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?

Should we have more outdoor gyms in Hammersmith and Fulham?

While canvassing yesterday one local resident asked me about providing more outdoor gyms in Hammersmith and Fulham.

Hillingdon Council are keen on them – so far they have got 18 in different parks around their borough.

The equipment they have includes:

  • Crunch station
  • Cross Trainer
  • Air skier
  • Push up/dip station
  • Seated Row
  • Pull up bars
  • Leg Press
  • Seated chest press
  • Hip Twister
  • Big shoulder wheels

To be honest I have no idea what most of those things are. However it is surely a good idea to encourage people to keep fit – including those who can’t afford a huge sub for gym membership.

There would be a cost involved – although as I have noted before the Council’s £22.7 million public health budget is largely wasted at present on bureaucracy and ineffective gimmicks.

I suppose the other problem is space – perhaps Hillingdon has more room than we do.

What do you think?

Anyway I have asked the Council’s Parks Manager for his comments.

Will the Ravenscourt Park dog enclosure railings actually keep dogs enclosed?

Concern has been expressed concern that the new railings for the dog enclosure are too low and have gaps at the bottom – thus allowing dogs to get out.  One resident who lives by the Park wrote to tell me it was a “travesty of mismanagement and waste of money. They need to be the height of the external ones to the park , with NO gap below!”

I asked the Council’s Park Manager to respond and he says:

“The railings around the dog area to the north of the park have been changed as part of the work to the Goldhawk Road entrance.

“The height of the railings is broadly in line with those of the play areas in the park; to install any that are higher would create an area that feels very enclosed. There are some small gaps at the bottom but due to the undulating ground this is impossible to eliminate.

“Owners that take their dogs in this area should still have them under control, like any other part of the park i.e. they return when called.”

That’s all and good. But is the matter so straightforward in real life? One dog owner responds:

“Dogs are not children. Most especially puppies in training – who can both get through AND under the new railings.  It is a dog enclosure, and as such should be adequate to meet said description.

“Broadly speaking it looks good, but is not fit for purpose.  Did anyone consult with some dog owners or trainers before deciding on the railings?”

Council challenged over poor state of paths in Ravenscourt Park

There are plenty of complaints from residents about the cracked paving stones and potholes on the streets. But the state of the paths in the borough’s parks is even worse.

I have raised the matter with the Council’s Parks manager who responds:

“We are aware of the condition of the footpaths in Ravenscourt Park and have recently completed a condition audit of the footpaths within parks and cemeteries, which included Ravenscourt Park. We are now working with colleagues in Highways to develop a programme of works that will address the worse footpaths.”

For years the Council has been sitting on over half a million pounds provided by property developers in Section 106 payments – specifically promise for improvements to Ravenscourt Park.

Yet there is a struggle to get the basics right. Poor management.

 

Ravenscourt Park funfair dates

The council’s Events Manager tells me that the following funfairs are scheduled to take place in Ravenscourt Park during 2018;

Parnham’s children’s roaming funfair

12-26 March Ravenscourt Park (Operating weekdays 2-6pm and 11-6pm at weekends)

30th July-30th August includes the council ran Playday on 1st August which Parnham’s sponsors by giving free rides to children attending the event.

Carters steam fair

18th-24th September (Operating 22/23 September 12 noon until dusk)

The days allocated to funfairs have not increased and we do not permit the larger teen funfairs such as Irvin’s to operate within Ravenscourt Park.

In 2017 there was no damage caused that warranted reinstatement or maintenance that related to a funfair.

We arrange pre and post site meetings with the parks team and the funfair operator. If there is damage caused the operator is charged accordingly.

I have spoken with the parks team and the works that have taken place on the park last year were, in the main, related to the Annual Firework event. The profit from ticket sales offsets the expenditure relating to the reinstatement of the parks.

The parks team have also informed me that there has been additional verti – draining done on site (this is limited due to the topography of the site).”

There will always be some tension between regular Park users wishing to maintain “peaceful enjoyment” – and the large number who enjoy such events.

There is also a balance between revenue obtained and the extra maintenance costs. The amounts raised should be disclosed and it should all go on improvements for Ravenscourt Park – not going into general Council funds which happens at present.

 

Council still sitting on funds provided for improvements to Ravenscourt Park

Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s leadership has been boasting for the last three years about the the vast extra sums it has supposedly negotiated from property developers in Section 106 payments – where funds are provided for community projects in return for allowing new buildings to appear. Not much of the money has materialised in reality. Furthermore a lot of money that was paid over to the Council from earlier periods sits ring fenced in the bank account still unspent.

Specific undertakings for improvements to Ravenscourt Park, yet to materialise, give an illustration of the wider story of mismanagement. Funding from the 282-292 Goldhawk Road are an example already documented on this site.

A year ago I wrote to the Council’s Planning Change Manager. I queried the sums the in the Section 106 schedule current at the time:

By my tally we seem to be sitting on £591,906 of Section 106 money due
to be spent on parks that came from developments near Ravenscourt Park
(see my list below).
Please may I have an update on when and how this money is due to be spent.

Best wishes,
Harry

684 Goldhawk Industrial Estate, 2A Brackenbury Road £90,000.00 Parks

 684 Goldhawk Industrial Estate, 2A Brackenbury Road £100,000.00 Parks

805 258 – 264 Goldhawk Road £10,000.00 Parks

725 Ashlar Court, Ravenscourt Gardens £75,000.00 Parks

784 282 – 292 Goldhawk Road, W12 9PF £76,221.00 Parks

784 282 – 292 Goldhawk Road, W12 9PF £20,685.26 Parks

805 258 – 264 Goldhawk Road £70,000.00 Parks

830 271-281 King Street, W6 £150,000.00 Parks

He replied:

“The contributions above are received to enable the Council to mitigate against the impact of each of those developments which would include improvements to the park together with enhanced operation.  The Council’s parks team and residents groups are aware of the funds and proposals are being put forward for consideration by members as to how the funds can be spent.”

A year later and the new schedule shows nothing much has changed.

Yet there is no shortage of work that is needed. The Friends of Ravenscourt Park are never short of ideas. Neither am I. Better drainage would be welcome. So would more litter bins. So would enhancing the condition of the lavatories.  Or smartening up the lake.

Of course dealing with bureaucratic delays is something we are all familiar with but this really is pretty hopeless. Especially when the Council’s dysfunctional leadership is so quick to complain about “austerity”…