Tuesday 10 December 2013

One more click..

For Chris Underwood's blog please click here

Thursday 28 November 2013

Thankyou and goodnight

This blog, ere, is an ex-blog. It is a dead blog. It is a blog-no-more. Sadly all good things come to an end and here is no exception. I am about to embark on an exciting new chapter in my own life which will mean leaving the Bush and relocating to South Africa.

I started this blog back in 2008 after an encounter one freezing November morning by the library (now Bush Theatre) with a comatose tramp. He was out cold so I called an ambulance. It turned out he had been there all night and into the morning, while people had walked on by. When I got home I wondered what his story was, amid the many our neck of the woods has as one of the most diverse and vibrant in London.

Raiding a crystal meth factory on the White City Estate
That plus the dire provision of local news led me to set the site up and its been going strong ever since. Reporting the Bush has taken me on to the streets with our brave local police as they stormed a crack den on the White City Estate, down the sewers to investigate a lost river and the issues surrounding local flooding and even a meeting with the QPR manager who'd just brought the R's back to the top flight.

One of the best things about this community is precisely that – it’s a community. Despite the massive diversity of our streets you see how strongly people pull together. A quick look at the stubborn resistance of the people of the West Kensington Estate against the Council and their property developer colleagues, the breathtaking bravery of one of our streetcleaners determined to stand up against thieves and the coming together after the tragedy of Lakeside Road when people used the blog to talk to each other about why what was happening was happening. A difficult conversation but one that was clearly needed.
Checking out the local sewers
Warnock was a man watching his back
A thread running through the years has also been local politics. Cameron's favourite council has got good people serving in it who are trying to do their best for the local area. But it can also be, frankly, a bully. The ruling councillors almost all live in Fulham and the south of the borough and it shows. All of the major developments involving people losing their homes, businesses and communities have taken place in the North of the Borough. All of them.Sometimes they get their way by steamrollering things through. And sometimes they don't, with residents emerging victorious. By contrast, the one scheme that seems to threaten communities in Fulham in the form of the Thames Tideway Tunnel provokes our Council's utter outrage. Postcodes matter in H&F.

As I sign off this blog we approach a local election which might change all of that. But I should also say that many of the Councillors I have met on all sides of the party divide are genuinely good people - personal favourites include Top Tory Harry Phibbs, Tory Twitter Attack Dog Peter Graham and Sweary Greg Smith, while Labour's Steven Cowan and Andy Slaughter are not above a bit of skullduggery themselves. I hope their forthcoming contest for Council and Parliament is about ideas and not personal abuse .. but I doubt it.

Along the way I have encountered tragedy, death and sadness - but also inspiration and strength. And in revealing secret documents that somehow floated into my possession I hope I brought some much needed transparency to the way decisions affecting local people were being made.

And so I sign off with a deep sense of privilege for having learned so much more about the streets in which I lived. You are a special place, Shepherd's Bush. Thank-you. And goodnight.

Goodnight London

Monday 25 November 2013

QPR player flogs games to kids

Shaun Wright-Philips, the QPR winger, seems to have a habit of using his association with QPR to advertise expensive computer games to young people using his Twitter feed. Regularly claiming that the latest product is the best thing since sliced bread he enthusiastically plugs the product, which he has presumably been paid to do.

The Office for Fair Trading ruled in 2011 that this sort of thing was "deceptive". Particularly when the company behind the promotion, or the celebrity doing it, do not declare what their arrangement is. I have asked Mr Wright-Phillips to do so, but he ignored my request. I also wrote to QPR's head of PR Ian Taylor to ask whether the club gave their players any guidance or policies on this, but he too chose to ignore the question.

The point about this is that these players, who earn astronomic sums of money every week, are directly contributing to pressure on parents and families in the run up to Christmas. They and the companies know this, which is why they do it. They also know it works, which is even more reason for them to do it.

All I am asking from QPR, since Shaun Wright-Phillips is clearly not going to answer, is whether they approve of it. QPR is one of the few remaining genuinely family and community clubs in this country and for that they can be rightly proud; I remember these scenes last year which proved that point well. But that community is overwhelmingly working class, based in and around White City, and for the most part quite unable to afford to fork out for numerous products of the type Mr Wright-Phillips is trying to deceptively sell using the club's brand. The recent growth of payday lending and pawn shops along the Uxbridge Road is no coincidence.

So hopefully we can have an answer if not from him, but from the club. I await Ian Taylor's reply with interest.

Friday 22 November 2013

24 hour tube: pros & cons

Boris Johnson made a spectacular announcement yesterday that the tube was to run, on the main arterial lines, 24 hours a day on Friday and Saturday from 2015. Reaction from the travelling public has been almost universally positive, as you might expect, not least because we won't now be forced to pay extortionate black cab fares anymore.

As with everything from this Mayor, however, it is worth looking beyond the headlines to what he is really planning to do. Boris is an expert media manager, so lets ask ourselves why he has chosen to release two pieces of news together - 24 hour opening and a ticket office closure programme. 

The TSSA Union has not unreasonably pointed out that Boris' manifesto of 2008 declared that he would protect every ticket office from closure, underlining their link to passenger safety. Yesterday's announcement sees the closure of almost every single ticket office. 

TSSA campaign ad
Transport for London, of which the Mayor is Chairman, has said that ticket office staff will be moved out of the closing offices and onto the station concourses, aided by hand held devices to assist passengers with information about services. Sounds OK, but it is clearly not the full story since 750 posts will also be shed. There is not any more detail about what these staff will be doing and when, nor is there any confirmation that the job losses will be the result of natural wastage or lay offs.

Speaking in response to the announcement, London Assembly Member Murad Qureshi sounded concerns over the potential impact on passenger safety:
“These plans are deeply worrying and could lead to a significant reduction in the service Londoners receive in our great city. The mayor was elected on a clear promise to keep ticket offices open. The last thing we need is a reduction in frontline staff. No station should be unstaffed while trains are running. At a time when fares are going up above inflation this is the very least Londoners should expect. 
“We need to make sure there are enough staff on duty to keep our stations safe, help passengers and deal with emergencies. We must protect standards of service and passenger safety. We believe there should be a Passenger’s Charter clearly setting out what Londoners can expect from their transport system. Passengers must be able to get help with tickets, refunds, information and access must be ensured for disabled people.”
Overall the 24 hour tube has got to be a good thing, surely. I don't have any sympathy with the likes of the RMT who are already gearing up for strike action; they long ago lost credibility with passengers by continually striking for more money while many passengers were losing their jobs. 

But safety surely has got to be an area where much, much more detail is required and that goes way beyond the razamattaz over 24 hour opening. By linking the two the Mayor is employing a time honoured media management tactic of tying two pieces of news together in the knowledge that one of them will overshadow the other. A light needs to be shone on the detail of how the ticket office closure programme will be managed across the network and its implications for routine and emergency security.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

King Street: Scheme finally approved

A new £150million scheme has been approved to radically reshape the lower end of King Street, including a rebuild of the Council's own offices. The scheme will result in a transformation to that end of King Street that is much in keeping with the other end, around Beadon Road, where tall glass fronted buildings now stand in contrast to the low stone buildings that used to be there, with the H&C tube building now the only survivor. It has definitely been an improvement.

The rancour and rage that accompanied this Council's first attempt at rebuilding their offices at this end of the road, however, was one of the first residents v. Council battles I covered on this blog in 2010 and which set the scene for many other such battles to come. Some of them were won outright by the residents, such as Ashchurch Grove, and others were steamrollered through, such as the Goldhawk Road industrial estate. This one seems to have ended in an uneasy compromise.

Residents were particularly outraged at the Council's wish to construct a giant bridge from two very tall towers of, yes you guessed it, luxury flats connecting the new residents with what would be left of Furnival Gardens so that they didn't have to cross King Street to get there. The bridge was set to destroy one third of the park. The same park that our Council had accused evil Thames Water of wanting to destroy themselves.

It seems that both the buildings have been lowered and the bridge is gone, but the cinema still looks set for the chop.

Why did the Council compromise and back down? Votes.

These residents live in the band of Council seats that will be key marginals in the fight for the local authority in the local elections on May 22nd next year. Lose those and there is a real possibility of a Labour victory. So while the Council was quite prepared to do the dirty on the residents a couple of years ago, by pledging publicly to listen and then going ahead anyway, they are not so sure this close to polling day. Cynical, you might think. But here's Council Leader Nick Botterill to give us his official version of events:
“We listened to residents and ditched the less popular elements of the previous scheme and I now believe we have a scheme that Hammersmith can be proud of. It’s been hard work but we finally have a plan that will kick start the much needed regeneration of the west end of King Street. The developers can now get on with the important work of breathing new life into this rather rundown area.”
No doubt that regeneration is needed, and despite the low politics and skullduggery, you have to wish the scheme well. The question now, is whether it will be enough to win those vital votes. At this meeting back in the early days the residents were signing pledges never to vote Conservative again. There was a queue to sign up. 

Monday 18 November 2013

West Ken: Planning permission granted

Planning permission has been granted for the contentious Earl's Court redevelopment scheme which has been fought tooth and nail by residents set to lose their homes on the West Kensington & Gibbs Green Estates.

A £452 million package has been agreed between developers CapCo and our Council, along with neighbouring K&C and Transport for London. The package includes 1,500 affordable homes, a primary school, leisure centre and park space and has been agreed under what is called a "section106 agreement".

The scheme remains subject to legal battles, however, and local MP Andy Slaughter greeted the news angrily:
‘Boris Johnson and the Conservative-controlled Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea Councils are destroying communities, skilled jobs and historic sites to please their developer friends and speed up the social cleansing of west London. An integrated community that includes people from every walk of life will be replaced with a soulless development’.

‘My constituents are appalled by this development. It demolishes 760 affordable, good-quality, newly modernised houses and flats, the workshops and sidings that keep the tube running and the iconic Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre. In their place will be 8,000 high-rise luxury flats, almost all of which will be bought off plan by international investors and remain empty for most of the year.

‘Its construction will cause chaos and disruption to West Kensington and Earl’s Court for the next 20 years.

‘And it is terrible value for the taxpayer. The land has been sold to the developer for a fraction of its value and the planning permission achieves only 10% extra ‘affordable’ housing against a target of 40%. The ‘affordable’ housing is too expensive for low income families or first-time buyers. Even the requirement to review the developer’s profit during the 20 year construction period has been waived by the councils. This developer must think they have won the lottery.

‘Far from taking the opportunity to build new homes that ordinary families could afford, the housing crisis in London has just been made worse.’
While Council Leader Nick Botterill took, unsurprisingly, the opposite view:
“The redevelopment of Earls Court and West Kensington will usher in a new era of prosperity and opportunity on a scale that has never been seen before in West London.

“We have said, from the very outset, that we would only include the estates if people living on them substantially benefit from redevelopment, followed by the wider area.

“This agreement can leave estate residents in no doubt that they will be the major beneficiaries of the scheme, not only gaining brand new homes, but also reaping the rewards of the huge raft of community improvements that will help them to make a success of their lives.”

Friday 15 November 2013

London Undergound: 150 years film

A superb film from the Institute of Civil Engineering which charts the engineering story of the tube but does so telling the story of human progress that it was part of stemming back to the 1860s. I love London and its history and I know many of you do too, this film is definitely one to watch. Happy Friday!

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Washington Bound

 I will be in the US for the rest of this week so the blog will slow down ... keep the stories coming though, dear readers

Monday 11 November 2013

Charing Cross "Saved" - an alternative view

Our Council is in the repeated habit of claiming to have saved Charing Cross Hospital when the reality is plainly the reverse. Inevitably in the age of social media and YouTube a spoof has emerged by what looks like an angry resident rather than the community Save our Hospitals campaign. But it does give a flavour of the anger that is out there at how our Council has behaved in contrast to, say, Lewisham.