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.

Victory! Thames Water ditches plan for Counters Creek Relief Sewer

Thames Water has abandoned plans for a Counters Creek Relief Sewer. This is excellent news – the proposed scheme would have resulted in considerable noise and pollution of the drilling, the loss of trees. It would also have cost £300 million – which would have been passed on to customers in the form of higher bills. The potential benefits in reducing the risk of basement flooding did not justify the costs.

Back in 2015 I challenged the funding of the project and I also argued that SUDS schemes – sustainable drainage – would provide better value for money.  That is because there would be wider benefits – air quality, aesthetic for instance – in such schemes as greening council estates where concrete is replaced by trees, grass, flowers and shrubs.

There were also the anti flooding devices called FLIPs (flooding local improvement projects) which had been installed at 600 properties – these are mini pumping stations that can help prevent sewage from entering homes through pipes and lavatories. That meant that if we had another storm of the scale of the one on the July 20th 2007 (when there were 1,700 homes flooded) that is another means of mitigating the impact.

Now the following message pings into my email from the Counters Creek Project Director of Thames Water:

Update on Counters Creek Sewer Flooding Alleviation Scheme

Dear Councillor

I am writing to update you on Thames Water’s ongoing work regarding the Counters Creek Sewer Flooding Alleviation Scheme which aims to protect properties in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.

I fully appreciate that some time has passed since our previous update. However, we have been far from idle. We have worked intensively throughout the past year undertaking a full review of our proposals using advanced investigative and network modelling methods to capture the most up-to-date flooding information. What we have done to date

In our previous communications we explained that we were planning to deliver the required level of protection through a package of measures.

These included;

  • fitting a large number of FLIP (note 1) devices to protect individual properties; 
  • installing three Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) schemes as pilot projects in three streets in partnership with both local authorities;
  • building a large strategic sewer to increase capacity in our sewer network.

Over 1,300 FLIP devices have now been installed and the SuDS work is complete.

During 2017 we undertook a detailed review of the requirement for the strategic sewer and have concluded that it is not, at present, required in order to provide the necessary level of protection. I realise that this may be a surprise in view of our earlier work, which included preparing a planning application, and want to explain the reason for the change.

Our review has looked carefully at flood protection provided by the FLIP devices we have installed; at new modelling of flows in our complex local network of sewers following heavy rainfall; and at the potential impacts of further development in the catchment. In particular, we examined the sewer performance during the severe storms in June 2016, including information from additional monitors fitted to the network since the July 2007 storm. On the basis of the flooding caused by the 2007 storm we would have expected to see widespread flooding in June 2016, but this did not happen. This strongly suggests that the FLIP devices, combined with our rigorous programme of sewer cleaning to maintain availability of full capacity, have been more successful than anticipated.

In the circumstances, we intend to continue with our programme of fitting FLIP devices to vulnerable properties but will not progress the strategic sewer in the near future. We have however, worked closely with the Tideway project to ensure that there is sufficient room at their Cremorne Wharf site for the construction of a strategic sewer if this is required in the future, after their work at this location is complete.

What we are doing now

We have already carried out surveys for FLIP devices at additional properties and these will be installed from January 2018. A second phase of installations will follow from April 2018 and further installations will be added sequentially as our plans progress.

We will work closely with both local authorities as these installations take place. We will also continue to monitor the data from three SuDS pilots, developed in partnership with the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea at Mendora Road, Melina Road and Arundel Gardens. The data from these pilots is being gathered and monitored, with assistance from Imperial College, and will be used to inform our plans.

We remain committed to protecting properties which are at risk of flooding in the area and to ensuring that we have a resilient network for the future. We will continue to investigate what future resilience is required for the local sewer network, taking into account population growth, development, urban creep and climate change.”

Of course there remains criticisms. How much money has been wasted on the flawed scheme? Why are the proposals for SUDS schemes not more ambitious? Still today’s announcement is an important victory for common sense.

How big should hedges be?

I often get correspondence about hedges.  Sometimes it is requested that the Council ensures that property owners do some pruning to avoid obstructing the pavement – as with the example pictured.

But there is controversy as to how much pruning should take place. Sometimes it is the Council that owns the hedge. I have already noted the comments from the Biodiversity Commission about street trees.

This is what they say about hedges:

“Shrubs are being over-pruned and rubbish-laden compost strewn too heavily under trees and shrubs to reduce maintenance, causing the death of some shrubs. Often there is no budget to replace these shrubs and, when there is, there is reluctance to plant as it means additional maintenance. Regulation has also gone too far – shrubs/ hedges have been emasculated in order to reduce anti-social behaviour but the balance is not right. There are virtually no intact hedges in parks or gardens of council housing estates and similarly few shrubs above chest level height. This, coupled with the loss of garden space discussed in 3.2, has resulted in a very severe decline in habitat area and variety in the Borough and has contributed to the fall in small bird populations in inner London.”

The Parks Manager responds as follows

“The Biodiversity Commission have looked at the maintenance of hedges from purely ecological/biodiversity perspective, which is to let hedges flourish with only minor pruning.  Hedges at the moment are pruned in accordance with horticultural practice but also often to minimise anti-social behaviour (referenced in the report).

“There is also an aesthetic factor as well in how we manage hedges; ones managed for biodiversity will tend to have a ‘wilder’ look.  That said, there is no reason why a compromise cannot be met and as a team we’re looking forward to working with the commission and improving biodiversity in parks and cemeteries.  Any changes in management practice will need to be coupled with a level of education explaining the benefits.”

So far as the council estates are concerned the Head of Estate Services says:

“We believe that we have struck the right balance between the need for shrubs and hedges that are attractive and flourishing, and the needs for clear lines of sight for CCTV, and the avoidance of blind spots that facilitate antisocial behaviour.  We manage these issues on a case by case basis on our housing estates, relying on advice from the Police, and the local knowledge of residents. Any walkaround of our estates would demonstrate that they are full of greenery and flourishing hedges, managed in a sensitive manner. Our supplier of gardening services, Idverde, are fully aware of this approach and do not cut hedges or shrubs in the nesting season, or when they are flowering. They are also using an innovative form of hot foam weeding to avoid the use of over 100 litres of potential toxic chemicals.

“This specific activity is set within the context of our Greening Strategy which itemises our plans to encourage bio-diversity through our choices of plants, and establishes our strong approach to protecting the green tree canopy through sympathetic pruning, replacement of dead trees, and through significant additional planting. We have planted over 750 trees in the last three years, of which over 150 have been on our estates.”

So we are all agreed that there should be a balance. The only question is what the right balance is. In a way perhaps sending in photographs of examples of where it has gone wrong might inform the Council of how to improve and allow a reasoned consensus to emerge.

By the way cutting hedges and trees should be avoided between March and August as this is the main breeding season for nesting birds.

Tall crane was to blame for helicopter noise

In July many residents in Hammersmith complained about helicopter noise. As a result I persuaded the Council to hold a meeting about it. This took place last week and the report that was presented said:

“Occasionally, extra airspace restrictions are implemented in London that impact on helicopter activity over H&F. An example of this is when tall cranes are erected on large construction sites. These can be 300 feet (91.4m) or taller and present a potential obstacle to helicopters. These are notifiable to the CAA and the heliport. Pilots are made aware of these obstructions and the avoidance area around it (typically a radius of 1 nautical mile). In the summer, a tall crane in RBK&C was erected as shown in Figure 3 in the Appendix which impacted on helicopter movements from July to September, causing them to fly over areas not usually impacted. This can be very noticeable for residents and the causes are not immediately obvious. A temporary airspace restriction was also put in place at the time of the Grenfell Tower fire and remained in place for several weeks.”

While the problem has abated we still discussed various ways the situation could be improved.

Before 2005 the minimum altitude for aircraft from 1,500 feet but it was then reduced to 1,000 feet.  This is covered under the EU’s Standardised European Rules of the Air.  After Brexit we will be able to set our own laws. Perhaps that could include requiring a higher minimum altitude so that the aircraft don’t cause such a noise nuisance.

Transparency is another area.  Heathrow Airport provide real-time information on arrivals and departures and H&F residents can use the WebTrak facility to check on flights over the borough. Why not provide a similar facility for helicopters which could show arrivals/ departures at the Heliport and other helicopter activity in London airspace, so that residents could check activity in their area?

There is also more that the Mayor of London could do to seeking powers to limit the overall number of helicopter movements in London’s airspace in order to manage their environmental impacts, particularly in relation to noise.

What street trees should we plant in our borough?

Three new trees at corner of Ancill Close and Crefeld Close. Alder, birch and unknown. Joining the chestnut tree planted in 2012

I was interested to see the report of the Hammersmith and Fulham Biodiversity Commission which was presented earlier this week.

The trouble with these Resident Commissions is that they produce long lists of proposals (often for bodies other than Hammersmith and Fulham Council to pursue). The Council then accepts all of them. There is much mutual congratulation. Then nothing actually happens.

That would be a pity with this report.

Of course you need to scroll down through the gush and the mush and the virtue signalling – eg “appoint a permanent Ecology Officer”  (groan).  It is necessary not to be provoked by undeserved praise for the European Union – which has been a complete disaster for the environment.

Then there is the predictable weakness of a committee to promise anything terribly bold. For instance where is the call for a cull of the grey squirrels?

That all sounds rather rude to the Commissioners – Morag Carmichael, Professor Derek Clements-Croome, Cathy Maund, Vanessa Hampton, Louise Barton, John Goodier, Moya O’Hara, Dr Nathalie Mahieu and Alex Laird. On the contrary I  have considerable admiration for what they have done and would be sorry to see the relevant aspects of their report ignored. There are several important, practical, proposals which I am keen to see pursued. They are a group of residents with formidable collective expertise who have put in considerable (unpaid) effort to produce a formidable piece of work.

For instance with regard to street trees they say:

“Significant weight should be given to the biodiversity aspect of trees in all planting situations. This means, for example, more oaks, willows, silver birches, pink/white hawthorn, rowan and alders and fewer exotic trees or double-flowered cherries in future planting.”

I have asked the Council’s Principal Arboricultural Officer for a response.

He says:

“The main criteria we use for selection of species for planting on street trees is set out in our policy guidelines which are published on the council’s website. You can access this from the links in the  “Trees in Public Places” page which is in the “Environment” section. The main points are outlined below:
 
 1. Trees should be of such size that they do not cause undue light restriction,encroachment or subsidence problems.   

2. Trees with excessively large, sticky or prolific fruits should be avoided wherever they are likely to cause a nuisance.

3. Trees with poisonous fruits, bark or wood should be avoided.

4. Hazardous trees, e.g. trees with large spines on the trunk, or which are known to shed branches easily should be avoided.

Assuming the above are satisfied we would want to give preference to species that provide bio-diversity and habitat benefits ideally help improve air quality.

We already plant significant numbers of Birch, and Rowan and quite a few Hawthorns. The scope for larger species like Oak is limited and Willows are very unlikely to be suitable for our narrow streets. Unfortunately species that encourage wildlife tend to be “dirty” trees and generate more complaints from residents about mess or insects .

Flowering Cherry and Blossom trees are the most commonly requested by residents and it is often an uphill struggle to persuade them to have something more biodiversity friendly.”

What do you think?

How long will the King Street shops stay boarded up?

Local residents are growing understandably impatient that premises intended to be used for shops at 407 King Street are still boarded up.

The Council’s planning policies fail to account for the housing shortage – that inflexibility has caused the derelict Ravenscourt Hospital site to remain an eyesore for ten years when allowing change of use for housing would make more sense.

There also needs to be an acceptance that with more of our purchases being done online fewer shops are needed. With many existing shops struggling the viability of insisting on yet more shops being included in new developments is rather doubtful. Of course each case will have particular issues to consider but overall we already have more shops than we need.

The Council’s planning department tells me:

“Generally, we would not be in favour of residential development at ground floor level on a busy road, as the quality of the accommodation would not be great.”

I understand that point. Also I appreciate the symmetry of having a row of shops along a high street. But then the boarded up shops aren’t great either. Wouldn’t it at least make sense to allow flats on the corner?

Anyway the Council’s planning enforcement officer tells me:

“The planning enforcement team have recently written to the developers advising them that they are required to remove the hoardings and install the glazed shopfronts in accordance with their planning permission. If they fail to do so they will be liable to enforcement action.”

So I suppose that would be better than nothing.

 

No Man’s Land

This is the land that nobody seems to want.

Residents in Stamford Brook Road complained to me about it being poorly maintained. The bushes are not cut. The grass is cut but the cuttings not removed. Litter is seldom cleared.

So I raised the matter with Hammersmith and Fulham Council. The response came back that the land was in Ealing. Then this changed to say the land was in Hounslow. Then Hounslow Council came back to insist it was in Hammersmith and Fulham. Amidst the muddle and delay the email chain grew ever longer. Turf warfare with the difference that is was a fight not to accept ownership of the bit of turf in dispute.

I have now been sent what (I think) is the definitive response:

“Hounslow Council has maintenance responsibility for the Stamford Brook Green (the land was formerly under H&F Council’s responsibilities, but this changed some years ago following a boundary change).

Unfortunately a H&F rubbish bin and bench on this land were not removed following the boundary change, which has now been actioned. This clearly is confusing for residents and we have reminded Hounslow Council that they are responsible for grass cutting and maintenance and that rubbish collection is undertaken by Hounslow contractors. Hounslow Council will decide if a new rubbish bin is sited at Stamford Brook Green.

However, to respond to the concerns raised by local residents, last week H&F contractors removed the rubbish on the Green and we have let Hounslow officers know.

H&F Council is the current legal owner of the land as unfortunately the land ownership was not updated as it should have been to reflect the historic boundary change. The legal asset title is being corrected, so it is vested in Hounslow Council’s legal ownership. The operational responsibility will then tally with the legal title – both being with Hounslow Council.”