordance with Union law legally reside in the UK, and UK nationals who in accordance with Union law legally reside in an EU27 Member State by the specified date, as well as their family members”. It goes well beyond the right to remain – it also include strong and detailed safeguards against any discrimination.

It will protect the current rights of spouses, registered partners, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren and a person in a durable relationship, who do not yet live in the same State as the Union citizen or the United Kingdom national, to join them in the future:

“Irrespective of their nationality, the following categories of family members who were not residing in the host State on the specified date will be entitled to join a Union citizen or UK national right holder after the specified date for the life time of the right holder, on the same conditions as under current Union law:

a. all family members as referred to in Article 2 of Directive 2004/38/EC, provided they were related to the right holder on the specified date and they continue to be so related at the point they wish to join the right holder; and

b. children born, or legally adopted, after the specified date, whether inside or outside the host State, where:

i. the child is born to, or legally adopted by, parents who are both protected by the Withdrawal Agreement or where one parent is protected by the Withdrawal Agreement and the other is a national of the host State;

or ii. the child is born to, or legally adopted by, a parent who is protected by the Withdrawal Agreement and who has sole or joint custody of the child under the applicable family law of an EU27 Member State or the UK and without prejudging the normal operation of that law, in particular as regards the best interests of the child.”

So will all the scaremongering now cease?

After the referendum Hammersmith and Fulham Council leader stated:

“We will do everything we can to ensure all of the borough’s EU residents feel as welcome today, and each day thereafter, as they did yesterday.”

So why hasn’t the welcomed the breakthrough – as the Leader of Wandsworth Council has.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said:

“I welcome the apparent U-turn from Theresa May on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and British citizens living in the EU. I will pore over the details of this over the coming days because there needs to be clear and unambiguous reassurance to the three million EU citizens in Britain –  one million of whom are Londoners – that they can stay, and that they’ll have automatic full rights.”

Pretty disgraceful for two reasons. First of all the “apparent U-turn” implied that Theresa May had previously be opposed to allowing citizens of other EU states to remain. Secondly the Mayor implies that the agreement fails to give “clear and unambiguous reassurance” – what is his basis for saying that? After the “coming days” he should put up or shut up. Let him specify how the agreement could have been any more “clear and unambiguous” – or otherwise give it “clear and unambiguous” welcome.

What about the borough’s MPs?

Greg Hands, the Minister for London and MP for Chelsea and Fulham is pretty clear:

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But what about Andrew Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith? Only on Thursday he tweeted:

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Here was the exchange he refers to:

“Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)

When are we going to have a statement on the rights of EU nationals, particularly Irish citizens, many of whom have lived in this country for decades? Even if the Government cannot sort out anything else on EU withdrawal, please may we have a statement on this matter, which is causing anxiety to millions of people?

Andrea Leadsom

I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman seek that reassurance. The Prime Minister has made it very clear on numerous occasions, including in her Florence speech, that all EU citizens will be able to carry on living their lives as before. We have committed to incorporating our agreement on citizens’ rights fully into UK law.”

Then a few hours later we had the deal published. Why hasn’t Mr Slaughter welcomed it and taken the chance to spread the reassuring news to his constituents?

Could it be that some Labour politicians actually don’t really welcome the news as before the official clarification they felt they exploit the anxieties for political gain?

Another paradox is that while the EU itself feels the protections for their citizens living here after Brexit are completely solid some of the EU’s keenest supporters feel unable to accept this.

Etre plus royaliste que le roi?