Wednesday, 28 August 2013

West Ken: Eric Pickles "fisked"

Oo-er. The letter sent by the office of the Secretary of State giving the green light to property developers and our Council to evict the residents of the West Kensington & Gibbs Green Estate has been comprehensively 'fisked' by Jonathan Rosenberg, community organisor for the campaign.

In Mr Rosenburg's opinion the decision is "...plainly irrational since there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary on most if not all of the grounds" given. You can read the letter above, which gives a series of reasons and logic for the decision. Here's their response:

The proposals:

Do not involve a conflict with national policies on important matters

The proposals obviously conflict with national policies for the Big Society and Localism because they involve dictating the future of the local community against its wishes. The Prime Minister and his minister have repeatedly claimed they are giving power to the people, to local communities, to decide the future of their neighbourhoods. The importance of these policies is reflected in the many statements from the Secretary of State and other Ministers. The Prime Minister has personally championed these policies, claiming this is something he is “passionate” about.

This conflict with national policy on this important matter has been reported in the national press, with dozens of articles in the Guardian and in the national media, including national television, and hundreds and thousands of media articles. For example, on 12 January 2011 the Financial Times ran a story with the headlines: “Regeneration row. West London project runs into difficulties. ‘Big Society’ threat to Earl’s Court Scheme”.

Do not have significant long term impact on economic growth and meeting housing needs across a wider area than a single authority

The loss of the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centres would have a significant long term impact on economic growth across many local authorities and more widely given their major role in UK and world trade. The Secretary of State is not qualified to opine otherwise since no economic assessment of their loss was made.

There is a significant impact on meeting housing needs across the wider area, which is caused by failing to take advantage of this development opportunity to maximise the amount of additional affordable housing prescribed by policy.

Do not have significant effects beyond their immediate locality

The destruction of the Exhibition Centres has significant effects across London and throughout the UK (more on this from AEO) as it leads to loss of business for hundreds of UK companies and in some case closure of businesses or cessation of Earl’s Court related operations, which is obviously an effect beyond its immediate locality.

The Centres generate at least £1 billion a year for the UK economy and play a major role in UK and international trade that would be lost and not replaced.

The relocation of the Lillie Bridge rail depot, which is the premier servicing facility for London Underground would be forced away from it central location, most likely to Ruislip. This would have a significant effect on the safe and efficient running of the Underground across the whole of London, which is obviously an effect beyond its immediate locality.

Do not give rise to substantial cross boundary or national controversy

On 23 August, 2013, Planning Magazine, the trade press for the planning profession reported the Secretary of State’s decision with the headline: “No call in for controversial Earls Court scheme”, The first word of the first sentence of the article is “Controversial”.

On 24 August 2013 the BBC reported the SoS’s decision not to call in.

It is quite apparent from reading just a few of the hundreds of media articles, and journalists have said so, that the scheme has given rise to cross-boundary and national controversy.

Do not raise significant architectural and urban design issues

Sir Terry Farrell would be surprised to hear that his scheme does not raise any significant architectural and urban design issues. The masterplan refers to a “unique opportunity” for “this extraordinary site” and lauds the masterplanner’s “visionary approach” for “an innovative and vibrant new district that is a beacon for sustainable living” that “introduces a new metropolitan ‘front door’ to the capital”.

In a Hammersmith & Fulham council press release dated 23 August 2013, developer Gary Yardley said: “The Masterplan will create a remarkable new district for London”.

At £8 billion, the Earl’s Court redevelopment is claimed to be the largest in the world outside of China. It involves the demolition of 760 decent homes, the EC Exhibition Centres and the rail depot so as to build 7,000, 80% of which would be unaffordable. It will involve the construction of several tower blocks up to 30 storeys high and over 4,000 car parking spaces.

“As the written ministerial statement of 10 May 2013 makes clear, the Government wants to see a focus on refurbishment and improvement of rundown or vacant properties rather their demolition. We would expect, in line with George Clarke’s ten point plan, landlords to consider options to upgrade and refurbish existing homes, in consultation with tenants, prior to considering demolition.” (Consultation on the Housing Transfer Manual 23 July 2013)

Ministerial Statement 10 May 2013 Empty Homes. Mark Prisk: “As part of this commitment, we have explicitly rejected the last Administration’s top-down, large-scale Whitehall targets for demolition and clearance. The obsession with demolition over refurbishment was both economically and environmentally wasteful, as well as involving significant damage of our nation’s heritage.”

Do not involve the interests of national security or of foreign governments
It likely will involve foreign governments given how much new development in inner London has been purchased by sovereign wealth funds, especially from Middle Eastern countries.

Monday, 26 August 2013

West Kensington: Pickles gives green light

The forced evictions of hundreds of residents against their will from the West Kensington & Gibbs Green Estate became a step closer last week with the anticipated decision by the Secretary of State not to “call in” the application for further investigation. This followed the equally anticipated decision by Boris Johnson to back his allies on Hammersmith & Fulham Council, and the news was passed on by the letter you can read above.

Responding to the decision our Council was not slow to claim victory over the residents with Nick Botterill declaring:
“This is fantastic news, ushering in a new generation of opportunity and prosperity for West London. The main beneficiaries will be people living on the estates who will receive new homes, major neighbourhood improvements and the ability to access thousands of new job opportunities.”
He is presumably not talking about the vast majority of residents who have made absolutely clear that they’d really quite like to stay where they are, please, which was expressed most eloquently by this 9 year old girl in the face of Council bouncers at a “consultation” event.

Here’s another resident who’s lived on the estate for 40 years Duggie Fields, responding to the news:

"Nothing surprising and certainly laughable to read that it has been 'carefully considered'........but then it is being 'considered' by people who can't think of consequences beyond the instant money fix that they are so dazzled by. The impact on the wider community is something that they refuse to consider, leaving the mess created for the future when they won't be around to be held responsible. Arrogant, un-principled, short-termism. Nothing new, and currently happening all over London now under this foolish regime."
While Andy Slaughter MP had this to say:
“West Ken and Earl's Court residents didn't expect Eric Pickles to do them any favours, developers always come before communities with this Government. But it has given us time to prepare a legal challenge to the planning consent which the Councils will now sign off. In fact, the slipshod way this decision has been made may give us another way of defeating the development. The Secretary of State says he will not to call in the planning application because it will not affect economic growth or housing needs, go wider than a single local authority or give rise to national controversy. It is a matter of fact that this scheme does all of this. It is the largest development under consideration in London, with an £8 billion value, almost no affordable housing and spanning two London boroughs. Not allowing a Public Inquiry may be unlawful as well as undemocratic.”
It seems that we now look forward to two separate Judicial Reviews as the residents stubbornly defend their communities. You would think that a Government, and Secretary of State, who set so much stall by “localism” and allowing local people to take control of their own futures might listen to these residents. But it seems the prospect of developers’ cash trumps the lot.

Look out for a comprehensive “fisking” of the Government’s letter announcing this decision later this week. One resident takes it apart line by line and gives a flavour of the battle that will now be fought out in court.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Wormholt Park Village Fair


Bush Blog Editor Bart Govaert brings us up to speed with the latest bash in Wormholt Park this afternoon...

The tireless Friends of Wormholt park organized the “Village Fair”, and great it was too.

There is no doubt that all of their hard work is starting to make a difference and the park is now much nicer than it was a few years ago.

Well, they were lucky with the weather, and sometimes pictures can say it much better than lots of words.
The bouncy castle

A group from Ealing singing out their hearts.

This is the stall of the ladies of the “White City knitting club”

More stalls and in the background the new Bloom development.. The council negotiated that this development paid for much of the improvements in the park. It will also house a health centre.

All in all, a great day - they were SO lucky with the weather. And it can be said again - these people are really making a difference to our neighbourhood.

Friday, 23 August 2013

QPR to Old Oak Common?

QPR have launched talks to explore a new stadium on the Old Oak Common site set to be transformed by the arrival of crossrail in the coming years, according to the BBC. The new 40,000 stadium would roughly double the current capacity at Loftus Road, while remaining in the backyard of the bush.

A few thoughts. First, I guess I am not the only one never really to have visited the old oak common area, at least until recently when I discovered it was quite useful as a running route back to W12 from the Grand Union canal. I was quite taken aback by the sense of dereliction of the place. Disused warehouses and wasteland are punctuated by the odd used building, such as a Syrian community centre standing forlornly alone. The investment and transformation of the area can't come too soon.

Secondly QPR has really got to find a new stadium and fast. It has long been like stepping back into an episode of the Sweeney to venture into that ground, complete with corrugated iron, micro plastic seats and fat blokes with pies screaming at athletes to run faster. A new stadium would at least deal with the first two!

QPR Quatro
Finally, however, this is one radical transformation of our backyard that everyone can get behind. There are no communities being involuntarily evicted, no businesses being turfed out and there seems to be every reason to celebrate what might be a fantastic new evolution of our part of London with a community club at the heart of it, unlike the experience of others who have felt the need to leave their home bases, such as Barnet recently.

In other words this looks like very good news indeed!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Police cuts: arrest rationing rejected

Shepherd's Bush has reached the dubious honour of being the second highest crime spot in the UK thanks to the Westfield Shopping Centre, and police are struggling to cope. They haven't been helped by the closure of the local police station front counter, and their desperation was there to be seen when a local Sergeant suggested that shops in the centre suffering thefts of less than £50 avoid contacting the police at all.

Westfield isn't the only challenge. We saw in 2011 how the area is being targeted by North African gangs and in 2012 I accompanied them on a drugs bust that was aimed at reclaiming a quiet street, while this raid on a crystal meth factory on the White City Estate revealed some of the hazards they now face as part of their fight to keep us safe.

So the suggestion of letting people thieve led to political condemnation, and rightly so. But was it a condemnation of the cuts that had led to the police struggling in the face of these sorts of challenges? No. It was of the idea itself, the police were "barmy" according to our Council. Here's Cllr Greg Smith speaking to the Standard
"We are pleased that the local police have rejected this barmy idea. Anyone who steals is a criminal – full stop. They will face the full force of the law in our borough."
What seems barmy to me is to cut the police force and close a police station in one of the most heavily hit crime areas in London. The Shepherd’s Bush Safer Neighbourhood Team in 2011 went from 5 sergeants, 15 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and 10 Constables to 2 Sergeants, 6 PCSOs and 18 Constables. So more constables, but less sergeants - a mixed bag when you consider the crucial role of sergeants in planning operations and building long term relationships with the community. 

Thursday, 15 August 2013

In her own words: Jane Vernon, on Council tenants in squalor

Last Thursday I carried a story based on a BBC London report featuring residents living in pest infested squalor, with our Council not apparently being much bothered to do a great deal about it. It attracted several thousand readers within an hour of being published, which is probably because of the BBC publicity.

Later that week H&F Council contacted me about the story and gave me their side of things, which I added to my article and which seemed to balance the picture a great deal. It appeared that actually our Council had been quite reasonable. Several of you, however, were furious that I had done so and accused me of giving them a free rein to make misleading claims.

Since then, I have been in direct contact with the woman featured in the BBC programme, Jane Vernon. I offered her the chance to tell her side of the story directly. She agreed and what appears below is unedited by anyone but her. It is pretty devastating stuff. Readers will draw their own conclusions as to how our Council is behaving.
“When I contacted the BBC on 1 August, I never expected them to take our story. I called them purely out of desperation, after two and a half months of living in a flat infested with bedbugs. LBHF’s response to the problem has been uncoordinated and ineffective, and they appear unwilling to take the advice they have been given, that the only way to rid the building of a problem that has been going on for 2 years, is to carry out specialist heat treatment on the whole building.

What I didn’t foresee was that LBHF would be so bothered by the media coverage that they would resort to issuing statements aimed at discrediting me personally. When public figures like Andy Slaughtor or Andy Johnson are given a hard time by the media, or publicly criticised, I think most people would regard that as all part of the job, but I am not a public figure, and I really didn’t expect the council to sink so low. Finding myself the target of a defamatory statement issued by LBHF’s vast and highly professional press department has been extremely distressing; I had thought that life with the bedbugs was a living hell, but this really did add insult to injury.

As the purpose of LBHF’s statement was clearly to damage my credibility, and publicly attack my integrity, I feel I have no option but to defend myself, and I therefore intend to address each point the council make.

It is true that Alasdaire Dunn of LBHF did visit my property on 30 April, I had been in the property for two months at this point, but as I had been severely depressed for much of that time, I had not managed to complete my unpacking. It is true that Mr Dunn offered to arrange help for me with this issue, but as I had nowhere to unpack things to, until I had made the inevitable visit to IKEA, I did turn down this offer. As this offer was made at least two weeks before I first reported the bedbug problem to the council, I do not see how it is relevant.

I did sign a form stating that other than the fact that the oven didn’t work, the extractor fan in the bathroom didn’t work, the electric socket in the kitchen wasn’t earthed, and the toilet seat was broken, the flat was great. If this is not what the form states, I can only say that Mr Dunn told me he had recorded the outstanding repairs.

Throughout April and the first half of May I noticed I had a lot of bites, but it was only when my neighbour told me that she thought they were bedbug bites, and that her and her family had been suffering from them for 15 months, that I realised what the problem was.

I reported the problem to the council on or about 20 May. Since then my property has been treated three times. The treatment has been badly managed and very disorganised.

First visit, no one bothered to contact me about the appointment, and I was not at home.

Second visit, 29 may, no one had bothered to tell me what preparations I needed to make, so the treatment was not very effective.

Third visit, 24 July, only three flats were treated, and the council made no effort to get access to the others.

Fourth visit, 2 August, by this time the infestation in my flat was so bad, that mere spraying was not going to solve the problem. Again two tenants did not grant access, and the council did nothing.

When Debbie Ricketts, of LBHF’s environmental health department visited my property on 3 July, I specifically asked her if I should continue to unpack, or wait until the bedbug problem had been resolved, her advice was not to unpack anything else at that stage. By the time she visited again on 9 August, she had changed her mind about me not unpacking the boxes, and these were clearly the main problem as far as she was concerned.

Later that day I read the council’s statement, and I suspected that Bruce Pennel and Debbie Ricketts had been asked for a briefing on the state of my flat.

It is interesting that they chose to portray me as uncooperative, as I had specifically asked them whether it was possible to get in a professional contractor, to collect, decontaminate and return my belongings, as, however hard I tried to keep up with washing everything, by the time it was dry it was likely to be reinfested.

As for my vast horde of old books and magazines, which I am alleged to be refusing to dispose of, at most I have about one large IKEA Billy book case worth of books: Braille, print and audio, and a couple of catalogues. For the avoidance of doubt, at no time have I been asked to allow a pest control company to treat any books, or the contents of any boxes; far from refusing to cooperate with such treatment, I have positively requested it.

This morning I received an email from Bruce Pennel of LBHF stating that a specialist company would be contacting me to arrange a visit to assess what kind of treatment would be required. When Ms Ricketts attended my property this morning, I asked her how this cleaning process was going to work if the building was still infested. She replied that everything would be contained in plastic. I asked if I would therefore not have access to my belongings, she responded that I could unpack things as I needed them. I pointed out to her that as soon as I did this, my belongings would be reinfested. At this point she became very flustered and said she had to go. I suggested that she probably needed to get back to speak to someone from their coms department, to which she replied “well why don’t you go running to the BBC again.”

I think it is clear from what I have said, that at no point have I refused to allow pest control to take whatever action they have seen fit, and indeed, I have asked for professional contractors to be engaged.

LBHF clearly want to portray me as a difficult uncooperative hoarder, and I categorically deny the allegations they have made against me.

I can answer every point they raise in their statement, and should they make further defamatory statements about me I will have no hesitation in seeking legal advice.

Jane Vernon

Thursday, 8 August 2013

BBC London: H&F "squalor" for vulnerable

BBC London carried a shocking report into the conditions some of the most vulnerable tenants of Hammersmith & Fulhams dwindling stock of social housing are forced to endure last night. A blind woman and another with an autistic son described being eaten alive by bed bugs and having to deal with mice and other infestations. Reports from pest control experts were shown recommending immediate action but, the BBC reported, none of the major works had yet been done.

Andy Slaughter MP, as you might imagine, had some fairly apocalyptic language to use, accusing the Council of deliberately subjecting people to these sort of conditions in a Dame Shirley-like campaign to rid the borough of undesired people. I'm not sure anyone at Hammersmith Town Hall would really sit down and plan for people to suffer like this, but the evidence of the report certainly doesn't sound like a Council that particularly cares about these residents.

Frankly the Council, who didn't bother to put up a representative for the programme, came across as a negligent landlord. Which wouldnt be the first time they have been accused of that, as the fire risk that residents of the West Ken estate were exposed to last year illustrates. Ah yes, that's the West Ken estate the Council want to, er, sell to property developers...

1930 UPDATE - Hmmm. It seems that this BBC piece was more than a little one-sided and, if what I am told by the Council is true, pretty unprofessional. Here's some information which I am told was sent on time to BBC London, but which did not feature anywhere in their piece:
"In brief, a council housing officer visited Ms Vernon on 30 April 2013. The visit report made no mention of bed bugs, mice or damp and the condition of the property was described as “good”. The report also stated that Ms Vernon was still unpacking and that she was offered support but declined. The report was signed by Ms Vernon.

On the same day that bed bugs were reported pest control was dispatched immediately and arrived within a couple of hours to treat the problem. The pest control company has made several visits to the property since, including last Friday, and is telling us that they found no evidence of any surviving bugs in the rest of the block but fumigated again anyway.

We have provided Ms Vernon with a new bed and the pest control company is telling us that, if Ms Vernon suspects that she is still being bitten by bed bugs, the likely source is a collection of old boxes, magazines and books in her flat that need to be treated and, in some cases, replaced. We have advised Ms Vernon about this but, thus far, she has refused to let the pest control company take the necessary actions. We had one report of mice but the landlord (please note we are not the landlord as is leased from private sector) acted on this immediately and we have had no reports since. However if mice have returned we will, of-course, take action to sort these out too.”
The truth in these things is usually somewhere in between the two conflicting accounts but this account, particularly the refusal of the tenant to allow the pest control company in to the property, at the very least puts a different complexion on things. BBC London will need to explain why they preferred not to include any of this information in their piece, while the Council for all of my criticisms of them seem to have good reason to complain themselves.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Sweat bus to hit Hammersmith

Broken down bus
The new Boris Buses, each costing £354,000 per bus, will be joining the fleet serving Hammersmith as the number 390 joins the throng. The 'routemaster' replacement has been renamed the 'roastmaster' over the course of the summer, referring to the unbearably sweaty conditions on the behicle which does not permit users to open the windows. The air conditioning system does not work, leading even Boris cheerleaders at the Evening Standard to declare the buses a disaster. 

Even the vaunted 'on-off' hop on and off system is frequently not in operation as the doors are closed, adding to the sweat box conditions.

Speaking to MayorWatch the Mayor defended his expensive new buses:

“We will ensure these buses more than earn their keep over the next few years. By keeping them in harness in the capital for the entirety of their useful life, we will be extracting every last drop of value out of them.”
But Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson said:
“The New Bus for London is an expensive vanity project which the next Mayor will abandon as an outdated and polluting waste of money. Londoners’ simply can’t afford the higher fares that will come from paying £37m a year to bus assistants whose only real job is to stop people falling off the rear platform when it is open".