Uncertainty over Hammersmith Bridge refurbishment

I have written before about the controversial question of what colour Hammersmith Bridge should be painted.

The work is due to take place this year but the colour – and other matters – have yet to be resolved.

Tom Ryland, Chairman of the Hammersmith Society says:

“We have been pressing the Council – so far unsuccessfully – for us to be involved in decisions regarding the refurbishment of the bridge which is due to take place later this year. As you will all be aware, the bridge is in need of strengthening so that it can support the weight of double decker buses and some lorries. This a joint project between Transport for London and the Council who have responsibility for the maintenance of the bridge. Several short term closures have been necessary for temporary works and we understand further closures are necessary to allow detail survey work to be carried out. There still does not seem to be a formal programme for the main works. For obvious reasons we do not expect to be involved in the technical detail and our main interest is in the lighting and redecoration. Since the last lighting upgrade for which the Hammersmith Society gave its Environment Award in 2000 for the ‘blades of light’ created on each side of the bridge, lighting technology has moved on in leaps and bounds so that the individual incandescent bulbs will almost certainly be replaced by strips of modern LEDs. In the same refurbishment, the bridge was repainted in the olive green – often described as ‘Harrods Green’ as this was found by research to be closest to Joseph Bazelgette’s original colour scheme. Does this mean that the bridge must always be this colour which is not universally liked? After all Bazelgette was an engineer not an architect. Apart from the green colour fading quite badly – looking awful when patched – it now merges with the green tint of the new Queen’s Wharf/Riverside Studios buildings so that the bridge, when viewed from up river, is all but lost. The bridge has had other colour schemes in its history and we suggest that the colour scheme should be re-visited so that the bridge can rightly be seen and appreciated in all its glory.”

The Council must come clean on its Capco negotiations

In November a letter was delivered to residents on the Gibbs Green and West Kensington estates from the council leader Cllr Stephen Cowan. It wasn’t from the Labour Party but was an official Council communication – and therefore subject to the rules from the Local Government Publicity Code for accuracy and impartiality. It concerned the Capco proposals for the Earls Court redevelopment.

The letter said:

“My colleagues and I have been negotiating hard to either get the estates back or radically improve the deal and secure new like-for-like homes for all our residents on the two estates.

“Capco’s latest proposal is to develop a new Masterplan for the Earls Court scheme.  If that gets planning permission we would see the two estates return to council control. 

“There are many steps towards finalising this agreement but I wanted to let you know as soon as possible about what’s happening.”

This could be good news. For example I have written about a popular and beautiful alternative to Capco’s plans for Empress Place. On the other hand simply maintaining the (ugly) status quo on the estates would be a missed opportunity – just as the current (ugly) Capco plans are.

Would “council control” mean leaving the buildings as they are? The letter is unclear.

Naturally opinions will differ whatever emerges. Which is fine – but I wish it could be more friendly, open and honest. For years there have been bitter divisions and political exploitation. Secrecy has allowed scaremongering to flourish.

Once Cllr Cowan and Capco have concluded “finalising the agreement” will residents (tenants and leaseholders) be given a veto? Would such a ballot be a three way choice between the estates staying as they are, the current Capco proposal or whatever revised proposal emerges? The letter doesn’t say. Yet if Cllr Cowan thinks he’s come up with something that “radically improves” the deal then why would be be afraid of checking if the residents agree?

If we try to find out more the Capco website says nothing about any changes. The TRAs – who are led by staunch opponents of the current Capco plans – are very pleased by the prospect of change. But they don’t seem to have much detail either.

Never mind. Perhaps we can look to the Council’s website to see if we can find the full story there. It used to say in the Transparency section:

“Minutes of meetings between councillors and developers. We now publish notes of all our meetings with developers – no secret discussions!”

Those words have been removed. Instead it just says: “Meetings between developers and councillors”.

Nothing is included about Capco.

Why not? The Council’s Monitoring Officer tells me:

“I can now confirm that the meetings with Capco, regarding the potential return of the West Ken and Gibbs Green Estates to council control, took place with officers under the existing Conditional Land Sale Agreement arrangements, in consultation with the Leader. It would therefore be inappropriate to minute these on the council’s website.  The Leader has been kept informed on progress of negotiations throughout.”

So Cllr Cowan’s letter was false when he told residents: “I have been negotiating hard.” He hasn’t been negotiating hard or soft – he’s just been “kept informed” of how others have been getting on with the negotiating. The previous claim on the Council’s website – “We now publish notes of all our meetings with developers – no secret discussions!” – was still pretty misleading even if it was the officials doing the negotiating rather than the councillors. So it was right that the Council removed those words given they did not reflect the reality.

But it wouldn’t it be better still for Capco and the Council to be open about what they are planning? Wouldn’t there be a better chance of a deal being popular – and therefore sustainable – if all residents have the chance to comment at an early stage?

TfL must replace the missing tiles on the A4 underpass by Black Lion Lane

Tony Devenish, our member of the London Assembly, has agreed to press Transport for London to replace the missing tiles on the A4 underpass which connects Black Lion Lane with South Black Lion Lane.

This is after I passed on to him the exasperation of residents over the delays in this pretty basic and straightforward piece of maintenance.

Let’s hope his intervention prompts them to get on with the work.

West London Zone will help over 400 children in 15 schools this year – including many in Shepherd’s Bush

In 2011 the social entrepreneur Danny Kruger visited New York to see the work of the Harlem Children’s Zone and tweets that he “came home dreaming of a Children’s Zone in London, bringing together schools, charities, councils & philanthropists to transform a neighbourhood.”

The result was the establishment of the West London Zone which will work with over 400 children in 15 schools this year, organising tailored support from 15 specialist charities to children at risk:

“We work with local schools, nurseries and children’s centres (our ‘anchors’) to identify the children and young people who would benefit from a range of new opportunities in school, provided by our partners.  This work is coordinated by our Link Workers, based in the anchors, who work closely with children and young people to help them make use of the opportunities on offer. Behind the scenes, the WLZ ‘backbone’ team manages the finance which supports our partners and collects data on their performance.”

We are now starting to see some evidence of what is being achieved. The initial results from 2016/17 show an average 85 per cent of engagement by children with an academic improvement and an improvement in wellbeing “which are  both statistically significant and attributable to WLZ.”

The way the charity is funded is also innovative:

“WLZ’s collaborative model of service delivery is reflected in the project’s innovative financing structure. The Collective Impact Bond (CIB) is inspired by the concept of a Social Impact Bond (SIB). For WLZ, it involves bringing together multiple commissioners – the ‘buyers’ of a broad range of positive outcomes for children and young people – from the public and private sectors, and multiple investors providing working capital to make the project happen.”

It is backed by a social investment from Bridges Fund Management. Councils, schools (using some of their “pupil premium” budget) and the Government pay on results.

“Pilot anchors” were Randolph Beresford Early Years Centre, Ark Swift Primary Academy and Phoenix High School. Details of the pilot are here. It reports:

“WLZ Value to Schools We have learned that schools value three outcomes which are core to WLZ’s model going forward: attendance, attainment, and mental wellbeing. Beyond this, schools were attracted by WLZ’s ability to target the right children, to reach beyond the school gates into the community, and provide local, strengths-based support. They saw WLZ’s positive engagement with children and families and appreciated the high level of contact time the Link Workers achieved with each child, as well as our ability to coordinate and performance-manage local support organisations and undertake high-quality outcome data reporting. Our ability to triple the funds that schools will commit next year via matched payments from the local authority and private wealth, with central government/Big Lottery top-up in addition, is also compelling.”

The most recent data confirms that children helped by WLZ are catching up with their reading:

“Last year, WLZ supported 41 children at a primary and secondary school with Real Action and Beanstalk – two of our charity partners who both focus on literacy and reading.

“Our analysis of English Reading scores at this primary school between December 2016 and March 2017 showed a statistically significant relationship (p<0.01) between minutes attended at partner reading support (Real Action sessions and/or 1:1 reading with a Beanstalk reading volunteer) and positive changes in reading score.

“On average, every 52 minutes attended led to a 1% increase in a child’s national percentile rank in reading.

“54% of the WLZ cohort lifted themselves out of bottom 20% nationally in reading after one term of reading support from Real Action and Beanstalk charities.”

Also:

“Preliminary analysis suggests that the average rate of improvement in mental wellbeing (measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, known as ‘SDQ’) among the WLZ cohort was double the rate of their peers in one of our secondary schools.”

Several schools and children’s centres in Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush are using WLZ:

  • Phoenix Academy
  • Ark Swift Primary Academy
  • Randolph Beresford Early Years Centre
  • Wendell Park Primary School
  • Old Oak Primary School
  • Ark Burlington Danes Academy
  • Miles Coverdale Primary School
  • Ark Bentworth Primary Academy
  • Ark Conway Primary Academy
  • West London Free School
  • Sacred Heart High School

It’s still early days, I suppose. But what an exciting thought that this initial success could not only grow locally but be replicated elsewhere.

H&F Council is losing the war against fly-tipping

A year ago I wrote about figures showing that fly-tipping is a growing problem in Hammersmith and Fulham.  I’m afraid it will come as no surprise that since then the situation has got worse.

In 2016/17 there were 14,870 incidents of fly-tipping recorded in our borough. The previous year it was 10,829. In 2013/14 – just before Labour took control – the total was 9,011.  That’s an increase of 65 per cent in three years.

It is true that there has been an increase in the country generally. In England the number of incidents has risen from 852,036 in 2013/14 to 1,002,154. That’s an increase of 17.5 per cent. So the rate of increase locally has been almost four times as high as nationally.

The problem is that the enforcement action is weak. The Government allows a maximum Fixed Penalty Notice of £400. But the Council sets a lower penalty.

The Council’s Environmental Enforcement Manager tells me:

“The level of the fly tipping fixed penalty notice has been set at £200, reduced to £150 for early payment. The £400 Maximum limit is not being used.”

But it turns out that is rather irrelevant – as the Council doesn’t issue any penalties anyway. The number of Fixed Penalty fines paid to the Council for fly-tipping for 2016/17 was nil.

The Council’s Environmental Enforcement Manager adds:

“For the last 12 months, December 2016-November 2017, no fly tipping fixed penalty notices were issued.

“The legislation that introduced these fixed penalty notices became effective in May 2016. For the previous 12 months, December 2015-November 2016, no fixed penalty notices were issued. 

“Officers have instead utilised other areas of legislation and issued fixed penalty notices for littering, failure to produce waste disposal documents and failure to adhere to a waste presentation notice. In general officers have prosecuted the following cases and obtained associated fines through the courts.

January to March 2017 = Cases (2) Fines £2,800

April to June 2017 =  Case (1) Fine £600

July to September 2017 = Cases (3) Fines £3,100

January to March 2016 = Cases 4 Fines £1,690

April to June 2016 = Cases 2 Fines £1,000

July to September 2016 = 0

October to December 2016 = 0″

I’m afraid the Council is simply not rising to the challenge. Fly-tipping makes going for a walk a dreary, depressing experience. Combating it is important for the quality of life we enjoy. I will keep pressing the Council to take this issue more seriously.

Fire Risk Assessments for council housing blocks in Ravenscourt Park Ward

After some persistence I have managed to obtain the Fire Risk Assessments for all the blocks of council flats in the Ravenscourt Park Ward. The one for Standish House was already made available last October.

Here are the others:

33-34 Ashchurch Park Villas is here.

37-38 Ashchurch Park Villas is here.

7-9 Ashchurch Terrace is here.

69-77a Black Lion Lane is here.

Cardross House is here.

1-12 Chisholm Court is here.

13-27 Chisholm Court is here.

Derwent Court is here.

17-21 Eyot Gardens is here.

1-60 Flora Gardens is here.

61-120 Flora Gardens is here.

121-160 Flora Gardens is here.

161-185 Flora Gardens is here.

186-197 Flora Gardens is here.

7-21 Marryat Court is here.

13-18 Marryat Court is here.

19-22 Marryat Court is here.

23-26 Marryat Court is here.

10-18 Mylne Close is here.

Paddenswick Court is here.

I have not yet been sent the Fire Risk Assessments for 62-120, 161-185 or 188-197 Flora Gardens – so I have chased up for those ones.
For each of the blocks I was sent you can see there were various “actions” listed as required – including some as “high priority”. For each block I have logged an enquiry as to what has been done in response.
UPDATE
Missing Flora Gardens blocks now added.

 

Council Tax to rise again in H&F – due to hike in Mayor’s precept

A year ago I reported that Council Tax bills would be going up in Hammersmith and Fulham for the first time in 11 years. I’m afraid that this year households will see another increase. Some residents tell me they “don’t mind” paying more – but they tend to be those on higher incomes. Council Tax hits the low paid the hardest and for those on tight budgets any increase is unwelcome. Wandsworth and Westminster have much lower bills while maintaining a high standard of local services.

The Council Tax bill is really two bills. The part that goes to Hammersmith and Fulham Council has been frozen again – breaking Labour’s pledge to cut it.

Another chunk of the Council Tax goes to the Mayor of London for the precept. That bill is going up 5.1 per cent. That is the maximum amount that the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is able to push it up without the approval of a referendum. It equates to an increase from £280.02 to £294.22 a year for a Band D household.

It could be worse. Chris Williamson, a Labour Shadow Minister, proposes a 20 per cent increase in Band D Council Tax across the country, a 40 per cent increase for Band E, a 60 per cent increase for Band F, an 80 per cent increase for Band F and 100 per cent rise for Band H. No Council Taxpayers would benefit under his plan – Bands A-C would be frozen. But the proposals for Bands D-H would mean huge rises for most people in Hammersmith and Fulham – they would hit 62,292 or the borough’s 86,793 households.

Of course many of those living in high value properties include pensioners and others who may not be high incomes. It’s not yet adopted as official Labour policy but Williamson is a close ally of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – and so gives an indication of the direction of travel in the Labour Party on this issue.

UPDATE

Good news that Williamson has been sacked as a shadow spokesman. But how much comfort should we take from that? I suspect that his offence was being indiscreet about Labour’s intentions…