Monday, 30 September 2013

Living the High Line

I have just come back from a week working in New York and I was lucky enough to be taken to see the High Line on the lower west side.

This is essentially a recycled elevated railroad that snakes through that part of Manhattan and was disused for years. It is now, however, a beautiful nature reserve populated by kids, families and just plain old folks like me as they walk through plants and grass verges as they look down on the busy streets below.

Back in our part of the world we live under the crumbling monstrosity of the Westway, which our Council is rightly trying to replace with an underpass instead. I see no reason why the Westway couldnt be turned into something even better.

Do you?

Friday, 27 September 2013

Council urges residents to recycyle

Stop burning your money! is the rallying cry from our Council in a provocative new push to encourage us to recycle more. The same authority who has been found to routinely fleece motorists with sneaky traffic cameras is seeking to position itself as a guardian of your cash while picking up some green credentials along the way.

Pointing out that every tonne of clean and dry recycling costs just £24.50 to recycle, while black bags cost £145 to incinerate, deputy Leader of the Council Greg Smith said:
“We spend £21m every year cleaning our streets, collecting rubbish and recycling, and getting rid of this waste.  But the more residents recycle, the more they can save.
“If all the recycling sacks we collected last year had contained only correct items and not things we cannot recycle, like textiles, builders’ rubble and food, then the council could have saved more than £384,000. That is a huge sum of money to forfeit and could instead be spent more bobbies on the beat, improving parks and putting more books on the shelves in our libraries.
All power to them for encouraging more recycling, for which they deserve credit. But given their record elsewhere I'm not sure many residents are about to accept that this Council has saving their money in mind. More like saving theirs.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Flyover final works

The final phase of maintenance work to the Hammersmith Flyover is planned to start next month, with planners hoping to keep road disruption to a minimum. This follows the near miss during the Olympics when there were real fears that athletes would be prevented from getting to venues on time.

Following on from the first phase of work in spring 2012, the final maintenance will extend the life of the structure, "for decades" according to TfL. That's not quite what our Council want to hear, as they lobby for a "flyunder" solution.

During the works, the remaining 11 of the flyover’s 16 spans will be strengthened in a similar fashion to the five spans that were strengthened last year. The bearings carrying the structure will also be replaced, carriageway drainage will be renewed and the entire flyover waterproofed and resurfaced to reduce the need for further maintenance in the future.

All activity that affects closure of the carriageway both over and under the flyover has been carefully programmed to take place at night, between 10.30pm-5.00am, in order to reduce disruption to road users. During summer 2014, a limited number of weekend closures in one direction will be required in order for the flyover to be waterproofed and resurfaced. TfL will ensure that these works are widely advertised ahead of them starting in order to help people plan their journeys.

Dana Skelley, Director of Roads at TfL, said:
“Our overriding focus when planning these essential works has been to keep disruption to a minimum. We are committed to completing them as quickly and efficiently as possible and will keep the local community and road users informed of progress as we work to deliver these vital improvements.”
For more information about these works, check out

Friday, 20 September 2013

Oxjam Shepherd’s Bush 2013 date announced

Oxjam Shepherd’s Bush music festival takes place Saturday 12th October across 4 key venues with a day of music and performances from over 40 new and emerging acts. Part of Oxfam’s nationwide music festival the event aims to raise money for charity with all proceeds from ticket sales going directly to support Oxfam’s work to eradicate global poverty.

Taking over Bush Theatre, The Defector’s Weld, Belushi’s and The Green the festival will host a diverse range of up and coming musical talent with additional festivities including stand-up comedy, street food vendors, fundraising games and prizes. A full line-up is to be announced shortly.

Zanna Clarke, festival manager said:
“The festival is about bringing people together to enjoy new and exciting musical talent whilst raising as much money as possible for charity.

Not only does the £10 ticket price gain access to a day packed full of entertainment but it’s also a life-changing gift that goes around the world to fight poverty - and could end up providing safe drinking water for 10 people or feeding a family after a crisis, for instance. We think that when people realise this they will be excited and thoroughly proud to be part of the event”
Doors open from 12pm to 12am and entry is for over 18s only. Standard tickets cost £10 with a limited stock of Early Bird tickets priced at £6.

To find our more or to buy tickets visit or follow them on twitter @ Oxjam_ShepBush

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Bush Market: Inquiry evidence underway

The public inquiry into our Council's plans to forcibly redevelop our market against the wishes of the majority of traders and shopkeepers is heating up. A mole tells me that the Council's QCs are struggling to justify the way in which they have handled the process. Unsurprising since it has already been found to be illegal by the High Court.

Orion the property developer, who managed to get our Council to renege on publicly made promises made by Stephen Greenhalgh not to demolish the Goldhawk Road shops, is up soon followed by the traders and shopkeepers themselves.

The evidence already submitted by many of the traders and shopkeepers is really moving. Stories include arriving in the UK as refugees from the racist evictions of Idi Amin's Uganda in the 1970s, having lost everything, and literally building up again from scratch. These are the people Orion think should be grateful for being evicted and turned from owners of their businesses to leaseholders in a new development with none of the authenticity that brings people from far and wide to W12.

No wonder they're not prepared to be pushed around. Not even by Boris.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Wormwood Scrubs on a knife-edge, says report

Our local prison is a powder keg waiting to go off say those people responsible for looking after it, and the people inside it. Not good news.

Prison staff of 20 years’ standing have told the West London prison’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) that they have never felt so fearful, the board reveals in its annual report, published today.
The IMB consists of volunteers who monitor the day-to-day life in their local prison, ensure that proper standards of care and decency are maintained and deal with problems within the prison.

The IMB found that cuts in staff not only negatively affect the Ministry of Justice’s key incentive to rehabilitate prisoners. The absence of one or two prison officers due to illness or holidays can have a huge impact on the prison regime. Prisoners spend too long in their cells and their frustration regularly spills into aggressive behaviour. There has been a 48% increase in staff using force or restraining measures to control prisoners in the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period last year.

This is before the sweeping cuts by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling take effect in October, when the budget will be cut by a further 21% and 128 members of staff have to be laid off.

Responding to the report Andy Slaughter MP said:

"This shocking report about rising violence and vulnerable and mentally ill inmates put at risk is a direct result of Government cuts to the prison service. Prison staff are bearing the brunt of the crisis, but if prisoners are released unprepared into society we will all suffer. Recent report of serious crimes committed by prisoners shortly after release or even on bail give the lie to the Government’s promise to do more to keep the public safe and rehabilitate offenders".
The cuts and low morale are affecting all aspects of the prison, particularly in the kitchen, says the IMB. An inspection this summer found mice nesting in the kitchen equipment and eating the wiring. In addition, equipment was not satisfactorily maintained or cleaned.

Many prisoners are mentally ill. Some are kept in the Healthcare wing alongside physically ill prisoners. Due to lack of space mentally ill prisoners are regularly kept on a normal wing and/or in the Segregation Unit. This means staff with minimum training have to deal with volatile, unpredictable and often dangerous men.

It makes one interaction I had with an inmate all the poignant.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Care procedings down under "tri-borough" deal

Some little reported but really impressive news courtesy of Family Law Week, who report that the average time spent in court or other legal proceedings surrounding children in care has gone down from 49 to 26 weeks. The researchers looking into it report that the drop in time is due mainly to the fact that the three boroughs of Hammersmith, K&C and Westminster are now collaborating closely.

The research sounds a few warnings, namely that the pilot actually means more work for some professional groups, particularly the case managers, but this does seem on the face of it to be positive news for which our own Council and their partners in neighbouring boroughs deserve real credit.

Friday, 13 September 2013

New Hospital Row

Our Council and their colleagues within the NHS management team closing down Charing Cross and Hammersmith Hospitals have launched another “deal”, hailing it as a “boost” to services. They claim that the extra services will mean that the hospital becomes a national ‘centre of excellence’ for routine surgery. The local community campaign, however, have dismissed it as “another cynical attempt to muddy the water”, obscuring the fact that the majority of services are still set for the chop.

Our Council lauded the deal:
“The news is a further boost for Charing Cross after the original plans led to widespread opposition. Since then, the council has worked with the NHS to increase the number of services offered on the site and develop Charing Cross as a specialist health and social care hospital”.

“Under new proposals, Charing Cross would continue to cater for more than 80% of its current cases. News that elective surgery is now on the list of possible future services would further boost the amount of expertise at the site, meaning patients in the local community benefit from the care it gives, and giving it greater status as a teaching hospital”.
With Cllr Marcus Ginn, Cabinet Member for Community Care, arguing:
"We have always said that negotiation is the best way of securing the hospital's future rather than costly legal action which was always doomed to failure and could have potentially left us with very little.

"Through negotiation, the list of services planned continues to expand. We still want more and will call for more when we see the Secretary of State."
But MP Andy Slaughter was scathing:
"To be clear, Hammersmith & Fulham Care Commissioning Group and Hammersmith & Fulham Council do not support a hospital on the Charing Cross Hospital site; they only support an investigation into having additional primary care and treatment facilities (the 13% option). The report into this is now 3 months late.

The Council’s press release states that “Responding to calls by Hammersmith & Fulham Council, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust which runs the hospital, last night discussed the future Charing Cross as a centre of excellence for elective (non-emergency) surgery.”

This is not a new idea, and Imperial Trust has been looking at this option for a while now. I mentioned this nearly a month ago in my column for the Hammersmith & Fulham Chronicle on the 14th of August and in my e-news of the 12th of August.

This would obviously be a better outcome but Charing Cross would still be left without emergency medicine or an A&E department. In addition, under this scheme many of the remaining beds would be private. The Care Commissioning Group opposed this option as it would would weaken Central Middlesex Hospital, which is already loss-making. This was in the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee papers last week.

Again the Council is trying to claim credit where it is most certainly not due. The fact that the Council’s press release does not once refer to the Save our Hospitals campaign speaks volumes".

So where does that leave us?

The problem for our Council, surely, is that having claimed to have “saved” the hospital they lost all credibility when it transpired that they had done anything but.

And their new round of PR stands in stark contrast to the outcome secured by local authorities who actually stood up and fought for their local hospitals such as Lewisham.

As the local community there celebrate their hospital genuinely being saved, the people of Hammersmith are offered platitudes instead.

Hammersmith Death Ray!

The Evening Standard reports that the shiny new glass building just built on 10 Hammersmith Grove is, just like the Walkie Talkie building of the Square Mile, a DEATH RAY EMITTER! Well, it doesn't melt cars, at least not yet, but apparently the planned gardens around the building and on their balconies have had to be re-thought due to patches of brown and scorched plants found among the already-installed foliage.

Frankly the biggest health hazard of that building seems to be the clouds of carcinogenic smoke that hover around the entrances as staff cluster there smoking furiously, but if you're spending time around that area and the sun comes out ... you may wish to watch out for lasers from the skies.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Dicing with death: Boris Bikes

Nobody in their right mind should ride Boris Bikes on the streets of London. The conclusion very clear in my own mind after giving Boris Bikes a go for the first time yesterday evening, inspired by my regular work trips to Holland where cycling is the norm and is done with decent cycle lanes and very little danger.

There's nothing so much wrong with the bike itself, although its quite heavy and there are only three gears, but the combination of blue paint strips that nobody respects with aggressive drivers quite prepared to risk your life for their 5 seconds of time saved is lethal.

In my case I planned a trip from near the office in Stockwell South London to the Bush. A reasonably straight forward trip from Kennington docking station to the one installed with great expense at Westfield Library. I got as far as Vauxhall before giving up and returning, thankful I was still in possession of a full complement of limbs, to the tube. 

So what went wrong? Two examples:

In Holland most cycle routes are separated from the road and exist either as part of the pavement or are apart from both. By contrast the cheap option of painted blue stripes is basically pointless. Cars weave on to them as they undertake those turning right while I came across a helpful DHL delivery van using it as a means of inching out into the road, forcing cyclists to swerve into the oncoming traffic on the right - while the oncoming traffic on the right did its best not to give way. This is precisely the dynamic that resulted in the first death of a Boris Bike user in July this year, although in that case the obstruction was scaffolding. 

Vauxhall roundabout and White Van Man. A large multi-laned and incredibly poorly signposted hub is made all the worse by White Van Man and his fellow tribesmen. It's impossible to ride at any speed on a Boris Bike because there are only three gears, so you are slower not only than the cars but of most other bike users. You are therefore annoyance number one in the eyes of White Van Man, who cuts in front of you to turn left down the road you are half way across passing. On a roundabout. Yes, really. Again, precisely the sort of dynamics reported by cyclists on other roundabouts, such as that at Bow which has claimed the lives of several. 

So what now? 

Personally, I will never be taking the risk of cycling on London's main roads again. It seems I had chosen one of the most dangerous areas in London to try it with Vauxhall Cross recording one of the highest numbers of vehicle-cyclist collisions in the city, but still. 

As this cycling blogger put it, recognising the fear some drivers feel when cyclists are forced to "swarm" around their cars, the way the current roads and "cycle lanes" are designed forces both into dangerous positions. And until that changes, the death toll will carry on rising. 

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Polish War Memorial

A stone and marble memorial stands quiet, dignified and unassuming by the side of a roundabout just off the A40 Ruislip turn-off, about 10 minutes drive from the Bush. Flanked by the British and Polish flags the monument proclaims the various campaigns fought by the Polish airmen who volunteered to fight for the allies during the second world war after having escaped the joint Nazi-Soviet invasion of their country. Behind that obelisk a marble walkway winds around in a semi circle with the names of the thousands who paid for that decision with their lives. What is not recorded is that, during the later stages of the war, Britain sold Stalin their country in a secret deal that marked one of the most shameful episodes in our history. Decades later Polish President Lech Walesa visited this monument in 1991, after having fought for decades to right that wrong.

I’ve written before about the corners of history that mark our part of the world, and it’s one of the great things about living in London that you can find amazing windows onto our past. And having passed the polish war memorial roundabout loads of times on the A40 I’ve always wondered what sort of memorial it was, so this was the time the curiosity won and I pulled off the road on the way home from a trip to the well worth visiting Colne Valley Park.

If you have a chance to see it please do, it’s a very thought provoking little place and reminds us of the sacrifices these men made. One of my first jobs was working for the Royal British Legion back in 1997 and I remember well reading about the individual cases that the charity were supporting at the time, of men who had suffered horrendous injuries but who kept returning to try to liberate their country.

In our part of West London we have something of a special link to Poland too, of course. The crest of Hammersmith is a Polish eagle and the numerous “Polski Skleps” on our streets are evidence of the thriving population. One of whom was another Pole who recently exhibited the same commitment to fighting for what was right, and like his countrymen 70 years ago paid with his life. It’s with that sort of heritage in mind you begin to understand the contribution and the dedication that our friends from Poland have brought to this part of the world for generations.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Toby Young to stand in Hammersmith

Top Tory Toby
West London Free School founder Toby Young is hinting heavily that he will stand for the Tories in the Hammersmith constituency, which includes Shepherd's Bush, at the next General Election. Speaking to the Telegraph in an online Q&A Mr Young said:
“The Hammersmith Conservative Association will shortly be advertising for a candidate to stand in 2015 and I am thinking of applying. I haven’t made up my mind yet. Indeed, I have written about the pros and cons in tomorrow’s Spectator.”
Last time around I thought the Tory challenger Shaun Bailey was effectively torpedoed by his own side, as he was left floundering trying to justify our Council's various ill conceived property developer plans in classic Tory voting territories. Despite their hasty u-turns Mr Bailey was rejected by the electorate.

I suspect the lesson will have been learned. And given the very bad blood between Mr Young and the current incumbent Andy Slaughter, a thoroughly bad tempered contest may be in prospect.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Take part in "listening & learning" survey

Our Council are running their annual "listening and learning" survey for residents, which is a set of 25 questions concentrating on local issues, and your view of how the authority is handling them. Taking part should take just a few minutes - click here!