Why the delays for the Chiswick Mall artist studios?

Hammersmith and Fulham Council is making a bid to be the London Borough of Culture. Fine and dandy. But I wish they would be less obstructive to a proposal for artists studios in Chiswick Mall. Planning delays have made the whole project a real struggle.

The architects for the proposal say:

“Assemble are currently developing a design for the rebuilding of a collection of artists’ studios, informal gallery spaces and accommodation at Durham Wharf, the former home and principal workspace of the artists Julian Trevelyan and Mary Fedden.

Originally built in the early part of the twentieth century as a coal store, Durham Wharf is made up of a pair of buildings that stand out amongst the properties along Chiswick Mall for their awkward modesty. The character of the site is the result of multiple and visible adjustments made to them over many years, as they have hosted both the working and private lives of a broad range of individuals who have made an important collective contribution to the art, music and philosophy.

Our proposal for the next series of alterations aims to accentuate the Wharf’s particular personality and eccentricity with new first-floor extensions and a garden room. The approach is one of collage: a binding together of existing and proposed building fabric through removal, repair, erasing and overlaying.”

Durham Wharf was used for receiving coal from the north east of England until after the First World War.

The owner Philip Trevelyan  has sent me the following note on the subsequent history:

“1925 The Footprints Workshop was set up at Durham Wharf by Gwen Pike and Elspeth Little. They used hand-blocks to print fabric and the artist Paul Nash, was one of their more notable designers. This now celebrated venture , was supported by Celandine Kennington, the second wife of the sculptor Eric Kennington. The Workshops continued to supply two successful London shops with fabric until 1932.

As this went on, Eric Kennington used the building closest to the river, for making sculpture. Blocks of sculpted stone were still laying about when Julian Trevelyan and his wife Ursula Darwin, arrived there in 1934 (some is still here). Between 1932 and 1934, the film-maker and kinetic sculptor Len Lye, used the buildings, and it was here that he made his famous little film called ‘Colour Box’, which advertised postal rates of the GPO. He continued to work here for some months after Julian Trevelyan and his wife, obtained the lease in 1934.

1934: Commissioned by Julian Trevelyan, the architect Kit Nicholson (brother of the artist Ben Nicholson), designed the conversion of the riverside premises into a combined studio and living space in 1934. He also designed the subdivision of the sheds that bordered the road: a spare bed-room (and WC) was installed, a pottery studio, picture racks and a separate shop and garage, were all established. A large oil-fired kiln was also built in the entrance garden, and this fired the pottery made by Ursula Trevelyan until 1949.

1935- 1942: The Picture Lending Library. This enterprise displayed paintings and offered them for sale in the Durham Wharf shop window. Apart from my father’s work, other painters such as Max Ernst, Viera da Silva, Stanley Spencer, Cecil Collins, John Tunnard, Victor Pasmore, John Banting, Roland Penrose, Jean Varda, were also represented. This Library lent pictures to clients to borrow on a sale or return basis, and it was a vital part of the activity at Durham Wharf until 1946 (See the Record Book). Anthea Craigmyle (the local artist), remembers being fascinated by the pictures in the shop window….

1944. The studios were also used for exhibitions and the artist Cecil Collins had his first one-man show there in 1944. Later that year, a bomb landed in St Peter’s Wharf, but did not explode. The main roof beam and all the skylights of Durham Wharf were broken and had to be replaced…….

In 1946: The Picture Lending Library was closed and the shop became a Day School /Nursery for four years.

Throughout this period (1934-46), Durham Wharf became famous as a meeting place for artists, musicians, dancers, photographers, writers, architects, engineers. Organizations such as the Artists International Association or the Surrealist Group met there. It also became a venue for informal parties, concerts, exhibitions and events such as the Annual Boat Race Party, to which at least 50 people would be invited for ‘Beer and Buns’(See photos). After the war, Mary Fedden and Julian Trevelyan introduced the opening of their studios for three days in the summer, every year. This became a popular event (with queuing before opening), and the idea has now grown into multiple ‘Open Studio Events’ right across the UK.

Other informal and notable events included an all night celebration of the Ballet Russe, organized by Vladimir Polunin: the great dancer Lydia Sokolova was among the guests and it is said dancing went on all night (despite the drink running out,) and that they all swam in the river as dawn broke. Another famous event was a send off party for W.H.Auden and Chris. Isherwood, who were off to China: Benjamin Britten played the piano during this send off.

From the 1960’s onwards, informal concerts took place regularly: there was the annual visit from the Yehudi Menuhin School (where Mary Fedden taught art), and later, visits from the Dante Quartet led by Krysia Osostowitcz. Other distinguished pianists and players (David Ward, Nigel Kennedy, Wendy Philips) also performed at the Wharf. On occasions 50+ people would be invited to attend.

Between the years 1925 and 2012 (the year Mary Fedden died), Durham Wharf did get known as a special place for meetings, and a list of well known people associated with the place, would run into hundreds, possibly more. Off the top of my head, the following distinguished people from the arts and sciences, were visitors.

David Attenborough, Jacob Brunovski, Alan Clarke, Alan Herbert, Sandy Calder, Cyril Connolly, Cecil and Elizabeth Collins, Cosmo Clark, George Devine, Robin Darwin, Julian and Aldous Huxley, William Empson, Douglas Glass, David Hockney, Tom Harrison, Humphrey Jennings, Jocelyn Lousada, Charles Madge, James Mason, James McGibbon, Norman (Bill) Pirie, Magnus Pike, Gilbert and Stanley Spencer, Stephen and Humphrey Spender, Basil Spence, Viera da Silva and Arpad Szenes, Yanko Varda, Dylan Thomas, John Tunnard, Bertrand Russell, Kathleen Raine…….were just some. ” 

He adds that:

‘Public Benefits’ are part and parcel of the development and restoration of Durham Wharf Studios.

When the development and restoration of Durham Wharf is complete, an important part of the nation’s artistic heritage will be enhanced and maintained.

While the development work is being completed, an application for a London Blue Plaques that remember the lives of both Julian Trevelyan, R.A.and (later) Mary Fedden, R.A. MBE., (once considered the most popular of all British painters), will be in process. When put in place, the plaques will be a reminder of the heritage created by these artists.

The development includes the restoration of the pitched roof studio which is adjacent to the river. Apart from its function as a sculptor or painters work space, this building has a history of bringing together a remarkable list of people from both the arts and sciences (see ‘The History and Heritage of the Live/ Work Studios at DW’). From many points of view, this old coal shed on the river has to be recognized as a heritage asset.

The development of Durham Wharf will allow it to encourage artistic excellence well into the future. It will be owned and overseen by a sympathetic family trust in collaboration with bodies such as the Royal College of Art and Royal Academy. There will be a resident artist who will combine administrative duties with his / her own work.

The applicant has outlined a series of proposed measures that will follow the development and restoration (see below). These will invite the local Hammersmith community to engage with and appreciate the artistic heritage of Durham Wharf, alongside its earlier history as a coal wharf.

If, in the future the premises have to be sold, there will be clear advisory conditions attached to that sale. These will insist that its ownership and management remain within the arts community (e.g. the Royal College of Art or other professional institution)

It should be noted that if the Trevelyan family were to place Durham Wharf on the open market, all of the above would be thrown into the ‘bin of chance’. Thanks to the glacially slow responses of the Hammersmith & Fulham planning officers (conversations started in January 2013), this unhappy option is becomes ever more likely, as each day passes.

Proposed measures which will benefit the local Hammersmith community, post development.

We intend to make some of the studio spaces function in a similar way that village halls are hired out. We can foresee the riverside studio being made available for festive meals, short term exhibitions, group meetings. We often receive requests along these lines.

Thanks to Julian Trevelyan and Mary Fedden’s annual sale of their pictures directly from the studios, Durham Wharf has an ‘open studio’ tradition. It is often said that the ‘open studio’ movement was initiated at Durham Wharf. This tradition will be continued.

Some of the new residents at Durham Wharf, are highly likely to be post graduates from the Royal College of Art. These young artists will be familiar with the RCA’s community out-reach programmes, which engage children in schools, people in old people’s homes, local societies. These programmes are currently funded by a charity set up by Mary Fedden and known as the Durham Wharf Foundation. This charity would be able to support new outreach programmes that engage with the Hammersmith community. Indeed, successful applicants for residencies at Durham Wharf will be expected to develop such activities.

The Studios will also engage the public by selling books, postcards and booklets about the heritage of Durham Wharf. We are planning to dedicate a small space behind the existing shop window, to exhibit books and postcards alongside new work produced by the residents. Opening this facility would revive a practice started by Julian Trevelyan in the 1930s.”

I am encouraging the planning officers to be more positive. I hope we get there in the end..

After the flood – another week before King Street fully reopens and the broken pipe is fixed

Given the extraordinary scenes of flooding on Friday night I think it is impressive that Thames Water, Hammersmith and Fulham Council and the emergency services have reacted quickly to deal with the emergency.

The Public Affairs Manager of Thames Water tells me that 825 households had water supply cut off due to King Street flood. Some were still without supply yesterday afternoon due to airlocks but it is understood that everyone’s water supply is now working.

Frankly I’m relieved that the flooding wasn’t as serious as it looked. Seven businesses in King Street were flooded. For residents the main problem was for those in flats above shops in King Street being without electricity – at one stage about 20 of them. One family stayed in a hotel last night.

It will probably be nearly a week before King Street fully reopens. One problem is that the pipe is in the middle of the road – so it looks as though it will not be possible for traffic to squeeze past in one lane while the work is being done. It will be a complex repair. Parts are being specially made – although they should be ready by tomorrow. There will be a new section built.  Then there will be the backfilling. The concrete and tarmac will need time to set. Realistically it sounds like Friday is the best bet for traffic to be back to normal…

Save the Ravenscourt Park Pre-School

The Ravenscourt Park Pre-School, on the Ravenscourt Road side of the Park, has been running for decades as a not-for-profit resource in a community managed by the Pre-School Learning Alliance – a large educational charity and main voluntary sector provider of quality affordable childcare and education in England. The pre-school provides good quality care and education to 2-5 year olds – there is a social mix but it is particularly appreciated by those who can not afford the expensive private nursery schools available locally.

The building has hosted a popular one o’clock club for decades, a fathers club and many other local, community and family services over the years.  

In June 2017, all parents of children at the pre-school were informed that the Pre-School Learning Alliance was planning to close the setting in a matter of weeks due to an unsustainable financial performance. They were very unwilling to see this happen as a significant number of families rely on the school as one of the few genuinely affordable pre-schools in the area. Furthermore they  had first-hand experience of the quality of care our children received there and wanted to preserve its nurturing and caring ethos for children to come.

Helen Galvin has been instrumental in this initiative and a trustee of the new charity along with Kate Walters and Lorraine Hamid.

Helen tells me:

“It struck us as relatively unsurprising that the setting was not maximising its income. Although its fees are low, it would operate in a financially sustainable fashion if efforts had been made to ensure it was near capacity (i.e. if almost all 20 places were filled with children). However, although this was the case in the past, a lack of marketing meant that there were improvements to be made. We spoke at length to another nursery in the area which is run by a parent trustee body and were reassured by its business model that it would be possible to run the nursery in a sustainable fashion without raising fees. We also looked into the possibility of applying for grants and other funding, which was very encouraging, and spoke about other revenue raising measures.

Three parents came together immediately to start planning what could be done to save the school. Our initial concern was for members of the community who could not afford the much higher prices of many neighbouring nurseries. After much negotiation, we came to an agreement with the Pre-School Learning Alliance to take over the running of the pre-school as a parent trustee body.

We have set up a new registered charity (you can find us on the charity commission website here) and began the process to register the pre-school with Ofsted as a ‘new’ school under new management. During this time we were encouraged by the commitment and enthusiasm of the three wonderful full-time staff, all of whom have been working with pre-schoolers in Hammersmith for decades. They were devastated at the thought of the school’s closure and wanted to do everything possible to prevent it.  

It is also worth noting that during and since this summer, where the future of the pre-school was in real peril, we have been supported by our wonderful community and, specifically, parents whose children attended the pre-school (sometimes many years ago) and who still felt strong ties to the school and its staff. We have spoken to many people in the community who have helped with fundraising and spreading the word, which included gaining local press coverage. We have benefitted from the advice and expertise of those who appreciate the importance of the setting and want to put something back into the community.

However, it has become clear from the start that the challenges ahead of us were significant and pressing, and they remain so today. Meeting these challenges is absolutely the difference between keeping the school open (and being able to grow and improve it) and having to let it close, to the real detriment of the community. We urgently need to secure the lease of the building to secure funding for the school and complete our registration with Ofsted.

We have identified numerous ways the setting could be better managed and start running in a financially sustainable fashion. But to get to this point needs investment and support from members of our community who appreciate the importance of accessible and affordable, nurturing and dedicated care for 2-5 year olds regardless of the families’ economic status. We have created strategic development and marketing plans to put in place once we have security regarding the pre-school’s future.

We have many exciting plans for the school, building on its strengths and focusing on its ties with the community, e.g. the Pre-school children joined the Christmas celebrations at Park lane resident centre last month and bonded with residents over Christmas crackers and raffle prizes. The meeting of the younger and older generations was a highly enjoyable and successful afternoon for all involved. We are planning further joint initiatives throughout the year. (Please see attached pictures of the Christmas party) 

The pre- school has always enjoyed a good relationship with the Ravenscourt Park Glasshouses and children are encouraged to participate in fruit, vegetable and flower growing. The Pre-school fully utilises its position in the park to appreciate nature.

Ravenscourt Park Pre-school has also developed links with the surrounding primary and prep schools and indeed the local and wider community. Up until recently, a member of Queens Park Rangers football club volunteered his time to train the children every Friday morning at the school.

Our ultimate aim is to make the pre-school a real hub for the community, with an offering over and above its excellent early years care. 

We have run a successful crowdfunding campaign, and are planning our next fundraising appeal. At the moment we are over halfway through the Ofsted registration process, and Ofsted are planning to come to visit the setting in the next few weeks. 

We are doing this will continue to run the pre-school for no financial gain. It is against our constitution to be recompensed for our work on this project. The key here is that the school must stay not-for-profit (i.e. any profits go back into the setting) and affordable. We have been in close contact with the Council’s early years department who have been supportive and helpful. The nursery will continue to offer Early Years Funding (i.e. to eligible 2 year olds, to all 3 and 4 year olds up to 15 hours, and an additional 15 hours to eligible 3 and 4 year olds). As we understand the situation, this is important for our borough as not all nurseries are willing or can afford to offer these places (especially on the flexible basis that we can offer). Being able to support families in the area in this way is therefore a key objective for us.

In order to be able to save this pre-school for the community, we need to have security in the building. The building itself is in need of repair and improvements, and we’d like to be able to make this happen – to this end we’ve been working with organisations such as Groundworks who will be able to help us raise funds to develop the (inside and outside) space making it more attractive to children and the parents, and an even better environment to educate and care for 2-5 year olds. we would like  to continue providing this important service would be, we feel, very much worth doing. 

The pre-school has an incredible amount of potential in its offering both to the area’s children and to the community as a whole.

To fulfil this potential we will build on the school’s values which revolve around providing a home from home, educational excellence, and an awareness of, and appreciation for, the importance of nature and the environment. 

To this end, our ambitions involve creating an outdoor learning environment which will encourage free play outside and will include a space for the children to grow their own plants and vegetables. This will be linked to learning about conservation, healthy eating and sustainability.

We are committed to strengthening the school’s links with our local community, especially through parental involvement in lessons (e.g. music and cooking) and in the very running of the school. We will also increase our partnerships with local organisations (e.g. retirement homes, charities, other schools in the area) to ensure connections with members of the local community. Ultimately the school will be an uplifting space to bring people together in a beautiful park setting.

We are excited about the potential of an internal renovation, which would include adding more opportunities to let in light and open up views of the park and garden. Such an improvement will allow us to let the building to be used by different groups and individuals (e.g. parent coaching groups, children’s clubs etc.) and the space will be re-zoned for the benefit of our children.

Our ambitions are big but realistic, and would ultimately mean the pre-school is a thriving and vibrant centre of the community.”

Before Christmas the school visited the Park Court sheltered housing block for a party with elderly residents – see picture below.

The bureaucratic delays in sorting out the lease are a typical example of a lack of “joined up Government”. I am pressing for the matter to be resolved as soon as possible so that the pre-school future can be secured. The best is yet to come!

TfL urged to be admit the full extent of traffic delays that CS9 would cause

A local resident John Griffiths says Transport for London has sort to play down the extent that the Cycle Superhighway scheme though Hammersmith would cause in increased journey times. Griffiths has raised concerns after studying TfL’s own modelling – on both the CS9 scheme and their Hammersmith Gyratory proposals.

TfL says:

“On the Gyratory proposals The traffic modelling analysis looks at journey times at the busiest hour in the morning and evening peaks. The most notable increases in journey times will be for traffic approaching Hammersmith gyratory from Fulham Palace Road in the evening peak, which may experience an average journey time increase of up to a minute and a half.”

However Griffiths adds:

“Now this is the extra time taken only to traverse the gyratory. For traffic in a queue it will be much longer.

Looking at the information given in the summary results  

Fulham Palace Rd to Shepherds Bush Rd / PM traffic

Current journey time                       2-3 min

Future modelled journey time        4-5 min

Future – Current                              60-90 sec

Let us take the average current journey time as            2.5 minutes

And the average future journey time as                          4.5 minutes.

The ratio of the two is 4.5/2.5 = 1.8, that is an 80% increase in the journey time across the gyratory.

However that is not the total extra journey time if there is a queue to enter the gyratory. Traffic is taking 80% longer to get through the gyratory. So a vehicle in a queue of any given length will now take 80% longer to reach the head of the queue.

So a vehicle in a queue that might now take say 20 minutes to reach the gyratory will in future take about 35 minutes.

A further effect is that as vehicles are being removed more slowly from the head of the queue, the queue in future will be longer if vehicles are arriving at the same rate at the back of the queue.

From the same summary results chart for PM traffic

Hammersmith Rd to King Street

Current journey time                       2-3 min

Future modelled journey time        3-4 min          

Future – Current                              31 – 60 sec

Let us take the average current journey time as 2.5 min

And the average future journey time as 3.5 minutes.

The ratio of the two is 3.5/2.5 = 1.4, that is an 40% increase in the journey time across the gyratory.

Again for any queue in Hammersmith Rd it will take 40% longer to reach the head of the queue.”

So far as the CS9 proposals are concerned Griffiths makes the following comments with regard to TfL’s modelling results:

“This gives 3 journey times, and the impact of CS9

2015 journey time,

2021 journey time*

2021 journey time with CS9 scheme

Impact of CS9 scheme on 2021 scenario

*Including future growth, committed schemes and consulted scheme at Hammersmith ie including the gyratory scheme

The figures it gives for the effect of CS9 is the difference between the last two times. That is the difference CS9 makes assuming the gyratory scheme is already in place. What one really needs to know is the difference between the first and the third set of times, the effect of the gyratory plus CS9

Hammersmith Bridge Rd to Shepherds Bush Rd          PM traffic

2015 journey time                                                    2-3 min

2021 journey time* [inc gyratory ]                          4-5 min

2021 journey time  [inc gyratory + CS9]              5-6 min

Impact of CS9 scheme on 2021 scenario           1-2 min

But the impact of [gyratory + CS9] on 2015  3-4 min say

Let us take the average 2015 journey time as      2.5 min

And the average 2021 journey time [+gyratory + CS9]    5.5 min.

The ratio of the two is 5.5/2.5 = 2.2, that is an 120% increase in the journey time across the gyratory.

This will have a massive effect on the queues on Castelnau and the Great West Rd.

A surprising observation from this CS9 PM Traffic chart is the time it takes to get from Holland Rd to Goldhawk Rd. This is 12 – 14 minutes in 2015, in 2021 with gyratory, and in 2021 with gyratory and CS9. I am surprised that it is so low, and that the 40% longer queuing time that we saw above is not reflected in the future.”

The full version is here.

London Assembly member Tony Devenish is asking Transport for London for a response.

Councils playing for time over flawed “cycle superhighway” plan

Controversy continues over the flawed plans from Transport for London for a “Cycle Superhighway” from Olympia to Brentford. The Hammersmith Society has come out against the scheme. There are a range of objectors – motorists concerned about traffic congestion being made worse, bus users (especially the elderly and disabled) who would find getting to a bus stop hazardous. Local churches and shops worry that it would be harder for people to visit them. There are also objections from slower, gentler cyclists who find the idea of “cycle superhighway” rather intimidating.  The £70 million could be better spent in ways that provide genuine cycling improvements without harming others.

So there is no surprise that opposition is considerable. In order to proceed Transport for London would need permission from both Hounslow and Hammersmith and Fulham Council. Both councils seem to be dithering.

Hounslow Council says  “reservations have been raised about some elements by significant numbers of people, particularly around proposals for Chiswick High Road.” It adds:

“TfL is currently analysing responses to the consultation and considering in detail the issues raised.  Although we await the final report, it is evident that some elements of the scheme will need to be revised for it to be acceptable to our residents and businesses.

These include, for example:

  • A review of options to reduce the impact on the southern footway of Chiswick High Road for pedestrians, particularly outside the Our Lady of Grace church;
  • Access arrangements for some side roads off Chiswick High Road;
  • Loading provisions for businesses along the high road;
  • Consideration to wider parking and traffic management measures if the scheme is implemented to deal with likely knock on impacts from the scheme.

In order to ensure that TfL and the council have time to analyse and interpret the huge response received, and give consideration to all the issues raised, a decision on the revised scheme will not be taken until the summer, when the newly elected administration will review the revised scheme and determine the council’s position on it.”

In a report Hammersmith and Fulham Council says in a report to a meeting taking place on January 29th:

“TfL is currently analysing responses to their consultation and considering in detail the issues raised. 1.5. The council submitted to TfL initial technical comments on the proposed route and continues to collect the views of its residents and business owners along the route.

Hammersmith and Fulham council is the Highways Authority for the roads used for this route in the borough, and a decision to allow any scheme to be implemented lies with the Cabinet.

The Cabinet will make a final decision over whether or not the proposed scheme is to be allowed after considering all the responses from its Residents and Businesses and any revised changes proposed by TfL.”

It adds:

“The council will ensure that the views and opinions of its residents and businesses are carefully considered in the development of any proposed scheme, to enable the administration to review any revised scheme and determine the council’s position on it.”

Come off it.

The TfL consultation closed on October 31st. How long does “analysing responses” take? Surely they would managed to come up with an initial tally of how support and opposition there is by now.

I understood the Hammersmith and Fulham Council report to the meeting on January 29th was going to tells us the level of support for the scheme both from responses to TfL and later responses to the Council.

There are five rules of Dodgeball – “Dodge, duck, dip, dive and…dodge.”

Hounslow and Hammersmith and Fulham councils don’t wish to defy the Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. Nor do they want to defy their residents – at least not before May 3rd. Thus they are keen to avoid taking an unpopular decision – until after the local elections.

The difficulty for these councils in not that the consultation responses are inconclusive. It is that the message is loud and clear – that the CS9 scheme is not wanted. So a few tinkering changes are proposed and until May their great rallying cry will be that they and TfL are currently analysing responses”.

What should the response be? To keep up the opposition. Urge all those who haven’t yet done so to sign the petition.

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?