The Lytton Estate has beautiful gardens – we should make them more so

Cllr Caroline ffiske writes:

Residents living on the Lytton Estate have complained to me about the quality of grounds maintenance.  In response, I recently went on a “walkabout” with senior housing and grounds maintenances officers.  It did not take officers long to agree that more care is needed.  A particular problem is the proliferation of self-sown saplings.  Some have grown so large that they will require considerable effort to remove; yet tended to in good time, their removal would be easy.  Pictured is a sycamore seedling which is well over six feet tall.

Another theme was dead shrubs which inexplicably have not been removed.  The glyphosate ban also means that weeds are flourishing.  I asked officers if there is any danger of large weeds, including buddleia, cracking concrete and walls.  I think the conclusion is that the jury is still out on this, but it is something that needs to be watched carefully.

Residents had previously shown me where rough sleepers have been using a stand of very dense holly trees in the grounds of Clifford and Falkland House.  I’m pleased to say that officers have moved very quickly to remove the lower branches.  The area looks far more light and attractive and will no longer be a target for rough sleepers.

The rose bed outside Burne Jones House has more weeds than roses.  Officers agreed that a dense layer of mulch will keep down the weeds and help the roses to flourish.  I look forward to seeing this in place.  

All in all a very useful exercise. The grounds of the Lytton Estate are potentially very beautiful and in many parts they are already so.  There are many residents on the estate who play an active role in community gardening.  I spoke to other residents who are hugely appreciative of the work of the community gardeners.

If all the interested parties can work effectively together, the Lytton Estate grounds could be the most beautiful in the borough.



Where H&F Council refuses to install sprinklers will plastic window frames be removed?

Hannah Lucinda Smith spent six months investigating fire safety in tower blocks for a BBC documentary in 2010.

She says:

“Our findings were conclusive. Fire chiefs and safety experts all agreed that the vogue for cladding old concrete blocks with plastic fascia, removing asbestos and replacing steel window frames with ones made of UPvC cancelled out all the fire prevention measures that had been built into the blocks.”

This was all part of the “Decent Homes programme” launched in 2000. She adds:

“Billions of pounds of public funds were handed out to contractors to carry out the upgrades – £820 million in London alone.”

I have asked  which blocks in Hammersmith and Fulham have had steel window frames replaced with ones made of UPvC since 2000 under the Decent Homes programme and I have been sent the following list:

1-6 ADELA HOUSE, Queen Caroline Street
9-16 ALDINE COURT, Aldine Street
17-24 ALDINE COURT, Aldine Street
25-32 ALDINE COURT, Aldine Street
33-48 ALDINE COURT, Aldine Street
1-8 ALDINE COURT, Aldine Street
1-15 ALEX GOSSIP HOUSE, Basuro Road
1-16 ALEXANDRA HOUSE, Queen Caroline Str
1-16 ARLINGTON HOUSE, Tunis Road
17-22 ARLINGTON HOUSE, Tunis Road
1-8 ASKHAM COURT, Askham Road
9-16 ASKHAM COURT, Askham Road
17-24 ASKHAM COURT, Askham Road
25-32 ASKHAM COURT, Askham Road
1-76 BARTON HOUSE, Wandsworth Bridge Rd
1-8 BENBOW COURT, Benbow Road
9-20 BENBOW COURT, Benbow Road
1-16 BOSWELL COURT, Blythe Road
1-12 BRANGWYN COURT, Blythe Rd
1-11 BRONTE COURT, Girdlers Road
2-40 BURLINGTON PLACE, Burlington Road
1-102 BUSH COURT, Shepherds Bush Green
1-24 CALCOTT COURT, Blythe Road
1-11 CARDROSS HOUSE, Cardross Street
1-20 CAROLINE HOUSE, Queen Caroline Stre
1-16 CHARLOTTE HOUSE, Queen Caroline Str
1-30 CLIFFORD HOUSE, Edith Villas
1-12 CLIFTON HOUSE, 127 Uxbridge Road
1-30 COBBS HALL, Fulham Palace Rd
144-158 ev CONINGHAM ROAD W12
1-48 Cox House
1-38 DRAKE COURT, Scotts Road
1-12 EDITH HOUSE, Queen Caroline St
1-20 ELEANOR HOUSE Queen Caroline St
1-24 ELGAR COURT Blythe Road
1-25 ELIZABETH HOUSE Queen Caroline St
21-29 ETHEL RANKIN COURT, Landridge Rd
30-38 ETHEL RANKIN COURT, Landridge Rd
17-21 odd EYOT GARDENS
1-30 Falkland House
1-8 GIBBS GREEN, Beaumont Cresc
9-28 GIBBS GREEN, Beaumont Cresc
29-38 GIBBS GREEN, Beaumont Cresc
101-130 GIBBS GREEN, Beaumont Cresc
131-146 GIBBS GREEN, Beaumont Cresc
147-160 GIBBS GREEN, Beaumont Cresc
1-20 GLENALLAN HOUSE, North End Cresc
1-40 HENRIETTA HOUSE, Queen Caroline St
1-55 HORTON HOUSE, Field Road
1-20 ISABELLA HOUSE, Queen Caroline Stre
1-32 JOANNA HOUSE, Queen Caroline Street
106-130 LANCASTER COURT, Darlan Rd
131-166 LANCASTER COURT, Darlan Rd
21-40 LANCASTER COURT, Darlan Rd
41-65 LANCASTER COURT, Darlan Rd
66-90 LANCASTER COURT, Darlan Rd
91-105 LANCASTER COURT, Darlan Rd
6-10 LINTAINE CLOSE, Moylan Rd
1-18 MARRYAT COURT, Cromwell Ave
19-26 MARRYAT COURT, Cromwell Ave
1-6 MARY HOUSE, Queen Charlotte Street
1-24 MATON HOUSE, Estcourt Road
1-8 MORLAND COURT, Coningham Road
1-20 MORTIMER HOUSE, North End Road
2 MYLNE CLOSE, Upper Mall, W6
10-18 MYLNE CLOSE, Upper Mall, W6
1-9 PADDENSWICK COURT, Paddenswick Rd
1-40 PELHAM HOUSE, Mornington Ave
1/2 PHILLIPA HOUSE, Queen Caroline St
1-15 PHILPOT SQUARE, Peterborough Rd
16-25 & 42-61 PHILPOT SQUARE, Peterborough Rd
26-41 & 62-69 PHILPOT SQUARE, Peterborough Rd
1-20 ROBERT GENTRY HOUSE, Gledstanes Rd
1-24 ROCQUE HOUSE, Estcourt Road
1-114 ROSEFORD COURT, Shepherds Bush Grn
1-16 SCOTTS COURT, Scotts Rd
1-102 SHEPHERDS COURT Shepherds Bush gree
1-4 SOPHIA HOUSE Queen Caroline Street
153-172 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
213-227 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
248-262 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
298-315 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
1-12 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
263-282 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
283-297 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
444-484 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
1-16 THE GRANGE, 218 Goldhawk Road
1-36 THE GRANGE, Lisgar Terrace
110-126 WALHAM GREEN COURT Cedarne Rd
50-108 WALHAM GREEN COURT Cedarne Rd
1-24 WALPOLE COURT Blythe Rd
1-25 WILLIAM MORRIS HOUSE, Margravine Rd
26-70 WILLIAM MORRIS HOUSE, Margravine Rd
1-114 WOODFORD COURT Shepherds Bush Green

The total cost of replacing the steel window frames with plastic ones was £7.54 million. The full breakdown of the cost is here. I have asked if there are any plans to remove the UPvC window frames. Given the Council’s refusal to install sprinklers in all blocks it seems to me that where there are plastic window frames there is a particular source of concern.

The total annual spending on having cladding applied to the council housing blocks under the Decent Homes programme since 2000 in Hammersmith and Fulham £2.13 million – on the Edward Woods Estate.  Other blocks – including Shepherds Court – had insulation panels. But the problem of plastic window frames is more widespread.

H&F Council still backing more tower blocks in the borough

Last month I emailed the Council’s Head of Policy & Spatial Planning to say:

“I gather that the Mayor of London approved towers as high as 26 storeys for the Old Oak Park Royal Development Corporation.

May I suggest that the Council asks for the Mayor to review this decision unless it can be established that there is no greater fire risk than there would be in low/medium rise buildings.

Also with regard to our own planning policy could this be reviewed?

Currently we say: “A limited number of tall buildings could be considered as part of the approach to urban design.” May I suggest that we either make clear that the Council would oppose any new tall buildings or at least that we would oppose any new tall buildings unless it can be established that there is no greater fire risk than there would be in low/medium rise buildings.”

He has replied as follows:

“Dear Councillor Phibbs,
Thank you for your query sent on 19/06/17 concerning tall buildings and fire risk.  You have requested that we ask the Mayor to review any approvals of towers in the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) area and that we review our own planning policy so that we oppose any new tall buildings unless they can be shown to be of no greater fire risk than low-medium rise buildings.
May I first respond by saying that the council Planning department are very aware of the tragic fire that occurred on the 14th June at the Grenfell Tower residential block and the concerns of many about the safety of tall buildings.  I can advise that our planning policy on tall buildings sets out criteria proposals should meet and is largely focused on the visual impact, supporting transport, public realm, sustainability and the impact on local amenity which are amongst the matters that a local authority is required to take into consideration when determining a planning application.  Fire safety matters which we acknowledge are of paramount importance, are controlled through legislative powers within Building Regulations and the planning system should not duplicate or supplement these controls.  At any point in the future, if there are changes in law or guidance in the way planning policy can approach fire safety, we can respond and review our planning policy.  
It is important to note, however, that whilst the regulations on fire safety are contained in Building Regulations, our planning department work closely with our Building Control colleagues which allows for informed discussions regarding future projects within the Borough.  It is important that this continues to be closely monitored on all future high rise projects by our Building Control team in co-operation with the Planning department to ensure public fire safety.  We are also working closely with the OPDC on their emerging Local Plan policies with their second round of public consultation starting on 29th June and running until 11th September, which will include their approach to tall buildings.  Housing colleagues at the council are also currently engaging with the Greater London Authority and the Department for Communities and Local Government on any potential changes to policies that might arise as a result of the Grenfell fire.
I hope this information is helpful and please contact me if you have any further queries.”

So despite the Grenfell Tower tragedy the Council’s policy is still to support more tower blocks in the borough. A terrible mistake.

H&F Council refuses to publish Fire Risk Assessments and rejects plea for sprinklers in all council housing blocks

There was a Hammersmith and Fulham Council meeting last night which saw hours of filibustering by Labour councillors to curtail time for discussion on their fire safety record.

The motion they didn’t want debated stated:

1. This Council reaffirms the commitment to the safety of tenants, leaseholders, residents and their families in its housing stock which lies at the heart of its public service provision.

2. This Council notes:

a. The ‘Limited Assurance’ audit report issued in July 2016 in respect of the Council’s Housing and Regeneration Department (“HRD”) Health and Safety Checks.

b. The reports to Audit Pensions and Standards Committee of 13th September 2016, 7th December 2016, 13th March 2017 and 21st June 2017 relating to deficient and late implementation of health and safety checks and remedial works, which included gas safety, electrical installation, asbestos management, communal hot water tank chlorination and fire risk assessments.

It also said:

4. This Council resolves to:

a. Eliminate immediately the backlog of HRD health and safety checks and remedial works of all kinds identified by the reports to Audit Committee.

b. Install sprinkler systems in all blocks of Council flats.

c. Set for a date for the removal of the hazardous panels to the Charecroft Estate.

d. Set a date for fitting sprinklers in the Charecroft Estate as requested by residents of that estate.

e. Publish immediately copies of fire risk assessments and other health and safety reports for all Council owned housing blocks in the borough on the Council’s website.”

When it eventually came they voted to reject my proposal that all Fire Risk Assessments for all council blocks should be published on the transparency section of the Council’s website. That was a shameful decision which they struggled to even attempt to justify. The Council leader told me there was a lot of anxiety among residents. Indeed. Does he really imagine that secrecy helps?

The Charecroft Tenants and Residents Association have obtained the fire risk assessments for their blocks and published them on their website. It gives the address for Roseford Court and Woodford Court as Hammersmith Grove. That does not exactly instill confidence. Nor that the Council is still resisting publication of documents relating to the Shepherds Court fire put in as FOI requests by Inside Housing magazine. They say it would not be in the “public interest”….

I have put in a Freedom of Information request for the Fire Risk Assessments for all blocks in the borough of over six storeys and I will publish them on this site if I get them. Then I will ask for the lower rise blocks.

So far as the sprinklers are concerned I was told that they would be installed in tower blocks. But how were tower blocks defined? How many storeys? “You should already know,” the Council leader told me as if it was a game. “We will tell you afterwards.” Then he said it was 12 storeys. Later he told me it was six storeys.

What happens if there is a fire on a five storey block? Or a two, three or four storey block?

The Chief Fire Officers Association points out that nobody had ever died in a fire in the UK in a property with a properly installed sprinkler system.

Ronnie King, an acknowledged expert in this field, has told me the case for installing sprinklers in all blocks of flats is overwhelming. This was what the Labour councillors voted against last night with an amendment deleting making any such undertaking.

This report from a study of a retrofitting project in Sheffield says:

“Perhaps the key finding of the project is that the installation cost is less than £1,150 per flat. This is significant in that it is significantly less than had been estimated and illustrates how economically such a scheme can be retrofitted in occupied premises without undue disruption.”

As I have argued before that spending should be given priority in the context of the Council’s £30 million annual capital spending. Council leaseholders should not be charged. Myths – such as that the sprinklers might go off by accident – need to be busted. Fire officers should be encouraged to tour the estates to meet residents to explain the need for the sprinklers to be installed.

The Council needs to provide transparency and show some leadership. Rather than dithering and delaying it needs to take the action that is clearly required to keep residents safe.




H&F Labour in a muddle of Right to Buy

Labour councillors in Hammersmith and Fulham oppose the right to buy for council tenants claiming that it fails to fund replacement homes. Yet if this were to be the case that they can’t manage it then all the proceeds have to be handed over to central government for the Homes and Communities Agency to build the replacement homes instead.

According to Labour’s own council officers in the borough this has not been necessary.

The Housing Department’s Head of Financial Investment & Strategy tells me:

“We monitor Right to Buy receipts every month and currently don’t anticipate having to pay the receipts back to central government. 

“As at 30th June 2017 we have used £5.1m of Right to Buy receipts to provide additional affordable homes, 38 of which have already been provided and 184 are currently in progress.

“Further receipts will be used towards completing the 184 homes in progress and on further additional homes as and when approval is granted.”

Do Labour councillors not talk to their own housing officers?

The makes Labour’s refusal to sell high value voids (even a vacant council house in Parsons Green worth £2 million or £3 million) absurd. Clearly it would be possible to pay for several much needed replacement homes with the proceeds.

Perhaps Labour councillors, many of whom enjoy home ownership for themselves,  want to deny the opportunity for others.

Jackie Pemberton: H&F Council must stop shooting the messenger on fire safety

A guest post from Jackie Pemberton.

For some weeks I have been chasing up a copy of a Fire Risk Assessment for one of the tower blocks in our borough where residents were assured that there were current Fire Risk Assessments in place and that the blocks had been deemed safe. Other information seemed to indicate that this was not the case and as a result of this information, I attended a meeting held for this block (meetings of which I am not now welcome it seems for speaking the truth).

Despite being told previously that FRAs should not have to go to freedom of information, and were available electronically, suddenly I was coming up against a brick wall in trying to obtain a copy of something I believe should be available to all residents on request – it’s called TRANSPARENCY.

Where was the transparency and resident involvement I had heard about so many times in meetings I had attended?

I was becoming more and more concerned at the obvious barriers in my receiving this  information requested – this ranged  from emails being ignored, to officers saying they were about to go into a meeting, to being told that the officer concerned was ‘too busy’ and different dates for dealing with this being given, despite it being a five minute job to send electronically.  The more barriers I came across the more I felt the need to find out why there was so much resistance with no attempt to putting a very concerned resident’s mind at rest on this horrific subject of fire health and safety.

When I found out that another resident had requested a copy of the same FRA, some time after my own request, and actually sent a copy, this naturally outraged me.

This resident, like myself, looked through documents and saw what I did, a lot of mistakes and discrepancies but unlike me, this person had access to those at the top – why – because they were a trusted member of a TRA committee and so had exclusive means of addressing their concerns – clearly the concerns and worries of those not in the same club do not matter to the same degree, despite the fact that the evidence and information was  gathered by others not of this exclusive club.

The story goes like this: Residents are told they are safe and have nothing to worry about, not once but several times; information opposing this view is proffered and many people raise their concerns; residents are still told they are safe despite reports saying this may not be the full story.

Residents still object and two letters go out in one day – one advising that all of the blocks on this estate are safe (this letter received in the morning) and another letter sent to the residents of said estate in the afternoon suggesting that they may not be so safe after all, nothing to worry about, no evidence yet, but just in case we are not taking any chances basically and action is taken to reassure the residents…

The latest result is that the FRA information I am waiting on with two weeks left to go for the outcome, will prove to be totally irrelevant as the current Fire Risk Assessments have been found to contain errors – not surprising really since both with my own block and the other block, the very first page shows discrepancies before you even start reading the rest.

One block has an old photo attached not showing very evident updates (new flats built in beneath the main block) , and the other has the  wrong address alongside its picture –  it seems that the second FRA in particular has had its details mixed up with the first FRA, hence some of the information being totally wrong and the address of the first being applied to the second (I know, this is getting very confusing).

Were it not for the horrors of what has happened recently, it would be almost laughable but in the light of everything that has gone on and the sheer tragedy involved, to my mind this is very serious indeed.

I  am now supposed to be reassured that new FRAs are being undertaken for the whole of the borough now – so not to worry about the current FRAs that were only carried out in December 2016.

Well, I am used to always being given the run around, emails ignored  and so on and so forth, but on such a serious issue, I was not expecting this and I was not expecting the sheer disregard that is being shown to someone who has in effect, helped, along with others, in raising some very serious issues that could have proved to have serious consequences in the future.  I guess some things are worth being hated for.

Flexibility required over self-contained accommodation rules

There was a discussion about refugee housing last night at the Council’s Economic Regeneration, Housing and the Arts Policy and Accountability Committee. A baffling paper was presented but in the discussion a few points of clarity emerged.

I have written before about the disgraceful failure of Hammersmith and Fulham Council regarding the Syrian Vulnerable Persons scheme. There has been plenty of rhetoric but the performance has been way behind several other London boroughs.

Part of the problem has been that only self contained accommodation is considered. Someone with a spare room (or two or three spare rooms) and willing to offer them is refused. The Council says that it is following Home Office guidance – but admits it is only guidance not a legal requirement. “Why don’t your ask the Government to change the guidance?” Cllr Sue Fennimore asked me. Groan. I already have.

There could well be cases where offering a family a chance to stay in spare rooms in someone’s house might be better than a self contained alternative. A friendly resident landlord or landlady might well be of great help in community integration. But in any case that is not the choice. Given the derisory failure to source self contained accommodation the real alternative would be living in spare rooms or to remain languishing in the camps.

Anyway it was agreed that the Council would write to the Home Office to ask if it could still take families under the scheme if, in particular circumstances the guidance on this was not followed.

Flexibility on this would also make sense for domestic homeless.  The Council tells me it “leases only self contained units to be used as temporary accommodation for families with children.” (Even for individuals I gather the number place in spare rooms is tiny but there is not a complete prohibition.)

Of course all things being equal a family would prefer self contained accommodation. But in real life it is not quite as simple as that. What if the self contained accommodation, where we have placed them, is awful (despite often being very expensive for the Council Taxpayer)? What if there is severe overcrowding? What if it is bad condition? What if it is in a tower block?

Then let us suppose that there is an old lady in Fulham whose children have grown up and left home and whose husband had died. So she lives on her own in a house with a garden and three spare bedrooms. Perhaps she is lonely. Or would like some extra money. Or wants to do her bit to help those in difficult circumstances. The Council policy is not even consider the offer – she would have to move out of her own home for it to be considered.

So with this bureaucratic intransigence the shortage of housing is increased – pushing up rents and thus the Council’s spending. At the same time more families, whether British or refugees, are trapped in overcrowding and squalor.  Whether in this borough – or some UN camp in Lebanon.