Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Unigate Dairy fire

courtesy of @phillipanews - view from BBC TVC
Thick black smoke is covering much of the Bush this morning, as a fire is busily destroying the Unigate Dairy building on Wood Lane. Cue some breathless reporting from our local media about it all being "terrifying" but for those of you seeking a balanced and factual account of things today you could do worse than either tune in to LBC or keep checking the BBC website reporting the story here

Fifty firefighters and 10 engines are apparently in attendance and nobody has been reported hurt. Thank goodness. Follow the London Fire Brigade here.

Keep your fellow Bushers updated via the comments, normal drill folks.

The scene from S Africa Rd - smoke still rising
1330 UPDATE - I have to say, having just walked through the Bush, from Goldhawk Road, the Market, Wood Lane and then up through the streets towards Uxbridge Rd again, I have rarely seen it this, well, weird. Intensely cold, with many of the roads cordoned off it seemed as if the irate traffic was infecting passers by too.

Cyclist was on road behind ambulance - deliberately didn't take his image
I saw a fight spill out of a betting shop on Goldhawk Road, then a cyclist being treated by paramedics on the same road, before stopping to help another cyclist who had crashed into a car. He wasn't hurt.
Bush Green part sealed off - gridlock ensues

Wood Lane deserted and sealed

The sirens seem to be wailing away non-stop all over the place and the centre piece of the drama is of course the dairy building which has been reduced to a smoking hulk. Firefighters are wandering around visibly tired and Police were being reinforced as I was there. One Constable, speaking on condition that I didn't identify them, told me that they had been there since the morning and hadn't eaten - they weren't impressed.
Wood Lane 

Wood Lane is cordoned off so those from the BBC who need to get from the White City building to TV Centre are having to walk through a low rise estate on the corner of Wood Lane itself - I saw Matthew Amrolliwala walking through chomping on a sandwich!
Wood Lane plus Fire Engines - through smoke haze

Junction of S Africa Rd & Wood Lane

Here are some pics which capture this bizarre day as it still unfolds.

Bloemfontein Rd - seconds later a cyclist hit a car
1430 UPDATE - In a farcical development the BBC White City building has just been evacuated due to ... a false fire alarm! Well, that should lead to some hot air in the facilities department - despite the real fire over the road it's a cold cold day to be standing around outside for the good people of the Beeb.

1500 UPDATE - The fire has been brought under control although Police on the scene tell me it is still smouldering. The Fire Brigade are trying to cool some of the cylinders in the building to avoid explosions due to the heat.  Some of the engines, according to reader comments, have come all the way from East London.

1800 UPDATE - The Fire Brigade have just issued the following update:

"The fire on Wood Lane is now over. It damaged a no. of industrial units and 20vehicles.Cylinders on the site have been cooled + made safe"

H&F over-paid its Chief Executive - Government

Geoff Alltimes: Because he's worth it
Our Council has been criticised by none other than big beast Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Local Government, for over-paying the now departed Chief Executive Geoff Alltimes.

Mr Alltimes, who was already one of the highest paid council heads in the UK, was given an £11,000 pay hike the year before he retired to take his pay to £281,000.

When he retired last year, he was awarded a tax free lump sum of £250,000 - yes, that really is a quarter of a million pounds - and was given a good old sing song out of the door, with a further £7,000 of your cash so he could have a posh party. At the time our Council protested on this blog that, rather like their other very highly paid consultants, that he was worth every penny.

Our MP raised the issue yesterday in Parliament with Mr Pickles, who in the past has heaped praise on H&F for its tax cutting prowess. Here is the exchange: 

Andy Slaughter: The chief executive of Hammersmith and Fulham recently retired thanks to a pay rise of £11,000 last year, which took his salary to £281,000".

"The library calculates that he will get a pension of £100,000 plus a tax-free lump sum of £250,000. When the borough is cutting Sure Start by 50% is this a good use of public money?"

Eric Pickles: "I am sure that the answer is no."

Realising the fact that this would be picked up on he then hurredly added:

"I am very pleased that the level of chief executive's remuneration has dropped by 14%. I am very pleased that 25% of all (council) chief executives have taken a voluntary cut".

"But I am also pleased that Hammersmith and Fulham, currently for the fourth year running, are reducing their council tax."

So that's OK then.

Askew Road "Bup" is no more

The Sun Pub, which closed down as the first gusts of recession swept across the Bush, was not really missed by most. The haunt of thick set men with gold sovereign rings and even thicker necks, it sat opposite the second hand furniture emporium, above which was a drug dealers den. In that den, one of several on Askew Road, a young man called Jaabe Roberts was murdered in June 2010.

Nowadays neither the drug den, nor the furniture store are there anymore and the sovereign ring wearers have gone somewhere else, but speculation has remained about the fate of the Sun Pub which was widely rumoured to be turning into a Waitrose store. I reported this after it was confirmed locally by a Councillor but it seems they were getting ahead of the game. Meanwhile. however, the Askew Road has been seriously on the up winning rave reviews for the new businesses on the road and driven by the Askew Business Network.

A forlorn sign still sits in the window, perhaps penned by the departing landlord - saying "This Bup is Closed". It kind of said it all really.

Now however, there appears to be a new show in town, a fresh application to rip down the facade and turn it into something better, another step on the way up for the Askew Road away from the dingy days of the past. The old application still exists which states the following:

Erection of an additional floor at roof level; erection of a part single storey part 3 storey rear extension in connection with a change of use from public house to retail on ground floor (Class A1) and 8 residential units on upper floor together with associated cycle and refuse storage; erection of a 3 storey side extension housing staircase to upper floors.(revisions comprising external modifications to the design of the front elevation)

Now a new one has been submitted in support of this, which states:

Demolition works to the main building to facilitate the proposed re-development of the site in conjunction with planning application 2011/02630/FUL.

Cllr Lisa Homan has told the local reader that has sent me this heads-up that she is still not sure whether or not it is likely to be a Waitrose. So what could it be, this "retail" unit with new flats on top? Whatever it is, I feel confident it will be an improvement on The Sun.

Monday, 30 January 2012

"retired" consultant gets £710 per day for West Ken

Not Nick Johnson
We have our very own Stephen Hestor in these parts, and he isn't about to give up any bonuses. A reader writes in to point out that according to these Council minutes a man called Nick Johnson is being paid £710 per day to advise on the controversial West Ken development, which is opposed by the majority of its residents.

The Council agreed with itself to pay Mr Johnson's company £710 per day for up to 101 days. A total of £71,710.

With defeat over the Hammersmith King Street battle and the prospect of a possible Ken Livingstone victory putting pay to the Shepherd's Bush Market scheme, our Council have revealed their determination not to be blown off course on the £100 million Earls Court/West Ken redevelopment. The problem is that the people who stand to lose their homes don't much fancy it. 

Nick Johnson
So the big guns have been brought out. And this gun's expensive. Mr Johnson, who as I reported here in November 2010, was retired on the grounds of ill health and on the understanding that he was "permanently unfit" to work from the top job at Bexley Council in 2007. He was awarded a gold plated £50,000 per annum pension allowance on top of a £300,000 payout from Bexley when he left.

Within months he was employed by our own Council as a "consultant" on 950 of your pounds a day advising the Council on how to manage their soon to be closed housing division "H&F Homes". The Independent claims that since leaving Bexley Mr Johnson has trousered £830,000 - much of which was made possible by classifying himself as a "consultant" and being paid through a company he set up rather than being on the Council's official payroll. This allowed him to take both his pension from Bexley plus his fees from our own Council. This won our Council a coveted "Rotten Boroughs" award from Private Eye recently.

This led Teresa Pearce MP, whose constituency includes Bexley and who was formerly a senior tax investigator at PricewaterhouseCoopers, to say to the Independent on Sunday that, while the arrangement was legal, "it's not within the spirit of the law, definitely not". She added: "Within a year of him being judged to be in permanently ill health he was pictured in a hard hat, with a spade, digging, in a brochure for H&F Homes – this is just so barefaced that it's insulting. Whatever he is paid for holding that office should go through the payroll and it doesn't. HMRC should investigate this."

He doesn't seem to be doing that great a job however - the company that the Council wishes to hand control of the estate over to is at risk of insolvency with debts outweighing their assets and there are real doubts that it will ever be able to do what it says. This led last week to the story I broke last week of first the whistleblowing, and then the resignation of Richard Osband, a former Director of a pro-development residents committee set up by the Council with £38,000 of our cash to combat the much larger anti development committee the residents had set up for themselves. With none of your cash. 

H&F Council is adamant that Mr Johnson represents good bang for your buck, though, and a spokesperson told me that:

"We want the best people for the best jobs, and Nick Johnson’s record speaks for itself. Mr Johnson has been leading the Earls Court regeneration scheme for several months and has taken a substantial pay cut in order to continue his work with the council until the end of March.

“Earls Court is the biggest regeneration project in Britain other than the Olympic site and the council wants to retain his vast experience and expertise as the scheme progresses.”

None of that cuts any mustard with Opposition Leader Stephen Cowan, who responded to this story by saying:

"Nick Johnson has been working for the Hammersmith and Fulham’s Conservative run Council since 11th February 2008. That was fourteen weeks after he had been allowed to retire early from being the Chief Executive of Bexley Council (aged 54). The reason given for this was he was deemed “permanently unfit to discharge his duties or any comparable duties as defined by the Local Government Pension Scheme regulations”. That decision allowed him to draw his pension early. That year he then also billed Hammersmith and Fulham a staggering £268,405.00. Since then his consultancy fees have totalled a vast sum equivalent to each Borough household being given a 2% council tax cut.

We are in tough economic circumstances. It is outrageous that such large amounts of tax-payers’ money has been handed out in this way. There should be an independent enquiry around all the circumstances with this contract including why this month the Conservative Administration used a waiver of normal contract procurement to keep Mr. Johnson firm on the Council’s books”.

The Council also gave me a list of Mr Johnson's achievements to date, which I reprodcue below. I recognise that this article and others I've written about him are obviously not welcome and on a personal note if someone's doing a good job I don't have a problem with them getting the market rate. But there seem to be more than a few questions about the conditions of his employment, the status of his 'retirement on ill health' and whether the Council should maybe consider listening to the annoying people who don't really want to move out of their homes. 

But here's the list of achievements I was sent nonetheless, pop-pickers:

Nick Johnson’s key achievements to date:

1. Saving the Decent Homes Government Funding

H&F Homes was on the verge of collapse before Mr Johnson took control. The Audit Commission had given the ALMO one star with no prospects. The Decent Homes programme was failing, and over £200 million of government funding to provide new kitchens and bathrooms for all tenants was being recalled by Government. New action teams were formed, and the programme will now be delivered on time. Resident satisfaction with services is now up to highest level ever - 73%.

2. Attaining Audit Commission high rating

Delivered an Audit Commission inspection result of Two Star status with excellent prospects.

3. Delivering Value for Money

Introduced an intensive Value for Money programme that has been able to reduce revenue costs by £6 million per year by restructuring the whole organisation.

If this had not been done rent rises of £6.20 per week for every tenant would have been needed to balance the statutory Housing Revenue Account, which must not go into deficit.

4. Reducing Leasehold charges and arrears

Charges to leaseholders have been reduced in real terms by 15.4% on average, making Hammersmith & Fulham’s service charges now lower than Wandsworth.

5. Cutting the wasteful management hierarchy

A hugely inefficient and expensive top management team of 11 directors has been reduced to 4, with a saving of over £500,000 in top management salaries alone.

6. Personally covering top management vacancies

Mr Johnson covers the work of the Director of Housing and Regeneration, and two Assistant Director roles within the Council, pending recruitment to those positions, working on large regeneration projects, and with Borough resident groups.

7. Planning to reduce back office waste with a proposal to return the ALMO to Council control

Mr Johnson developed the proposal to bring the ALMO back into Council management. This has saved £1million per year and lead to better direct management by the Council.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Shepherd's Bush Market: Their day in Court

The battle between traders and the Council over the future of our Market looks set to be decided in a Court room in May this year.

I reported back in May last year that the traders had won permission from the High Court to initiate proceedings for a judicial review of the way in H&F Council has gone about the process. The legal challenge is based on a claim that our Council have failed to follow proper procedure.

The wheels of British justice turn very slowly, so it will be almost a year to the day before the Court hears the case. I understand that two dates have been provisionally allocated, at the beginning or end of that month.

The political anoraks among you will also realise that the Court dates fall after the Mayoral election in London, which is actually where the future of the Market will really be decided. If Boris wins, the scheme will go ahead in its present form in all likelihood. If Ken wins it will probably be binned as he hinted heavily when I interviewed him during his visit to the Pie & Mash shop that is set to be knocked down as part of the scheme. Just like the King Street scheme.

So ... high stakes!

UPDATE SATURDAY - The dates are confirmed - a two day behind-closed-doors hearing on May 15-16. Meanwhile I am hearing that Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh may meet the owners of some of the Goldhawk Shops, who have invited me along too. Will report back. 

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Most Wanted: Shepherd's Bush (alleged) crims on display

Cllr Greg Smith with Borough Commander Lucy D'Orsi

Do you know these people? They are all featured in a gallery of shame-style initiative between the local Police and our Council and stand accused of a wide variety of petty crimes. Petty maybe but it doesn't feel like that when you're the victim.

This is really excellent use of new media by both our Council, led by Greg Smith, and local Borough Commander Lucy D'Orsi. The rogues gallery, with three foot high mug shots mounted on a mobile ad van, started touring west London today as part of the joint initiative, which has been paid for by the local authority.

“Criminals can run, but they cannot hide,” said Cllr Greg Smith, H&F Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services. “We need residents to take a long hard look at these faces and help us put these villains behind bars. Our message is clear, if you know these people we want you to turn them in.”

“Crime is falling in Hammersmith & Fulham but, as a council, we want to do everything we can to make our borough even safer and hopefully this rogues gallery will generate some leads for the police to follow."

Good luck to them - and study the images on this website. If you know anybody please call 101 and let the Police know.

2330 UPDATE - Our MP Andy Slaughter has responded to this article by warning against using eye catching initiatives to cover the fact that police resources have been cut. He says this:

“Whilst the council have at least responded in some way to the worrying increase in burglaries and vehicle crime, our police are having to cope with cuts to their staff. Putting police on the streets is the most effective way of tackling the problem of rising crime, and I urge the council to approach the issue of public safety with caution rather than complacency.”

He is referring to the admission made by Boris Johnson on Tuesday that Police numbers in London have fallen by 1,700 during his Mayoralty. Expect that to be seized on again and again by Labour and others between now and May...

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Eviction Wednesday in Hammersmith for charities

 Charities supporting the vulnerable are getting the boot this morning from the building that has housed them for years, to make way for the West London Free School.

The Council, which announced its firesale of buildings way back in July 2010, gave 20 charities one months' notice to get out in December. That gave them four weeks, which included the Christmas and New Year break.

The services include the Iraqi Association; Iranian Association and the Association of Afghans in UK. Some are moving into Norland House, Hammersmith which isn’t ready yet.

The Iranian Association had nowhere to go and had to involve a solicitor on Monday to get a stay of execution until Saturday, so they can move into temporary accomodation.They are one of only 64 Citizenship Test Centres Nationwide, and have had to suspend their contract for that losing £2,600 per week, until they get sorted.

Andy Slaughter MP has sent the letter below to the Chief Executive of the Council demanding an answer the same day. I'm told by his office that they received a terse response disputing the timescales, but not much more.

In fairness to the West London Free School, this is not their doing. I once called Toby Young the "evictor in chief" in reference to this dark day eventually coming, which he rightly challenged. No, this is a question of priorities to me - low taxes or these sort of services for people who have nowhere else to go.

And why are they here, some of them? Iraqis. Consider the cost in lives of the Iraq war, which by most estimates is between 100,000 and 150,000 lives. Afghans. The war isn't even over. They may be unknown to most of us but the people needing these services are real enough. And they're here in large part because of actions we took in their countries, in Iraq's case possibly ilegally. 

This is what the cut backs look like to real people in H&F, folks.

1115 UPDATE WEDNESDAY - The Council has been in touch, and they have a very different view of things. They describe the new venue that some - not all - of the charities being evicted will be moving to on the Edward Woods Estate near the Bush as a "state-of-the-art community hub" and that they've spent £655,000 doing up formerly derelict pram sheds into office space so that they can be used by a number of the borough’s voluntary groups, charities and not-for-profit organisations. The community hub will be split between the ground floors of the Edward Woods blocks of Stebbing, Norland, Poynter and Boxmoor Houses, with the Boxmoor facility likely to be used as the main base for the hub. 

Cllr Joe Carlebach, cabinet member for community care, has this to say: 

“Hammersmith & Fulham has a vibrant and thriving voluntary sector and we have protected these vital organisations and services despite the severe budget pressures that we face. This new hub will help us to provide better, more modern facilities for our voluntary organisations and we have been working closely with them to ensure their needs are met. I am sure that all of the groups who take up the opportunity will be very pleased with their new home and we will be working hard to make sure that local residents reap the benefits of this fantastic deal.”

I'm told that those charities who are able to move in will need to do so "in a phased manner from early 2012 with a launch event planned for later in the year" What they are supposed to do in the meantime is less clear.

A Council spokesman told me this morning that:

"Organisations interested in renting space at the hub will be asked to complete an application process which has been developed, with priority given to those that meet local priorities, including delivering services that benefit local residents and contribute to the community hub ethos."

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Guns seized in Shepherd's Bush

A routine police operation turned into an arrest which in turn took three firearms off our streets yesterday, in another example of what the local Shepherd's Bush Safer Neighbourhood Team get up to every day on our behalves.

I was told last night that at approximately 1100 hours Officers were making enquiries at an address on White City Estate. At the time they believed the 19 year old male at address had tried to dispose of evidence. 

A cursory search discovered street drugs and a fully working hand gun. He was arrested and taken to Hammersmith Police Station. A further search was carried out. One shot gun and another hand gun were found along with ammunition. The three guns have now been taken by police. The arrested male is still in custody as investigation continues.

I'm told that local police are extremely happy that 3 of the few guns that were in circulation are now well and truly safe.

As are we all. When they knock on those doors they really never do know what's behind them. The last time I joined them on a raid on the White City Estate we turned up what looked like a medieval axe and a samurai sword at a flat that had been used to make crystal meth, one of the most dangerous drugs it is possible to take. And we had a horrendous reminder of the impact these weapons have on our streets on Lakeside Road in May last year. 

Think about that next time you hear about police resources being cut by politicians.

0930 UPDATE - It seems this arrest was even more serious. The man was arrested with rocks of crack cocaine in his possession and was arrested for possession with intent to supply and having prohibited weapons. Nice.

1130 WEDNESDAY UPDATE: The gunman has been charged, the Police having just issued the following details:

The male, originally from Wolverhampton was charged on the 24th of January with :-
  • Possession With Intent to Supply Class A Drugs
  • Possession of a Shotgun without a certificate
  • Possession of ammunition for a firearm without a certificate
  • Possession of a firearm when prohibited for 5 years
  • Two counts of possession of a firearm relating to the two handguns
Chief Superintendent Lucy D'Orsi, Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Commander said:

"This is yet another example of the great work performed by officers on this Borough and demonstrates the effectiveness of the enhanced Safer Neighbourhoods Team at Shepherds Bush. Thanks to their dilligence a dangerous male is now in custody and three firearms are off the streets of Hammersmith and Fulham. I reaffirm our committment to tackle crime through positive action and would urge anyone with any information on criminals in their area to contact us on 101 or annonymously via Crimestoppers"

Monday, 23 January 2012

West Ken developer at risk of insolvency

Our Council know that the developer they want to sell the homes of people living on the West Ken & Gibbs Green Estates to is at real risk of going belly-up, even before the work on rebuilding the estate is complete. But they are pressing ahead with a deal that will ensure they get the £100 million reward they stand to reap in payments from the developer, EC Properties, regardless, according to campaigners against the scheme.

Worse, the deal may not ever result in any improvements to the estate at all according to legal documents seen by a resident formerly supportive of the deal.That resident, Mr Osband, posted a lengthy account of meetings with senior Council officials and others, which you can read below.

Such is the latest development in what must now be the largest of the many planning wars to engulf Hammersmith & Fulham, after the Council was forced to concede defeat in its fight against residents of Hammersmith King Street.

While the Agreement would grant the developer the right, for at least 20 years, to buy up parcels of the estates for demolition, it would not require the developer to deliver any new homes, and would not protect against the developer going bust or selling on. Worse still, ECO properties, owned by CapCo, is revealed as ‘Matterhorn’, which, according to its accounts, is saddled with a third of a billion pounds of debt against assets worth a quarter of a billion, and makes £10 million a year loss.

Having previously failed to perform due diligence on this company, the Council has scrambled Price Waterhouse Coopers to investigate whether ‘Matterhorn’ could remain solvent for the first five years of the Agreement. This would give the Council enough time to force people out and rake in £100 million, but would not be long enough to ensure anything is actually built. It means the developer can do what it likes with the estates, including nothing, as long as it pays the Council to get rid of the existing residents.

Sally Taylor and Diana Belshaw, Chairs of the Tenants and Residents Associations, said:

“It can’t be right that the Council refuses to disclose to residents the Agreement it’s consulting on. Now we’ve been told the Agreement does not honour its repeated ‘guarantees’ and ‘assurances’ that residents would get new homes in the scheme, it’s clear those promises were empty. The Council just wants to force us out, sell off our homes and pocket the cash. It doesn’t care about our welfare or ensuring the area is improved. The consultation is a fraud. The Council should withdraw it immediately.”

Jonathan Rosenberg, Community Organiser for the estates, added: “The Earl’s Court scheme is shaping up to be the next Battersea power station: decades of over-ambitious schemes busting successive developers with the site left to rack and ruin. ‘Regeneration’ is a scam to obscure the Council’s gerrymandering agenda, and for the Council and the developer to profiteer from social engineering. Thankfully, most regeneration professionals are properly motivated: they would abhor the discredit caused to their sector by the Council’s dishonesty.”

The beans were spilt by a member of the Council's own Residents Steering Committee (they set an alternative one up with your cash so that they would have someone to agree with them) on a very long posting on the W14 site which you can read here

You can also read a Word doc of the posting below if you are not subscribed to the W14 site (they insist on collecting personal data before they let you join) 

The crux of this very long posting, warts n’ all, is as follows:
  • The six week period for consultation is not long enough for people to consider the Council’s key decision on whether to sign the sell-off agreement 
  • The Council is hiding the Conditional Land Sale Agreement (CLSA), even though that is what it’s consulting on. 
  • The Council failed to carry out due diligence on EC Properties Ltd. PWC is now reviewing the firm to assess its solvency for the next five years, enough time for the Council to get its £100 million but not enough to ensure the development actually happens. There is a beak clause for the Council if the scheme fails to obtain planning permission within five years. After that, and otherwise, the developer can do what it likes, including selling EC Properties. 
  • The scale and complex nature of the scheme presents a material risk that EC properties might become insolvent after five years, but there is no means to protect the Council against this or ensure the development happens. 
  • The CLSA does not provide the Council with the ability to terminate the agreement should the developer fail to perform. It could, for example, buy up the estates but not develop them for 15 or 20 years, or even take 20 years to buy up all of the estates and still not develop them. Alternatively, it could go bust or sell on to another developer, who in turn could decide to do something else entirely.
I first reported here back in March 2010 on the West Ken fightback which is led by residents who have been implacably opposed to our Council’s plans from day one. In response to their campaign our Council has used £38,000 of your cash to set up an alternative residents group, with a fraction of the number of members, and spent even more on publicity extolling the benefits of the scheme. Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh was reduced to pleading with the Government not to let the residents take advantage of Big Society legislation intended to hand power to residents, because they wanted to evict the Council as a "rogue landlord".

Boris Johnson was collared by one angry lady on his way into a PR event sponsored jointly by the Council and the Fulham Chronicle and was left in no doubt that all the residents are asking for is a straight vote over the future of their homes.

Too much to ask? You betcha – this is Hammersmith & Fulham. Below is the full blog post by the whistleblowing Mr Osband.

- The Council has responded to this article. An H&F Council spokesman said:

“The council would only enter a conditional land sale agreement with a property company if we were completely confident of its ability to potentially deliver thousands of new homes, jobs and neighbourhood improvements, including new homes for people currently living on West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates. It is the norm for a large public limited company to set up a subsidiary company to oversee a potential development of this nature. In the event that the council decides to enter into a conditional land sale agreement it will ensure the developer has the sufficient funding in place. The council will ensure that there is robust independent assessment and checking for the entire redevelopment period.”

UPDATE SUNDAY - Well, Richard Osband has answered the Council's view of things emphatically. He's resigned from the Steering Group that the Council spent £38,000 of your money setting up so they had someone to agree with them. Now they don't.

Osband Post 19 January 2012

Friday, 20 January 2012

Pedestrian hit by bus in Shepherd's Bush

Police markings, indicating the accident, remain on the road

A pedestrian was hit by a bus at just before 1900 this evening in what was, according to those of you who have been in touch with me and who saw either the incident or the immediate aftermath, a very serious accident.

Almost immediately we have had the rumour mill flowing, including reports that it was a female pedestrian and that it had been a fatality. At this stage I can confirm that it is not fatal and that the person involved has been taken to hospital.I understand from a secondary source that it was actually a male pedestrian.

I have spoken to the local Shepherd's Bush Police this evening who will be putting out full details first thing tomorrow. So keep checking back and as usual in these circumstances feel free to update your fellow Bushers via the comments section.

And do stay safe.

1630 SATURDAY UPDATE - I've had three seperate reports from different sources that the man died today in hospital. I stress this is unconfirmed at this point but one of the sources in particular would seem to be in a good position to know. Not good.

1710 UPDATE - The Police have just confirmed to me that the man died this afternoon and that next of kin have been informed. They have asked that the many eye witnesses who have left comments here to contact them by calling 101 and referencing CAD 7450 of the 20th.

I suspect friends and relatives of the man may come across this article, and may have done so already. I'm sure I can speak for everyone when I offer deepest sympathies. Life really can be gone in a moment.

0600 SUNDAY UPDATE - As you've done before several Bushers are updating and sharing thoughts on what happenned in the comments including eye witnesses to the accident itself. One witness in particular claims the bus driver had little chance to stop as the man ran out, and that they'll be going to Police this morning. Please do, and if anyone else has yet to report what they saw, please call them. In the meantime thanks for sharing.

1030 SUNDAY UPDATE - The Police have cnfirmed that the dead man was 60 years old, not in his fifties as reported elsewhere, and that his family was with him in the hospital when he died. Here is the statement in full:
"At 1900 hours on Friday 20th January 2012 there was a road traffic accident outside Shepherds Bush Station. A 60 year old male received serious head injuries. He was rushed to St Marys Hospital for immediate surgery". 
"At 1400 hours on Saturday 21st January 2012 the male died as a result of those injuries. His next of kin was with him at the hospital". 
"Officers from Metropolitan Police Traffic Command Unit are investigating the circumstances of the accident".

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Hammersmith Irish Centre to be re-built

A planning development will take place in Hammersmith without controversy soon, marking a first in a long while for our Borough.

I reported here that the Irish Centre had been saved from possible destruction after our Council had a change of mind about their support for the project. The Irish Government, after expressing disappointment with H&F, stepped in with a grant that secured its future.

The centre, on Blacks Road, will now be demolished and rebuilt from scratch, including residential housing, according to the Irish post. Speaking to that paper the Irish Centre's board thanked its supporters, saying:

"We wish to confirm that the Irish Government has granted £550,000 to the Irish Cultural Centre to assist us secure the purchase of the freehold of this building and in recognition of the significant work carried out by the Centre to promote Irish culture in London.

"We wish to publicly express our sincere gratitude to the Irish Government for assisting us secure a permanent home in London that is dedicated to Irish culture, our country’s greatest resource."

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Stuff for free: local action on unwanted gifts!

A local scheme called Stuff for Free is using unwanted Xmas gifts to make other people's worlds a slightly better place, and was featured on the BBC last weekend which you can watch for yourselves here. A local reader writes in to alert me of the scheme, which is sponsored by the national charity Healthy Planet.

As with all of the best ieas, it's amazingly simple - people use it to leave stuff they don't want, the charity sorts through it all and give it to people who need it.

In January and February, Healthy Planet is offering a great opportunity to donate (and later, take for free) unwanted Christmas presents and help the environment at the same time - at their new Stuff for Free events.

Healthy Planet's Stuff for Free is a giant community reuse event - helping redistribute good quality stuff to a new home, where it will be valued.

What's more, you'll be helping the environment. By re-using things instead of throwing them away, you'll be helping to save landfill space, reduce fly tipping and save valuable resources.

Healthy Planet say their mission is to champion new and grassroot green and healthy causes, by giving community initiatives the space and voice they need. A good start, I think you'll agree - more info on how to take part here.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Boris joins police in the Bush to launch new Unit

The blond one was in the Bush this morning with our very own Safer Neighbourhood Team to launch the new Office for Policing and Crime. More detail on that below but it is a credit to the team, who I have had the privelege of joining on patrol, that they were selected for this. We're clearly in good local hands.

Now then, what's this unit all about?

Well today London has become the first city in the UK to have an elected Mayor with unequivocal responsibility for overseeing the police. The Mayor's existing powers to setting police priorities have been significantly strengthened, with the rest of the country set to elect their Police and Crime Commissioners in November 2012.

The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC) has replaced the Metropolitan Police Authority, which means the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime will hold the Met Commissioner to account and ensure that the police target the crimes that concern Londoners, including:
  • Strengthening the Met’s response to serious youth violence including knife crime
  • Ensuring London has enough front line police officers on the streets
  • Targeting robbery, burglary and drug dealing in every borough
  • Getting tough on gangs and tackling re-offending rates 
The Mayor was accompanied on patrol in Shepherd’s Bush by Nick Herbert, the Minister for Policing & Criminal Justice, Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Met Commissioner and Kit Malthouse, the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime.

Mayor Boris Johnson said:

“Protecting our police force and getting more officers out pounding the streets is more crucial than ever. We’ve taken thousands of knives off the streets and prioritised youth violence, but we need to do even more to crackdown on criminals. Londoners rightly expect to live in a safe city and I’ll now be keeping an even closer eye on every aspect of policing, ensuring more than ever that the crimes that most concern Londoners are addressed. “

The Mayor will personally oversee the policing budget and will meet the Met Commissioner on policing issues in the capital. The Mayor has appointed Kit Malthouse to lead the work of the Mayor’s Office for Crime and Policing, which will manage an annual budget of £11 million.

But LibDem candidate Brian Paddick, a former Met Commander, is unimpressed. He spake thus:

“Within months of being given the legal responsibility to chair the Metropolitan Police Authority, the Mayor delegated the job to someone else. Now he laughably claims he'll be keeping an even closer eye on every aspect of policing because, from today, he alone has the power to decide London's policing priorities and budget. 

“I have more than 30 years experience of reducing crime, focusing officers' efforts on what local people want and making sure it was done fairly. Crime is what Londoners are most concerned about and no other candidate is better qualified to be Mayor of London now controlling the police goes with the job".

While Ken said:

"The mayor's own policing documents show the overall number of police officers is set to fall even further by 2014.

"Londoners want the mayor to use the new responsibilities to put more police officers on the streets to make our streets safer rather than cutting them."

Anyone would think there was an election on.

Hammersmith Flyover - 20 people turn up for meeting

Sit at the end and not at the table - Tories play schoolboy politics
After all the fire & fury generated around a political meeting about the Hammersmith Flyover closure called by the local Conservatives, and featuring not the MP for Hammersmith but a neighbouring Conservative instead, I understand only around 20 non political people actually turned up to spend their Saturday afternoon listening to TfL and the political class give us the benefit of their collective wisdom. 

I reported here how the proposed public meeting, at the West London Free School, had generated a row in Parliament with Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter rightly pointing out that this was a bit of a cheek. But Mr Slaughter turned up anyway, as you can see from the photo above, and was permitted to sit at the end. Playground stuff.

At the meeting David McNeill, director of public affairs and stakeholder engagement for TfL, announced that the flyover would remain partially open for around four months. The politicians generally criticised TfL for having been taken by surprise about the whole thing. And there were some angry questions from the floor, usually followed by Mr McNeill being unable to answer the "technical" questions because he wasn't an engineer.

I bring all of this to you courtesy of the excellent Boris Watch blog, who's intrepid reporter was one of those who attended the meeting, and who snapped the above image. Their description of the meeting in a tweet above kind of sums up the occasion, really. You didn't miss much.

And by the power of modern technology witness the exchange in the Commons below - scroll in to 15.32

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Stinging Nettle Goldhawk Rd to become flats & shop

Much local speculation has been whirling since the closure of the Stinging Nettle pub on Goldhawk Road in the last couple of weeks but according to Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine it is to be redeveloped for a joint residential/commercial venture.

According to Caterer & Hotelkeeper, the brewer Young's has sold the freehold of the property to developers PRR Estates. They plan to "convert the upstairs of the property for residential use, and the ground floor and basement for alternative commercial use and investment".

Friday, 13 January 2012

Hammersmith Flyover re-opens amid fiery exchanges in Parliament

"Jammersmith" may be no more as the flyover dramatically threw its doors, well, half open late last night to light traffic on one lane and in both directions, in a positive sign that all might not be quite as bad as the doom mongers feared. The rest of the flyover is set to be openned back up over the next four months with drivers continued to be urged to avoid the area if at all possible.

One lane of light traffic will now be permitted in each direction, whilst work continues to strengthen key sections of the flyover. Traffic restrictions will be enforced by a 2.0m (6”6’) width restriction at either end of the flyover to prevent large vehicles such as HGVs and coaches from crossing.

The structural repair works, which TfL now expects to take around four months to complete, will focus on strengthening six of the 16 spans of the structure to ensure that they can carry full traffic loading by the Olympics.

The advice remains for motorists as this work takes place that as the flyover is not fully open they should consider avoiding the area if possible. Transport for London will have signage and traffic management measures in place to help reinforce that.

Once these repair works, which will see new cables installed within the structure to strengthen the flyover, are completed, TfL will be able to reopen the flyover to all traffic, well ahead of the London 2012 Games.

Following the London 2012 Games, TfL will return to the structure to strengthen the remaining ten spans of the flyover, as well as carry out additional work to re-waterproof the entire road deck to complete the permanent repair. This work is expected to take place in a way that will allow as much traffic as possible to use the flyover during the works.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, said: 

“I made it very clear the Hammersmith Flyover should not be closed for one minute longer than it has to be and this partial reopening will provide some relief for the thousands of motorists and local people whose lives have been disrupted. I can assure those people that I will ensure the team continues to work tirelessly in order to get this vital structure fully operational as soon as possible.”

All good stuff - but there is a twist to this story which has bubbled up over the last 24 hours, with our MP Andy Slaughter launching an attack on the Conservative MP Mary Macleod for holding a meeting about the issue in Hammersmith. Here's the very fiery exchange between the pair from the House of Commons yesterday:

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker, of which I have given you and the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) notice. Hammersmith flyover in my constituency has been closed for three weeks. Although we hope for good news as early as today about the reopening, it is clearly a serious matter for my constituents. The hon. Lady has convened a public meeting—nothing wrong with that—to discuss the matter, but she has advertised and convened it in my constituency. She has invited various public bodies, but not me, to the meeting to discuss these matters—she has not invited me to be on the panel.

This goes beyond the ordinary trespassing that Members sometimes commit. I have never heard of an event of this kind. In reality, it means that the public bodies may not attend, because the meeting is now party political. I ask for your guidance, Mr Speaker. The hon. Lady is a new Member and might not know the protocols of the House as well as others do.

Mr Speaker: I will restrict my understanding thus far, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for notice of his intention to raise the point of order. It will almost not be a matter of order for the Chair, but, reserving my position, I think it only right before I say anything further—I am sure he will accept this—to ask the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) to offer her own thoughts, of which I have had some notice, on the Floor of the House.

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. This public meeting is being held purely to help local residents. It is for Transport for London and Hounslow and Hammersmith councils to update local residents and help them. Frankly, that is what I came into politics to do.

I am extremely disappointed that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) has attempted to threaten, intimidate and bully me into doing what he wants and play political games. He knew what was happening—I told him at the earliest opportunity. I invited him to the meeting verbally and in writing. He said initially that he was happy with the plans for the meeting.

I have worked well recently with my Labour Hounslow council and expect to have a very positive working relationship with the new hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra). It is really sad that we cannot help our local residents without an hon. Member trying to stop us. We should work together for the good of our local residents and our constituencies.

No love lost there, then, and Ms Macelod quite skillfully presents herself as somehow a wounded party valiantly fighting against the nasty Andy Slaughter - but he does have a point. There is an unwritten rule among MPs that they don't do this sort of thing in each others' areas - and if he hasn't even been invited on to the panel - as the MP for Hammersmith for goodness sakes - you need to ask what the Tories are really up to with the meeting in the first place. It couldn't have anything to do with bolstering Boris, who's taken a hit over this, ahead of an election could it?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Our New Girl - Bush Theatre

A play exploring the "darker side of parenthood" opens tonight at the Bush Theatre featuring two child actors, in what I am told is a powerful piece of theatre. Called "our new girl" the Bush tells us thus:

Sometimes we have to take care of things we’re frightened of... You can’t know if you’re up to the job until that thing in front of you lives or dies.

Behind the shiny door of Hazel Robinson’s perfect London home, nothing is as it seems. Hazel's plastic surgeon husband Richard has embarked on his latest charitable quest in Haiti, leaving the heavily-pregnant Hazel with a failing business and a problem son.

When a professional nanny arrives unannounced on the Robinsons' doorstep, Hazel finds her home under the shadow of a perfect stranger with an agenda of her own.

Hot on the heels of No Romance, Nancy Harris’s hit play at the Abbey, Our New Girl is a startling psychological drama about the darker side of modern parenthood.

It plays for two months over Jan and Feb. Get yer tickets here.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Old Oak Common: 20,000 new local jobs?

£32 billion is about to be spent on the high speed rail link between London and Birmingham, known as HS2, and the Park Royal interchange has been confirmed as part of the plan. This was in doubt not so long ago but Old Oak Common, the area north of the Scrubs, is set to be transformed out of all recognition by the scheme.

In many ways this is likely to have more impact for West London than the Olympics has for East. When all is said and done the Olympics will start fading from view almost as soon as they are over and after a few years we'll probably be sick of hearing about stadiums that aren't being used for what they were intended and so on.

Yet this rail link is the future - with plans to extend the line to Manchester and Liverpool in the years ahead.

So no doubt about the scale, either of the project itself which is on a par with great Victorian projects of old, or the local impact. But some of the figures being bandied around are just a little eyebrow raising, such as the 20,000 local jobs that are apparently set to be created. Really? What are they all going to be doing?!

There are high levels of unemployment in the area our Council point out in the video above. Yes, there are - but that also means that the majority of those people will be relatively unskilled and therefore unable to take on many of these jobs. I worry that we have not heard anything about how those people will be offered training in order to gain those skills - because otherwise all we will see is workers from elsewhere, including abroad, bussed in instead.

Here's Cllr Mark Loveday of our Council, who have successfully lobbied for the scheme from day one:
“HS2 is the fastest way to deliver much need new homes, jobs and opportunities in one of London's poorest areas and the Government has recognised that the case for the Old Oak interchange is overwhelming" 
“The great Victorian engineers like Brunel recognised the importance of well positioned interchange stations, such as Crewe and Clapham Junction, and in that same spirit Old Oak promises to be the nation’s first 21st century high speed rail interchange. 
“The Old Oak interchange will relieve pressure on the overstretched central London terminals and link four airports and existing train lines to the high speed network for the first time. 
“In the process, the accelerated and expanded high speed rail programme will regenerate not just parts of the north of England and the Midlands but rundown inner London neighbourhoods right on our doorstep. 
“The creation of a new interchange at Old Oak, or Park Royal City International as it will be known, will unleash the creation of a new business hub bigger than Canary Wharf, bringing thousands of affordable homes and jobs to London.”
I think this is great news - and this Government is right to be investing here instead of blighting our skies with more planes, many of which fly to the domestic destinations that this rail link will now serve. Time will tell on just how local the benefits really are - and we could make a good start by hearing about the local skills training programme that needs to be an early part of this.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Lime Grove gang smash windows ... with Christmas trees

Abandoned trees in the Bush - reader photo
A gang of five went on the rampage in Lime Grove last Sunday with some of the abandoned Christmas Trees that our Council has been encouraging people to leave out on the streets for their collection service since the festive season, resulting in criminal damage and two arrests.

And I know this because some of you were there .. a reader who lives on the road gave me this account:
"..your blog post reminded me - I saw a flying Christmas tree at 1:30am on Sunday morning on Lime Grove". 
"Around five miscreants were walking up the road, damaging cars. I woke to the sound of breaking glass. I then witness one of them pick up a discarded tree and attempt to hurl it in a hammer throw style spin into car/garden/neighbours house".  
"Impressively, by the time they reached the top of Lime Grove they were intercepted by the swift arrival of three police cars and two police vans and promptly arrested".  
"I got dressed and wandered down the road to where our family car is parked to find that we too had been victim of this mindless idiocy - the wing mirror had been kicked or punched and was hanging off by it's assortment of wiring... " 
"As had our neighbours car parked in front of ours. costly repairs I suspect. still hats off to the Police for an amazingly quick response" 
Having spoken to the Police I can confirm two of those arrested, aged 36 and 18, will be appearing in court, charged with the damage in February. Here's the Police's version of events: 
"Police were called at 01:26hrs to reports of a group of males causing damage to motor vehicles along Lime Grove, W12. Police were on scene at 01:29hrs, on arrival a two males were stopped and arrested for causing criminal damage to five motor vehicles". 
But that's not all - the reason the Police knew about what was going on was because of CCTV - and the swift intervention of the staff monitoring the road. So this was very much a Council-Police collaboration that resulted in these alleged thugs being caught. Excellent work, and here's what a Police spokesperson told me this afternoon:
" Hammersmith & Fulham Police would like to extend their thanks to the CCTV operator who generated this call and kept officers constantly updated as to the suspects whereabouts and movements, this is a great example of how the local council and police work in partnership to reduce crime"
It absolutely is - so very many congratulations to them. Well done Council, and once again well done to the local Shepherd's Bush Police team.

And well done to the readers who filled me in on the story - you won't read about this anywhere else and it's a good way of letting others know what was going on, in an incident that I suspect a large number of people heard or saw. 

Imperial College submits plans for BBC White City

New W City Campus
...according to Planning Magazine Imperial College has submitted plans which they say will result in the generation of 3,000 new local jobs as they create a new academic campus. The plans include a new research centre to focus on biomedical research to be called Imperial West.

Speaking to Planning Magazine Imperial's project director John Anderson said:
"Imperial West will enable the college to expand upon the success of its South Kensington site to create a second, open access academic campus that provides the physical infrastructure for world-class research and teaching, leading-edge facilities for business development and technology transfer, and create an attractive environment to live and work in."
It is the latest development in a long running saga which has seen political rows over the extent to which affordable housing will be created by the redevelopment of the land, which is also part of the Council's White City Opportunity Area planning framework.

Wherever you stand on that particular argument it is now becoming clear that from being the home of British broadcasting, this part of the Bush is set to become the cutting edge for medical research ..... and retail!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Slaughter & Hands row over £14 million H&F NHS cuts

Andy Slaughter and Greg Hands have form with each other, going back to their days on Hammersmith Council when it was a Labour run authority with Mr Slaughter at its head. So no surprise that their enmity has carried over into Parliament, and last week was no exception. I was sent details of £14 million of proposed cuts to our local health service under current Government plans - startling stuff and certainly worth reporting.

But the information seemed a little strange - it talked about "yesterday" and "this week" but then gave a date of November 24th. So I sought a counter view from the Tories in the form of Mr Hands, who is now a member of the Government as a Whip, and the picture seems a little different. I give both parties the chance to make their case below, and let you be the judge - this is more than a little political argy-bargy - health cuts generally cost lives.

Here's Mr Slaughter's team from last tuesday:

Labour has today revealed the hidden cost of the Government’s wasteful NHS reorganisation in Hammersmith and Fulham. New guidelines will force the local NHS to put £14,012,172 from their budget this year and next to pay for a costly NHS restructure that David Cameron repeatedly ruled out.

Andy Slaughter MP said: 

"These shocking new figures show the Government’s reorganisation is costing the NHS even more than we first feared. It is scandalous that they are telling our local NHS to hold back millions of pounds for their own reckless plans whilst thousands of nursing jobs are being axed. 

“Hammersmith and Fulham has already seen a 145% increase in the number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for treatment since Cameron became Prime Minister. 
“Before his plans are even fully through Parliament, David Cameron's reorganisation is hitting the NHS hard and costs are now topping £3.4bn across the country for the first time. Spending this amount on an unnecessary reorganisation is totally unjustifiable when every single penny should be focused on maintaining standards of care. 

“At the election Cameron ruled out top-down NHS reorganisations. But only weeks after entering Number 10, he ripped up his own words and ordered the biggest and most dangerous upheaval of the NHS since it began.” 
The financial request is buried in the Government’s new NHS 'Operating Framework' document and takes the nationwide cost of the NHS reorganisation above previous estimates of £2-3bn, with Primary Care Trusts now holding back £3.44bn over two years.

Last Thursday evening leading doctors from the British Medical Association voted to call for an immediate halt to the Government’s costly and controversial Health Bill. 

Andy Slaughter MP added: 
“The people of Hammersmith and Fulham did not vote for it and our doctors, nurses and patients have already expressed huge concerns at the plans. Yet Cameron is ploughing on with his Health Bill, ignoring public and professional opinion. The time has come for him to listen, put the NHS first and drop his dangerous Bill.”
Labour is running a major national drive to unite the country in a call on the Government to drop its unwanted Health Bill and people are being urged to add their name to the Government online petition by Dr Kailash Chand at epetitions.direct.gov.uk. 

Labour’s Health team will be coming to Hammersmith and Fulham on Thursday 24th November and are visiting every English region, work-shadowing NHS staff and mobilising support for the campaign

But here's Team Greg Hands:


The press release from Andrew Slaughter is based on a template sent to Labour MPs and candidates last year. The references to “last Thursday evening” and a forthcoming Shadow Health team visit on “24 November” suggest that his office received it in late November 2011. 

Most of Mr Slaughter’s press release and quotes match word-for-word those provided by his colleagues at the beginning of December 2011. 

(Examples include: Kerry McCarthy, Yasmin Qureshi, Andrew Dismore, Gisela Stuart, Yvonne Fovargue.)

Labour hypocrisy 

Labour wrongly claimed that Primary Care Trusts are being asked to set aside 2 per cent of their budgets for NHS ‘reorganisation’. 

In fact, this is the third year in a row that the NHS has been asked to put aside 2 per cent of its allocation for non-recurrent expenditure. This was introduced by Labour in December 2009, when Andy Burnham was Health Secretary. 

The non-recurrent expenditure is designed to support service improvement. 

(Burnham source: Department of Health, Operating Framework, 16 December 2009, link.) 

Waiting times down 

Average waiting times in Hammersmith and Fulham are down from 9.2 weeks in May 2010 to 8.3 weeks in October 2011 (the latest figures available). Although the proportion of patients seen within 18 weeks has fallen slightly, from 94% to 87%, the overall trend is positive. 

Most patients are being seen quicker than under Labour. 

(Source: Department of Health, Adjusted Admitted Pathways Referral to Treatment, October 2011, link.)

Greg Hands MP said: 
“Andrew Slaughter has started 2012 by recycling last year’s lies from Labour HQ. He can’t even keep up with his colleagues, let alone the facts.

“This policy has nothing to do with the Health Bill – the last government did exactly the same thing. But unlike Labour, the Coalition is getting money to the front line. In fact, because we are reducing the money spent on administration in the NHS by a third, there will be an extra £1.5 billion every year to spend on patients.

“Waiting times are down and the budget is up. That’s the real situation in Hammersmith and Fulham.”
 So .... that's all clear then. Welcome to my world!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Great Xmas Tree Flytipping Debate

My favourite Top Tory and I have been having a bit of a January ding-dong today about the issue I’ve seen a lot of you complaining about, namely the mass dumping of Christmas trees in the streets which seems to have affected almost everywhere in the Bush for around a week or more.

One reader, who drives the 148 bus for a living, even remarked that he’d had to stop the bus repeatedly to drag trees out of the way on the Goldhawk Road. Apart from causing traffic hazards as they roll into the roads from my point of view it’s just people being pretty lazy.

But Cllr Greg Smith, who is a contender for the leadershipof H&F Council in the wake of Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh’sresignation, took umbrage – and in fairness to him he has a perfectly valid point of view as well. Which is that the Council’s own Xmas tree pick-up service, which is presumably why so many trees are left in the streets, is a welcome service that is appreciated by local people.

To be honest, in the league of major issues, this is QPR-like near the bottom of the table, but I thought it was worth playing Devil’s Advocate for a bit and you can see the exchanges above left. At one point, Cllr Smith, got a bit snappy and said he’d remember my “feedback” next year as he implied darkly that the service may be withdrawn as a result. Two things to say about that – 1) I’m just some bloke with a blog so I hardly think that would be fair on everyone else and 2) I really do think that if people can’t take a bit of responsibility and dispose of their trees themselves is it really something that local taxpayers should be funding – instead of, say, other services for children?

Open question – and one to mull over as you finish off those mince pies. Happy New Year!

courtesy of Jonathan Werran
Monday UPDATE - Meanwhile, reader Jonathan Werran has sent in this image of a bunch of trees left out on Milson Road- it's a forest out there!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Hadyn Park sheltered housing fire

Hadyn Park has had two major fires in the last few weeeks. First there was this one on December 23rd and yesterday a sheltered housing block has also suffered the same fate, though thankfully also with no major injuries. Here's what the London Fire Brigade have to say:
"Four fire engines and around 20 firefighters were called to a fire at sheltered housing complex on Hadyn Park Road in Shepherd’s Bush. Half of the second floor flat was damaged by fire"
"Twenty one residents were evacuated to a place of safety and a further nine people left the building before the Brigade arrived". 

"One person was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation by London Ambulance Service crews.
The Brigade was called at 1433 and the fire was under control by 1527. The cause of the fire is under investigation".

Friday, 6 January 2012

Hammersmith Flyover: Boris to the rescue

The Mayor of London, back from the Italian ski slopes, visited the A4 Hammersmith flyover today to inspect work being carried out to repair one of the most vital stretches of road in the capital as soon as possible.

The complex flyover was forced to close due to water damage that has corroded and weakened the cables that give the bridge its strength. It had been thought that it would be up to ten years before any major work was required on the flyover, however recent maintenance checks showed work would be required much earlier than anticipated.

A detailed investigation was launched immediately and a team of 80 Transport for London engineers, contractors, and leading structural engineering experts have been working nonstop on site and within the structure throughout the Christmas and New Year period.

The engineers have inserted cameras into the structure of the flyover at 100 different locations to assess key sections of the cables it contains. Today they told the Mayor that investigations of the extent of the damage to those cables must continue for a further week before engineers will be in a position to decide whether it is strong enough to allow its reopening even to light traffic.

However they confirmed that preparatory work can begin ahead of the installation of new cables within the structure that will strengthen the flyover and allow it to take full vehicle loading again. They also confirmed that the flyover will be repaired and fully available to traffic before the London 2012 Games.

I understand from a local source, however, that there is some doubt about that behind the scenes and in any case this blows a very big hole in the spin being put on things by the Council recently, about the flyover being open by the 9th Jan. It also seems the BBC were a little quick to apologise for their claim that it would be closed until Feb - the Olympics are of course not until summer, after February when they were predicting it would be shut until.

This really does have the makings of an almighty mess for the Games, let alone the continued gridlock in and around Hammersmith.

One of the Mayor’s chief concerns has been that TfL do everything possible to keep disruption for Londoners and people passing through the area to the minimum. Today the team on site outlined the measures they have put in place. They include:
  • Traffic police rapid response units on placed on permanent standby in the area so they are ready to unblock any incidents or clear accidents as soon as possible; 
  • Local traffic diversions, along with Variable Messaging Signs – including on Highways Agency roads – advising drivers to avoid the area as far out as the M25 and M4 from the flyover. All signage, alerts and traffic mitigation plans are kept under nearly hourly review to minimise disruption or give drivers the maximum opportunity to avoid the area; 
  • The re-phasing of hundreds of traffic signals in the area to reduce disruption as much as possible and ease traffic flow; 
  • The cancellation of any non urgent roadworks in the local area and a daily review of whether other works should be suspended. Works cancelled have included previously planned works at Earl's Court Road, Cromwell Road and the Westway; 
  • The creation of an extra lane on Talgarth Road to help minimise the impact of the closure; 
  • Close liaison with the relevant local authorities to keep local people, businesses and organisations informed of the ongoing work taking place;
  • Plans to divert traffic from the M4 to other routes if necessary; 
  • Working with boroughs on the efficient management of their roads to help cope with the closure
However, until TfL can ensure the flyover is safe to be reopened to traffic, the advice to motorists continues to be avoid the area if at all possible, or if you have to drive allow more time for your journey.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London said:
“I want to reassure the thousands of motorists and local people who are suffering traffic hell that the flyover will not be closed one day longer than necessary. Safety has to be the number one priority but Transport for London will reopen this vital stretch of road as soon as they are able to do so. One thing I can assure Londoners of is that a plan is being finalised within the next few days and work is already beginning on strengthening the flyover so that it is fully operational well ahead of the 2012 Games.”
1700 UPDATE - The Evening Standard appears to have an exclusive insight into the realistic likely opening schedule, and it isn't good news. Talking to Peter Dominiczak, the Standard's City Hall Correspondent, Chris Burgoyne, a reader in concrete structures at Cambridge university, said drivers could still face months of disruption.

Mr Burgoyne, who was drafted in to assess the damage, said:
"It could be months before the bridge is completely reopened. It is likely that they will say the bridge can re-open with one lane in each direction taking light traffic only - no trucks. But it is possible that motorists will suffer a number of months more of disruption."
While Andy Slaughter has posted this column on his website in which he also throws doubt on the official version and argues that the real problem is that TfL is basically unaccountable to anyone.

SATURDAY UPDATE - LBC Radio reported Tom Cheal has uploaded a video which he took while accompanying Boris' visit to the site yesterday which gives you a visual insight into what the problems are and what's proposed to be done about it. LBC are really quite good at this, and last helped me in May last year in the wake of the Hammersmith bus station stabbing with a recording of a witness statement. Well worth listening to.