Is a green space a green space when it is full of nettles?

When I was a Councillor in Avonmore & Brook Green I enjoyed doing “walkabouts” around the Lytton Estate with Council officers and local residents.  We always stopped to look at two derelict “green spaces” outside Burne Jones House.  These sit on the same side as the access stairs and all the residents’ front balconies and doorways.  They are the main green spaces that all residents in the block walk past day in day out, year in year out.

It is a pity then that these spaces remain derelict and uncared for year after year. In the picture shown one of the spaces is indeed green, but those are nettles that you see.  When we did the walkabouts nobody had any doubt that these spaces were within the remit of the gardening and site maintenance teams to care for.  Everyone agreed that something needed to be done.  We ticked boxes, made notes, and took actions.  Except that we collectively didn’t.  The gardens remain the same.

Other parts of the Lytton Estate are beautifully cared for.  But it’s not acceptable to cut corners and manage budgets by leaving this or that area out.  Particularly when they are as prominent as these little squares are for hundreds of residents.  Sure, after many years of neglect the soil is likely to be awful – and with the low railings the areas are a magnet for dogs.  Officers also said that sometimes, not too deep under these sorts of spots, you can find stony rubble.  A corner cut, many years ago.

Nevertheless the right answer is not to do nothing year after year. These spots need to be prioritised for some love and care. After all the walkabouts, notes, actions, and agreements, I thought we would have spring bulbs in 2018.  Could we make that 2019?

Is this Hammersmith’s worst piece of public art?

This sculpture stands in the grounds of Charing Cross hospital.  I walk past it most weeks and have always been impressed by its seemingly audacious meaninglessness.

My father died in Charing Cross hospital.  So did my beloved great aunt.  So when I walk through the grounds I’m usually thinking of them and the meaning of our life here on this earth.

That brings me to Shakespeare:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

 

Many of us do not share this bleak outlook.  But perhaps the sculptor did. Perhaps the sculpture too, signifies absolutely nothing.

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.”

A new college and ~500 new homes for West Kensington

West London College in West Kensington has been planning a complete rebuild of their facilities for some time now.  They regard the current college buildings as not fit for purpose and want to build a new college on part of the site. This would be funded by new housing on the rest of the site.

At last the consultation is beginning and I strongly urge local residents to attend.  This development will have a major impact on the wider neighbourhood.

The consultation dates are: Wednesday 13 June 2.30 – 8pm and Saturday 16 June 10am – 3pm.  The college is on Gliddon Road, postcode W14 9BL, just north of the Barons Court tube station.

As you can see from the picture the plan is for a very significant “densification” of the site. The proposal includes approximately 470 new homes as well as public space that will be accessible by all residents.  What this will consist of I presume will be made clear at the exhibition – or options will be given.  For me a concern is that the residential blocks will be 10 – 12 storeys high at their highest.  In my view this is too high and represents very significant height creep.

The College plans to go for detailed planning permission in two parts: the college plans first, and then the detailed plans for the housing at a later date.  Our target as local residents should be that this becomes a development that we are all proud of, and are pleased to have seen happen.  I am a great fan of Fitzgeorge and Fitzjames Avenue – as well as the stunning and unusual St Pauls Court.  Our goal should be to make this new development “as good”.  How can we achieve that?  By working together.

I understand that the College’s target is to get the first detailed planning application in over July / August.  Of course many people will be away over part of this time so I suggest that residents – almost from tomorrow – ask the College and the Council to guarantee an extension on the 3 weeks, and to ensure that the response period goes through into September when more people will be around and “refocusing”.

If you are unable to attend the exhibitions “Your Shout” has provided this contact number – 0207 587 3049 – and have said that they will “send you further details on the proposals, including the exhibition banners”.

Honeypot gives young carers a break

Laura Gleeson writes:

Since 1996 Honeypot has been working to enhance the lives of young carers and vulnerable children aged 5 – 12 years old. Honeypot is the only charity in the UK to provide respite breaks and on-going outreach support throughout a child’s formative years. The charity gives young carers a break from demanding and stressful responsibilities at home and provides a safe, nurturing environment where children at risk can develop their full potential.

Every Honeypot child receives a birthday card, and a Christmas present. Our Christmas Road Show begins every year in October, travelling the country to hand deliver as many Christmas presents as possible. For many of the children, it will be the only present they receive.

Although our service is completely free to the children and families we support, it comes at a price. We need to raise £1.5 million pounds a year to offer our help, and we receive no government funding.

This year Honeypot is running an inclusive challenge event – 1,2, Bee 

The event is inclusive and aimed at participants aged 5 – 95 years to encourage fundraising, awareness, to keep adults and children active and for those looking for a challenge.

Sign up, choose a distance and then have the whole month of June to complete the challenge however and wherever you like; parkrun, in your swimming lessons, or cycle around the park! Send in your evidence and each participant will receive a medal and hopefully have lots of fun.

To register to take part, go to – bit.ly/12beeactive.

For more information about Honeypot or the event, visit our website www.honeypot.org.uk or contact Laura on 020 7602 2631/ laurag@honeypot.org.uk

 

Have the opponents of CS9 won a quiet victory?

The Hammersmith & Fulham Labour Party election manifesto says: “We are lobbying the Mayor to run the CS9 cycle route down the A4, not King Street or Hammersmith Road.”

Labour election leaflets contained the same statement. The only confusing thing is the phrase “we are lobbying“. This implies that the Mayor of London has the final say over where the cycle superhighway runs and therefore requires lobbying. But he does not. Hammersmith & Fulham transport officers have made clear that the final say over the use of these streets rests with Hammersmith & Fulham Council.

Labour councillors have also made this clear to residents. One anti-CS9 group copied me to this from a Labour Councillor “The council’s stated preference is for a cycle superhighway to run along the A4 not Hammersmith Rd. As the ultimate decision lies with LBHF, we can probably assume that CS9 will not go ahead in the form in which it was presented”. Fairly straight-forward, repeating the manifesto commitment, but again clarifying where the decision lies.

Of course the use of the phrase “we are lobbying” is designed to “please all of the people”.  Group A should love us because we tried to stop it and Group B should also love us because we let it go ahead.

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So residents should now be looking for some answers and for some commitments. Residents are entitled to know how the Council Administration reached its decision.  They also need to know what “lobbying the Mayor” actually means in this context.

Since late last year the Council has been receiving submissions from residents on CS9. At a Council Committee meeting earlier this year which discussed CS9, it would have been entirely possible for a summary of the consultation’s results to be presented. But no information was provided. Hammersmith & Fulham residents remain in the dark about the results of the local consultation, and how the responses break down by how close people live to the proposed route or by their preferred transport methods.  They are also in the dark as to why H&F Council has decided to “lobby the Mayor” to change the CS9 route. Those in favour of CS9 will be particularly keen to understand and debate the change of heart and to understand the policy rationale behind it.

Labour’s Manifesto says this: “… we are changing the way the council relates to and works with our residents. From the start, we said we would seek to do things with our residents, not to them, and gave residents greater powers to engage with the council.” The manifesto also says “We decided to make policy in public, too …”

As far as CS9 goes, these commitments are empty words.  The Council has long been able to share the consultation results with residents.  It has declined to do so.  As for making policy in public, I am sure all those in favour of CS9 and all those against CS9, are more than keen to participate in this process.  We need venues, dates, and information.

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?