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?

Victory! King Street residents to get the chance to recycle

Recently I wrote about how hundreds of residents in King Street were being prevented from recycling.

I took the matter up with the Council and I have been sent the following undertaking from the Council’s Waste Action Development Manager:

“Please accept my apologies for the delay in getting back to you. I was awaiting a response from Serco which never came. I have now had a conversation with them and have an understanding of the problem and of a way forward. I’ve been advised that they do not deliver to flats above shops on King Street, as the rolls of bags do not fit through the letter box. Leaving rolls of bags out on the High Street would be both unsightly but also, means they are at high risk of being stolen and /or misused.

“I believe all properties with a kerbside collection should be delivered sufficient recycling bags, and so this current situation needs to change. That’s why I’m seeking quotes for flat packs of bags, which will fit through letterboxes. Hopefully, this will provide a solution going forward.”

Hundreds living in King Street flats denied the chance to recycle

The average recycling rate for England is 43.7 per cent. The rate for Hammersmith and Fulham is 23.2 per cent – leaving us near the bottom of the table in 343rd place out of 350.

That is obviously an environmental cost. But also a financial one. The cost to the Council is £90 a ton for general waste which is incinerated and £67 a ton for recycling.

It is always more of challenge for densely populated area to achieve a good recycling rate. However a pretty basic start is allowing residents the chance to recycle.

This week I have talking to residents in King Street living in the flats above the shops and restaurants.

One told me: “It’s probably been three years since we left had recycling bags delivered.” Others have give me the same message. I believe that this problem applies to hundreds of residents.

I have asked the Council for an explanation…

If Westminster Council can tackle “idling” why can’t H&F?

Local residents complain that lorries being used for the building work on the Sovereign Court development are routinely leaving their engines running while parked in Glenthorne Road. This practice is known as “idling”. Under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) Regulations 2002 the law states that is an offence to idle your engine unnecessarily when stationary.

But Hammersmith and Fulham Council doesn’t seem to do much about it.

Westminster Council has introduced £80 Penalty Charge Notice for “idling”. The main point about it is a deterrent. Only around 20 fines have been issued but that is because of the 20,000 drivers approached by “air marshals” the overwhelming majority have readily agreed to switch off their engines. I have asked Hammersmith and Fulham Council if we have any plans to do the same.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council has had an “Air Quality Commission”. In evidence to it one local resident David Cashman wrote:

“I am a 73 year old resident of Askham Court Sheltered Housing scheme. My flat is directly opposite the newly built Queensmill School for children with autism in Askham Road, W12. Children are brought to the school from a wide area in Ford diesel mini-buses in the morning and collected again mid-afternoon. Ten or more buses queue in Askham Road for up to 20 minutes to enter the school forecourt to drop-off and pick-up the children (see attachments). Most drivers run their vehicle engines on idle while they wait, regardless of seasonal temperatures. I endeavored to make school forecourt staff aware of both the illegality of idling vehicals while stationary and the possible adverse health effects on the children and others from inhaling diesal/nitrogen dioxide fumes. I gave them a print-out of the Air Quality Commission post of 11th August 2015 on the H&F website which declared the Council’s determination to tackle the ‘deadly problem of air pollution’ in the borough.

As a result of that action I was introduced to a HATS bus company supervisor who assured me that drivers would be instructed to follow correct procedure to switch off engines while stationary outside the school. My intervention has had no effect. Drivers continue to idle their vehicles.

On their website HATS state, ‘all vehicles are LEZ compliant… we are working toward the latest Euro 5 emission standard’. I understand that the World Health Organization has classified diesel exhaust as carcinogenic and that there is no safe level for humans. In the light of this statement I am concerned for the health of the children in the mornings aboard buses that are parked tight behind each other and where exhaust fumes could be entering vehicle cabs. I am also concerned about the general level of pollution and its effect on my fellow elderly sheltered housing residents as well as other people in my neighborhood.

I would like to bring the situation described above to the attention of the Commission and also request an urgent investigation to establish whether the circumstances in Askham Road require immediate action by H&F Council. I notice that H&F Council do not have dedicated enforcement officers to issue fixed penalty notices under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) Regulations 2002 to drivers who ignore requests to turn off stationary engines. I urge the Commission to recommend the introduction of enforcement officers. Their presence would have ensured an immediate solution to the idling problem in Askham Road. I look forward to your response.”

An idling engine can produce up to twice as many exhaust emissions as an engine in motion.

Research has shown that air pollution is a “particular concern for child health, as it can stunt lung growth and affect lung capacity”.

Matters were made much worse by Gordon Brown’s disastrous 2001 Budget which encouraged motorists to switch from petrol to diesel – the result of the EU being lobbied by vested interests.

Anyway it’s all very well for the Council to virtue signal, set up commissions and say it is “listening” to these concerns. But we need action. Clean air not hot air!

As I’ve noted before at present the the £22 million Public Health budget is largely wasted. Why not employ a few “air marshals”? Why not provide them with the power to impose a penalty of those who refuse to stop poisoning us and our children?

 

 

 

Rat population in H&F up by a third – is the shortage of litter bins to blame?

The Council tells me that the Council’s pest control department had 740 complaints about rats in the last financial year 2016/17. That compares with 555 in 2013/14 before Labour took over. So an increase of a third. The total scale of the problem will be much higher as many people employ free enterprise, rather than municipal, rat catchers.

It could have been worse. At least Labour retreated on their proposal to scrap weekly bin collections.

But the problem has surely been exacerbated by the decline in standards of street cleaning. Overflowing litter bins have become an all too common sight on our parks and high streets. We need more of them and they need to be emptied more frequently.

As Robert Browning wrote in The Pied Piper of Hamelin:

“At last the people in a body
To the Town Hall came flocking: 
“‘Tis clear,” cried they, “our Mayor’s a noddy;
And as for our Corporation — shocking
To think we buy gowns lined with ermine
For dolts that can’t or won’t determine
What’s best to rid us of our vermin!
You hope, because you’re old and obese,
To find in the furry civic robe ease?
Rouse up, sirs! Give your brains a racking
To find the remedy we’re lacking,
Or, sure as fate, we’ll send you packing!”
At this the Mayor and Corporation
Quaked with a mighty consternation.”

 

 

 

 

Let’s clear away the telegraph poles

An interesting request from Richard Owen for the removal telegraph poles in his street – Overstone Road in Hammersmith.

He says:

“The majority of London streets have dispensed with them, and the poles plus cobweb of wires make a significant visual impact in a historic conservation area. We are due a major repair programme to pavements and roadway in the next few years and that might also be an opportunity to take out the poles.”

These pictures of Cerrigydrudion High Street – ironically courtesy of the “Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society” – show what a difference removing the clutter makes.

 

 

Flooding in King Street and Goldhawk Road – the Council must ensure street drainage is not blocked

After the recent flooding incidents a resident emailed to say:

“Can I just mention regarding the recent flooding in King Street that we may not have had such a river on King Street if all the street drainage was not blocked due to lack of maintenance on the councils part.

“All over the borough when the rain is extremely  heavy as it was recently there were ponds forming on all streets due to blocked street drainage.

“It seems that the councils policy is to let them all block up and then send the maintenance crew out to deal with the matter in one hit rather than have a regular service on this important water clearing system and of course they get caught out when you get something like the burst we got in king st and street drainage fails  .

“I had to have emergency callout service to deal with flooding outside my own house due to recent heavy rains and street drainage all blocked up.”

The Council’s Flood Risk Manager tells me:

“With regards to the burst water main on King Street, once the water receded, the highway gullies were cleaned.  Only 2 gullies in the affected area were found to be blocked.  However due to the water main burst, the sediment which makes up the road base was flushed into the carriageway and subsequently flushed into the highway gullies, meaning once the pot was full of material from the water main burst, no more water could flow into the gully.  Additionally the amount of water from water mains burst was such that the water was not able to drain through the gullies quick enough, added to this was the pressure of the water, forcing the water to spread further until the pressure dissipated.

“In Weltje Road there are two blocked gullies that are with our drainage contractors for repair, one is opposite number 59, at the junction with King Street and the other is at the junction with Upper Mall.  These are in the programme and should be repaired by April 2018.

“Gully cleansing in Hammersmith and Fulham is undertaken on a programmed basis, with reactive cleansing undertaken when required.  Furthermore we are undertaking a large gully repair programme in the borough, aiming to repair some of the historical drainage issues we have on the public highway in the borough.”

Of course the recent instances have been the responsibility of Thames Water. But it is also obvious that keeping the drains clear means that flooding – whether from heavy rain or burst pipes – can be mitigated more effectively. This is a basic priority for the Council.