Monday, 28 January 2013

West Ken: Council cry victory, residents defiant

Much crowing was in evidence at Hammersmith Town Hall last week as the Council bucked the trend of repeated court defeats with a victory over the residents of West Ken & Gibbs Green, who had applied for a judicial review.

West Kensington Estate resident Harold Greatwood, applied to court to launch a judicial review of Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council's decision to enter into a Conditional Land Sale Agreement with EC Properties to include the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in the wider regeneration of Earls Court. He challenged the decision on four grounds.

But on Monday, January 21 The Honourable Mr Justice John Mitting sitting in the Administrative Court refused permission for the application for a Judicial Review, ruling against Mr Greatwood on all four grounds.Finding that the challenge to the Council's consultation was “not reasonably arguable”, Mr Justice Mitting said:
“The analysis of the consultation responses put to cabinet on 23 April 2012 and 3 September 2012 was balanced and fair. The suggestion that the results of the consultation were hidden is unwarranted". 
He went on to say that
"The time for the consultation - nine weeks - was adequate"
and that
"The suggestion that because the defendant did not address the consultation documents to tenants by name or to the ‘tenant’, the process was flawed, is absurd.”
Cllr Nicholas Botterill, Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council, said:
“The redevelopment of Earls Court is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the local residents to benefit from a multi-billion pound investment in their own neighbourhood.”
But Mr Greatwood had this to say:
"Having had regard for the Judge’s reasons for refusing permission, I feel obliged to renew my application for permission because there is real and significant evidence that the decisions to sign the CLSA were unlawful. The consultation process was flawed and Defendant has not addressed the full facts. The involvement of the Metropolitan Police and the serious complaint that was referred to the IPCC by the Greater London Authority suggest that political impropriety is a substantial and material issue, which, if true taints all the bases for the decisions.”
Community Organiser, Jonathan Rosenberg, said:
“The more the Council and developer prosecute their scheme, the more they harden residents’ resolve to defend their community and save their neighbourhood."
Keith Drew, Chair of West Ken & Gibbs Green Community Homes and fellow resident on the West Kensington estate, added:
“Harold Greatwood’s heroic action held back the signing of the sell-off agreement (an 800 page document) with the developer for five weeks. We are so proud of what he has achieved on behalf of his 2,000 neighbours. He is undaunted, and so are we. We wish him God speed and we pray that the Court should hear our case and deliver us from this unlawful oppression.”

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Bus, taxi services hit by Bush road closure

Get set for jams
Chaos is set to descend on W12 as half of the Green is closed off to allow major gas works to take place. The entire westbound stretch between Holland Park Roundabout and Rockley Road will be closed, with traffic being diverted down the A40 and up the Old Oak Road, then onto Uxbridge Road at the Askew Road/Uxbridge Road junction.

A few things to bear in mind.

First of all if gas works need to be carried out, then they need to be carried out. There is never going to be a good time to do it. 

However secondly I was told recently by a reader that a black cab trade magazine has already advised cabs not to bother going into Shepherd's Bush for the duration of the works. This is because they will be diverted onto the A40 and then sit in traffic jams instead of picking up new fares. So don't plan on getting a cab back home if it's late. Fancy a bus instead? Well...

Bus services will be severely disrupted. Transport for London have announced today that passengers wishing to travel on route 94 towards Acton Green, route 207 towards Hayes, route 237 towards Hounslow Heath, route 260 towards Golders Green, route 295 towards Clapham Junction, route 607 towards Uxbridge and route N207 towards Uxbridge will all need to use a temporary stop T1 located on Shepherd's Bush Green. 

Route 148 towards White City will use stop HD located on Holland Park westbound. 

While passengers who wish to travel in the opposite direction on these routes will continue to use their normal stop.

But I've saved the best till last: sharp eyed readers will note that the traffic, which will be substantial, is being funneled cleverly into one of the most dangerous junctions in the local area, the Askew/Uxbridge Road, which even in the last couple of days has seen two car crashes as people try to navigate the complex lane system which our Council introduced a couple of years ago. It sees numerous pedestrian near misses as cars jump across because the lights only let a few at a time if they are turning right or left, and sadly some people end up getting hit

As frustrations build on that junction, at which you can routinely see even bus drivers losing their rag and driving on the wrong side of the road to navigate, people will start to use the side roads off both sides of Old Oak Road instead, turning them into even bigger speeding rat runs than they already are. 

Let's just hope nobody gets hurt. 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

St Elmo's fish bar defaced

Some of you will have noticed that one of Askew Road's finest thickos thought they'd daub a red knob on to the side of the St Elmo fish bar recently. I presume it was a self portrait of some kind. The action followed the painting of a fantastic mural on the side of the shop, which the owners tell me has stood their for nearly a century, themselves having occupied it for the past 9 years.

A reader who lives in the area saw it and called the council, asking whether they could remove it. Sure, said our Council, but we'll have to paint over the entire wall, obviously. Yes, er, thanks for that. We'll call you. 

To the rescue comes the original artist, Will Impey, from an outfit called Any Surface Creative who is planning on restoring the side of the fish bar to its former underwater glory. Speaking at the time he created the mural, which singlehandedly did a lot to brighten up a dull corner of the Bush, he said this
” The mural was painted to add some character to the shop, using just shades of blue to assist creating a feeling of tranquility. I wanted to create a mural that would not impose on the area and can be appreciated by people of all ages."
It was, and is. And I think we can all be grateful he's prepared to come back and take care of it despite the best efforts of one of our neanderthal neighbours.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

West Ken: Residents locked out by Council

Bully boy tactics appear to be the order of the day as our Council's campaign against the majority of residents living on the West Kensington & Gibbs Green Estate continues unabated, even in the face of a criminal investigation into similarly dubious tactics alleged to have been used only months ago. Deputy Mayor for Policing and former H&F Leader Stephen Greenhalgh's job now hangs by a thread as the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigate his conduct.

The latest move was to unilaterally lock residents out of a community hall they were planning to use for a training meeting. This session was due to be on on Valuation, and is part of the process to develop the capacity of the Board of the residents association to take on Community Ownership of the estates. You can see why the Council might not much like that.

One of them turned up and was unable to get in. When first rung, a Council officer explained that the locks had been changed and that it had been done for "security reasons". But their story soon changed with a voicemail being left by an officer from the Council's Housing Office on another residents association phone claiming that a resident who had been in charge of the keys for years now had to "fill in a new form" before she would be given a new set.

Speaking later Diana Belshaw, a member of the residents association, explained:
"The council sent letters demanding we hand in the keys and produce insurance papers as we managed Gibbs Green @West Kensington halls. We wrote a letter explaining that we did not manage the halls and that the council did so I suppose this is just another way H&F council are having a go at the TRA."
Difficult to see any other explanation. And depressingly similar to the behaviour exhibited by this Council towards these people over the last couple of years, about which the High Court has taken a dim view.

Meanwhile, the Council's motto remains "putting residents first".

Friday, 18 January 2013

H&F Hospitals: Vigils, Marches & Meetings

As the execution date draws nigh the Save our Hospitals campaign is stepping up a gear or two, and will be holding a public meeting on Wednesday 30th January at the Rivercourt Methodist Church next to the Town Hall in Hammersmith, itself a venue that has seen several packed and feisty meetings on the future of our borough.

Following this there will be a protest march from noon on Saturday 16th February, heading off from Lyric Square. That of course will be a prelude to the final pronouncement of death for Hammersmith & Charing Cross Hospitals, which has been an inevitability ever since the sham consultation was announced.

Meanwhile there are candle lit vigils taking place every Sunday between 5 and 6 pm outside both hospitals, which in the present conditions will be chilly affairs!

Be there or be somewhere else - but be angry nonetheless.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

New Blog, New Team!

Last Friday evening a group of Bushers met at the Bush Theatre café (where else) to talk about the future of this blog. It got off to a predictably amusing start as none of us knew what each other looked like so we were all sat in different corners of the room. Then, like characters in a daytime US sitcom we somehow stumbled across each other and got down to business!

A while ago now I sounded a warning that, for various reasons, my updating of the blog was going to slow down. Ironically enough this week it’s been updated almost daily because lots of stuff has been going on, but the fact is I am being increasingly drawn away.

One reader suggested that instead of letting the site wither that others could write for it too, and that was what we were there to talk about. I am really delighted that four new authors are joining the team and will, henceforth, be authors on this site. They’re all committed Bushers and are interested in different things. Allow me to introduce you:

Bart Govaert: Bart was born and raised in Belgium, but he has been living in W12 since last century. He has 2 kids, and works as a software program manager. His interests in W12 include news, food, schools and human interest stories.

Simon Grange: Born-and-bred Londoner Simon describes himself as a freelance international management consultant with a hyper-critical eye who is always looking to find ways of making or doing things better. He moved to Shepherd's Bush in 2006.

Nathalie Bristow: Nathalie is a project manager for events, fundraising and business start-ups with As the owner of Cupboard Cafe and now Events Manager at she is passionate about telling the world about W12s creative powress and the people who make it happen.

Peter MacLeod: Peter is a professional writer with almost 25 years' experience across consumer and, latterly, business-to-business (B2B) publishing. He currently edits a leading trade publication for the logistics industry, and has lived just off Shepherd's Bush Green with his family for three years.

I’m really looking forward to reading what comes and I hope you do too. It’s a big change for this blog, to go from being my own soapbox, that I’ve tried to use to capture the good, the weird, the bad and the inspiring of the Bush with, to being a more open community site. Will it work? Time will tell, but the readers are still coming and that’s got to be a good sign.

If you’d like to join the team email me at

In the meantime, enjoy the read!


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

West Ken: criminal investigation starts

The Independent Police Complaints Commission, the IPCC, is set to investigate the former leader of H&F Council's actions in relation to the West Ken development, reports Dave Hill of the Guardian. Following the dossier that was submitted to the police last year our Council attempted to investigate itself via the accountants Deloittes but this now appears to have become null and void as the IPCC probe overtakes it.

And it follows a ruling in the High Court that the legality of our Council's approach to this development is open to question.

Although the IPCC is looking into the actions specifically of Stephen Greenhalgh, he did not act alone. And I would imagine one or two others are feeling just a little more anxious, this morning.

1330 UPDATE: ITV London news has reported on this growing row today with our MP Andy Slaughter calling on the Mayor to suspend Mr Greenhalgh in view of the announcement by the IPCC.Mr Slaughter argued that since the allegations amount to serious criminal misconduct in public office it was no longer appropriate for Mr Greenhalgh to have responsibility for policing.  Watch the piece here.

Coming so soon after his half-apology over allegations of sexual molestation of staff, the odds must be shortening on the first Deputy Mayor to walk the plank of Boris' new term. I suspect more than a few police officers may be enjoying the episode.

1530 UPDATE: The Conservatives have hit back as hard as they can this afternoon, with an impassioned piece on the Tory blog ConservativeHome. No author name is given for this article but it is likely to be penned by H&F Councillor Harry Phibbs, who partly edits the local government section of the site. And who has come to Mr Greenhalgh's aid before.

Mr Greenhalgh himself has issued the following comment:
"I am immensely proud of my record as Hammersmith & Fulham Council Leader. These baseless allegations are politically motivated. I refuse to be distracted from my important role as Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime."

Monday, 14 January 2013

Who is the Poo Man of the Bush?

After blog readers played a role in nabbing the wee man of the Bush, someone else has stepped forward to claim the "filthiest person in W12" award, a much coveted trophy among the gutter dwelling fraternity. Our Council are asking for your help in identifying him.

The time is 2.40am on Sunday, January 6 and this filthy yob can clearly be seen with his pants around his ankles, taking a dump next to the brand new children’s play area on Shepherds Bush Green. The CCTV footage, which was captured using the latest Predator night vision cameras, shows the man loitering on the green and drinking from a can before picking up what appears to be a used tissue from a picnic table and walking around to the children’s play area.

At the critical moment, the man is given the shock of his life when the council's CCTV camera shines a spotlight on him.

After using the already soiled tissue to wipe up after himself he walks away from the scene, directly into the beam of the night vision camera. He can clearly be seen muttering under his breath before skid-daddling.

The man is approximately 45 years old, of medium build with a shiny bald head. He was wearing blue denim jeans and a grey hooded top with a white logo and Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council is appealing for anyone who knows the man to get in touch. Have a look at him in action below:

My old friend Cllr Greg Smith, H&F Council Deputy Leader, said:
“I have rarely seen such bare-faced cheek. This was not a medical emergency, it was a premeditated act next to a new play area which is used by families and children every day. But our CCTV cameras mean this individual has really dumped himself in it. We are calling on all decent residents to help us find this revolting yob by viewing the YouTube clip before he strikes again.”
Frankly let's hope the police get to him before Cllr Smith does, for his own safety

The incident was captured by brand new CCTV cameras which were installed by the council as part of a £2million makeover of the green. Footage from cameras is beamed into a new CCTV control hub at Hammersmith Town Hall - which streams images from around 800 cameras and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and utilises the latest high definition, infra-red and LED technology.

If you know who this man is, please email or call 020 8753 2693

19th Feb: Hammer to fall on Hammersmith Hospital

An execution date has been set for our local NHS, with the NW London NHS Primary Care Trusts group, authors of a North Korean style "consultation", described as "fatally flawed" by a former NHS Chief, holding a meeting to agree the final cuts. Appropriately enough they will be meeting at Methodist Central Hall, which is a grand Victorian building, so the pronouncement of death will take place in a suitably sombre environment.

The end result will be all Accident & Emergency services in Hammersmith & Fulham being closed, with emergency cases having to be ferried greater distances to central Middlesex or Chelsea & Westminster hospitals instead. And as we know there is never much traffic on the way to either of those destinations.

This is of course a process which was designed in a way to pit local hospitals against each other, and despite the very welcome cross party nature of opposition to that, involving a Labour MP and a Tory Council, some hospitals pretty shamefully actively campaigned for the closure of their fellow hospitals, using tax payers money to do so. Chelsea & Fulham MP Greg Hands, who represents Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, sadly seemed happy to turn a blind eye to that sort of behaviour by his hospital, which weakened the local coalition.

NHS NW London has still refused to answer questions about the financial interests many involved with the group have with the proposed new arrangements. Specifically the Guardian reported recently that parts of the NHS estate will be sold of to property developers who will in turn make vast profits. And guess which companies some of those involved in making these decisions, particularly local GPs, have shares in 

The Save our Hospitals campaign has had some difficulty in persuading local GPs to sign up to the campaign, although many have now done so, giving the lie to NHS NW London's claim to have universal support from them.

Campaigners tell me there will be a local demonstration on 16th Feb and people from across London will be attending a mass demo outside Methodist Central Hall on the 19th. I'm sure they'd love to see you there, email for further details.

Finally, let's remind ourselves of the sort of people running this sham - here's possibly one of the most disastrous television appearances I have ever seen from Dr Mark Spencer, leader of the bureaucrats wanting to wield the axe. Appearing on the BBC Politics Show he was both untruthful and disingenuous, and frankly arrogant, arguing that non clinical people should just accept that people like him knew best. That led his fellow studio guests, including a former Health Minister, to suggest that he represented a lack of "credible leadership", and that people like him should "get down from their high horse". Ouch.

He's since retreated back into the shadows, so not much chance of that. But people wishing to send a similar message to the great man may wish to pencil Feb 19th into their diaries.

By-election: Tory own goal

H&F Conservatives posted a mocking piece on their blog yesterday, pointing out that Labour's candidate for the Wormholt & White City byelection lives in Parsons Green, at the leafy and well heeled other end of the borough. A far cry from the White City Estate where his well respected predecessor lived.

This proved, they said, that Labour took the area for granted, before listing a series of achievements they argued that the council had delivered for residents of the area.

I read on, through the article, with baited breath. Having attacked Labour's candidate they were surely about to unveil a shining example of their own .... must be coming up soon .... keep reading ....

But no. No candidate for the Conservatives yet, at least not on their official website. What does that say about how important they think the by-election is?

And that, Ladies & Gents, is what you call a political own goal.

Mind you, Labour's candidate for our area is going to have a real schlep getting up here and back once he gets elected. I've done a guide for him - we're a helpful lot in this ward!

Max Schmid's political journey

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Gambling shops spread in W12

Our MP has attacked the Council's decision to support the opening of new gambling shops in Shepherd's Bush, with the latest example having been the replacement of the J Hunt family butchers at 173 Uxbridge Road with another branch of Ladbrokes.

There is of course another Ladbrokes within a few minutes walk further along Uxbridge Road down near the H&C tube, and in the other direction a few minutes walk away on Askew Road. The new Ladbrokes sits almost directly opposite a William Hill, of which there are also numerous outlets around. In the Hammersmith constituency there are now 41 such shops.

Andy Slaughter has condemned the decision, claiming that there are enough betting shops in the area already and accusing the council of failing to protect our local high streets from decline and local residents from exploitation by the big bookmaking firms.

While Max Schmid, Labour candidate for Wormholt and White City in next month’s council by-election, said:
“Many people have told me on the doorstep that they are concerned by this decline. Our high streets are the heart of our communities: if I am elected on 7th Feb, I will be demanding that the council takes seriously its duty to ensure they are not swamped by business that put little back into a neighbourhood.”
A year ago, TV’s town centre expert Mary Portas produced a report for the government saying she believed “the influx of betting shops, often in more deprived areas, is blighting our high streets”. But the government refused to take any action to prevent the big bookmaking firms flooding our streets with more betting shops, claiming that adequate legislation was already in place.

Only last weekend, The Fairer Gambling Campaign released figures showing Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs – a modern type of “Fruit Machine”) in licensed betting shops are taking a disproportionate amount of money in areas of high unemployment.

Areas of high unemployment and less well-off communities appear to be most popular with the big bookmaking firms. They provide a ready customer base and there are more likely to be vacant premises at rock-bottom rents. It is a toxic combination, according to the MP: Hammersmith has 41 betting shops and 149 Fixed Odds Betting Terminals: Chelsea & Fulham has half that number - 20 shops and 73 FOBTs; Richmond Park has 14 shops and 51 FOBTs.

Andy Slaughter said:
“I know from my postbag every time a new betting shop is proposed that very many of my constituents are unhappy at the proliferation of betting shops, payday loans stores, pawnbrokers and other parasitic ventures: they contribute little to the well-being of a shopping street, economically or socially. 
“It is high time that government and local councils, stepped in to reverse this trend. It is nothing to do with demand and supply – any passer-by will confirm that many betting shops are virtually empty most of the time. Many bookmakers justify their application for Fruit Machines by claiming that a shop wouldn’t be viable without them. There is no demand for so many of these shops – they are there because big businesses realise they can make a fast buck. There is a place for betting shops in our towns – but I agree with Mary Portas that the current proliferation is damaging our high streets and our communities.”
 25th Jan UPDATE: With thanks to Cllr Harry Phibbs, it seems that this issue is basically out of the hands of our Council when it comes to deciding whether or not to give planning permission. Here's what a Council official in the relevant department had to say in relation to this case, this week:
"It is worth noting that until the Government consider a change to the way betting premises are classified in the use classes order, officers cannot treat them any differently in land use terms to an estate agents, bank, employment agency etc all of which fall within the same use class as a betting office in planning legislation."

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Council cuts tax & freezes parking charges

Our Council has declared itself the UK’s "low tax borough" - as it unveils plans to cut tax for the sixth year out of seven and freeze parking charges. To accompany this good news story it has released the above film.

While most household bills - including gas, electricity, food and petrol - continue to soar, H&F has announced its intention to buck the national trend by cutting council tax by 3% again this April.

This reduction will see H&F taxpayers paying the third lowest council tax in Britain while resident satisfaction with services is close to being at an all-time high. While household bills have rocketed by around one third (33%) since 2007, council tax will have fallen by 17% in H&F - if the latest reduction is approved at a budget meeting in February. Pay and display and permit parking charges are also set to be frozen at £2.20 per hour or £119 per year.

The cumulative saving of six tax cuts, of 3% or more, over the past seven years has saved H&F residents £667 since 2007. In comparison, during the same period, the cumulative, year-on-year cost of gas, electricity, petrol and food has risen by almost £5,000

While H&F Council is announcing its latest reduction - thought to the largest in the country, many other local authorities, such as Rochdale, Harrow, Herefordshire and Aylesbury Vale are proposing to increase their council tax by up to 3.5%

H&F Council argues that it has been catapulted from one of the worst councils for value for money in 1999 (27th out of 32 in London) to the top 3 low tax boroughs in the country. The journey has not been without controversy though. Yet however much you agree or disagree with their priorities you have to give them credit for this latest announcement, which will come as a relief to many.

The ‘low tax borough’ says the secret of its low-tax/high-performing services is mainly down to a relentless private sector ethos that means the council is now more ‘lean, agile and in tune with residents’ concerns than ever before.

Senior management costs have been reduced by half, debt repayments to the banks have also halved and office accommodation costs have been reduced by more than a third.

Cllr Nicholas Botterill, H&F Council Leader, said:
“A radical revolution has seen the council transformed from a cumbersome and bureaucratic place into a lean and dynamic organisation. From a lower cost base, we are now able to respond rapidly to the needs of our customers - just like the best companies in the private sector do. 

“Our approach has catapulted us from relegation fodder in the league table of low tax boroughs into the top 3 of the Premier League. While other household costs continue to rise and pile pressure on families we have strived to leave more of our residents’ hard-earned cash in their pockets. 

“While council tax is falling year after year, our parks have never been greener, our streets are cleaner, our schools have never performed better and residents are noticing the improvements. 

“Other public bodies wanting to follow our lead need to know the top three factors to improving front-line services while delivering savings are to strip out duplicated layers of management, reduce debt repayments to the banks and drive down accommodation costs and overhead.” 
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles MP, said:
"Once again, Hammersmith & Fulham is leading the way in saving taxpayers’ money and cutting out waste and inefficiency. Other councils across the country should follow its example, and adopt innovative ways to deliver sensible savings that protect frontline services and keep council tax down.” 
Matthew Elliott, Founder of the Taxpayers' Alliance, the Conservative lobby campaign for lower taxes, said:
"Cllr Nicholas Botterill and his team should be heartily congratulated for managing to cut council tax so consistently over so many years. Hammersmith & Fulham truly is a shining example of a low tax borough. Other local authorities up and down the UK should learn from them, follow their example, and deliver better services and lower council tax for their residents." 
From April 2013, the average ‘band D’ council tax bill in H&F is set to fall by £23.44 - from £781.34 to £757.90. The cumulative saving of six tax cuts, of 3% or more, over the past seven years has saved residents £667 since 2007. While reducing tax and debt, services have improved in a host of areas:
  • Secondary schools are amongst the best in the country, according to Ofsted. H&F is one of only nine of the 151 local authorities to have all its schools judged to be ‘excellent’ or ‘outstanding’. H&F has more sixth formers going to a top university than any other authority, despite the fact that 36% of pupils receive free school meals compared to 17% nationally 
  • Crime is down six years out of seven, thanks in part to the Council’s spend on extra town centre police. This year there were 489 fewer crimes compared to the previous 12 months. 
  • H&F is in London’s top five for the cleanest streets. A mobile phone app was recently launched to make it easier than ever for people to report fly-tips, graffiti and litter. 
  • Nine of H&F’s parks have been awarded the national ‘Green Flag’ accolade. 
  • More vulnerable people are eligible for free homecare in H&F that would be denied if they lived in 28 out of 32 other London boroughs. 
In 2013/14 the council is planning to save £22million in total, of which just over £5m is a result of sharing services with Westminster City Council (WCC) and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). Just over £2m is being saved in debt repayments.

Around 175 senior management jobs have gone as a result of sharing children’s, adults and library services with WCC and RBKC. H&F and RBKC also share environmental services and a chief executive. The three councils are on course to save £40million a year by 2015/16.

The Council lists its top three secrets of ‘the low tax borough’ as:
  • Cutting out duplicated management posts by sharing services with neighbouring boroughs. Around half of senior management posts (175 posts) have been deleted as a result of sharing services with Westminster City Council (WCC) and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). 
  • Cutting debt repayments to the banks. H&F has cut its historic debt from £168million to less than £100million for the first time in a generation, saving taxpayers £5million in annual debt repayments. 
  • Reducing fixed costs. Over the last six years H&F has cut its accommodation costs by more than a third as the council’s office footprint has shrunk from 29,343sq m in 2007 to 18,547 sq m. i.e. reduced by 10,796 sq m/116,200 square feet or equivalent to what it calls a staggering 2.7 acres!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Free help for the elderly in W12

H&F Circle have teamed up with H&F Council and local third sector organisations to help tackle fuel poverty this winter. They would really appreciate your help in spreading the word to older people in the borough who need help warming the home or advice about fuel bills.

Circle is working alongside the Council to help residents stay warm in their homes during severe wintry spells. There’s also advice available about heat insulation, energy bills and benefits that can be claimed. Their Neighbourhood Helpers can assist by gritting and shoveling the path outside the door, measuring the temperature inside homes, giving out blankets or a storage heater, buying shopping, picking up medications and doing errands, fitting carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms, and helping people get to hospital appointments, the doctors, shops, etc

All this help is absolutely free, and they're here to assist anyone, Circle member or not, who needs help with these jobs. Please pass the information to anyone who needs help warming their home and call 0800 112 3448 for more info. Offer ends March 31st. 

This is a really solid initiative, and as we are warned of impending cold weather in the news at the moment, very timely. I can think of at least two people on my road who might need this support. Full marks to the Council and all involved, especially the volunteers.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Why you should avoid T-Mobile

T for Terrible
Following the exhibition of humanity shown by a stranger in returning my phone yesterday, I've had nothing but incompetence and shambles from T-Mobile.

And I report this just in case any of you are thinking of joining them!

Yesterday I was told by two people in their UK call centre, conveniently located in the Philippines, that a replacement SIM card would be with me within 24 hours. All part of the service I was told. No problem.

By mid afternoon today, having stayed at home for the day in order to receive it, I called again. Oh yes, sir, just be patient it will be with you before 6pm. Guaranteed.

Strange, since the UK team (the ones actually in the UK) on Twitter told me that was wrong and that it would take 3-5 days.

So this evening I call the Philippines again and I'm told oh no, nobody ever told you 24 hours, it's 3 days. Maximum. Obviously.

How do I complain, I asked? Well, you could always visit our website and give us some "feedback".

Avoid them like the plague...

09.01.13 UPDATE - Wow, I thought my T-Mobile nightmare was over but it seems it's the gift that keeps on giving. Having eventually received my SIM card I installed it last night... and ever since then the phone has been stuck on a constant restart sequence with no possibility of turning it off until the battery runs out. And then no promise of it working again after that. Looking on the internet I find that this has happened to many people who are the not so proud owners of an HTC One S phone - so it seems they've gladly handed out handsets that they know to have a serious software problem.

T-Mobile - Truly Terrible.

Blog bashed as "receptacle for leaks"!

Greg Smith
Wow. I've upset the Council. I've just come across (not being a regular reader of what the great man says) this speech by sweary Greg Smith, Deputy Leader of H&F Council, back in October last year. He was thundering at the Labour opposition for what he called their lack of a policy on the merger of services between this borough with Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea.

In his preamble Mr Smith raged thus:
"Madam Mayor, as the Leader has already set out, what has been achieved through Tri (and indeed bi-) borough in such a short space of time is remarkable. 
And as I was looking through the impressive savings figures, it struck me that there is no clear line on Tri-Borough from the Opposition. 
Are they for it – or against it? With taxpayers or against taxpayers? 
Hopeful of an answer, I consulted that colossus of local political commentary and analysis: no not the bravely anonymous and recently silent HFConwatch blog; nor that receptacle for leaks run by Chris Underwood; but that flow of self-consciousness published by the Leader of the Opposition – The Cowan Report".
Apparently this blog is a "receptacle for leaks". And he's right, of course. 

His speech, he'll be delighted to know, provides me with the opportunity to highlight what some of those rather embarrassing leaks have been - from secret Cabinet papers marked "not for publication" revealing the severe financial risks they are taking over Shepherd's Bush Market, to a letter which revealed Boris had been telling lies about the same scheme, to an embarrassing climb down over access to public information by the Council Chief Executive over West Kensington, to yet more secret documents which lay behind their determination to try to resurrect the King Street redevelopment scheme in the teeth of local residents opposition

But what I find most interesting about Cllr Smith's venom is that he seems to regard these leaks as inherently a bad thing. Are they? When I leaked these cabinet papers it forced our Council onto the back foot and to defend it's secret maneuverings in public, bringing much needed scrutiny to what they were up to. 

And in response to an investigation led by excellent fellow blogger MayorWatch which I applied to H&F they were forced to admit that they'd be shelling out £2 million for Boris' Bikes, just in time for the Mayoral election. That doesn't mean that the expenditure is either wrong or right - people have views both ways - but it does mean people have the chance to debate it. 

So why the red mist?

Greg Smith does red mist
A clue lies with the fact that this is of course the Council which acted to muzzle it's own planning committee, the infamous "scrutiny" body that rubber stamps their most controversial decisions, and now does so without even releasing documents to elected Councillors that - in it's view and nobody else's - are too "sensitive"

And clues to why people may not trust everything our Council says may be found, for example, in their track record over the "super sewer". Having spent loads of your cash on a public campaign warning of the imminent destruction of Furnival Gardens by evil Thames Water, which I naively believed and called on you to support, we found that actually they knew this wasn't true in the first place. Oh ... and we later found out that the Council wanted to concrete over Furnival Gardens themselves with their King Street property development. Funny, that. 

Or perhaps the West Kensington Estate development, over which our Council first sought to block access to public information, before being forced to back down and now find themselves being investigated over after a complaint to the police. Not to mention a High Court action

From time to time I get sent things that I don't end up publishing frankly because I either can't stand them up or I don't fancy getting sued but dear old Greg, perhaps in in his quieter moments, must concede that shining a light into dark corners isn't always such a bad thing.

Cllr Smith has actually led some of the better projects of our Council, particularly in his steadfast support for the police and against anti social behaviour. His colleague Nick Botterill, Leader of Council, has pushed through improvements to the Green which, after the long wait, now look really quite impressive. And other Conservatives such as Harry Phibbs have quietly been on the front foot sorting out problems around the Bush that have made our area a better place to live. They deserve a great deal of credit for all of that and more - personally I have never understood why they seem hell bent on undermining all that with this tendency  toward secrecy and bullying. It really isn't necessary.

So, what about the "receptacle"? Following my appeal for new writers I was really delighted that a number of you responded, and about five of us will be meeting at the Bush Theatre this week to work out how to take it forward. I plan on writing the occasional article and the others are keen to follow different aspects of Bush life too. What would be great would be to get coverage across the range - community affairs, sport, arts, music and so on. So if any more of you want to get on board do just email 

UPDATE - One reader sees a dark future ahead of me, for having provoked the Wrath of Smith:


Oh my word - another reader suggests I may have to "do a Depardieu" and seek emergency help from Vladimir Putin:

Sunday, 6 January 2013

A tale of honesty

Earlier today I lost my phone. Having gone to one of the shops on Askew Road I came back to the car minus a phone. Retracing my steps it was nowhere to be seen so I searched the car to see if it had dropped out. One exhaustive search later and I had to accept it was either lost or stolen.

After an hour, during which I'd had a T-Mobile call centre worker sitting in the far east telling me in a bored voice I'd just have to buy a new handset and could I go now please, I had another call, this time showing a more positive side to people.

It was, bizarrely, a call from my mum who'd received a weird call from a guy who started the call with the words "it's about your son" ... not the words a parent really wants to hear. It was a guy who had found the phone which, being new is quite valuable, and looked up "mum" on the contacts to call to return it. Moments later I was talking to him myself, a Bush dweller from Algeria called Bilal. And officially one of the nicest people to live in W12.

Meeting him outside a bustling Damas Gate I offered him a reward, but was turned down flat. He said he just hoped that someone else would do the same for him. It was enough for him to know the phone had been returned.

Driving back from the meeting I passed by the address I visited here, one night out with the local police. It had been burgled and the young woman living there was terrified, upset and angry all at the same time. She was getting out of the Bush as soon as she could, and after an experience like that who can blame her. But with people like Bilal amongst us, it's also worth remembering some of the best people in Old London Town live right here too.

Thank-you Bilal.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Fancy writing a blog?

I was contacted yesterday by a reader who's eagle eyes had noticed that the blog hadn't been updated for some time.

I did warn you in October that this was on the way, but the reader concerned had a useful idea. How about others take it on?

He's game and so might some of you be - and if you are let me know by emailing

Having started the blog back in 2008 I've taken this about as far as I can, having had some great times along the way. It's taken me out with the police one Saturday night, down a sewer to investigate flooding, into shouty meetings of our local Council and into some of our best local businesses. I half hoped I'd get to know my local neighbourhood better and it's been more rewarding than I'd ever hoped, even with some of the darker sides to where we live.

So, over to you. Who's game?