Friday, 31 July 2009

The Truth is Told in Parliament

MP Andy Slaughter has given a resounding speech in parliament highlighting the misinformation that has been peddled by the Council about their plans and exposing the extent of their nightmare vision.
"We are talking about something that was designed by the leader of Hammersmith council, who is the head of the Tories’ local government innovation unit, as a blueprint for the rest of the country. How do we know that? We know it because he published a document earlier this year called “Principles for Social Housing Reform”. We also know it because, at the council’s expense, he held a round-table discussion with Tory Front Benchers, other senior Tory politicians and, shamefully, local government officers on 3 March that agreed to the most extraordinary blueprint for the future. Market rents for all housing; no security of tenure; no right to buy; no duty to house the homeless; no capital investment at all in social housing—is this really the future for housing under a Tory Government?"
Click here for the full speech. Note that he challenges the Tory front bench (i.e. David Cameron) to either support or reject the plans for social housing that Stephen Greenhalgh has recommended for the whole of the UK.

See Dave Hill's Guardian blog for further comment. He too wonders about the secrecy involved and David Cameron's position in all this. Thank goodness for the Freedom of Information Act and enterprising members of the public.

Well, Mr Cameron? Now is the time to make good on your speeches about the importance of community.

You've Been Frameworked

Recently Hammersmith and Fulham Council published a Local Development Framework (LDF) document, outlining extensive plans for the borough including plans to turn estates like Queen Caroline into 'Decent Neighbourhoods'... apparently we are currently not 'decent'. Thanks for that.

They will use this as justification for demolishing our homes.

I'll go back to that in a minute. But first, the LDF. Comments had to be in by 17th July. No doubt lots of you who live or work in the borough sent your comments in. What's that you say? You didn't? Why was that? Could it be that....

a) You didn't know about the consultation because it was poorly publicised?

b) You managed to read about the LDF consultation in the very tiny writing on the back of one of the Council's self congratulatory leaflets and dutifully went as they instructed to the Library to get a copy of the LDF. But the Hammersmith Library staff knew nothing about it. You tried again. Same result. You retired home, defeated. (Was somebody secretly filming? Are they sitting at home laughing uproarously at your misadventure?)

c) You went online to try and give your comments but found the procedure of registering and then finding your way through a lengthy, jargon-ridden document and a tortuous, ill-designed comments process both baffling and exhausting. You gave up, humiliated, after a couple of hours. (Did a family member film you sliding off your chair and make a few bucks on the sly?).

d) You don't care about the borough and they can bulldoze it if they like. (Ah, the hysteria as your home crashes to the ground).

Three of the above happened to interested, sensible people who really did want to pass comment on the L
DF. People who know how to use computers, find out information, stand up for themselves. So how much harder will it have been for those with no Internet access, mobility problems, sight impairment or communication difficulties? Those of us who went to the library were going to pick up copies for neighbours but you know how that went. (Even Harry Hill couldn't find anything to laugh about there.)


If you'd like to r
ead the LDF + comments please click here.

So where was I? Oh yes, I don't live in a decent neighbourhood. The Council says that a series of 'decent neighbourhood principles' are not achieved here. These are quoted below with comments.

The Council says we are

1. "A clean and safe neighbourhood located in an area rich in opportunity." What? Have they been here? This is a pleasant, easily accessible area between the riverside, transport and local shops. Non-residents walk, jog and cycle through the estate all the time. We are a clean neighbourhood (though the recent cutbacks by the Council of the caretaking services have had an impact) and close to businesses, shops, transport, leisure etc. i.e. an area rich in opportunity.

2. "A housing mix by type, size and tenure to attract people on a range of incomes." This already exists. A large proportion of leaseholders complement the tenants. There is a mix of young and old and a large proportion of working residents (both paid work and voluntary work). The one thing that we need more of in the local area is larger family properties but knocking down other people's homes is hardly a reputable (or decent) way to achieve this.

3. "Residential development that is predominantly low or medium rise (e.g. 3-6 storeys), with gardens and shared amenity space in street based layouts." All but two of the buildings here are 3 - 4 storeys. All either lead directly onto streets or onto paths within a few feet of streets. There are very well used childrens' play areas and green spaces.

4. "Well designed buildings with active streets, that respect their surroundings." What does this mean?? Where is your plain English? Our buildings are solid and afford a fair amount of privacy because they are not too high density. The flats are a reasonable size. We simply need the Council to finish the Decent Homes programme, for which they have already received Government funding. Are the streets active? Well people use them a lot and stop to chat on them a lot, I suppose this means they are active.

5. "A range of shops, local services, leisure and other facilities within walking distance that meet the needs of a mixed community at different stages of peoples' lives." See Point 1 above. M&S, Primark, Kings Mall, the Broadway Centre, 3 tube lines, bus station, Riverside Studios, Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith Apollo, primary school, churches, restaurants, GP surgery, riverside pubs, after school centre.... all within a 5 - 10 minute walk or less. Add to that Charing Cross Hospital, all the services on Fulham Palace Road and Fulham Football Club all just 15-20 minutes walk away.

"Employment & training opportunities for a range of skills and attainment levels." There are plenty of employment opportunities in all the above mentioned amenities and businesses. As a working person I don't know so much about training opportunities locally. I'm sure it would be good to provide more though. It would do more for unemployed people locally than turfing them out of their homes.

"Low levels of crime, fear of crime and anti-social behaviour." I don't know the crime figures but I do know that I and my neighbours do not feel afraid to leave our homes at any time of day or night and judging by the amount of non-residents that walk through the estate at all times, neither do they.

8. "A street pattern linking one place to another, encouraging walking routes through areas." There are interlinked paths and roads throughout this estate, all well used and enhanced by trees and areas of greenery.

9."Satisfaction with the local townscape, public realm and environment, and its upkeep; no wasted or uncared for land." We are pretty happy with how it is apart from the impact of the Westway, but that is not going anywhere no matter what. What exactly is meant by wasted land? I worry that this actually means'not built on' when in fact the combination of residential property and open space is what makes this such a pleasant area in which to live and work. Of course it could be improved and we'd love the chance to participate in that - as residents we know better than anyone what's needed.

"Does it matter what the ruling Councillors think about the estate?" I hear you ask. Sticks and stones and all that...

Unfortunately yes, because they will use it as an excuse to raze our perfectly good, decent homes to the ground. They say they want to create a 'mixed community' in a 'decent neighbourhood
'. It won't include us. NONE of the plans talk about moving residents out temporarily and then moving them in again. This is a chilling omission because in other parts of the LDF they do at least express an intent to do this on other estates (though only in part). But here - no.

We are decent people living in a decent neighbourhood. Please help us save our homes.

Friday, 24 July 2009


"There's gold in dem dere hills!" used to be the cry of prospectors in Gold Rush America.

It seems that the call has now gone out once again.

Over the last few years there has been so much development and proposed development in this small borough of ours it's almost impossible to keep up with it.

Of the 32 London Boroughs we are one of the smallest but also one of the most densely populated. So with that in mind it would be foolish not to have a well thought out, clear vision of how best to balance the needs of those people and businesses that already reside here in Hammersmith and Fulham and those who want to come here, considered against the issue of limited square footage.

Unfortunately it could be seen that the planners are less sympathetic to existing residents and their desire not to have major developments right in their backyard than to the prospectors coming over the hill guns a' blazing. For example:

The Council gave the go ahead for 10 homes to be squeezed into an area between Percy and Boscombe Road.

Planning permission has been sought to build 56 houses and 11 business units on the small business park on the corner of Brackenbury Road and Goldhawk Road. Residents have argued that the proposed buildings will directly affect their light, not to mention the fact that there will be a considerable increase in traffic and noise in that area.

Again, there's the Armadillo or Strawberry or the Great Big Ugly Glass Structure (whatever you want to call it) that is planned for Hammersmith Grove. Those that opposed the site were called 'Nimbys' by a Conservative Councillor.

It seems like every week there's an annoucement of yet another major development in this tiny borough. Last month transformation plans were announced for the tower blocks on the Edward Woods Estate. Coincidentally, these tower blocks overlook the new multi-billion pound Westfield Shopping centre.

Residents have been complaining for years about the condition of the estate with no response from the Council. Suddenly, not only will new cladding be added but penthouse apartments will be built on these tower blocks, selling for the modest sum of £675,000. Bet the lifts will always be working once they are built.

I spoke to a friend who lives on the Edward Woods Estate, she knew nothing about it. But I bet there was 'extensive consultation' with residents.

No wonder the prospectors - sorry, property speculators - have moved in, there's millions to be made in this here borough.
  • In 2008 Prupim and Hammersmith and Fulham Council sold the Broadway Chambers in Hammersmith Broadway for £12.5m to Sapcote Developers.
  • Development Securities recently won permission for the aforementioned Strawberry scheme in Hammersmith Grove expected to cost £250m.
  • There's the £180m revamp of King Street by Grainger and Helical Bar.
  • Westcity Property fund in a 50-50 partnership with Byrne Estate purchased Queens Wharf for a reputed £32m, that's where the threat to my home comes from.
  • Not to mention the whopping 1.5bn it is said to have cost to create the Westfield Shopping experience.
And where there are property speculators there are 'The Consultants', a shadowy group of people, highly trained in the ways of consultin'. They ride into town known by none, except they usually turn out to be the wife, husband, brother-in-law or old school friend of the head of department that needs the consultin'. But I'm sure they must be worth every penny.

Why just the other day it was revealed that Hammersmith and Fulham Council were going to spend £300,000 on consultants to consult about how best to move in the bulldozers into the West Kensington Estate and how best to get away with it... or did they say 'transport consequences' and 'legal advice'. £300.000! But don't forget it's only a 'proposal'.

It seems that 'stack 'em high' is no longer just the phrase used by a certain US supermarket chain, it seems to be the byword for housing developments in this borough. Unfortunately this council has forgotten the rest of the phrase 'and sell em cheap'.... or even reasonably priced.

The speculators are in town and coming to an area near you. The wagons are circling.

The recession seems to be doing the job that those in the planning office should have done. But this is a game for these guys - they know when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em, they know when to walk away and they know when to run (courtesy of Kenny Rogers) and trust me they are just sitting this round out, waiting for a better hand or in other words an upturn in the market.

Please support us. Hands Off Our Queen Caroline Homes.

Keep an eye on your local papers, look at the planning applications, Hammersmith and Fulham is up for sale, bit by bit, estate by estate, road by road, property by property, brick by ... (okay you get the picture). Property speculators know it, the Council knows it, the property media know it. Don't believe me?

'In recent years, under Stephen Greenhalgh’s leadership, Hammersmith and Fulham has become a beacon council that is most definitely open for business. '....... Steven Norris (Former Conservative MP) 27.3.09 Property Week.Com

"Hi-yo, Silver, away!"

The Lone Ranger

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Spielberg, are you out there?

We have had lots of support via email and comments on our blog and we'd like to say a big thank you for that. Our support comes from within our community and from outside too. It is very heartening to read some of the comments people have left - and moving too. A particularly poignant message was left by Janice, whose family and neighbours were forced to leave a 'close knit and caring community' many years ago. Read it for yourself: click on the link and scroll down to 'Comments'.

It got us to wondering, do any of you lovely readers have film making skills and equipment that you could help us with? We plan to use film to show the reality of life here in our community. It's time we busted the myth that it's not a decent neighbourhood (according to our charming Council) once and for all.

Just to give you a taste of what a great place this is to live, here's a photo across the estate to Hammersmith Bridge, taken in the February snow. Okay, it's a bit unseasonal. But lovely, isn't it?

Get those creative juices going - get in touch by phone 07505 982526 or email us if you'd like to help us tell our story.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Blurred Vision?

We promised that we would provide a summary of the policy paper co-authored by the Council Leader, Stephen Greenhalgh: 'Principles for Social Housing Reform'. The paper proposes draconian changes to housing law and to the future of social housing.

It makes highly contentious blanket statements about social housing, when it must be clear to any right minded observer that there is no one 'truth' about such a broad topic. It declares social housing, and estates in particular, to be a blight on local neighbourhoods and a drain on taxpayers' resources. This is at a time when the biggest blight on all of us has been the greed of wealthy bankers and their associates!

The paper is based on two major assumptions:

1. That social housing is a problem.

2. That tenants, i.e. those who rent, contribute less to an area than homeowners:

"Residents with a stake in the place where they live, however small, will care more about what happens to their homes and in their neighbourhoods."

What?? Where is the justification for such an outrageous statement? A credible policy proposal should present sound evidence for such prejudicial assertions but we see none. It illustrates, yet again, the blinkered views of the man leading a Council that is meant to serve us. It is, yet again, deeply insulting to the thousands of council tenants who take pride in their homes and their neighbourhoods. Who could possibly think that a mortgage is the only thing that gives people a stake in their homes and communities?

It is impossible for us to know whether Cllr Greenhalgh really believes in his distorted view of social housing tenants or whether this is simply a cynical exercise to discredit and disenfranchise us. And it's hard to say which would be worse - a misguided, incompetent Council with unintentionally warped views of a large sector of its residents or a Council intent on carrying out policies deliberately designed to exclude this same sector of the population. In many ways, though, this is irrelevant as the outcome will be the same for us no matter what the intent.

To the non council tenants reading this I would ask you this: please use your intelligence to discriminate between unsubstantiated opinion and well evidenced fact. Don't just believe what you are told, you are better than that. A lot of you will have parents or grandparents who have lived in Council housing. Did they not look after their homes and their neighbourhoods? Were they work-shy burdens on society or people of integrity, doing the best they could for their families and their communities?

This Council is using the language of empowerment whilst plotting to dispossess people of their homes and their communities. If they succeed it will herald an era of social division that we have not seen since before the Second World War.

Of course there are council estates around the country that need radical rebuilding and a complex array of interventions. But not ours. Undoubtedly there will be some people on our local estates (much as anywhere else) who need focused support and encouragement to enter the job market. So provide it. Provide adequate child care and training opportunities. In what way does kicking people out of their homes and depriving them of their rights empower them or help them into work?

The only thing wrong with Queen Caroline Estate is the Council's neglect. They have been sitting on the Decent Homes money (already provided by central Government) for years now - and incidentally have made a tidy profit. They have left half of us with leaking, draughty windows and astronomical fuel bills as a result. Many residents view this as a cynical exercise to run down the estate and demoralise us. Not to mention the carbon footprint! Come on Councillors, it's happening on your watch. Do your job properly - it's what you are paid for.

The Greenhalgh paper argues that in the long term the Government should:

1. Restrict the number of social homes that are built and reject a duty to house anyone but the most vulnerable.

2. Abolish secure tenancies in social housing.

3. Allow councils to move to market rents.

4. Abolish the right to buy and hand power back to local Councils to decide who is given permission to buy their own home. (Well hello Big Brother!)

5. Change the law so that Councils can discharge their duty to the homeless by housing them on short term contracts in the private rented sector.

These solutions to the perceived 'problem' of social housing would ensure that ultimately social housing would all but cease to exist, in order that:

"ultimately, Council and RSLs (registered social landlords) should be able to repay any Government debt and move to a situation where they operate their housing portfolio at a reasonable profit."

There we have it. Profit. Knew we'd get there in the end.

Monday, 13 July 2009

More Media Coverage

Good news, our plight and the wider implications of the Greenhalgh approach have been highlighted in the media. See the coverage in the Evening Standard, the Guardian and the Mirror.

It is also worth having a careful read of the NewStart article which highlights some of the discussions that have taken place. Note that Stephen Greenhalgh (the Council Leader) is quoted as saying that "We want to attract people who are very rich."

Note also the final paragraph:
"The redevelopment of the Ferrier estate in Greenwich began earlier this year. Social housing residents there were initially promised replacement housing on the estate, but in the final development plans the majority of new homes are private."

It is always worth reading Guardian writer Dave Hill's blog. He is an incisive and intelligent writer. Also worth signing up for his newsletter Metropolitan Lines.

What is noticeable is how many commentators are making links with the Dame Shirley Porter 'social cleansing' scandal of the 1980's.

Our Council's logo says "H&F, putting residents first".


Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Welcome to Our Ashcroft Square Neighbours

We were delighted to notice that our neighbours on nearby Ashcroft Square are also making their voices heard. Have a look at their blog.

A big welcome to you all on Ashcroft Square Estate - we must do lunch!!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

See For Yourself

You can now view the coverage of our story on the BBC2 Politics Show of June 14th. Watch it and see the discrepancies and misinformation in the Council's story.

The first part shows worried residents being interviewed on our estate.


The second part shows our local Labour Councillor, Stephen Cowan, and Nick Johnson, Chief Executive of H&F Homes, being interviewed. Members of the the ruling Conservative Council were 'unavailable'.


See for yourself and make your own mind up as to whether we are 'scaremongering'. Ask yourself this: in our position, would you feel safe?