The Big Society, and Greenhalgh’s Community Champions

higton2A guest post from Mark Higton

On Thursday I was privileged to attend the 4th Annual Community Champions Tri-Borough Conference, which celebrated the work of the Community Champions programme – the purpose of which is to connect communities and residents with local services by utilising the passion and experience of local volunteers to improve health and wellbeing, and to reduce inequalities. It was a significant event, celebrating the achievements of our volunteers, with over 320 delegates in attendance from across Hammersmith, Kensington & Chelsea, and Westminster.

champoneI was moved by the public and private testimonies of our volunteers, of George Shaw (Notting Dale), who spoke of his happiness at being able to listen and engage with people, solving problems and improving his skills and knowledge in the process; Heba Al-Rifaee (Old Oak), whose involvement as a Maternity Champion has allowed her to help neighbours, make friends, and to give something back to Britain; David Rice (World’s End), who compared the event to ‘the Brit Awards’, and marvelled at how the isolated and vulnerable have been reached as community barriers were broken down; and Julie Isaac (Queens Park), who read a beautiful poem dedicated to her fellow Community Champions.

The programme was launched in White City, in 2008, as part of the Dept. of Communities and Local Government’s “London-wide Well-London Programme”. As such it was a direct response to David Cameron’s call for Big Society solutions. It was supported by the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, led ably by Stephen Greenhalgh, who had also anticipated the need to devolve the commissioning of services to the local community. The levels of engagement exceeded all expectations, and by late 2012 the programme was expanded. Its objectives being to:

  • Implement effective and sustainable community-led approaches, particularly in areas of greatest need
  • Engage and invest in people to build and strengthen good health and wellbeing for their communities
  • Building confidence, knowledge, skills and capacity of local people
  • To work in partnerships with local organisations and agencies to provide volunteering and employment opportunities

champtwoIt was at this juncture, with the support of Councillor Joe Carlebach, that the initiative was launched in Old Oak, and I became involved as a local authority representative. I reflected with some bemusement therefore, when a Hammersmith and Fulham Labour Councillor spoke of their pride on Thursday, ‘in leading the way’, as Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster announced that they intend to adopt Hammersmith’s devolved commissioning and delivery model.

Could this be the same devolved delivery structure that was devised by Stephen Greenhalgh, providing greater funding for areas with long-term social issues than ever before? The one which the Labour group were bitterly opposed to, campaigned against, and pledged to revoke, in stark contrast to their enthusiasm for (Cameron’s) Community Champions? A week, never mind three years, is a long time in politics, but thank you Stephen Greenhalgh!

There have been many accomplishments this past year, but I would like to specifically mention the Maternity Champions programme that was trialled at Old Oak. It was a national first, and a fantastic success. It enables volunteers at Community Centres and Queen Charlotte’s Hospital to sign post services required by mothers and new families, and to provide help and support regarding breast feeding. One of our Champions has commenced a foundation course in Midwifery, and with the Borough-wide (and National) extension of the programme it is hoped that she will be the first of many. We also have high hopes for other programmes that are in development.

As we approach the fifth year of the Tri-borough programme, it is no mean thing to reflect that Hammersmith’s share of volunteer Awards on Thursday accounted for 50%, with 33% in total going to Old Oak. I cannot underline enough what an incredible achievement and success story the programme is, with many volunteers gaining formal qualifications in ‘understanding health and wellbeing’, ‘mental health’, and ‘child birth and beyond’ whilst helping to identify and commission new services that meet local health and social care needs, and resolve long term structural problems.

I would like to thank all our Community Champions for all their wonderful hard work, as well as H&F’s Community Champion’s group: Helen Rowe and the Urban Partnership (Edward Woods), Ewa Kasjanowicz and Kim Barclay (Parkview), Carla Martin, Caroline Lister and Carmella Obinyan (Old Oak), and Mary Hennessy of the original White City pilot scheme. It is interesting to reflect that the facility funding for some of the Centres are now uncertain (having been extended for just 12 months), as the Labour Group look to potentially reduce the number of Hubs from 5 to 3 across the borough.

I would also like to extend my best wishes and hopes to Hammersmith’s new Community Champions, and as the programme is expanded further, to the new teams joining the group: Barbara Shelton (Addison), Sarah Benjamin (West Kensington & Gibbs Green) and the Field Road team (Bayonne and Field Road).

If you know of anyone that would like to get involved, please get in touch via this link.

Khan approves 26 storey tower blocks by Old Oak Common

Sadiq_KhanThe Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has approved blocks as high as 26 storeys for the Old Oak Park Royal Development Corporation scheme on the west side of Old Oak Common. A range of 8-11 storeys was promised.

The Hammersmith Society strongly opposed the plan.

The Society’s Chairman Tom Ryland says:

“The scheme is the first major application within the OPDC area to be considered, and it is therefore important as a precedent to all future applications.

“The scheme neither complies with the spirit nor the actual policies of the OPDC Draft Plan nor the OAPF which preceded it, in terms of height, density or design quality. This site is on the fringe of the OPDC area where medium densities and heights (8 – 11 storeys) were promised.

“The scheme is not in compliance with the London Plan in terms of density and height, in that the maximum densities are massively exceeded.

“The towers in the scheme – up to 26 storeys – are not only considerably higher than the masterplan heights, but sit on an area of high ground, and are of particular concern to residents of Shaftesbury Gardens and Midland Terrace which are immediately adjacent and to the west.

“The heights will also impact on Wormword Scrubs, the neighbouring Conservation Areas, and the Grand Union canal Conservation Area.

“As part of the excellent and comprehensive OPDC draft Local Plan consultation, officers promised that where proposed schemes were in excess of the draft Masterplan guidelines – as this scheme is – it would have to be justified on the basis of ‘exceptional design quality’ : It is universally agreed by all the local groups and nearby residents that the design of this scheme – on which there was minimal public consultation as compared with say the Car Giant site – can only be regarded as dismal.”

It is most unfortunate that Zac Goldsmith lost – as he had a very different policy on tower blocks. But that’s democracy.

To their credit Hammersmith and Fulham Council has opposed the decision taken by the Mayor. But the opposition is very quiet and mild due to the obvious political constraints. There have been plenty of press releases from the Council attacking the Conservative Government – but not a word of criticism of Mayor Khan on this or anything else.

The Wormwood Scrubs skyline is still under threat

Tom Ryland, the Chairman of the Hammersmith Society emailed me recently about the threat of ugly development on a massive scale near Wormwood Scrubs:

Tom says:

“In my previous reports and in our April Newsletter, we have reported on what is happening in the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation. Since then there has been developments on two worrying proposals in the area, both of which fall within our Borough boundaries. The first is the Oaklands site being promoted by Genesis Housing in conjunction with QPR. This proposal involves 611 new housing units and 27 storey and 17 storey towers on the western side of the OPDC area near Old Oak Common Lane/Wells House Road. This was the OPDC’s first major planning application and it unfortunately coincided with the consultation on the Draft Local Plan, so that many local residents and groups including ours were distracted and did not formally comment on the proposals : Our Council was consulted on the scheme and its Planning and Development Control Committee roundly condemned the proposals (Read minutes on Council website). Despite this, the scheme was initially put forward by the OPDC on its Planning Committee Agenda for 28th April with a recommendation for approval. As one of the first major schemes to be put forward, it looked like a worrying precedent. Fortunately, thanks to pressure from our Council and the efforts of Henry Peterson, Amanda Souter and others, the scheme was withdrawn for further consideration. Part of the problem seemed to be administrative teething problems at OPDC but the real problem is that this is an over large and rather boring development.

“The second is a development proposal on the eastern side of the OPDC area adjacent Mitre Bridge and Kensal Rise Cemetery in Scrubs Lane is 183 housing units. Members of the Hammersmith Society were invited to a presentation of the proposals and there were also public exhibitions held locally. Despite the OPDC’s guidelines for these ‘fringe site’ being 8 – 11 storeys, the developers and their architects, Allies and Morrison are proposing another 25 storey tower which will substantially overshadow the Listed cemetery and being very visible from Wormwood Scrubs and the Canal : Not only is the height extreme, but the density is excessive, considerably exceeding the London Plans maximum density figures. The scheme is still at pre-application stage and we shall be objecting to the proposals.”

In the earlier newsletter he referred to he says:

“The OPDC was set up in April 2015 and is likely to exist for about 30 years until the development is complete. Since the last Newsletter the Opportunity Area Planning Framework (OAPF) has been formally adopted, and the planning team set up; this has now assembled a draft Local Plan with all its statutory framework and consultations. Members of your committee extensively involved this, requiring a huge amount of work.

This huge project based around the intersection of Crossrail/HS2, other railway lines and the Grand Union Canal is set to be London’s largest project with 25,500 new homes and up to 65,000 jobs claimed. This is the equivalent of a complete new town and all that implies. The main station alone will be one of the largest in the country handling over 250,000 passengers per day. There are also two other new stations and major rebuilding of others including Willesden Junction. The cost of providing the infrastructure and decontamination of the land will be enormous – but who pays?

Although there are many commendable aspects to these ambitious proposals, we are questioning whether the housing and employment targets can be provided at a human scale.

Will it be an exciting, rewarding and original place for those that will live and work there?

How can it be sympathetically incorporate the existing local communities?

We believe the above targets, which could probably only be achieved with towers of 40 – 50 storeys, came before any real design work had been carried out, and need to be reviewed.

There is a lot of good will and energy coming from the community and a wish to create a great place. Are the political ambitions in terms of housing and employment too great? We urge the new mayor to review the OPDC proposals as a matter of priority.”

It is a great pity that Zac Goldsmith was not elected as Mayor of London – as he would have adopted an anti tower blocks policy and instead favoured attractive development following the agenda of Create Streets. A report for Savills concludes that low rise means higher density than high rise. But let’s suppose that in the case of Old Oak that does not apply and that Tom is right to say that the height is excessive because the density is excessive. Even then the most effective way of getting new homes built and easing the chronically constrained housing supply is for the homes the attractive and on a human scale. If new homes means making the neighbourhood hideous there will always be resistance to building new homes. Thus there is delay and sometimes nothing gets built at all and derelict land remains derelict.

Actually the problem with Tom (himself an architect) is that he is too soft on whole OPDC endeavour with his constant demands for “excitement”. Brutalist architecture does not claim to be attractive but “exciting”. Excitement is not always a good thing. War is exciting, bank robbery is exciting, being told that you must undertake a life threatening operation is exciting.

If the message to the planning officers and developers is to come back with a more “exciting” design then I would caution that we should be careful what we wish for…