Thursday, 28 June 2012

Drugs bust in the Bush

Last minute briefing at Shepherd's Bush Station
“A brick hit you in the face”? “Yeah, put me front teeth in. Pissed me right off.” Extra incentive then to tighten the chin straps on the helmet this officer, who had come up to take part in a drugs bust in Shepherd’s Bush, was putting on as he readied himself to tackle three families who between them had managed to deal many of the hard drugs being consumed by addicts in W12, and in the process terrify the surrounding families out of even complaining to the police anymore.

We arrived on the street in a convoy of unmarked cars and a very large unmarked van with 18 officers, clad in full riot gear, sweltering inside ready to charge. It was near midday at this point and 29 degrees outside. Inside that van it was about 45. But surprise was the aim, and even though the police achieved this we still arrived to hear a toilet being flushed repeatedly in one of the homes. Either the Housing Association tenant had had a particularly virulent tandoori the night before or there was something afoot.

At the briefing before the raid we were given a bit of history on these individuals, several of whom had street names that were clearly meant to make them sound even more scary. Among the jewels that were shared was the knowledge that there were at least two mastiff dogs and probably more, and that “they will kick off when we arrest them, so use proportionate force to protect yourselves and the public.”

proportionate force
I reflected on that as I watched one of the occupants of the house being sat upon by two officers on the ground as his distressed mother loudly proclaimed her firm opinion that the officers bore a striking similarity to lusty farm animals. Not a happy customer.

But then, given that they were armed with samurai swords such as those below, it seemed that the briefing was bang on the money. This is the sort of thing that our officers face on our behalves armed with nothing but a stab vest. And a hat.

A sword. And a hat. 
But just as I saw them when they tackled a similar address elsewhere in the Bush, there followed a Jekyll & Hyde style transformation. Politeness was the order of the day, in spite of their farmyard credentials being repeated, and the man who had moments been on the ground was released. The doctrine is called ‘dominate and dictate’ and it is designed to minimise the considerable risk posed to the officers from criminals with particularly violent tendencies.

As I left the scene the hard work was only really beginning, as police dog handlers combed the properties for scent and officers conducted finger tip searches for drugs, finding cannabis and wadges of cash. One officer netted £400 pounds in a bedroom while the other, picking through the evidence of regular drug use, found another £250. Oh, and we also found the crack pipe pictured below.

Around us the familiar dance of the net curtains was taking place in windows overlooking these three houses which had done so much to ruin it for everyone else. I saw a pink and white kids bike stashed on a flat balcony overhead and wondered if the parents here felt comfortable letting their kids ride them on their own street, these dealers having been known to deal openly in gangs on the road.

As I walked up the road away from the scene one man looked nervously around to check nobody could see and flashed a thumbs up to me, nodding his head once. This was on a central London street in Shepherd's Bush, where people had been so frightened even the act of giving the thumbs up was considered a risk.

In the days that follow the street will be leafleted by police explaining the action they took and giving their contact details. It’s important people realise it is possible to pass on information anonymously, including even giving statements. Anyone wanting to do that can call them direct on 0208 721 2056 – and do so in the knowledge it will be acted upon. I’ve seen the people at the other end of the telephone.

Police reclaiming a street in W12
“This is a message. Loud and clear,” explained an officer to me on the way to the raid, “we’re in charge here, not them.” And so they were. But what had led them there, safe in the knowledge that there was criminality taking place and that the street had become such a hell hole for the other families?

Step forward the work of the award winning Shepherd’s Bush Safer Neighbourhood Team, SNT. These are people I have been privileged to spend time with one Saturday night in the Bush and then again on a raid against a meth-amphetamine drug factory in White City – which I was told netted the man that was arrested a 3 and a half year prison sentence. These people are made up of some of the most dedicated individuals I have ever met, either in public service or elsewhere and they could all be doing other things, probably for much more money. Several of them are former soldiers, but others have a wide a range of backgrounds.

But what unites them in this team, headed by Sergeants Finbar King and Steve Gilbert, is an intimate knowledge of every nook, alley and street corner of our neighbourhood. Many of them have been there since the start of the team five years ago and you saw some of their results in this annual report to you they published on the blog here.

A wadge of cash
They were responsible for the logistics, the intelligence, the health and safety checks and getting the job done, as they are for every major operation like this which will have sent shock waves through the local drug dealing community as we speak. Ever ready to face danger, from out of control dogs to bricks being hurled at them, they quietly get on with transforming our streets while the rest of us walk past with our shopping.

And they’ve done so in ways that have won widespread recognition, including an award in 2009 from the Association of Chief Police Officers, for the “innovative” means that they developed in Shepherd’s Bush for shutting down crack houses. Our SNT is aggressive, but not violently so. They want to be in the faces of criminals but they also recognise that many crimes are driven by other factors. So they teamed up with social services and other local authority departments and made it their business to go and visit people who were vulnerable to being taken advantage of. Just the other week they conducted another raid and found a vulnerable alcoholic who had had his flat taken over by others who were using at as a basis to sell drugs. Under the terms of the Anti Social Behaviour Act they shut the flat for three months and evicted the people inside. But the vulnerable man has been re-housed and another street in the Bush is made a lot safer for us all.

Drugs dog: it goes everywhere
But what makes me very worried is that these guys are under direct threat. Have a read of this exchange between Boris Johnson and Assembly Member Caroline Pigeon this week – where Boris repeatedly refuses to rule out closing down police stations. Safer Neighbourhood Teams themselves are under threat and many of these officers have privately told me that they very much doubt that operations of this kind would be possible under the proposed changes.

Oh, and the man in charge of closing police stations? That would be our old friend Stephen Greenhalgh.

This council, and Cllr Greg Smith in particular, has a proud record of dedicating funds and providing strong public support to local police teams, and I plan on asking them about their own views about these changes. If police stations are indeed set to be closed you can be sure that Shepherd’s Bush station will be first in line for the chopping block – it has already decommissioned its holding cells and shuts altogether at nights.

Your Safer Neighbourhood Team, with its five years of experience and local knowledge, along with the sort of dedication you rarely come across would be gone.

All of which might look OK on Mr Greenhalgh’s excel spreadsheet as he bashes numbers into a calculator – but it might mean that that little girls' pink & white bike stays firmly on the balcony, as we hand control of our streets back to the families from hell.

Friday UPDATE - Of the two arrests made yesterday one man arrested on suspicion of handing drugs and being in charge of a dangerous dog has been bailed until August to allow the dog to be examined by a Metropolitan Police expert. The other man was charged with possession of cannabis and kept in custody overnight, to appear at the magistrates court today.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Hospital closures: Public meeting called

Hammersmith Hospital in Shepherd's Bush
Rivercourt Methodist Church on King Street (next to the Town Hall) is the venue for a public meeting this Thursday, between 1800-1930, on the hospital closures announced for our borough. The plans will see the downgrading both of Charing Cross Hospital in Fulham and Hammersmith Hospital in Shepherd's Bush, with each losing their A&E units.

The meeting has been called by Andy Slaughter MP who seems to be leading the campaign against their closures. 

Our council, to their credit, seems to have responded to this article pointing out that they were only campaigning against the closure of the Fulham hospital, revealing Fulham bias once again. There was only one petition, concerned only with one hospital - no mention was made of our hospital in Shepherd's Bush. The same could be said of the Fulham Chronicle's coverage thus far. 

Thankfully the council have now responded and set up a petition concerned with the Hammersmith Hospital on Du Cane Road as well, although I have been told by a Conservative Councillor - not speaking on behalf of the authority as a whole - that in his view the case for saving our hospital was "less clear cut". So no prizes for guessing where their energies are going be concentrated, and where they are not. 

So it's to Andy Slaughter we now turn for a genuinely vigorous campaign to save both hospitals, it seems.

Thursday UPDATE - If you needed any more convincing that our council are only really bothered about the Fulham hospital Charing Cross have a look at this video of stilted, slightly awkward councillors, mostly members of the cabinet, trying to chant "save charing cross" with passion but with facial expressions revealing their inner desires to be somewhere else, fast. Dear oh dear.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A conversation across a wall

Contrasts: local community festival and a Victorian prison
"Fenian bastard!" "Irish scum!" Such were the thoughts offered to me by a resident of HMP Wormwood Scrubs this morning as I jogged down towards the walls, coming off the Scrubs where I usually do two or three early morning runs a week. It's never happened before, and I just raised a hand (no, not like that) to acknowledge him. Don't know why, just didn't feel right to ignore it.

I've always looked at those windows and wondered what sort of personal battles lay behind them, what struggles for sanity were taking place amid what must be the relentless monotony, punctuated by sparks of violence. I had a glimpse of that monotony when we were using the maternity unit at next door Queen Charlotte's hospital - the delivery rooms overlook the prison yard, and all you can see are men with different coloured jumpsuits pushing what seemed like a lot of wheelie bins in different directions.

So back to this morning. I was running in a Celtic shirt which would account for the selection of insult, so full marks for observation from the prisoner, who clearly does not suffer from any vocal chord issues. He was still banging on at me as I ran off the Scrubs and down a street towards East Acton tube! A couple of the residents I passed just rolled their eyes in sympathy, they'd heard all this before.

And that was that. A brief bit of human interaction separated by high walls and security fences, not to mention barred windows and a very different experience of life. I couldn't see him but he could obviously see me. He might be eating breakfast now telling his mates, a piece of forbidden communication with the outside world that counts as a victory against the system. But I can't help trying to picture what his world must be like, and how he sees things. Did a prison officer bang on the door and tell him to shut up? Was a cell mate egging him on? Is he one of the many inmates in the prison system with serious mental health issues, but with no facility able to take him? And what goes through their heads when they see local people coming together and having fun right in front of them? Maybe the sight of me running where I wanted and when I wanted was what had really upset him. Or maybe he was just having a laugh.

It's a strange old thing to have on your doorstep, a great hulking Victorian prison, the insides of which you could have got a good idea of by watching Lifers on Channel 4 last night. You can watch it here online.

They're part of the Bush as much as you or I are, and we saw here how they have their own dramas inside too. In fact it's probably one of the most intense theatres of real-life drama for miles around. But it's all behind those imposing walls, and apart from a fleeting glimpse every now and again, it's all as if they weren't really there at all.

Monday, 25 June 2012

H&F press on with Market development

H&F: Putting Developers First
Nick Botterill, H&F's new Leader, has decided to follow his predecessor Stephen Greenhalgh's style, which came so spectacularly undone last week, and put two fingers up to the Judge who found the Council to have acted unlawfully over their determination to allow the developers Orion to bulldoze the historic Goldhawk Road row of shops.

Greenhalgh promised, at this public meeting in December 2010 and on behalf of H&F Council, not to do this if the shop owners did not want it to happen. I have been told by source who would have a cast iron claim to know that the day after I reported this there were frantic phone calls from the H&F press office to senior managers at Orion to try to get them to deny that he had ever said it. They knew that he had, so they didn't. But that level of stage management tells you all you need to know about this council's style - and it's a great shame that Mr Botterill seems to want to carry it on.

The council maintains that they were found to be acting illegally only on one process and that the planning permission was granted via another one. So ya-boo to you, we'll do it anyway.

The shop owners all received notices of Compulsory Purchase Order last Friday and signs have been posted on lamp-posts in and around the Market giving notice of the works going ahead. The traders, however, are not about to give in and are meeting lawyers later today.

The council's defeat in court last time cost the tax payer tens of thousands of pounds. It looks like a return to the High Court is on the cards again - and guess what, you the public are paying.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Wormholt & White City Community Market

A momentous first day
A success by anyone's standards the first ever Wormholt Park community market was held today, with a good sized crowd attracted mainly from the nearby streets of this once very under used and maligned patch of ground.

Quality world music accompanied the food
We saw how the Friends of Wormholt Park had started to rejuvenate the park on the occasion of its centenary and today's event took that several steps forward again, with a market that is set to be a monthly fixture on the W12 calendar. 

Ojesh, Manager of Nepalese Tandoori & community market stallholder
Live music was accompanied by food from around the world, including a stall by the curry house readers of this blog voted Best Bush Curry of 2012, the Nepalese Tandoori on Uxbridge Road. But there were also stalls selling a range of Egyptian, African and other foods along with arts & crafts and the obligatory children's face painting. And bouncy castle. Of course. 

It was really great to see the park being used, not just for all that you could get there but also the amount of local connections you could see being made. Neighbours who'd never met, and parents from schools who'd only ever said hi when they got the kids, have got the organisers to thank for a good local day out and a strengthening of the local neighbourhood. Full marks, and get yourself along to the next one. 

Saturday, 23 June 2012

No A&E in W12: who to blame?

Hammersmith Hospital in Shepherd's Bush
The blame game is on. Who is responsible for the proposed closure of the A&E Departments and downgrading of Hammersmith Hospital in Shepherd's Bush and Charing Cross Hospital in Fulham? Plans are afoot to turn our local hospital and Charing Cross into "specialist centres" with no A&E and significantly reduced capacity. If you needed A&E in our part of the world you would need to be taken to St Mary's in Paddington or Central Middlesex in Park Royal, near the Asda. In both cases it would take much much longer to get there.

As part of my own job I have been trained to a high level of emergency first aid because we tend to go to places where we might need it. And there is a phrase that is drummed into us by the trainers which is the "platinum ten minutes". Meaning, simply, that in many serious emergencies what happens in the first ten minutes can literally be the difference between life and death, or either full or partial recovery. So time matters. 

But do people in the north of the borough matter to our council? A Fulham bias is very clear from the reaction to the announcement from the NHS in North West London. Hammersmith & Fulham has started an online petition - but only to protest the closure of the A&E dept at Fulham hospital at Charing Cross, not the closure of the A&E dept and downsizing of our own hospital. And the Fulham Chronicle is living up to its' name by only being apparently interested in the fate of the Fulham service too.

Our council's priority
That wouldn't be the first time that the north of the borough has been left to one side by either the council or the local media, but what does matter this time around is knowing who is really responsible so that local people who live in these areas know who to protest to.

The local MP Andy Slaughter is very clear on the answer to that question - these are Government inspired closures and he is organising a protest march in Westminster this coming Monday to coincide with a meeting there of local health planning bosses.

Neighbouring MP Greg Hands is also issuing statements against the proposed plans - again only concerned with Charing Cross Hospital - but insisted to me on friday that this did not mean he had to resign his position as a member of the Government. These were not Government initiatives, he insisted, but local NHS bossses who needed to be opposed. That is also the line of our council.

Of the two Andy is right and Greg is plain wrong. The plans are being put forward because the local NHS has to find around £1 billion of savings over the next three years. That was made very clear by the NHS themselves when they launched the plans at the end of last year, under a banner called "Shaping a Healthier Future". The NHS in our part of the world is broke, basically. And under ruthless discipline that started under the last few years of the Labour Government and which has been continued under the coalition, the NHS has been told it isn't going to be bailed out. So cuts there are.

Speaking in February this year Dr Anne Rainsberry, Chief Executive of NHS North West London and Senior Responsible Officer for the programme, said:
“There will be some difficult decisions to make but unfortunately no change is not an option. This is all about providing the best possible care for our patients and saving lives.”
In fairness to the coalition if they did just bail out the NHS and save these hospitals there would be no incentive for the financially irresponsible bosses of the NHS not to simply rack up massive debts again. And Andy needs to accept that this happened under the last Labour Government, despite massive amounts of money being poured in. But we are where we are -and what matters now is that at least part of the cost of imposing financial discipline looks like it is going to be paid in local people's lives.

Unless they can be persuaded otherwise.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Best Bush Kebab?

It's time for a poll. Following the previous two we have now established the Nepalese Tandoori as the purveyors of Shepherd's Bush's finest curries. while the Defector's Weld enjoys Favoured Pub status within W12.

But there's a clamour for an answer to another question - just who does the Best Bush Kebab? We're not short of fast food options round these ere parts but there are some seriously good islands of good cuisine among the rest of the cheap n nasties.

But which is the best? Many of you have said you need to know. It's important.

As we did with the Best Bush Pub poll please let me know, using the comments, which establishments you think are worthy of being on the Best Bush Kebab ballot paper. The ten with the most nominations will make it onto the poll and then we'll have a week of voting.

Take it seriously. People died for your right to vote. May the best kebab purveyor win.

West Ken: High Court prompts catty response

Not Melbourne Barrett
"May I assure you that officers and the Council’s legal advisers are acutely aware of your determination to seize on any point, large or small, that you perceive may assist in your campaign to stop the proposed development. The Council respects your democratic right to campaign in this way but does not accept that your detailed points add up to a case that the Council is behaving unreasonably or unlawfully. We will do our best to ensure that, on our side, the tone of the correspondence remains cordial at all times".

Miaw. The magnificently named Melbourne Barrett has shown his claws in this catty letter to Jonathan Rosenberg, the community organiser fighting the corner of the residents of the West Ken & Gibbs Green Estate that Melbourne, his councillors and a property developer called CapCo want to knock down.

The letter is all the more notable coming from a man who seemed to disappear from the face of the Earth after having been referred to the residents as one of their main points of contact. What followed was the bizarre smoke and mirrors game, including the imposition of a 45 minute time limit to view almost 1,000 forms, on the grounds of "data protection". Derek Myers, the Chief Executive of our Council, had to weigh in and overrule his officers on that one.

So what prompted Melbourne Barrett to re-appear and explain that both he and what seems like all of his officers were off on annual leave for the best part of the last month? Oh, and that their email systems were on the blink?

An answer may be found in the fact our local authority is now being prosecuted over their approach to this development in the High Court, an action led by the same solicitors that defeated the council over the Goldhawk Road development. The only people left purring after that court case were the Goldhawk Road traders. And of course the well paid barristers, who were paid by our Council after their loss with your money. Here we go again... J Rosenberg Ltr 22 06 12

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Greenhalgh bombs on first outing at Assembly

When the Evening Boris publishes an article castigating a senior member of the Boris Johnson regime at City Hall you know there must be a pretty big problem. And so it was. For our former council leader Stephen Greenhalgh today employed the steamroller technique which seemed to cow so many of his own colleagues in H&F into meek submission against the gathered throng of the Police and Crime Committee at City Hall. 

It didn’t work. First came the news that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe had been told not to come by Mr Greenhalgh. He only admitted he’d been behind this under sustained questioning by Green Party member Jenny Jones. And the Assembly Members themselves had been informed by an email to an official. Eight minutes before the start of the session. 

Now when you make a major blunder, as we all do from time to time, the best adage is usually to stop digging. Not Greenhalgh. The former big beast of Hammersmith Town Hall employed a fleet of JCBs to excavate furiously, ever deeper. 

Nostrils flared as he angrily declared that the Assembly Members should jolly well get over themselves – they were there to hold HIM accountable, not the Police Commissioner. The Police Commissioner was a busy busy man, and he shouldn't be spending as much time with Assembly Members in Mr Greenhalgh's view. And that was what it seemed to be all about – he wanted to be the main show, and not to be overshadowed by the man who everyone had been expecting to occupy the empty chair next to him. 

But Mr Greenhalgh wasn’t in Hammersmith Town Hall anymore – and was blasted repeatedly by Assembly Members from all political parties including his own for his “arrogance” and “ignorance of policing”. All very well to hold you accountable, withered Jenny Jones, but “you don’t know what you are talking about yet”.Lib Dem Caroline Pidgeon pointed out that he needed to show the Assembly some "respect" and at least have a conversation with people before simply making decisions like that and presenting them 8 minutes beforehand.While fellow Conservative Victoria Borwick said: “Whatever possessed you to talk to the Commissioner and advise him in this way is not a good start to your tenure.”

Wounding stuff. 

Mopsy - Not Stephen Greenhalgh
What followed was even more cringe-inducing as Mr Greenhalgh insisted that the newly re-named Mayor's Office of Policing and Crime, or MOPC, was not pronounced "Mopsy". Because that made it sound like a rabbit. It was infact MOPAC, elevaating the "and" to a capital "A" so it could be pronounced as the more grown-up sounding "Mo-pac".

 Although personally I think that sounds like a gangsta rapper. 

Tupac - Not Mo-Pac
Either way Mr Greenhalgh was at his best, showcasing the demented rhino impression he used to put on for the benefit of Hammersmith & Fulham for so long. But he more than met his match today, and I suspect he may turn up meekly next time with the Police Commissioner in tow. Especially after he was then spectacularly unable to answer any questions on the nature or planning of policing in London for the next hour and a half.

He even - and if you don't believe me (because I wouldn't) watch it here - told a stunned Assembly that he, the Deputy Mayor for Policing, had not been briefed on policing for the London 2012 Olympics. That's the Deputy Mayor for Policing in London speaking, just weeks from the biggest policing event the city has ever seen.

Chair of the Police and Crime Committee Joanne McCartney AM said:
“When the new arrangements for policing in London were established the then Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime said that it would be inconceivable that the Commissioner would not accept an invitation to appear before the Assembly. Sadly today his successor has prevented London’s elected representatives from hearing directly from the capital’s chief of police.” 

The Committee has a duty not only to hold the Deputy Mayor to account for his actions but also to investigate any matters of importance to policing in the capital. 

It is inconceivable that the Commissioner would not have important information to share with the Committee about failures in the investigation of rapes in London, public order policing, the operational use of Tasers and policing the Diamond Jubilee, all subjects for discussion at today’s meeting. 

We are committed to the transparent and accountable operation of policing in London; we hope the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime will come to share that objective. He failed today.”

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

H&F Council lands back at high Court

Our Council is being prosecuted. Again.

The familiar tale of residents versus council, last seen in the astonishing victory of the Goldhawk Road traders over the Shepherd's Bush Market plans, is set to be replayed back in the High Court thanks to the residents of the West Kensington & Gibbs Green estates who have launched procedings against the planning policies which underpin the scheme set to demolish their homes.

After a very clear majority of residents rejected the plans in the Council's own consultation our local authority were eventually embarassed by publicity into ending a bizarre smoke and mirrors game in which people were permitted to view nearly 1,000 forms, many of which had been misclassified, but only for 45 minutes for "data protection" reasons. This prompted an extraordinary exchange of letters between H&F's Chief Executive and residents which I published here.

Now the residents have instructed the same solicitors that defeated the Council over the Shepherd's Bush scheme Webster Dixon.

Michael Webster, a partner in the City firm states:
“The Defendants [H&F council and K&C council] have failed to follow the correct procedures in adopting their regeneration plans despite receiving several warnings from residents and others that their actions were unlawful. There is an overwhelming objection by the residents   to the demolition of their homes for the sake of a private development. The protection of family homes and the welfare of individuals, many of whom are vulnerable, should not be sacrificed for the profits of a billion pound developer.”
Gregory Jones QC and Sarah Sackman of Francis Taylor Building Chambers (Barristers) have been instructed by Webster Dixon to represent the Claimants. The Claimants have requested a Judicial Review on the grounds:
  • Ground 1 – The Earl’s Court “SPD” policy document is in substance an Area Action Plan (AAP) and as such is a development plan document (‘DPD’) for the purposes of the Town and Country Planning (Local Development) (England) Regulations 2004 (‘the 2004 Regulations’).
  • Ground 2 – By endorsing the conclusions of the Estates Regeneration Economic Appraisal (EREA), which assessed four different development options all of which were in breach of strategic planning policy for failing to meet affordable housing targets, the Defendants acted unlawfully and/or took into account an irrelevant consideration and further acted unlawfully and irrationally in adopting a supplementary planning policy which was in conflict with adopted planning policy and/or failed to give cogent reasons for departing from policy.
  • Ground 3 – Breach of s.149 Equality Act 2010 and/or failure to take into account material considerations about the impacts of the proposed plans on protected groups, particularly, black and minority ethnic individuals.
  • Ground 4 – Unlawful failure to consider the need to replace the social housing lost to the estates’ demolition in breach of the LBHF core strategy.
  • Ground 5 – Multiple breaches of the SEA Directive and the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 (SI 2004/1633).
Sally Taylor, Chair of West Kensington Tenants & Residents Association, and Diana Belshaw, Chair of Gibbs Green Tenants & Residents Association said:
“This is a close knit community; there’s nothing wrong with our homes; we won’t be bullied into demolition. The Council’s planning policy is not only immoral; now we have asked the High Court of Justice to declare it unlawful.”
I said here that this scheme was likely to prove the real test of whether Nick Botterill, H&F's new Leader, really intended to listen to residents instead of the steamroller tactics so beloved of his predecessor. He told me he intended to do just that, and having met him I believe he genuinely wants to. He has always struck me as a straightforward guy who wants to do the right thing by people.

This isn't a mess of his making, and he now has the chance to pull back from what could be a very damaging successive legal defeat. The legal team facing the council have beaten them once already and the residents leaders I have spoken to are very confident of their case. I hope he can find a way of pulling back from the brink.

Tens of thousands of tax payers pounds were lost in the council's defeat over the Goldhawk Road. It's an expensive habit for all of us.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Government urges councils to copy H&F

The Evening Standard reported yesterday that Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Local Government and frequent visitor to our borough, has urged local authorities across the UK to follow our council's lead in merging services with two neighbouring boroughs.

Mr Pickles said that other authorities should be able to demonstrate that they have considered this before cutting any services, given the savings that have been made here. A fair point - I've never really understood the opposition from Labour to the move, who have attacked it as being undemocratic, or even a prelude to a full blown merger. Mr Pickles, by contrast, described H&F at this parliamentary event, as the "future of local government".

This sort of radicalism was what Stephen Greenhalgh,the now departed leader of H&F, used to raise eyebrows with but generally won a lot of praise for. If he'd stuck to that instead of getting tied up in hugely unpopular deals with property developers in the non-Fulham parts of the borough he'd have won a lot more positive recognition than he did.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Election looms for H&F

Forget Greece, election fever has hit Town Ward in Fulham where the departing colossus Stephen Greenhalgh has created a vacancy in his wake. The normally safe Conservative seat on the Council is up for grabs and the four candidates will be scrapping all the way to polling day on July 12th

Now then - Town Ward is true blue, and unless there is a political earthquake the winner of this election will be Andrew Brown the Conservative candidate. But recently in leafy Barnet Labour did take what should have been a similarly safe seat from the Tories, and the Labour campaign is clearly all about getting people to "send a message" either to the Council or to Cameron & Clegg. Perhaps over-egging it a bit the Labour candidate says the vote in Fulham will go "direct to Downing Street".

You can see the tactics there.

The problem for Labour is that they managed to take a safe Conservative seat in Barnet because local people were mightily unhappy with local policies being pursued by the council on parking charges and other issues. But this Council has been very careful indeed only to do really unpopular things in the north of the borough, which is why all of the controversial hook-ups with property developers are in our neck of the woods. The good people of Fulham have been spared all of that so the challenge for Labour is to find some other way of motivating them to vote differently.

But then local elections are sometimes volatile which is why the Conservatives will surely be focusing a lot of time and attention on ensuring they don't just win the seat but win it with a sizeable majority. So expect to hear a lot about low council tax bills and the importance of local businesses.

I can't see anything other than a Conservative retention of this seat but it will be interesting to watch the parties use this election as something of a dry run for the real local elections that will determine the fate of Hammersmith Town Hall in 2014. Given that we're already half way through 2012 that's not a million miles away.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Wormwood Scrubs Family Day

Kids show Scrubs inmates how to climb high walls

Friends of the Scrubs tent

Donkeys on the Scrubs

Reptiles put in an appearance
Saturday sees the annual family day on the Scrubs return and it's well worth getting down there on past performances.

Music, food, stalls and even animals make an appearance and all for the princely sum of nothing whatsoever.

Supported mainly by Groundwork, who look after the nature reserve on the scrubs and our own Council it's a really nice part of the W12 calendar so get yerself along if you haven't before.

Sunday update - success. I had my worries about the threatening clouds looming ever threateningly over the horizon but the day had a decent turnout, with the animals being the star attraction again. Kids could get up close and personal with goats, ducks, pigs and even snakes - guess which ones had the longest queues!

Inside the Friends of Wormwood Scrubs information tent was a giant map with the history of the Scrubs dating from the middle ages. Apparently the ground was given hunting ground status and changed hands between knights and dukes. But there was also an entry for 2011 entitled "saved from developer rape" (below) which told the story of how our own Council had tried to get rid of the Linford Christie athletics stadium in order to allow a property developer to build some, you guessed it, luxury flats.

The Friends were not invited to "consultations" and the scheme looked set to be another to be added to this Council's infamous list. But on this occasion, as with the Goldhawk Road, locals overcame the Council. A sad reminder that local amenities like this should never be taken for granted - you have to fight to protect them sometimes.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Shepherd's Bush Police: Your annual report

Exclusive folks, here's what your local Safer Neighburhood Team, with whom I have had the privilege of spending time on patrol, has been up to to make the streets and communities of the Bush safer since last year.

Taking us through the last 12 months is Steve Gilbert, one of our two local Sergeants and someone who I often go to for information on the latest incident that readers ask about having seen arrests, vehicles or something out of the ordinary.

I often think policing is a bit like IT - in the sense that if something is wrong people complain long and loudly, sometimes with good reason, but when it's going well nobody notices, and they certainly don't congratulate. Steve and his team quietly do amazing stuff by your and my standards every day, on our behalf, often at risk to themselves - so here's their report; feel free to stop them and say thanks next time you see them:

Sgt Steve Gilbert
"On 6th June 2011 the Safer Neighbourhood team of Shepherds Bush Green was enhanced with extra funding from the local authority. The number of officers was increased and it moved from 5 small teams to 3 much larger teams. The SNT work 365 days a year to provide security and reassurance to the residents and visitors to the ward.

The team is currently lead by Sergeant Finbar King and Sergeant Steve Gilbert. There are 18 Police Constables and 3 PCSOs.

The new style policing team has been operating for one year. During the year they have arrested 860 offenders. They have confiscated alcohol from 2444 people who were caught being anti social on the street. They oppose the licensing of premises if that may cause disruption to public or an increase in anti social behaviour.
Working with trading standards and customs they have confiscated enough alcohol and tobacco to fill a lorry. SNT officers have lead 21 raids on premises associated with criminal activity. They have seized thousands of pounds worth of drugs along with 5 firearms.  

The regular daily activity is not all about arrests and drug raids. Each day officers go out on patrol, they contact and visit victims of crime, they review hundreds of hours of CCTV footage to identify offenders.
The officers communicate with and work alongside colleagues at local authority, government agencies, housing providers, health authority and other interested agencies. 

Officers regularly attend professional meetings to discuss and plan to protect vulnerable people or to control persistent offenders. The SNT usually have an integral role to ensure the meeting actions are upheld.

The ward of Shepherds Bush Green stretches from the Edward Woods Estate in the East to Bloemfontein Road in the West. It is a major transport hub for buses as well as having 5 stations, Westfield Shopping Centre, QPR football stadium and BBC Television Centre.  On some days of the year there are more people on the ward than the entire population of Hammersmith and Fulham Borough. On Boxing Day 2011 there was more than the Borough population under the roof of Westfield Shopping Centre.  

During the disturbances of August 2011 the ward remained safe and some SNT officers were deployed to assist elsewhere in London. During the Olympics local SNT officers will be required to assist their colleagues to cover the events. It is anticipated that the Olympics will bring an increase of visitors to the ward. The remaining local officers will work hard to maintain their high standard of policing to retain the peace and keep crime low.

After the Olympics there will be a restructuring of the way London is policed, with a redeployment of officers to create a wider dispersed neighbourhood team. It is uncertain at this present time how Shepherds Bush will be affected.   

As a whole the crimes affecting Shepherds Bush Green ward remain under control with the exception of a large increase in pickpockets and bag thieves. Police appeal for you all to look after your belongings when out shopping or socialising. There has recently been a deployment of signs around the green to remind you. In the meantime officers are out and about in uniform and plain clothes looking for the thieves. Utilising all areas to gather clues and evidence as to the offender’s identities. As always they need the publics help. If you see a pickpocket or thief, call the police. Try and remember what they look like and where they go. This will help the police catch them".     

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Hosepipe ban to go as Bush floods

Hosepipe ban
The shipping forecast was required in parts of Shepherd's Bush this morning as water from the equivalent of hundreds if not thousands of hosepipes roared forth from what must have been a pretty large high pressure pipe underneath Wormholt Road. Someone living close by told me it had been disgorging the gallons, which were flooding the street so badly the fast flowing torrent they'd created needed fencing off from traffic, all night.

Can you imagine the volume of water that must be? As householders contemplated the new shoreline outside their houses, with the lake lapping at their front gardens having taken over the pavement as well as the road, we remarked on how many hosepipes it would have taken to waste the same amount of water.

And that's why the whole hosepipe ban, which is being rescinded today and will end tomorrow, went down like a cup of cold sick with me - water bosses who shell out vast sums to shareholders and themselves instead of fixing their own pipes - telling other people that they couldnt use a hose. It wasn't the end of the world for any of us, but Thames Water would do well to get their own house in order before trying that one again next year.

End of rant.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Lime Grove public meeting

St Stephens School is proposing to expand into new buildings around number 6 Lime Grove and is holding an open night this evening for residents who might be interested to know more.

The plan, I'm told by the reader who has sent me this letter, is to demolish number 6 Lime Grove and recreate the bigger original Victorian semi in its place, filling the space between 6 and 10 Lime Grove which is currently used as a car park and for vehicle access.

Please attend if you would like to ask questions about parking issues, the proposed demolition of number 6 and the extent of the building works likely to occur and when.

And consider the difference in tone and approach between the school, who clearly want to talk to local people and have them shape the future of their local area before submitting planning applications, to that of our Council to date. Let's hope this is something they might be able to emulate in future. Top marks to the school and best of luck with their plans.

Monday, 11 June 2012

West Ken: H&F Council hits back

Myers An extraordinary letter. I have never seen a Chief Executive of a local authority feel the need to write or send anything like the letter which you can view here, passed to me by the residents campaigning to save their homes from the property developers demolition ball.

Derek Myers, now joint Chief Executive of H&F and overseeing services across the new three borough giant of H&F, K&C and Westminster, took the allegations made by the residents of willful obstruction and bad faith on the part of our Council so seriously that he responded to each and every one in detail, rejecting each.

You may remember the Council sought to restrict access to response forms that had been submitted, even though the personal information had been redacted, on the grounds of "data protection." Apparently 45 minutes access was enough to "protect data" but any more was not. Perhaps realising this is a bit silly Mr Myers now accepts that the residents can have as long as they like but in the main he absolutely refutes their allegations of bad faith.

And this from the Council that surrounded a 9 year old girl with beefy security men when she wanted to hand in her form at a supposedly "public" event.

The residents have responded to this with the letter you can also read below. Amid the claim and counter claim I found this little exchange most illuminating as to the complete breakdown of relations between the Council and the people they are supposed to be there to serve. The Council had disqualified one form from a resident opposed to the development on the grounds that he was "violent". This is what he actually said:
"I disagree because it is not plesent and it is a load of bullocks. All my friends live here and I love my estates, West Ken and gibbs green. The Council will benefit from it because there taking 10 million quid from the developer. It will destroy our neighbourhood. If you come round here I will lamp you in your head for rudeness. I WANT YOU TO FUCKING Read this!!!!"
It's this sort of little guy that doesn't really stand a chance when up against a Local Authority and a global property developer determined to make serious money and with all the means at their disposal. But while he might not be able to express himself in writing very well he certainly seems to understand the main motivation behind the development, and his own position of relative helplessness.

But thankfully they're not on their own. Here's what the Community Organiser fighting their corner Jonathan Rosenberg has to say:
"Our determination to save our community is boundless. We are not intimidated by threats from the Council, veiled or otherwise; and we shall not allow the Council, Capital and Counties PLC, the Mayor of London, nor any other collaborator or contractor, to bully residents out of their much-loved homes".
I think the interesting thing about this letter is not perhaps the contested details of every bullet point but the fact that the Council has responded like this at all. It is hard to imagine Stephen Greenhalgh permitting the Chief Executive to do anything like this under his reign, when the modus operandi was simply to ignore and steamroller. So amid the anger and irritation that this latest exchange between the Council and residents of West Ken, perhaps there is a chink of light, that there can at least be some degree of dialogue.

Or maybe I'm grasping at straws. Read the residents letter below.
Letter to Myers June 2012

Oh dear. It seems Hammersmith & Fulham Council have no interest in listening to residents at all. Instead this has been the response to this article from Peter Graham, who sits on the infamous planning committee:

He seems to want to fiddle with semantics in this article, quoting online dictionaries, than deal with any of the substance. Disappointing. But very revealing.

TUESDAY UPDATE - Many thanks to the reader who sends in the official definition of "refute" from the Oxford Dictionary. Mr Graham would do well to note the second bullet point - and perhaps to start thinking about residents interests rather than cheap point scoring.


[with object]
  • prove (a statement or theory) to be wrong or false; disprove:these claims have not been convincingly refuted
  • prove that (someone) is wrong:his voice challenging his audience to rise and refute him
  • deny or contradict (a statement or accusation):a spokesman totally refuted the allegation of bias

Palingswick House: West London Free School exhibition

The West London Free School will be opening its doors to residents and other groups interested in their plans for Palingswick House in Hammersmith, set to be their new home from September 2013. All the details are on the flyer above, which you can see in greater detail by clicking on it.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Ministry of Silly Walks: A Shepherd's Bush production

Did you know? The Ministry of Silly Walks was founded in the streets of Shepherd's Bush by the comedy genius that came together as Monty Python's Flying Circus back in the 1970s. It was invented on Thorpebank Road, W12.

No, I didn't either. But it was revealed to me by local historian Peter Trott, also a member of the Friends of Wormholt Park and present on the Thorpebank Road street party, who was in receipt of a signed card by Python Michael Palin to prove that it was so.

So if you're having a drink in the Bush this evening, raise a glass to our forebears, and perhaps do a silly walk across the bar. Nobody will notice. Much.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A day of street parties

Thorpebank Road
Bunting, paper hats and plastic cups dominated the Bush yesterday, when almost every corner you turned revealed a closed road and a picnic table. Balloons vied with fancy dress for attention as neighbours who'd never met discovered that in fact they both quite liked each other and should really say hello more often.

I'd been invited to the Thorpebank Road party and arrived to find a band playing under a gazebo. Half the road had been given over to a children's play area, complete with wooden toys, while the grown ups occupied the other half paying particular attention to the food and drink on offer.

But what was also on display was the streak of community spirit that the residents of this and surrounding roads have shown in recent months as they took over and began to transform a local park, which had been in sad decline in the last few years. For here was a banner of the Friends of Wormholt Park who we last met dressed in their Edwardian best.

Patriotism on display
And in this street party too we also got a chance to see images of Thorpebank Road and Shepherd's Bush as it used to be in times gone by, courtesy of a local historian. Did you know the Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks was a product of the Bush? More on that later this week.

As people shared their experiences on social media it was interesting to see how different corners of the Bush interpreted what the whole thing was about. While Thorpebank Road was open and welcoming a couple of people told me they'd been turned away from the nearby Sawley Road party for not being a resident of that road - or having an official invitation! It seemed this wasn't unique as Boscombe Road had apparently adopted a similar "name's not down not coming in" strategy and had also turned people away - with one man reporting he'd been bizarrely told they were only allowed to stand outside and cheer!

Starfield Road was clearly a more capitalist affair with entry being open to all - but for a £3 fee.

Sawley Road: If yer names not dahn you 'aint cahmin in
Other roads joining Thorpebank in welcoming their neighbours, however, included Keith Grove and Gayford Road, and in the latter's case involved a party that went on well beyond the allotted end time. Although the road was cleared for traffic on time the revellers stayed on, prompting pimms-fuelled declarations of love for new found neighbours - but also one of them calling the police to tell everyone to pipe down!

And that, dear reader, is the Bush all over!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Nick Botterill on Shepherd's Bush Market

I've been talking to the new Leader of H&F Council, who has given me his first response to the Court decision over the Goldhawk Road shops. Speaking to the London Assembly this week Mr Botterill's predecessor Stephen Greenhalgh said he expected the Council to "learn" from the judgement, so I wrote to Nick to ask him what he made of it.

Here's what Mr Botterill had to say:
"On SBM I think it is important to understand that the court's judgement was not focused on the merits of the scheme, the planning application itself, or even the council's adopted planning policies for this area. The issue at stake was only the technical status of the supplementary planning document (SPD) and the appropriate procedure through which it had been prepared and adopted. I understand the concerns of Goldhawk Road traders and assure you that everything was done to see whether the original shop frontages could remain. In addition all the businesses have been given the opportunity to return to Goldhawk Road. I do want Shepherds Bush market to survive and to ensure that it remains a cultural icon for west London for another 100 years - I believe that this development will secure this".
So not much change there then, and it seems that lawyers will be the ultimate decision makers. The traders lawyers, who won the case, are very clear that the judgement means the development is now halted and are set to take further action.

But on a more positive note I described Nick as someone with better listening skills when it first became clear he was a candidate for leadership of our Council, and he also strikes a concilliatory note. Here's what he said:
"As the new leader of the Council, I want to connect with all residents in Shepherds Bush (as well as the rest of the borough) in listening and learning about what they think the Council is doing well on and where there are areas for improvement". 
I like Nick - he has a track record of intervening and getting things done where they need to be, and is much more of a consensus politician. I think he'll be good for Shepherd's Bush and the borough as a whole.

One of his challenges is going to be doing things his own way in the wake of Greenhalgh's bulldozer tactics. No doubt some of his more, er, radical colleagues will be urging him to carry on pressing on regardless with the approach to communities in the North of the borough that has been the case thus far but I'm quite optimistic that he'll resist that and do things in his own way. You don't have to steamroller people to earn respect.

God save the Queen

Happy Jubilee!