The admission followed heated scenes at the London Assembly last week as Murad Qureshi AM put Graeme Craig, the Commercial Director of Transport for London (TfL) on the spot over the future of our market. It was a fairly classic skewering, as you can read from the transcript here, with Murad putting two questions which both elicited a fairly damning response from TfL.
What followed was a letter from TfL which confirms that they are opposing our council's attempt to force out the market traders, which you can read above.
It is an often forgotten fact that the landlords of our market are in fact TfL rather than our council, who are currently hellbent on bullying traders and shop-owners out with compulsory purchase orders, despite clear on the record promises not to do so. In all the sound and fury TfL basically get off scot-free so so this was a very welcome shining of a light onto their own record.
It turns out, in response to Murad's first question, that TfL make nearly £1million a year from the advertising hoardings sited just on the approach to Westfield shopping centre. That's from a total of £4 million per year. In other words TfL are coining nearly 25% of their total advertising hoarding income from boards that are sited almost directly above the market area, which they own.
But more damning than that was the guff that was to follow in response to Murad's second question which was why TfL were not using a penny of that cash to invest in the market area. The answer, translated into English from the very long winded version (page 32), was "because we don't have to."
In fairness Mr Craig was taken somewhat by surprise by the questions and hadn't been briefed, but gamely answered them anyway. And Murad is to be congratulated for managing to get the questions asked at all after the chair John Biggs, quite pompously tried to bat them away. If he'd succumbed to the pomposity of Mr Biggs we would never have received what, for this area, is very interesting news.
What it does show, however, is that TfL have been not only complicit in the treatment of this unique piece of our heritage but have actually been making vast sums from the area while not paying a penny piece back for the privilege. Murad takes a more diplomatic view, remarking to me last week:
"It just confirms to me that TfL are very poor in managing their non-transport assets like Shepherds Bush market and don't the most of them being the centre of their local communities and thus opportunities for some urban regeneration"He has written his own blog on the situation here, which is well worth reading. It underlines how an alternative to the bullying and intimidation currently being pursued by our council could well be a solution similar to London Bridge market, another historic community asset owned by TfL and thriving as a result of real investment from their landlords.
We now know the traders have successfully pushed this project over the local elections line next year, so a future Hammersmith & Fulham council may wish to explore that option with TfL, particularly since they too seem to be far from convinced by Orion the property developers approach.
(As a postscript, for me this underlines the need for most of us to take the Assembly a bit more seriously than any of us really do. It's a democratic check and balance to the power of officials, and we wouldn't now know what we do without this session having taken place. Our council were not about to tell us, and neither were TfL. With the ongoing pantomime of Boris it's not hard to see why it's easily dismissed but I remember a session back in 2009 that left me with the same sense that Londoners really should know a lot more about how their lives are shaped by what happens at City Hall).