Friday 28 October 2011

Greenhalgh video: cutting taxes in H&F

Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh is upset that he hasn't cut taxes more and plans to bring our borough to the levels of Wandsworth and K&C. In this video which I've just been sent, he spoke at a fringe meeting of the Taxpayers Alliance.

This is one of the many Cllr Greenhalgh spoke at, including the event I covered in Manchester for the blog with Greg Hands MP, covering much the same ground.At that meeting Cllr Greenhalgh made an impassioned plea for what he regarded as more "freedom" for local authorities to be more responsive and accountable to their residents.

Have a watch - bear in mind he is speaking to a Tory audience, so he wasn't using the tone he might do at a public meeting, but it is a useful insight into the psyche of our Council.

Opponents will make the point that all of this cutting has already come at a large cost - to local services such as Sure Start and the voluntary sector. But it is also no bad thing, surely, that the bill to the taxpayer is on a downward curve. And some of the Council's ideas for saving our cash are hard to argue against - sharing a Chief Exec is a very good start indeed. So let's have more savings on waste and less on services to the vulnerable - pie in the sky?

West London Free School "isolates" pupil for haircut

Free-Schooler Toby Young has revealed just how seriously he takes his new vision of tip-top pupils in our borough by condoning their 'isolation' of an 11 year old boy for having a haircut that was "3mm too short". The Standard reports that Kai Frizzle was told that his "Barack Obama" style cut, which is a 1.5 grade round the sides and 2 grade on top, was just short of their definition of what was acceptable.

What followed was his "segregation" from other pupils in an experience that left his mother thinking about taking him out of the school altogether.

Looking at the photo you've got to wonder what the problem is, here. The lad is apparently vice president of the school council and a regular in the rugby team, and happens to have the same sort of haircut as many of his peers. And what is this "isolation" stuff about, anyway?!

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Dewhurst Road murder: Update

An update on the murder which took place at Dewhurst Road W14 has just been sent to me by local police - I didn't originally report this as it is officially outside the Bush but it's clearly something a lot of you are interested in, so I hope this helps. I've noticed writing this blog that you get periods when much of the stories relate to crime and then very large gaps between them - at the moment, sadly, its the crime story time. And as my time last week with the Shepherd's Bush Police showed, there are some pretty serious crims in W12 that need catching. Just the time to be cutting Police numbers, then.

Here's the Dewhurst Road update:

Police were called by the London Ambulance Service at approx. 15:55hrs on Friday 21 October to reports of a body at an address in Dewhurst Road, W14.

Officers attended and located the body of a man aged in his late 50s. Next of kin are in the process of establishing the next of kin await formal identification.

A post-mortem examination, which took place on Sunday 23 October at Fulham Mortuary, gave the cause of death as head injury caused by blunt trauma injury.

An incident room has opened at Barnes under DCI Howard Groves (HSCC).

DCI Groves said: "It is believed that the victim was attacked inside his home between 19.00hrs on Thursday 20 October and some time the following morning.

"I'm eager to speak to anyone who was in or near Dewhurst Road during that period. I am particularly keen to speak to anyone who may have seen or heard any suspicious activity around the address. If you're in any doubt, please contact the Incident Room."

Anyone with any information is asked to contact the incident room on 020 8247 7821; Or if you wish to remain anonymous please call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

There has been no arrest at this time nor has there been a weapon recovered.

Hammersmith Park: incident rumours

I have been contacted by a large number of you about a possible incident that took place in or around Hammersmith Park, W12, near to the BBC yesterday. A number of you saw a large Police presence with areas taped off and I have different versions from that point onwards about what some of you were told by the police standing around the park. Sadly, each version is pretty nasty.

I have been in contact with the Police press office but they are having, it would seem, some internal communications challenges. I will publish what they send as and when I get it.

In the meantime share what you know with your fellow Bushers in the comments, in the normal way. Keep checking back here for updates.

UPDATE - Here's what the Police have just told me:

"We can confirm that police are investigating an allegation of rape which occurred at approximately 21:00hrs, on Tuesday 25th October in Hammersmith Park, W12.

The allegation was made by a 14 year-old female.

Detectives from the MPS Sapphire Unit based at Fulham Police Station are investigating.

+ 16year old male was arrested in connection with the incident and taken to West London police station - later bailed to return in early January pending further inquiries".

Sorry for the delay on updating this one - I am actually on holiday at the moment! But many thanks to those of you who alerted me to it - I think it actually pushed the Police into issuing something sooner than might otherwise have been the case - and the good thing about that is that it takes away some of the other rumours that were circulating about what had taken place.

Sculpted H&F

A new online database of H&F sculptures has been produced to assist residents in exploring their own backyard, and discovering some previously unknown corners of it. I love this sort of thing - we're living in one of the most historic cities in the world, that has influenced just about every corner of everywhere else, and we hardly even explore it ourselves. 

I've always made a note to check out Fulham a bit more but still haven't. Maybe this new database will make the difference - check it out, and credit to the Council, along with Hammersmith and Fulham Historic Buildings Group and English Heritage, for taking the initiative.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Shepherd's Bush Market: Pennard & Goldhawk residents lodge objections

Read the objections lodged by local residents to the proposed seven floor luxury flat complex that our Council wants property developers Orion to build on top of our Market. Many of these objections, including the likely increase of anti social behaviour, the build up of traffic and parking plus the impact on the Market itself, were made verbally at this meeting.

At that meeting Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh made a promise to block the project if traders operating out of the historic terrace on Goldhawk Road didn't want to be knocked down to make way for a third entrance. He has quietly forgotten that promise, it seems, and the developers are pressing on with what I understand to be much behind-the-scenes encouragement.

Reading this document, which I publish in full below, you can see both the anger and sense of helplessness on the part of residents and traders alike. But money talks, and it talks very loudly indeed.

S-Bush Mket Objection - Oct 2011

Monday 24 October 2011

My day with the Police - raiding a Crystal Meth lab

Running towards drugs raid flat
Gas! Gas! Gas!” came the shouts as we turned and ran headlong back down the stairwell, with words like “death bag” and “poison fumes” having been implanted in our minds by the specialist Police drugs unit that had accompanied us on a raid of a suspected drugs laboratory, making Crystal Meth on a quiet Shepherd’s Bush housing estate near the BBC.

Round the back of the housing block was a plastic see through bag containing what must have been thousands of pounds of pure white coloured crystals, hurled from the third floor of the block of flats. The individuals inside, one man and two women, had been alerted to the raid by the full scale CCTV system they had rigged up which transmitted pictures of anyone coming near the front door to a screen inside their laboratory-front room.

Outside drugs flat waiting for entry
High, caught in the anti-pigeon netting on the flats, was another which hadn’t made it all the way down. I couldn’t stop looking at the innocuous looking plastic bag on the ground in front of me – it was odd coming face-face with a substance that has the power to kill someone within months of taking up the super-addictive habit, destroying them from within. “If you’re arresting someone on that” said a Constable, “it’s like they’ve got super-human powers”. “You mean they think they have” said I, “no, no – they really do – it fires them up into something unbelievable, writhing around like their life depends on it”. But then another told me that if you look at mug shots taken during the course of an addict’s regular interaction with the police, you can trace the physical signs of wasting on their faces.

CCTV used to spot Police
Such was a day in the life of the Shepherd’s Bush Safer Neighbourhood Team, who I last saw on one Saturday night on patrol around the Bush and I was privileged to be joining again for another window into their world of protecting our streets. Today’s action was a series of raids focussed on dealing with a drugs problem that has long blighted W12. After the occupants of the drug factory flat were led away to be questioned the officers searching the place brought out some of the assorted weaponry that the pre-briefing intelligence had told us might be there – it included a samurai sword and a heavy wooden axe with two jagged blades that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a medieval battlefield. Our officers were armed with nothing more than a fire extinguisher, a baton – and their own nous.

Weapons from drugs flat
We had come to this scene after having executed two other warrants, both for drug related offences, on the White City estate and on a road near to QPR what was clearly, judging by the neighbours’ reactions, a well-known suspected drugs house. The local neighbourhood watch co-ordinator, neighbours who lived around the property – and even the passing postman for goodness sakes congratulated the officers on taking action. They had all had to suffer anti-social behaviour at the hands of the occupants of this flat. In both cases the doors were expertly undone by a specialist police team with kit that is very clever but also very heavy, followed with no warning by a charge from a column of riot-gear clad police officers shouting “Police! Get down!” as they sought to use surprise and controlled force to follow what one officer described to me as a doctrine of ‘dominate and dictate’ the situation. After each dramatic entry it was if a Jekyll & Hyde transformation had taken place, with the officers immediately reverting to quiet and polite tones with those they were questioning, and arresting – in the face of some pretty provocative anti-Police vitriol from the unimpressed occupants of the properties.

In each case the momentary drama was followed by a long lull, as fingertip searches (another specialist task) and in one case dog handing experts (yet another specialist task) were brought in to deal with a none-too-happy suspected pit bull terrier. Half an hour later as the officers shivered in the cold outside a thick-set canine was brought out on an equally thick leash.

Prior to each of these raids we received an intelligence briefing which gave something of the backgrounds of the suspects, all of whom had recorded involvement in a variety of violent offences, some of which were on the very serious end of the spectrum. These were people who were potentially dangerous and certainly difficult. As if to illustrate this the house with the dog also turned up a stun-gun – which is a handheld device that is pressed against the victim before discharging a potentially lethal electric charge. Nice. It put the bag of cannabis they also found into perspective, and was taken off to be analysed as evidence.
A bag of Crystal Meth - thrown from the window above

And those fingertip searches? I asked the officer doing them whether he worried about coming into contact with needles – these were drug raids after all. He shrugged his shoulders – you need to do it, he said.

These are the things that the Safer Neighbourhood Team do on our streets with no fanfare but with every day exposure to risk that the rest of us would run a mile from. And yet these are also the people that are facing the brunt of some of the cuts we’ve all been hearing about. The Government, and to some extent our Council, talk about there being no “front line” cuts. And to some extent the figures back them up – the Shepherd’s Bush team has gone from 5 sergeants, 15 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and 10 Constables to 2 Sergeants, 6 PCSOs and 18 Constables. So in a sense that is a good news story – but what about that reduction from 5 Sergeants to 2?

Arrest being made
In the course of each of these raids, and during my time with the team on one Saturday night, it was abundantly clear to me that the Sergeant is basically the play-maker of the show. The three raids on that morning took approximately 16 hours of painstaking planning – can you imagine doing the risk assessment for an unarmed raid on a home-made laboratory manufacturing one of the most dangerous drugs known to man, the occupants of which are armed with swords/axes with every incentive to use them? The gases that are released during the process of making crystal meth are fatal to such an extent that if you breathe them in, we were told, there is nothing that can be done for you. The “death bag” we heard about in the briefing referred to holdalls that the drug-makers use to store their chemistry sets – they are caked in lethal resin which releases deadly fumes – so if you open the bag and breathe the chances are you will not live for much longer.

En route to raid on White City Estate
So the Sergeant is absolute lynchpin, responsible for what seems like everything – and we’ve just increased their workload by a factor of three. Consider that when you’re next feeling up against it at work.

And hang on a minute, what is the fabled “front-line” anyway? It sounds straightforward but one of the reasons politicians use it a lot is surely because it is meaningless. What about the specialist door breakers, are they “front line”? Probably not, but the raids wouldn’t have happened without them and there would still be those drugs on our street. And the dog handlers, are they “front line”? Again, no – but if you’d seen that angry canine bristling with aggression and muscle you’d have understood that the raid wouldn’t have happened without them either, the dogs are frequently used as weapons against the Police.

On our way to a raid near QPR
And just in case you were thinking I was eulogising the Sergeants over everyone else two incidents on the way back from the drugs laboratory really underlined why beat neighbourhood policing, run and implemented by officers and PCSOs who know the area intimately, really transforms our neighbourhoods. In one case, as we were driving back, we came across two men who had stopped a car on Ellerslie Road and were peeing through someone’s garden fence while holding cans of beer. They were stopped, dealt with using almost excessive politeness in the face of some fairly non-polite language and had their beer tipped away. Not happy customers.

White City drugs raid
And then the incident that for me underlined at once both the trivial and potentially serious that these guys face without any warning every day – in the afternoon, as we were inspecting some off licenses on Uxbridge Road for illicit alcohol (the subject of a separate article later), a young lad was seen walking down the road with the essential must-have box of fried chicken and chips. Being a confident lad he was illustrating his manhood by dramatically flicking chips on to the pavement as he walked along. Two PCSOs approached this Lord of the Manor and, again using politeness which can’t come easy when you’re dealing with an individual I would describe using words that can’t be found on a family blog like this, asked him to please stop doing that. Before they could ask him to pick his chips up, he started getting aggressive and mouthy, so they stopped and searched him. And what did they find in his back pocket? A Stanley knife. Bear in mind that these PCSOs are armed only with a stab vest. And a hat.

This was why when I last met these people back in June, quietly confronting danger and risk on our behalf, from sword wielding major drug producers to some cocky teenager with a knife, I said this:
“I find this starving of resources for people that are willing to do a job for our streets, dealing with utmost humanity to a terminally ill alcoholic on the Green one minute and then a lippy violent drunk the next, not to mention the paperwork and the potential for knives and other dangers, an absolute scandal. More on that to come, I intend to take it up with the Council”.
I did take it up, and in fairness the Council should rightly be praised for having responded. That Saturday night in June I was shocked to find they had to rely on a battered old van with no blue lights and a sliding door that had to be closed gently – in case it fell off its hinges.

Samurai sword taken from drugs raid flat
When I turned up for the morning intelligence briefing this week I saw the old van still, but also two shiny new looking vans as well, all three of which we used on the raids. It meant that we could get the requisite number of police officers and specialists to the three sites on time and together. And when I got out of the van, the door had been fixed. So credit where it is due, particularly to Greg Smith who leads for the Council on policing.

But on cutting Police Sergeants – next time you hear a politician either in H&F, or the Mayor or the Home Secretary herself talk about the “front line” being protected, remember that there is no such thing. The world of policing just isn’t that simple, and for every Sergeant or so-called “non frontline” specialist gone there are crimes and criminals that go undetected.

It's often said that difficult situations bring out the best and worst in people, and nowhere is it more true than with this team. They face the worst but do it with a sense of humour that I saw more of this time than last – some truly naughty jokes lightened the mood while an obvious preparedness to put in hours of (often unpaid) work because they genuinely care about the area they are serving is actually quite humbling. So the thought of that good nature being taken advantage of somehow is not a good one and I plan on making that case to the Council again – but in the meantime do say hello next time you see them, they might just need the sight of a friendly smile more than you think.

28.06.12 UPDATE - I learned during more time with the same team today that the man arrested at this flat received a sentence of 3.5 years. Which means he will be out in 12 months or so. What was instructive was my reaction "only 3 years"?! contrasted with that of the Police, who had been quite pleased.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Oxjam - it's here. It's next Saturday.

Halloween in the Bush this year will be accompanied by DJ’s including Radio 1Xtra CJ Beatz, T4's Georgie Okell, Nigel Thomas (Death2Disco/The Foxes), Lifestyle Recordings, Danny Rouco, Kone-R and musicians Saint Saviour (ex Groove Armada), KAYA, B U I L_D I N G S, Bebe Black, Venkman, Elephant 12, IVienna, Les Bonbons, LiA, Instill, Gaolers Daughter, Avius, Goodluck Jonathan, Some Velvet Morning, Matt Whip & the Waits, The LyeBurns, Thousand Photos Of You, Ros Coe Tanner, Rodney Culture, Daina Ashmore, Lumière Chieh, Ashleigh Lowes, Emma Ballantine, The London Electric, Dirt Urchins, Pocket Satellite, Hugh Neal, Animal Circus, Uncle Pedro, Mercia, The Jonbarr Hinge, Noiseframe, Seventh Will and more will be performing at The Defectors Weld, Walkabout, Raving Buddha, Vesbar, The Green Room and The Goldhawk as part of the UK’s biggest music festival – Oxjam. Coming to Shepherd’s Bush for the first time on Saturday 29th October, raising money for Oxfam’s work in fighting poverty and suffering around the world.

You can all the latest from their website here and for regular updates like their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter @OxjamShepBush

The Takeover forms part of Oxjam’s month of music, which runs through the whole of October. Oxjam is a festival with a difference: thousands of fundraising music events are put on by ordinary people – from an intimate acoustic gig in a book shop to an epic night in a top London venue – making it the biggest line-up of any music festival in the UK. Last year, more people attended an Oxjam event than went to Glastonbury.

Oxjam Shepherd’s Bush Takeover is aiming to raise £10,000 this October.

Buy tickets from

Standard Ticket - £10.00, Group Ticket (5 or more people) - £8.00 each

Door times: 2pm - late / Age limit: 18 and over

Georgina Marcantonio, who is marketing/organising the event, said:
“We’re really excited to be playing our part in making Oxjam Shepherd’s Bush Takeover part of a month-long musical celebration right across the country. Even more importantly, this event is all about showing that the best in local music can have a global impact too, so everyone who comes along and buys a ticket can rest assured that as well as having a great time, they’ll be helping to change lives around the world too.”
There have already been several fantastic fundraising events in the lead up to this event, including a pub quiz at The Defectors Weld, a fabulous stall at the Bush Festival – complete with human fruit machine – that raised awareness and cash! a very successful singles night ‘Love & War’ at The Goldhawk, a dance workshop at Westfield, a Frock Swap and a cupcake master class at the Defectors Weld!

So as you rush to get your tickets just remember one thing - this is being put on by volunteers - so say thank-you when you see them!

Thursday 20 October 2011

Sharing Chief Exec saves taxpayer "pot full" of cash

H&F Town Hall
Derek Myers, chief executive of Kensington & Chelsea, yesterday took up his post as new supremo reigning over not just K&C by H&F as well, with another office in Hammersmith Town Hall. This has been long in coming but has been seen, as with so many other things that our Council do, as a pioneering move that other councils are being urged by central Government to follow.

The move has been attacked by Labour as being a first step towards effective merger of the authorities with real questions about democratic accountability. When, they ask, were the people of either borough asked if they wanted their services delivered by a super authority, and where will this move towards merger end? With a single group of elected councillors? 

Labour Opposition Leader Stephen Cowan said this in June:
"I asked officials why these two boroughs were chosen to be H&F’s partners. It’s because the Conservative “politicians get on well with each other and have a lot in common” came the reply. That’s not the greatest of reasons. I can see the logic of sharing some services with Kensington and Chelsea Council – indeed; the last Labour administration did precisely that but not Westminster – especially given its difficult circumstances".

"So maybe there is some truth in the allegation that the overall objective for this merger is an attempt to gerrymander a more comprehensive political union between the three Conservative run councils and do away with current borough boundaries before the voters have a chance to kick any of them out at the next elections"?
You can see why Labour are particularly fearful of the second issue - K&C is a true blue Tory fiefdom while H&F is a marginal that changes hands. A merger would mean that the authority would be Tory dominated, basically, for ever. But I think that prospect is frankly a million miles away and certainly not in the offing before the next round of local elections which Labour stand a reasonable chance of doing well in.

What might be more worrying are his warnings of stealth taxes and other charges for residents rising to the highest of the three - which would in our case mean forking out more to bring us in line with what people in the other two boroughs pay.

What I find really interesting though about this is that, almost like Belgium which has now survived without a Government for several years without the sky falling in, it demonstrates that actually there are potentially lots of civil servants out there that are surplus to requirements, many of whom are very highly paid indeed. In fact Geoff Alltimes, the Chief Exec of H&F who stood down this week, was one of the highest paid in the UK. Already K&C/H&F, along with Westminster Council who keep their Chief Exec but share some services, have announced savings of approaching £1 million by cutting back on Directors of Services - that is really good stuff. 

Speaking to the Financial Times new Supermo Myers said:
"It's certainly the most radical re-alignment of management functions that local government has ever seen. It's a pretty bold experiment. The model has been proven elsewhere but in a smaller context. We genuinely think it is going to work and it will save a pot full of money."
So credit to our Council for recognising this - if they can make it work without a dilution of services, which have already been cut back substantially, they will rightly win plaudits for being the first to do this.

Stephen Greenhalgh, Leader of H&F, recently commented:
“Residents expect us to strain every sinew to deliver better services with fewer resources. One of the ways we can protect the front line is to strip out unnecessary and duplicated management overheads. This report shows how, by sharing the top jobs, it is possible to reduce the bill for senior managers by millions of pounds.”
Keep straining the sinews!

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Oxjam Shepherd's Bush acts announced

The full list is out for Saturday 29th October - six months of hard slog for the Oxjam team which has seen dating events, stalls at community events across the Bush and lots more besides will culminate in an eruption of musical experiences taking place at six venues across W12.

Upmarket Defector's Weld, posh Vesbar, exclusive The Green Room, loud and dirty Raving Buddha and the refined Goldhawk Pub will even be joined by local residents favourite The Walkabout in staging gigs galore of some pretty impressive acts.

So now's the time to get yer tickets which are flying off the shelves at £10 a pop - you can buy them here. All proceeds go to Oxfams work in some of the most difficult and challenging places in the world, which I have seen for myself in the day job - I can personally vouch for the good work they do.

So get yourselves along and have a great time. Maybe see some of you there.

Chelsea & QPR to compete for BBC site

I spoke to a senior BBC producer the other week who told me that in his view the Corporation was bitterly regretting ever, as he put it, "offering up on a plate" their West London base. He derided the politics that Labour had promoted, that of regionalisation of the programming output, pointing out that they were simply swapping one region - London - for another -  Salford. He asked whether someone in Newcastle would really care whether their programmes were being produced in London or the North West - given the regional rivalry on either side of the Penines, he guessed if the Geordie viewer cared at all, they'd have opted for London!

But the die is cast and we already hear rumblings from Chelsea about how they really ought to move out of Stamford Bridge, and of course QPR who long ago outgrew Loftus Road. According to this report, sent to me by a reader, the White City building itself (the white one up the road from TV Centre near the A40 bridge) is also set to be put on the market, creating a rather substantial patch of land. Just the sort of place you might construct a football stadium!

You've got to assume such a project would be years in the making but it seems there is a good chance of one of them succeeding - in the current economy only a football club owned by some of the richest men in the world would be able to buy it anyway. And you have to assume that QPR should be awarded first go, this being, er, Shepherd's Bush and all. 

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Hit & run on Uxbridge Road?

courtesy of @BryanPlumb
Several of you have reported seeing a heavy police presence on Uxbridge Road last night with one reader opening his door to be confronted with blue tape (see pic). Unconfirmed reports are that a car hit a pedestrian and then drove off, leaving the victim injured but alive.

I have been in touch with the police and will report back when I have further info but in the meantime feel free to share anything with your fellow Bushers using the comments section.

WEDNESDAY UPDATE - Better late than never, I've had this update from the local Safer Neighbourhood Team, effectively confirming what several of you had thought, here's what I have been told:

"The accident on Uxbridge Road which occurred on Monday evening was a male that was hit by vehicle. He was aged 40 Years of age and suffered head injuries. He is in a stable condition."

FRIDAY UPDATE - An arrest has now been made of the suspected driver

H&F Councillor uses C word in public

I like Greg Smith. There, I've said it - he's a hard right-ish sort of politician with very strong views, but equally quite a strong track record of supporting the local police where he can, although much of that took place before the budget cuts started to be felt.

He's also an earthy sort of guy who swears a lot - and as I said when I pulled him up here for swearing a lot in public (following, I might add, conversations with some of his exasperated colleagues who wished he'd tone it down a bit) I don't think anyone who knows me could resist shouting "hypocrite" if I was to go on about swearing too much. I quite like it when politicians don't confirm to boring stereotypes!

But here he is, predictably, being pilloried again by Labour attack blog H&FConWatch for loosing off another foul mouthed tirade, albeit one from late August, about his favourite sport Formula One. Personally I think the prospect of watching 50 toy cars drive round in a circle lots of times is only slightly worse than chewing off my own tongue so I've no idea what he was talking about when he called someone called Kobayashi an "arsehole" and a "c*nt" - but you have to ask yourself what would happen if he used that kind of language publicly in front of one of the police officers he can rightly say he's supported - "would you mind stepping this way with me, please, Sir"!

Monday 17 October 2011

Bush Theatre's opening night

The Bush went for broke for its relaunch opening night - nothing less than a 24-hour theatrical binge, starting at 7pm on Friday night and going through non-stop till Saturday evening at 7pm with 66 new plays "responding" to all 66 books of the King James Bible. Sixty-six writers, 23 directors and 130 actors are the awesome statistics.

So says Carole Woddis on the luvvies favourite The Arts Desk about Bush Theatre's 66 Books production, the first to open their new building after what seems like a marathon journey since I reported their move here last November.
"Sometimes theatre people do mad things. Like stay up all night and the following day to “celebrate” the King James Bible and a theatre’s house-move to new premises. Its 400th year has been a good year for that collection of stories currently being advertised elsewhere as “the book that changed the world”. And for the Bush Theatre's outgoing artistic director Josie Rourke, having moved into John Passmore Edwards’ elegant Victorian Library round the corner from its old Shepherd’s Bush Green stamping ground this weekend, “there’s no finer act than to open a new theatre - it’s the single most beautiful thing I’ve done in my life.”
Oh, Dahlings, mwah mwah! Now read on.

Friday 14 October 2011

Hammersmith ghost is shot by drunk man

Francis Smith, of Hammersmith, has pleaded guilty to being in posession of a firearm while under the influence of alcohol ... it's just that it was a little while ago. Now read on, in this fascinating little account from the Uncanny UK blog, which gives a glimpse of what our neck of the woods was like at the turn of the 19th century!

In 1804 the then village of Hammersmith, London, was in a state of terror and indignation thanks to a white-sheeted ‘ghost’ that hassled young women and panicked the stage coach horses after dark. Some people thought the ghost was real, others that it was a hoax – the latter were correct. One night a resident, Francis Smith, after more than a few drinks, decided to take the law into his own hands and seek out the culprit. He took a gun with him. Down Black-lion Lane he encountered a white figure approaching. When the figure failed to answer him, Smith fired a shot at it – and killed Thomas Millwood, a plasterer, who was on his way home in his white jacket and trousers covered in plaster. This contemporary illustration shows the moment Smith fires his gun at the unfortunate Millwood. I love these 19th century engravings, they are so full of character (look at that wonderful old pub, for example, and the bizarre outfit worn by the plasterer).

Happy Friday!

Wednesday 12 October 2011

New chicken shops for Shepherd's Bush!!!!

Lucky, lucky us - we are to get a new fried chicken shop according to the tweets being furiously pumped out by Sam's Chicken on Twitter today. I mean, if there is one thing Shepherd's Bush is not short of it is fried chicken shops up and down the Uxbridge Road!

I do know one section of the population that will be delighted by their arrival though - our rodent neighbours...

In the meantime here is some commentary on the social benefits of fried chicken shops from comic Mickey Flanagan:

Human traffickers sentenced to 12 years

Two human traffickers who forced women into prostitution in West London were jailed for a total of 12 years on monday. They were based in a brothel in nearby Chelsea so it is quite possible the ads for their 'services' were carried in the Fulham Chronicle's adult section in a practice H&F Council has described as "highly distasteful". Several of the ads they carry, as you can see from the pic below, advertise services in the Chelsea area.

Sergey Konart, 41, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and Ekaterina Kolesnikova, 26, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to a series of charges, including trafficking and controlling prostitution.

During the hearing at Southwark Crown Court, the court heard how officers from the Metropolitan Police Service's Human Exploitation and Organised Crime Command arrested the pair in December 2010 after searching five addresses - two in Chelsea, two in Queensway and one in Earl's Court. They also searched a safety deposit box held by Konart in Knightsbridge.

The pair - who were operating as part of a Russian and European based organised criminal network - recruited vulnerable young Eastern European women to come to the UK by promising them opportunities to make large amounts of money as waitresses, shop assistants or dancers.

Once in the UK they took the girls' ID and travel documents. They then held the girls to a debt bond of up to £80,000, which they forced them to pay off by working as a prostitute from residential addresses in Chelsea - charging clients up to £200 a visit. They were threatened with violence and plied with ecstasy and cocaine to gain compliance.

In her witness account, one of the victims stated the work she was being forced to do made her "skin crawl". She said she felt "sick" because lots of the clients were "disgusting". She "hated" her life and knew that it was very harmful for her health and having a big impact on her mental state. Another victim stated: "I felt used and thrown away."

Speaking after their sentences were handed down Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, from the SCD9 Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit, said:
"Konart and Kolesnikova [the convicted traffickers] recruited vulnerable young women on the promise of well paid employment in the UK. On their arrival in London they were forced into prostitution in some of the capital's exclusive areas".

"Traffickers have no regard for the rights or wellbeing of those they exploit. Anyone who uses prostitution service needs to be aware that they are part of the exploitation and may be committing offences"
That'll be why the Police keep asking newspapers to stop helping pimps and brothels by taking their cash for advertising.

Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Martin, head of the Human Exploitation and Organised Crime Unit of the Metropolitan Police, recently said this to editors:

"The adverts often purport to be massage parlours, saunas or escort agencies, but are in reality a front for criminal networks to advertise trafficked victims for sexual services. 
"Advertisements that offer multi-national or young women or which are sexually suggestive in tone are often the type found to be linked to the provision of sexual services and / or the presence of trafficked women. 
"It is these types of adverts I am seeking your support in preventing. I would ask that you put in place a system to satisfy yourselves that those seeking to place advertisements are genuine concerns or businesses and not a cover for the criminal activity highlighted above".
But money is more important to our local paper it seems so they haven't given the police the support they have asked for by not accepting these adverts, so don't expect to see this story there.

Andy Slaughter tackles David Cameron over H&F NHS cuts

Andy Slaughter has just asked Prime Minister David Cameron during a rowdy session of Prime Minister's Questions dominated by the Liam Fox affair about the NHS cuts I reported here, and first reported by the Independent newspaper.

The reality, said Mr Slaughter, was that Imperial Healthcare Trust has to make 5% year on year cuts over a period of the next 5 years - a quarter of its overall budget. How did that square, Mr Slaughter wanted to know, with the Government's pledge not to cut health services?

The Prime Minister was withering in his response, quoting Labour's new Health spokesperson Andy Burnham MP, who had apparently said that it was "irresponsible to increase NHS spending in real terms". Mr Cameron said that he and his Government disagreed, and sat down to rowdy cheers from the Conservative benches.

What this shows is two things - first, you should never expect a politician to answer a question - the cuts here are clearly very real and the prospect of Charing Cross Hospital either being closed altogether or the A&E Department being lost is causing H&F Council to fight against it. Second it demonstrates that this is now set to be an issue that stands to affect all of us and will take centre stage in the debate in months to come.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Residents revolt! Boris ambushed at Place West London conference

Boris Johnson was ambushed by West Kensington residents, furious at the prospect of being evicted from their homes in order that property developers can move in as part of our Council's plans to redevelop Earl's Court.

The conference, which is supported by H&F Council and the Fulham Chronicle, had clearly not banked on people power as the Mayor of London was unceremoniously handed a leaflet by West Ken & Gibbs Green resident Rita Vlahopoulou, who asked Boris Johnson for the right to vote on the demolition proposals.

Not quite the PR either our Council or the Chronicle were looking for.

Guide dog ban lifted on tube

Transport for London don't much care about disabled people. That's why, for example, a whole new tube station was built in Shepherd's Bush without any disabled step free access - when I asked Boris why he told me he thought it was just too expensive.

So it something of a turn up for the books that blind and visually impaired people will now be allowed to use their guide dogs on the tube after a bye-law was lifted last week. This rights a ridiculous wrong under which TfL did not allow guide dogs on moving escalators for fear of injury.

Thanks to the work of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association TfL has now agreed to amend the law and the Government passed it recently, meaning that from last Wednesday guide dogs have been permitted.

Boris Johnson welcomed the move by saying: 
"The modernisation of this antiquated byelaw helps make the Tube more accessible for all and is the fruit of some excellent collaborative work between Transport for London and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association."
While Caroline Pidgeon, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on the London Assembly said:
"The ban on visually impaired people being able to take guide dogs on to moving escalators on the Tube and other parts of London’s transport network is outdated and wrong. 
“There is clear evidence that trained guide dogs and other assistance dogs can safely use moving escalators. Having campaigned on this issue I am delighted that this change is finally taking place.”

Monday 10 October 2011

Charing Cross Hospital - closure on, egg on face for some

Remember this story I wrote following the Independent's report on the closure of Charing Cross Hospital?

At the time it was pooh-poohed by the local media who accepted the vague assurances from Imperial Healthcare Trust, prompting some scornful tweets.

Now it seems those assurances have fallen to sand and the closure plans are very much on, prompting a rearguard action from Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh, who has said:

“The Trust has a massive £50 million budget deficit and is conducting a major review of where hospital services will be located in the future. It is clear that the 24/7 A&E at Charing Cross is under threat of closure and Imperial cannot be surprised at the growing public concern about their plans.”
I hope all politicians from across the board fight this decision, but in the meantime it might pay to ask a few more questions when you get vague assurances on things.

Old Oak Common: HS2 interchange in doubt

The High Speed interchange at Old Oak Common is in serious doubt after the Transport Secretary described the area as a "wet suburban station somewhere in north west London" where passengers would have to "lug your heavy bags down a couple of escalators along 600m of corridor and then change trains at a wet suburban station somewhere in north west London. That is not an option."

Not an option.

Quite a difference from the spin our Council have been putting on things with a slick new video which you can see above, which emphasises the prospect of 10,000 new jobs and 40,000 new houses - and it's a line which our local media have swallowed whole. But a blog reader has written in to point out that the commentary on the Council's video chooses their words carefully:

"from the video one gets the impression that Crossrail will have an interchange here. Indeed according to the proposals issued in 2010 by the Department for Transport Old Oak Common would provide direct interchange between HS2 and Crossrail and Great Western Main Line services, including those operated by Heathrow Express and First Great Western".

But the blog reader notes that the voice over on the Council's video "carefully expresses an interchange station to LINK with Crossrail which is not the same at all"

No, it's not. And it's also interesting that the Crossrail route map does not have any station called "Old Oak" on it either. So not even an interchange with that, it seems.

As Jackie Sadek, chief executive of UK Regeneration puts it in an article entitled "Transport secretary chops down Old Oak High Speed 2 interchange":
"This announcement is something of a setback for the redoubtable team of Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh and Cllr Mark Loveday at the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, who have been pushing Old Oak and its "huge regeneration potential", ably assisted by the crew at the Park Royal Partnership and the West London Partnership, at MIPIM and elsewhere".  
"What a shame that Philip Hammond missed the point of not just linking HS2 to major transport connections but seriously unlocking a major developable site in public sector ownership, tapping into the economy of Park Royal and putting homes along underused canal sides".
But our Council remain pumped up about their vision, and its difficult to argue with anything that would regenerate what the video rightly calls an area of high deprivation. Here's Cllr Greenhalgh, Leader of H&F Council:
“HS2 is the fastest way to deliver much need new homes, jobs and opportunities in one of London's poorest areas and the case for an interchange station at Old Oak is overwhelming.” 
“The Old Oak super hub is vital to making the overall HS2 plans work properly as it will relieve pressure on central London terminals, like Euston, that will not be able to cope with the huge number of additional passengers on their own.  
The YouTube clip clearly shows how HS2 could be the catalyst to create Park Royal City. This is a once in lifetime opportunity to transform a sometimes forgotten part of London from a Bermuda Triangle of inactivity into a thriving new city.”
In fact as I reported here they have already commissioned leading architect Sir Terry Farell to come up with a vision for the area, some of which is expressed in the video.

But what, then, is the implication of Old Oak Common actually NOT being the direct interchange with HS2?

Monday 1430 UPDATE - The Council press office have been in touch to point out that the quote from the Transport Secretary is 15 months old, and that, as a spokesperson has just told me,
"things have moved on significantly since then. In fact, using Old Oak Common as a high speed rail interchange is a key component of the Government's "recommended route" for HS2. See a link to their website here:"

"The DfT's consultation has just finished and we hope the Transport Secretary will confirm Old Oak as an HS2 station later this year. If the whole HS2 project proceeds as planned an extra Crossrail station at Old Oak will definitely be part of those plans as it will provide the vital interchange needed to take further pressure of central London stations".
"You will see that the link to the DfT currently reports: 'The Government's view is that the route recommended by HS2 Ltd, following its additional work on mitigating environmental impacts, appropriately balances the benefits and impacts of such a line, and provides a better solution than any of the alternatives considered. For this reason, the Government believes that this route for an initial London to the West Midlands high speed line should be taken forward, as the first phase in the development of a national high speed rail network.'"
I'm grateful for the update but it still doesn't change the careful wording of the video - and I note the Council press office still use the word "hope" - not quite the (intended) implication of the video which implied it was all done and dusted.

Equally the route map on that website does not clearly show Old Oak as being an interchange station, unless I have not read it properly.

Interestingly MPs will be debating the HS2 line route this coming thursday in the House of Commons - we should all be interested in the outcome of that and I hope Andy Slaughter as the local MP puts party politics to one side and supports the scheme. I also hope the Secretary of State does what H&F Council want him to do as well - but my worry is that trying to bounce him into doing so by putting out PR materials that give the impression that it is inevitable raises expectations locally without any guarantee that they will be met.

Fingers crossed, then.

Sunday 9 October 2011

Next Saturday: Meet your fellow Bushers!

Next Saturday night you have an opportunity to meet your fellow Bushers at a music event some of them are staging at the Raving Buddha bar. Now, first things first - it's free. And if that doesn't do it for you, then have a read of what one of the chief organisers, Chris Petzny, has drafted below.

I first met Chris and the other people involved in this on one of the monthly "tweet ups" (or social evenings organised via Twitter, for those of you that haven't had your language infected by social media yet) and I can vouch for the fact that they are a top class bunch of people.

Which, I have to say, was a worry for me before I went along to our first get together all that time ago last December. With doubts soon dispelled by the fact that all of them were a) normal and b) quite good fun, I've been to several more since. And so should you. Starting with next saturday - now read on:

Return of the Urban Jungle

This coming Saturday, the 15th of October sees the Raving Buddha on Goldhawk Road host the return of Urban Jungle. For one night only we are reuniting some of the best DJs for a free journey through the land of 90s drum & bass.

But this is no ordinary journey. It all started thanks to Twitter, a noisy neighbour and the local W12 community...

Not so long ago one of the Shepherd's Bush twitterati @NelsMels, had to contend with a neighbour repeatedly and loudly playing 'No Woman No Cry' late at night. @NelsMels suggested on Twitter that some old skool drum & bass might work as revenge a means of drowning out the offending tune. I added a few bass laden suggestions of my own, as did @chrishampson and before we knew it we were reminiscing about some of our favourite 90s drum & bass tunes. 

Then we thought we should get together somewhere, bring our favourite tunes and have an evening of drinks and drum & bass. As we discussed this idea, more and more W12 tweeters wanted to join in and since none of our homes are exactly palatial, the idea of hiring a venue was born. @NelsMels used to DJ and even owned a couple of drum & bass labels, so she got on the case and before we knew it, the Raving Buddha was chosen and booked. 

So in the best 90s drum & bass tradition, we moved from front room to dancehall and we have the following DJs lined up and we may even have a few surprise special guests:
  • XO (Last.Fm, Bassdrive, Dogs On Acid)
  • Tendai (Swerve, Groove Connection)
  • Nexxi (G2 & Gain Recordings)
  • Zinga
  • Immortalmindz
  • Plastic
  • Ben Kei
  • J-Potz
  • DJ Lync
We are unbelievably excited, come and join us, it's free!! Look for #bushw12 #dnbnight on Twitter or follow @cpetzny and @NelsMels OR 'like' our Facebook page here: Sadly @chrishampson has a work commitment in sunny Hollywood, so won't be able to join us. We'll miss him…

Big thanks to everyone who has so far helped and encouraged our behaviour.

Friday 7 October 2011

Fulham Chronicle publisher: phone hacking

Sky News has a piece on Trinity Mirror, publishers of the Fulham Chronicle, on Trinity Mirror's habit of hacking phones. Don't expect to read about this in the Chronicle.

My trip into Hammersmith's sewers

My fellow sewer rats and I
This blog has taken me to some eye opening places in our locale, and I found myself wandering underneath Hammersmith in the sewers one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of Thames Water. I was there to see Hammersmith's pumping station, which pumps millions of tons of poo every year, descending on W6 from an arc stretching across much of North London including Brent and Camden southwards.

That's a lot of sewage and as any regular reader of this blog will know, the system simply cannot cope. For between 50 and 60 times per year the sewage is simply released into the Thames - we were told before we descended underground that in June this year alone this had hapenned five times. It's this constant pollution of the river that has resulted in London being threatened with fines by the European Union, for example, unless it cleans up its act.

Having visited one of London's other sewers last year, this time the Fleet River in central London, I have to confess to being a bit over-confident of how I'd be able to handle the smell. The Fleet is one of the city's "lost rivers" and the sewer was built in the 1850s by Joseph Bazalgette along with most of the network, I spent most of my time admiring the brickwork which is still very much intact.

But Hammersmith was fields and farmlands in the 1850s so these sewers are just concrete caverns - and without a fast flowing underground river the sewage is sloooooow moving. I have to say I nearly gagged when the smell hit me at the bottom of what was a very deep and narrow climb down into the depths. And then the first thing you need to do is balance, because underneath your feet is what the sewermen showing us around politely referred to as "silt".

sinking feeling
The pumps themselves resemble massive bells about the size of a house which should get across the scale of what they do. When the sewage overwhelms pumping stations even of this size you are talking about 24 tons of raw untreated sewage entering the river - per second. Residents of the Bush, particularly those living on Askew Road, have also been flooded with sewage when the flow is so high it just backs up the pipes and enters properties. In Hammersmith itself that problem is even worse.

The proposed solution is the Thames Tideway Tunnel - and its own scale is also gigantic. A huge underground sewer that flows deep underneath the river and inside which you'd be able to fit two double decker buses would shift the Capital's brown stuff to Beckton in the east to be treated. But to build that, which will take years and add £65 per year to all of our bills, Thames Water need an entrance site. And therein lies the problem.

Nobody wants it in their backyard, which is hardly surprising. Our own Council has not covered itself in glory on this issue by spending lots of taxpayers cash churning out stories that they knew themselves at the time to be false. First they said that Ravenscourt Gardens was threatened, then Furnival Gardens. In fact not only did they know Furnival Gardens was not on the cards, but they now want to destroy it themselves by allowing property developers to build a bridge in it as part of a scheme on King Street that the residents don't want.

Then came the claim that the scheme would make people homeless which they made in a propaganda video - and were promptly forced to withdraw.

As a result of these cack handed tactics our Council finds itself isolated, with the Mayor of London, other riverside councils and both the last and current Government all in favour of the tunnel. It also means that the "independent" commission they have established is widely seen for what it is. I'm told by a mole that the commission will come out and say it's all too expensive and blame the European Union for threatening to levy fines.

Our Council went into propaganda overdrive when Chris Binnie, a former architect of the scheme, appeared to suggest that it had all been a terrible mistake and that really a much shorter tunnel would do. But sources at Thames Water point out that Mr Binnie has not been involved with the scheme since 2006 and in any case is suggesting that flows into the Thames are decreasing - in fact they are increasing. He also does not address how a shorter tunnel would do anything to shift the sewage that would still be released into the Thames - the problem with the river is that it is tidal - and Thames Water have a scary visual that illustrates how a brown slick simply moves up and down the river with the tide, inching its way towards the sea. And that stuff smells.

So expect the fire and fury from Hammersmith Town Hall to continue, especially when their "independent" commission launches its findings towards the end of this month.

But in the meantime spare a thought for the blokes working down the bottom of Hammersmith pumping station, who showed me some of the more bizarre things they find down there, including a plumbers pipe I saw wedged against the wall! They also regularly come across needles and other nasties while spending much of their time clearing the enourmous number of rags, nappies and of course fat that people put down the toilet, in many cases illegally.

One of the things you notice straight away about the people who work down the sewers is a very keen sense of humour - they have words for things that wouldn't find their way on to a family blog like this but are very very funny. And they don't seem to care much about who you are either -you can have as much status as you like on the surface but when your knee deep in poo in a reeking dark sewer, all of a sudden you're all pretty much the same!

Here's a couple of them talking to me in December last year about their lives, and how climate change is already affecting what they do - well worth a watch:

Thursday 6 October 2011

Greenhalgh calls for local Government "Freedom" at Tory Conference

I am proud to have stood on a platform of cutting taxes” said the man introduced to a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference this week in Manchester as “one of the best known and most radical Council Leaders”. It was of course Stephen Greenhalgh who shared a platform with Chelsea & Fulham MP Greg Hands, also the Parliamentary Private Secretary to George Osborne, the Chancellor.

The title of the meeting was an anorak’s dream – “Local Government – are we being radical enough?” Cllr Greenhalgh rose majestically to his feet and declared “No.” before resuming his seat, provoking a flicker of panic across the chair of the meetings face – it was of course a joke, and the big man continued on to deliver a speech that was far from being anorakish and actually made a lot of sense.

It was a big problem, he said, that the way local government is funded divides an elected local authority from the people who elected it. This is because faceless civil servants sitting in central government decide how much central funding local authorities receive based on formulas that nobody – perhaps including them – actually understand.

And hang on, where does this “central funding” come from – not some magic pot – no, said Cllr Greenhalgh, it comes from local people as well. His argument was in favour of sweeping away the civil servants and allowing local authorities who promote economic growth in their local areas to keep the proceeds of that growth to use according to local people’s priorities. Not to do so was not simply a problem of not delivering the right services, it was a basic challenge to local democracy he said.

Cllr Greenhalgh actually described calling “friends in high places”, referring to Mr Hands, as one of the means by which H&F had managed to ensure that they could deliver the tax cuts without losing some of its grants from central government. We saw this dramatically revealed in a hand written note to Planning Minister Greg Clark over the West Kensington estate, recently of course. So it was useful to have such friends, said Cllr Greenhalgh, but it shouldn’t be necessary – the system should be straightforward, simple and rooted in local areas. In other words, he said, local government needed to be “freed” – leading to more responsive authorities, incentivised to “go for growth” in the local economy and to use the proceeds to improve local people’s lives.

The fact that H&F had reduced taxes year on year by 3% and delivered on local people’s priorities was, Cllr Greenhalgh argued, the reason why they had won the last local elections – and he drew pointed comparisons with some nearby Labour run authorities who tax proportionately more and yet, he claimed, deliver much less.

This was very much in keeping with what central Government has in mind and Greg Hands paid fulsome tribute to Cllr Greenhalgh’s tenure at the top – he described the cheers he’d received from the Tory benches in the House of Commons when he declared that one of his local authorities had been successively cutting taxes. He had of course himself been the Conservative Opposition Group Leader in H&F for the 2002 elections won by Labour, and you got the sense that still rankles.

Mr Hands continued on the theme of pride by noting that both he and Cllr Greenhalgh had recently been declared among the top 100 influential people in local government, but he continued to say how his friend was there to “challenge”. He said Cllr Greenhalgh regularly challenged central government on its plans and ways of working, and paid tribute to his courage in doing so.

It took a lot of balls to stick your neck out at the time and go against the grain”, said Mr Hands referring to Cllr Greenhalghs determination to cut council taxes, saying that central Government had not in the early days decided that council tax cuts were the way to go. The implication was clear – George Osborne’s announcement this week of a council tax freeze across the UK, and the clear determination from central government to bring those taxes down at local level was at least in part because of Cllr Greenhalgh’s pushing them to do so.

So here we have another example of how H&F is at the centre of Tory thinking on how to deliver local government across the UK, and the reason why the spotlight is set to continue on our small neck of the woods.

I had to leave the meeting early to get back to the day job (apologies due to Greg Hands for not staying to the end of his speech!) but it left me with the thought that Cllr Greenhalgh in particular would do well to show a bit more of this side in public locally as he does at national level. It is clear he is a combative and challenging thinker who has an agenda to reshape the way local government works – that is a good thing and much of what he says makes a lot of sense. But the face that local people often see, particularly those on the receiving end of our Council’s notorious local planning decisions, is of a combative Council Leader …. determined to combat them.

Greg Hands made the comment that the overall level of council tax spending across the UK has declined by 4.4% - but he challenged anyone to show examples of actual service delivery having fallen by 4%. This was the agenda of do more for less – and its clear we are going to see an awful lot more of that in H&F, with the eyes of the country upon us.