First Greenhalgh H&F Mayoral Pledge: Reopen Hammersmith Bridge to cars and buses by introducing road user charges if necessary

Stephen Greenhalgh is seeking to become the directly elected Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham.

Over one month has passed since the emergency closure of Hammersmith Bridge and both Hammersmith & Fulham Council and the Mayor continue to play the political blame game. H&F Council and TfL have had a “final report” on repair options for Hammersmith Bridge from their engineering consultants since the end of 2018. No plan to carry out the major works needed to reopen Hammersmith Bridge to cars and buses has yet been announced.

If I were the directly-elected Mayor, I would borrow the money to fix Hammersmith Bridge and set the borrowings against a road user charge for both buses and cars if TfL refused to stump up their fair share. The GLA Act allows both boroughs and the Mayor to levy road user charges.

I would look at two options:

  1. Full repair and restoration: Strengthen and repair of the existing bridge (and still maintain its listed status) so it could take modern transport. This would last 2-3 years and may only give the bridge an extra 30 years lifespan.
  2. Modification: Replacement with an independent structural deck. This has been done in the past when the steels of Hammersmith Bridge were rebuilt and deck replaced as part of the 1973 refurbishment. This would take the same length of time as the full repair and restoration option and could give the bridge an extra 60 years lifespan. The costs would be similar according to bridge architectural experts.

The toll would only be in the order of 50p for someone to cross the bridge by car for H&F Council to fund and then recoup the costs (this assumes 20,000 vehicles a day for 300 days – 6 million vehicle movements). For comparison a toll bridge in Bath charges 80p and Clifton suspension bridge charges £1. Hammersmith Bridge was a toll bridge originally.

Who is responsible for the Hammersmith Bridge omnishambles? Here is my view:

  1. H&F Labour Council have not done their bit in properly maintaining the bridge and have lost the expert officer expertise since the collapse of Triborough and Biborough collaboration.
  2. H&F Labour Council’s political leadership have not made the reopening the bridge to cars and buses a political priority. The council do not care about the traffic gridlock in west London but see it as a way of stopping cars coming into their brough and making Hammersmith Bridge open only to pedestrians and cyclists.
  3. The Mayor of London has bankrupted TfL so that TfL cannot afford to pay for infrastructure works included the major works needed to reopen the bridge.

Stephen Greenhalgh: Police challenged over the dramatic increase in knife crime in Fulham

Stephen Greenhalgh writes

Last night I was the last minute understudy for local Fulham MP and former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Greg Hands, to chair the local policing public meeting that he had convened at Fulham Broadway Methodist Church. The meeting was expertly opened and closed by Cllr Andrew Brown, the Conservative Opposition Group Leader on H&F Council.

This provided for Fulham residents with the opportunity to meet and question senior police officers from the Met responsible for neighbourhood policing in H&F. Both Simon Brooker, the new Chief Inspector for Neighbourhoods and Royal Parks, Central West BCU and John Childs, Inspector SNT H&F, answered questions for around 90 minutes after Inspector Childs had given a short presentation on crime trends in the 6 Fulham wards.

The public meeting was certainly timely. London’s knife crime epidemic has now hit H&F with two fatal stabbings this month alone: On 7th March Ayub Hassan, a 17-year-old boy from Shepherds Bush was stabbed to death near the Waitrose by West Kensington tube station and a 15-year-old boy has been charged with the murder. Then on 16th March Nathaniel Armstrong was a 29-year-old man who was stabbed to death just 100m from his Fulham home at the junction of Gowan Avenue and Munster Road. Chief Inspector Brooker informed the meeting that both these murders were drug related.

Knife crime levels are dramatically higher in all six Fulham wards and robbery is up significantly in 4 of the 6 wards. Here are the year on year increases presented by Inspector Childs:

Ward                                                     Knife Crime        Robbery

Fulham Broadway                                 +58%                 +41%

Munster                                                +1900%              +25%

Town                                                     +180%                 -3%

Parsons Green & Walham                    +67%                  +35%

Sands End                                             +60%                  -26%

Palace Riverside                                    +317%               +128%

Inspector Childs admitted that these percentages do exaggerate the levels of knife crime in SW6. For instance, the 1900 per cent increase in Munster is a rise from 1 to 20 knife crime offences. However many of the residents felt less safe enjoying the parks and some felt trapped in their homes as result. The police also reported that children going to school had become the target for knifepoint muggings in recent weeks. Residents called for more Bobbies on the beat to tackle this rising tide of violence in Fulham.

It is interesting to note that the police use of stop and search powers is far lower in Hammersmith & Fulham than in Kensington & Chelsea (1000 fewer) once you remove the 2900 carried out in the month of August for the Notting Hill Carnival.

There is also a 3% increase in burglaries in H&F vs a 4% reduction in burglaries in K&C. Inspector Childs also presented a slide that measured environmental, nuisance and personal anti-social behaviour using data from the council. During the discussion a local Fulham businessman reported that their business had suffered £2000 worth of criminal damage and they had captured the perpetrators red handed on CCTV. However, after several months he was told by the Met that this was no longer a priority crime and would not be investigated further. Under Mayor Johnson criminal damage offences were seen as a marker for anti-social behaviour and were one of the so-called MOPAC 7 priority neighbourhood crimes. This crime would have been investigated under the previous Mayor.

Chief Inspector Brooker reported that sexual offences were up +46% in the borough compared to a London average rise of 20%. This was the highest increase in London and most of these offences occurred behind closed doors as opposed to stranger offences which were down 20%.

Naturally a few tried to raise the drop in police numbers as a reason for the rise in crime. The police admitted that they were now recruiting very actively after the announcement by the Home Secretary of an additional £970 million for policing but apparently it has become very hard to recruit enough officers to the Met.

One member of the audience tried to suggest that the closure of Fulham Police Station was the main reason for the knife crime epidemic spreading to Fulham. This was roundly rejected by both officers. They preferred to deploy more neighbourhood police officers than holding onto old and underutilised police buildings. Fulham Police Station was only 35% utilised and cost £400,000 a year to run. Now it is the site of the new Fulham Boys School. Surprisingly Inspector Childs confirmed that the new Fulham police station front counter, that had been promised under the previous Mayor, would now not be opened following the decision of Mayor Khan to close 38 police front counters.

With the £60 million redevelopment of Hammersmith Police Station still underway nearly three years after I approved this major investment as Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, this means that only Shepherd’s Bush Police Station is open to the public. This is just not good enough and Fulham residents should have the front counter that they were promised.

Finally a series of the Fulham policing ward panel chairs spoke strongly in support of the local police and called for the public to get more engaged in helping the police to fight crime. Unfortunately the H&F Labour Council are unilaterally abolishing these policing-specific panels to create more diluted ones that cover all areas of council responsibility.

Council Tax in H&F to increase by an inflation-busting 4.7 per cent

Council Tax in Hammersmith and Fulham going up. The Council’s share to increase by inflation-busting 4.7 per cent. The Council’s Band D share will go up from £727.81 to £762.01. On top of that Mayoral precept is going up by nine per cent – for Band D up from £294.23 to £320.51. Labour hitting the poorest the hardest. The current inflation rate is 1.8 per cent.

In their Manifesto for the Council elections last year, Labour promised:

“We will continue to keep council tax and council charges low.”

That is a bit vague. It could include cutting Council Tax. Or freezing Council Tax. At a stretch, it could include increasing Council Tax at or below inflation. But I don’t think that pledge is consistent with increasing Council Tax by over twice the inflation rate.

What makes it worse is that the Council is not being honest about its tax increase. In the Budget papers, it calls it an “adjustment”. It says the figure is only 2.7 per cent – that the further two per cent for the “adult social care precept” in some way doesn’t count. It does if you are a Council Taxpayer having to pay the bill. It is money that goes to the Council and it is the Council’s decision whether or not to apply it.

Nor does it follow that just because the Council is spending more on social care that it has a good record. On the contrary, its record is deplorable. See here and here and here and here and here and here.

So often with these examples the bureaucratic delay and mismanagement mean both high spending and poor service. But that doesn’t stop the Labour councillors standing up in the Council chamber boasting about how caring they are and complaining about austerity.

The same point applies to children stuck in the care system. The number in Hammersmith and Fulham is 230 – that is an increase from 204 in 2014. Many of them could and should be placed for adoption and thus have the chance of a permanent loving home. But for ideological reasons the Council is obstructive towards adoption – with a huge human as well as financial cost.

. For all this virtue signalling they can certainly find money for their really important priorities – increasing their “special responsibility allowances”  so that councillor allowances spending is up this financial year from £785,600 to £847,000. There is also the kickback to the union paymasters – nearly £200,000 of Council Taxpayers money in the borough spent on salaries for union officials.

All this supposed austerity still allows them to pay the Council’s chief executive £169,000 a year plus employ another 12 bureaucrats on six figure salaries.

The Council owns 242 of these garages are currently empty. Often these are sites that could provide much needed new homes.

£12 million a year is spent on interest payments on the Council’s debt. Yet the Council clings onto surplus land and vacant buildings. As the Council tax raises £55 million a year inteerst charges represent a pretty hefty item.

With an Orwellian touch the Council’s names one of most wasteful departments “Delivery and Value”. This has annual spending of £1.79 million and includes such items as “Policy and Strategy” £471,000 and £164,000 on “communications”.

Small wonder the Council leader prefers pontificating about Brexit than talking about his record.

Works on Burne Jones House are delayed … again

Caroline ffiske writes:

Burne Jones House on the Lytton Estate in West Kensington is the last block on the estate to have no controlled access for its stairways.  It has been the last block in this position for a very long time.

Residents frequently report anti-social behaviour arising from this.  This is a small sample from 2016:

“We have had homeless people sleeping on the stairs. This isn’t desirable but was made more unbearable by the fact that they were leaving their drug paraphernalia behind …. The drug use is still going on on our stairs and is evident either because I catch them or by the mess they leave behind.” 
“Unfortunately, the bicycle I bought for myself has been stolen right in front of us this morning. It was locked and tied to the rails in the front balcony.”

“We have had our bikes vandalised, and there are frequent congregations of people smoking weed and drinking in the stairwells.”

Across 2016, Hammersmith & Fulham housing staff were in the process of scoping out capital works required to bring Burne Jones House up to a decent standard.

Council officers told me that the scope of work would include:

  • New windows and balcony doors
  • New front entrance doors
  • New main roof covering and upgrade of insulation
  • New covering to flat roof sections
  • Chimney and parapet repairs
  • Renewal/repair of asphalt to private balconies and deck access walkways
  • Brickwork and concrete repairs
  • Redecoration of previously painted surfaces

Across 2017 residents in Burne Jones House regarded the building works as imminent.  In September 2017 a meeting was finally held where residents were told they would soon receive notice of scaffolding going up.  Residents started to think about how they would plan access to their homes while they were out at work, or how to raise the funds required, if they are leaseholders.

But for month after month afterwards, the scaffolding did not go up.  Christmas passed and residents still received no notification about the delay and no explanation for it.  No communication whatsoever.

Now in June 2018 residents have finally been told that works will be “delayed” – fullstop.  Apparently the Council is developing a new competitive tendering process for capital works on its housing stock.  And if you are caught in the middle you are caught in the middle.  However it is okay because the Council is committed to “Working with residents in an open and transparent way to make sure you are fully consulted and have a meaningful input into the works that will be undertaken to your homes and a full understanding of any costs involved.” 

When you are told that building works are likely to start in 2017 and you do not even get a letter saying they will not, until mid-2018, I do not call that working with residents in an open and transparent way.  As Jean-Jacques Rousseau said  “It now became the interest of men to appear what they really were not.  To be and to seem became two totally different things.”

Avonmore & Brook Green needs a Neighbourhood Forum

Caroline ffiske writes:

When you are a councillor in Avonmore & Brook Green, you spend a lot of time talking about buildings: their architecture and appearance; and their use. So do local residents. One way to better harness residents’ energy and enthusiasm, and to ensure that local developments are a win-win would be to form a Neighbourhood Forum.

Four years ago, when I became a councillor, York House, a lovely Victorian building on Avonmore Road had just been torn down.  Local people were shocked at its sudden disappearance.

Soon after that the future of Leigh Court was being decided.  The now-empty, once-lovely mansion-block overlooking Avonmore School had been bought by a developer.  Residents fought for a refurbishment that respected the beauty of the building and the residential nature of the area.

The battle of FitzGeorge and Fitzjames Avenue loomed.  Unquestionably, the loveliest street in London, with highly decorative mansion blocks designed by Delissa Joseph.  A developer planned to pull out the gorgeous greenery and grounding base of the building to put basement flats along the entire frontage.  The beauty of this gorgeous street would have been destroyed. The passion and commitment of local residents came to the fore again as we battled this one through the planning system.

Across 2017, the pace quickened:

  • Olympia was sold to Yoo Group who promise a transformative makeover with the design element led by Thomas Heatherwick of Routemaster bus and Olympic cauldron fame.
  • New owners of 66 Hammersmith Road developed plans to pull down the not-much-loved glass-panelled building and replace it with a more attractive design but with greater bulk and loss of greenery.
  • West London College announced that its buildings are not fit for purpose.  They would like to build a new college funded by housing on part of the site.
  • The government announced that it would sell Blythe House – a stunning building with enormous potential.
  • To the west of the ward, the Hammersmith Society and others began alluding to outline plans for tower blocks within the gyratory.

So within this small area there is enormous potential for new housing, better education opportunities, new jobs, and new arts and leisure facilities. And yet, in the middle: local residents, neighbourly streets, gorgeous architecture, quiet heritage, precious green spaces.  How can local residents preserve the best of the past at the same time as making sure that new development is so good that it also becomes part of what future generations want to protect and preserve?

At least part of the answer comes in the form of a Neighbourhood Plan and Neighbourhood Forum. Neighbourhood Plans give communities significant rights around developments in their areas.  They enable local communities to say where homes, offices, and shops are built.  Residents can have a say in the design of new buildings and they can influence the height and massing that is allowable. Residents can also have a say in the use of buildings – for example empty shops. Neighbourhood Plans become legal documents that need to be approved via a local referendum.  Once in existence they must be used by local Councils to make decisions on local planning applications.

Nick Boys-Smith from the charity CreateStreets says:  “We encourage Neighbourhood Forums to be as ambitious as possible. If you don’t allocate sites and say what they should look like, you’re not really going to achieve much…  Neighbourhood Plans need to confirm with the Council ‘Local Plan’ but that still gives plenty of scope.”

Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?  Creating a Neighbourhood Plan is clearly a huge amount of work.  But sometimes it’s the start of a process that makes 90% of the difference.  The creation of a Neighbourhood Plan starts with the formation of a Neighbourhood Forum.  A coming together of local people who care and who have a bit of time to be involved.  ABG has a wealth of people who are passionate about their area and well-experienced in participating in Tenants Associations, Residents Associations, Friends Groups, and Leaseholder Associations.  If they came together to start pooling ideas and establishing a collective voice, that in itself would be very powerful.  The Council, as well current and future developers should want to listen and to collaborate from the start.  The goal should always be win-win.

It can only be in everyone’s interests to design additions to our built environment and community assets well.  We all want to make the world a better place.  Putting beauty and community at the heart of local development is a great place to start.  Who’s in?

H&F Council’s Spending on Councillor Allowances set to hit £847,000

Caroline ffiske writes

The H&F Council budget for councillor allowances in 2018/19 is £785,600. Proposals contained in papers for the Council Meeting this week will result in an additional annual cost of £62,137.80.   If the proposals are passed, and all the allowances taken up, the new annual expenditure on Councillor allowances starting next year will be a whopping £847,000.  All data is contained here starting on page 100.

The cost increases arise from the Administration expanding its Cabinet to ten people , and creating additional paid roles for administration councillors including roles for “Assistants to the Cabinet”.

The basic rate allowance for all LBHF Councillors is £8,940.  All 46 Councillors receive this amount.  That is just under £180 a week.  There should be a large dose of public service in being a local councillor.  But to make some sense of the annual payment, if we assume that councillors are being paid somewhere between £10 and £20 an hour, residents could expect their local councillors to be doing 10 to 20 hours of community and ward-based work per week.  As part of the role, councillors are also expected to focus on borough wide issues – policy, or sector, or event, or issue focused.    So the  creation of additional allowances for assumingly additional work should be treated with great care.

Nevertheless here are the additional annual amounts payable to Councillors above and beyond the basic pay of £8940 received by all Councillors, as proposed in this week’s Council papers:

The Leader £32,186.70
Deputy Leader £26,816.40
Other Cabinet members (8) £21,454.20
Chief Whip (where not a member of Cabinet) £21,454.20
Deputy Chief Whip (2) £5,564.70
Chair of Policy & Accountability Committees (6) £5,564.70
Leader of the Opposition £16,086.60
Deputy Leader of the Opposition £5,564.70
Opposition Whip £5,564.70
Chair of Planning and Development Control Committees, Audit, Pensions and Standards Committee, Licensing Committee, and Councillor Member on Adoption and Fostering Panel (3) £5,564.70
The Mayor £10,729.80
Deputy Mayor £5,564.70
Assistant to the Cabinet (5) £2,700.00

If all these allowances are allocated, a whopping 29 out of the 35 administration councillors will receive additional cash under the new proposals.  Interestingly this is in direct contravention of the views of the Independent Panel that looks at Councillor Allowances.  This stated “We reiterate our view that no more than 50% of councillors should receive a special responsibility allowance”.

Mark Higton: Labour’s threat to youth provision in H&F

A guest post from Mark Higton, a Conservative candidate for Ravenscourt Park Ward.

I am deeply concerned about how the Labour Council are privatising Youth and Family Services. These changes will happen if they are left unchecked, and the reason voters are unaware is because the Labour councillors involved have failed to publish definitive policy documents, which makes scrutinising and discussing these plans extremely difficult.

The first we learned of this was 18 months ago, when Community Centres and Youth Charities were informed that two of the five Youth Hubs could be cut, whilst the remaining three would be ‘re-imagined’ to become Super-Hubs. The decision was only to be made after May 2018. Hubs were told only to apply if they were located next to a School and Health Centre. They were also informed that they could lose their facility funding should a change in their designation occur, whilst Children’s Centres could be cut as part of the wider rationalisation.

Naturally the Children’s Centres, and the many Youth Charities that support them, were alarmed by this information. To this end a group of Charities established the Young Hammersmith & Fulham Foundation to exchange information, and provide an independent voice. I have been speaking with their members, and aligned voluntary groups, and they are clear that the privatisation of Family and Youth Services has already commenced in Hammersmith and Fulham, resulting in cuts to budgets, annual funding reviews, and delays in funding decisions.

The EdCity project in White City is a clear example of the Council’s vision for a Super-Hub, and it is already impacting how Charities will be commissioned in Ravenscourt Park and other Wards. The Council decided to dispense with the existing Community Centres and Charities which have decades of youth provision experience in Hammersmith, and gave the mandate to a private-public partnership called OnSide. As part of this deal the Council have pledged to provide 50 per cent of the funding required to build a Youth Zone costing £6 million. This will be owned by Onside, and local charities and community groups will have to pay commercial rates if they want to use the building.

Furthermore the Council has pledged 40 per cent of Onside’s annual £1,000,000.00 operating budget, the remaining 60 per cent will be generated via Sponsorship and User Charges. Onside estimate the cost of delivery per child to be approximately £17.90 per head, which is almost £4.00 more than what our existing youth charities charge, whilst user charges will mean that a Child who currently attends the Youth Club for free will have to pay between £7.00 and 50p per session.

So why are Labour Councillors backing a partnership which is noncompetitive to our local Charities, and will cost the poorest in society up to £547.50 a year to access? The answer is simple, the Council want to make long-term savings of £9.00 per child, cutting their costs from £14.00 to £5.00 per head. That, of course, is the theory…

What if OnSide fail to meet their share of the operational costs? Presumably the Council will be forced to underwrite the scheme, and a building nobody else can use, whilst the community will still have to pay for services at point of provision. More to the point, least well-off parents that can’t afford the user charges could find that their taxes are being used to subsidise better-off parents, who might otherwise have paid more.

If that isn’t enough to worry about, the Council plan to move Youth and Family Services into a Purpose Led Vehicle, where 75 per cent of costs will be met by the private sector in five years. This shift, and a reduction in staff, will coincide with Super-Hubs being given greater responsibility to directly commission Children’s Centres, Community Organisations, and Youth Charities. The loss of accountability to the Council should this vision be fully implemented could be disastrous.

Conservatives believe this money could be better spent. £3 million would fund our existing Hubs for two and a quarter years, or provide much needed investment into their facilities and the Children’s Centres they support. Whilst the £400,000 annual operating capital is equivalent to the entire H&F Youth Services budget!

A budget the Council has claimed time, and time again, it has to cut.

Surely it would be simpler to increase the youth budget, and directly support experienced providers like the Sulgrave Club and Harrow Club?

Members of the the Young Hammersmith & Fulham Foundation say we are talking sense, they believe the corporate model which the Labour Council backs is anti-competitive, not fit for purpose, and doesn’t provide taxpayers with value for money.