A new hyperlocal investigative journalism project created by students from City University’s Investigative Journalism MA course, launches today. The Hammersmith and Fulham Files contains features covering issues affecting residents in the area, including crime, schools and the activities of the council.
The Janet Adegoke leisure centre in White City was torn down in August 2003 leaving behind nothing but rubble and a large hoarding around the site. For almost a decade, little has changed since the bulldozers departed. The site has lain in limbo, because of political infighting, changes in government and the economic landscape.
Redevelopment plans were finally approved in February 2012 and White City residents now expect to have a cutting-edge GP “super-surgery” able to treat 10,000 patients and a mini-supermarket by 2014. There will also be 170 homes on the site – but controversially, none there will be social housing for local residents.
Clare Cornock is a disabled woman who has lived in social housing on the White City estate for 50 years. But her accommodation is on the third floor and she was hoping for a ground floor flat in the new development. The places that they’re building are not for ordinary people like me to rent,” she says.
Harry Audley, chairman of the White City residents association, said in December 2011 that there was a “significant amount of local cynicism about the amount of time taken” to get the redevelopment off the ground. But it “appears that it will now be completed in the next two to three years, with a number of health benefits for local people,” he added.
In March 2006, after a series of public consultations, Labour councillors sought planning approval from the then-London Mayor Ken Livingstone for a £30 million seven-storey complex designed by the celebrated architect Richard Rogers. It would house a 4,000 sq m healthcare centre with GP rooms, dental facilities and services from district nursing to minor surgery, affordable housing with underground parking, office accommodation for social services, a mini-supermarket and an IT café.
The application also included a £1 million regeneration package for the adjacent Wormholt Park, and training programmes for local people. But residents of White City are still waiting.
Artist sketch: White City health care centre
“There is a long and sad history to this site. It should have received planning permission in 2006 and a new health centre should have opened in 2008 as the first UK polyclinic,” says Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter. “When the Tories won the council in May 2006 they insisted on removing social housing from the development and a battle ensued with the mayor.
“In 2008 Boris Johnson allowed it to go ahead without housing for local people but it will not open for another two years at least, with many of the innovative health and community projects stripped out.”
Meanwhile 8,000 people in Hammersmith and Fulham are on the housing waiting list and “25 per cent of homes in White City are overcrowded,” according to Mr Slaughter.
“We just want it through as quickly as possible now, it’s not a point of contention,” says Labour councillor Stephen Cowan. “But it’s a point of contention that it hasn’t been done earlier with the health consequences for people in that area.”
In 2010 Hammersmith Primary Care Trust (PCT) said that “despite having high levels of health need, White City is poorly served by health services”. The trust referred to lack of breast screening facilities in the north of the borough, patients, often in pain, having to “travel to receive care” and residents having to make up to seven separate appointments for their “annual health check”.
The “polyclinic” concept is still highly controversial, with opponents arguing that they will lead to the closure of local GP practices, forcing patients to travel further afield to seek help. Some PCTs have also been accused of restructuring health care provision to accommodate polyclinics without enough discussion.
Before the wrecking ball hit the Adegoke leisure centre, councillors discussed its redevelopment on 29 January 2003. “The centre was jerry-built and the roof was falling in,” said Mr Slaughter. Oposition councillors Amanda Lloyd-Harris and Antony Lillis called on the Labour administration to “withdraw its decision” to close the centre but it was demolished in August 2003.
The council approached Building Better Health Ltd (BBH), a private sector property developer, in 2005 to discuss the possibility of constructing a healthcare and housing complex on the land. The developer was told that the project would “meet many of the objectives and aspirations of local residents”.
Council meeting 2003: The future of the Adegoke site para 156.
On 19 April 2006 Mr Livingstone told Hammersmith council that the planning application was “supported in principle” but he wanted clarification on the amount of social rented accommodation. If a council wanted to build affordable homes, the Mayor encouraged them to achieve a split of 70 per cent social rented and 30 per cent intermediate housing (above social rent but below market price or rent) within the amount of affordable homes. But councillors wanted a 50-50 split as White City had an “above London average” proportion of social rented accommodation. Mr Livingstone eventually accepted the 50-50 split.
Councillors tried to obtain planning before the May 2006 local elections. Officials were told that a covenant affected a strip of land required by the developers so planning officers decided that it would be a risk to give approval. “It meant it was dead and wouldn’t be resurrected until after the local elections,” said Cllr Cowan.
But after the Conservatives won the local election, they set about revising the borough’s housing strategy. The new council leader, Stephen Greenhalgh, sat alongside Cllr Ian Clement, the future deputy mayor of London, and Kate Davies, chief executive of Notting Hill housing association and said that the new policy should be developed around the “abject failure of social housing”.
By January 2008 Tory councillors asked Mr Livingstone to comment on a revised application with less social housing unit. “When the Conservatives proposed removing low cost housing Ken said ‘No’, so effectively what they did then was sit on their hands until the mayoral elections in May 2008,” Mr Slaughter says.
Initially the Greater London Authority (GLA), now under the new Mayor Boris Johnson was unhappy with the “zero approach to social rented housing”, But Mr Clement granted approval in December 2008. “Things change,” he said. The GLA planning officers were on “Ken mode, they had prepared the pie to the Ken recipe and I said I don’t agree with the Ken recipe”.
The derelict site
Shortly afterwards, Hazel Blears, then the Local Government Secretary, considered intervening but eventually decided that the decision was up to Hammersmith and Fulham council. Then the downturn in the property market prompted councillors to voice concerns about the scheme’s viability. The developer was asked to increase the discount on some of the low-cost housing units but said they could not do this without “adversely affecting the financial viability” of the development.
Hammersmith told the GLA that it was “minded to grant planning permission” on 25 March 2009 but Ms Blears then said she was considering a public inquiry, believing the application raised “potential conflicts with national policy”. But weeks later, she backed down and gave her approval. Tory councillor Antony Lillis described her intervention as a “disgraceful act of political vengeance”.
A revised application was eventually put to the council planning committee in October 2011. Cllr Michael Cartwright examined an artists’ impression of the development said: “When I first saw the building elevation I thought of Eric Honecker. It seems to me to be very East Berlin 1970.”
Artist impression, revised design
In February workers finally moved on to the site of the old Janet Adegoke leisure centre, felled trees, prepared new hoardings in anticipation of work beginning.
According to a recent LBHF council press release the first brick was laid on 9 May
When asked why the scheme has taken so long to come to fruition, Mr Clement said: “I think the development crossed the rubicon. It is a little bit of a cause célèbre, that’s why, with the social housing, the nature of the development and the mixed communities.”
It has been a very long journey for the residents of White City and it is not over yet.
Ronald Coppins has lived in Fulham Reach for over 50 years; he is an active member of the community and still volunteers daily at his local Age Concern Centre. Three years ago Coppins was the victim of a violent gang mugging which left him scared to leave the house for weeks. Isolated and alone, he felt that thanks to the actions of three young boys, his life was over.
A sergeant from a local Safer Neighbourhood Team visited Coppins at his home and helped him to rebuild the confidence to step outside again. For “the company, the cups of tea, and the advice I was given, I am eternally grateful,” he said.
Whilst his life has returned to relative normality, the incident continues to affect Coppins, 76, who remains too scared to go outside in the evenings, no longer carries a bag, and has a pair of bells attached to his wallet allowing him to “hear if someone tries to make off with it.”
As he struggles to shed the emotional scars of his ordeal, Coppins has continued to campaign for greater policing and crime prevention in the borough, leaving him “outraged” at the news of cuts to these services.
It was revealed earlier this year that the number of sergeants leading the borough’s Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNT’s) would be cut from 16 to 12. This has angered local residents who see the SNT’s as a vital part of the community and the fight against crime: “We need the police, we need Safer Neighbourhood Teams, we need sergeants – it really is as simple as that,” Coppins said.
According to data from the Metropolitan Police, after the SNT’s were introduced by Ken Livingstone in 2004 the total number of offences reported yearly in Hammersmith and Fulham had fallen by over 5000 by 2009. This, Coppins believes, is “no coincidence”.
Stephen Cowan, leader of the Labour Opposition in Hammersmith and Fulham, also believes there is a direct correlation between the fall in offences and the presence of SNT’s: “The Safer Neighbourhood Teams have been intrinsic to cutting crime in the borough. The sergeants in particular are committed to carrying out their work with a determination you don’t often see in other jobs.”
As four of the borough’s sergeants are cut, many of those left will be forced to cover two wards thereby doubling their workload. Coppins fears that this will diminish the strong relationship between sergeants and the local elderly community: “Our sergeant came (to the Age Concern Centre) twice this summer to speak to us. If a sergeant has to cover two wards, how’s he going to fit in the time he needs to come in and speak to people like us, to meet us and let us know someone’s keeping us safe.” It’s like “having one doctor at Charing Cross Hospital – it wouldn’t work.”
The cuts have angered community blogger Annette Albert, who runs the W14.ning website. She said: “The fear of crime is as great or perhaps greater than crime itself. The Safer Neighbourhood Teams put this fear at ease, but after these cuts I’m sure we wont see them on the street anymore, they will be too stretched.”
Despite a petition from the local community, Fulham Reach and North End wards have been forced to merge, sharing one sergeant. Ms Albert was “incredulous” following the subsequent loss of sergeant Ian Gordon whom she describes as an “asset” to the community: “We were never informed he was going, we were never asked, we were never consulted – that really did upset a lot of people.”
Ms Albert believes that the most important thing about the SNT’s and, in particular the sergeants, is the relationship they build with the local community: “We trust the sergeants and the Safer Neighbourhood Teams and, let’s face it, how often do you find policemen you can trust?” Ms Albert worries that these cuts will leave people like Ronald Coppins more reluctant to report crimes: “If you’re isolated, whether you’re young or old, crime does become a real problem.” Whilst the true impact of this decision remains to be seen, there is a fear amongst the local community that these cuts will lead to an increase in crime figures: “If people find out that there are less amenities, less ability for the police to do their job, they’re going to act on it,” Coppins said.
Without the help of the SNT, Coppins believes that he would have remained isolated and afraid: “I respect the Safer Neighbourhood Teams very much for the work they do, they mean a lot to us. The cuts are not fair to us. I feel very strongly about this, I feel like people like me have been forgotten.”
Stephen Cowan identified the role of the Council in diminishing the fear of crime: “Fear of crime, like any fear, can be completely debilitating, which is exactly why it must be tackled. It is the Council’s responsibility to address this fear and the only way you can really do that is by addressing the causes of crime.” This, he believes, goes beyond the role of the police and of SNT’s, which “can only help once a crime has already been committed,” to the role of crime prevention services such as the Youth Offending Teams (YOT).
The YOT in Hammersmith and Fulham aims to reduce offending by children and young people aged 10-18 years in the borough. A spokesperson for the service said that it is a fundamental element of crime prevention in the area: “We work with young people vulnerable to being criminalised, we make them see they don’t need to be part of a gang, they don’t need to commit crimes, their life can have a purpose.” The service is particularly important to Coppins, as one of his muggers’ was brought to the attention of the scheme. He believes that services like this provide “vital support” for both young offenders and their victims.
This year the budget for the YOT in the borough has decreased by almost 26% with projected cuts of over 60% in the next three years. David Van Eeghen, from children’s charity Kids Co, believes it is “inevitable that these cuts will have a negative effect” on both crime and society more generally. As his work focuses on vulnerable inner-city children, he recognises the importance of services like the YOT and believes that the availability of such help “can be the difference between someone having a productive life and living on the edges.”
This opinion is shared by Stephen Cowan who believes it is important that council’s take a “joined up approach,” when tackling crime, dealing with both its causes and effects. “What I know you shouldn’t be doing is cutting police numbers and cutting the Youth Offending Team – these are all regressive steps that I think are disastrous if you’re interested in cutting crime and diminishing the fear of crime,” he said.
The YOT claim these cuts will not affect their ability to help people like Ronald Coppins and his muggers. They say the budget will be used effectively resulting in no change in service. Similarly, the borough police commander, Chief Superintendent Lucy D’Orsi has said: “We have to have an affordable plan during these challenging economic times. My officers will continue to deliver an effective neighbourhood policing service that responds to the needs of local communities.”
These promises do little to reassure people like Ronald Coppins, who believes that “crime is no longer the priority it once was.” As he prepares to make his way home before night falls, Coppins expresses his belief that: “Decisions like this are made with the stroke of a pen, without thinking of the consequences. I’m worried where we’re heading – it could be frightening.”
Empowered by the Big Society, tenants try to block £8bn redevelopment scheme
Fred and Joyce Podmore have lived on the West Kensington Estate in Fulham for thirty-nine years. To them, their home is not just bricks and mortar; it is where have they raised their three children, where they have grown old together, and where they had expected to live for the rest of their lives. However, at almost eighty-years old, the couple have lost their fight to stay in their home, along with hundreds of other tenants. Mr Podmore said he feels as if they are “lambs to the slaughter.”
EC Properties Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Capital and Counties Properties PLC (Capco) have submitted planning permission to Hammersmith and Fulham Council for an £8billion Earls Court Masterplan. On the 77-acre site, they are proposing to build 7,500 new homes, offices, 41 acres of open space and a new high street and ‘four villages’, modelled on cultural hubs in London. The project is thought to be the largest project of its type outside China and will take up to twenty-years to complete.
However the Masterplan entails the demolition the both the Earls Court exhibition and conference centres, and the West Kensington and Gibbs Green housing estates. The West Kensington Estate has 604 properties and was built in 1972, is comprised of five tower blocks, low-rise flats, maisonettes and terraced houses. The nearby Gibbs Green estate, built in 1961, has 110 properties and is made up of 7-medium rise blocks. Despite CapCo having pledged to re-house the tenants of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates with alternative, modern housing, which will “meet the needs of those residents moving into them”, two-thirds of the residents say that they will not be forced out of their homes without a fight.
Encouraged by Prime Minister David Cameron’s Big Society, the residents want to take control of their estates, in order to prevent them from being demolished as part of the Earls Court redevelopment scheme. They face fierce opposition from their existing landowner, Hammersmith and Fulham Council, who see their land as a ideal opportunity for redevelopment, in the form of CapCo’s Masterplan.
Cameron’s Big Society envisages a social order in which power is taken away from politicians and given to the people. Housing Minister Grant Shapps announced plans last week, which will make it easier for tenants to take control of their local neighbourhood. The proposal includes a ‘Right to Transfer’, which would allow tenants to request the ownership of their neighbourhood to be transferred from a the council to a local housing association. Shapps has said, “it will no longer be acceptable for councils to dismiss tenant’s proposals for improvement out of hand.” If the plans are approved, the tenants of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates will have a significantly greater chance of controlling their homes.
The Conservative Government is encouraging people to take more power of their communities, and thus assume greater responsibility in society. In a speech unveiling the Big Society Mr Cameron said:
“We know that when you give people and communities more power over their lives, more power to come together and work together to make life better, great things happen.”
The proposed Earls Court project is likely to be the biggest test, to date, to Mr Cameron’s vision for Big Society. Jonathan Rosenberg, a housing activist, states that “local people are best at dealing with local problems, which shouldn’t involve knocking down places that people like to live in.” The Earls Court Masterplan presents a contradiction between the aims of the Tory-led Council and the vision of the Government’s Big Society. The former is supporting the redevelopment of the area, while the latter is fighting to save and take over their community. The West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates exemplify the spirit of localism put forward by the Government, but the residents feel that their aspirations are being quashed by the Council’s development agenda.
West Kensington and Gibbs Green Community Homes, chaired by Shirley Wiggins, is the resident-controlled association that plans to take over the running and ownership of the estates. Determined to stop the demolition, they plan to use the so-far unused, Section 34a of the Housing Act 1985, which requires a local authority to co-operate with a formal notice from a tenant-led group to transfer stock ownership of council home. They hope to become their own landlords, as they believe the Council is solely driven by their desire to develop the area.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Sally Taylor and Diana Belshaw, the Chairs of the West Kensington Estate and Gibbs Green Estate, respectively, argue that despite the Government promising to devolve power to communities, their aims are “being crushed by the heel of the local state.” Stephen Greenhalgh, the leader of the Conservative Council in Hammersmith and Fulham, asserts that when considering a transfer of stock to the residents, “regeneration schemes for the wider area” must be considered in the context of the proposed transfer.” The council has claimed that the regeneration is needed to bring forward substantial private investment, where there are “bigger costs and economic benefits to the community and local authority area as a whole.” However, Mrs Taylor deems the Masterplan as merely an “opportunity for the Council to make money.
“I think the Big Society is a great idea, but when money is involved, values disappear quickly”, she adds.
Furthermore, a response to a Freedom of Information request by Inside Housing, disclosed a letter from Councillor Greenhalgh to the Decentralisation Minister, Greg Clark. Mr Greenhalgh asked that tests be applied before tenant-led transfers are approved in regeneration areas, arguing that “it is wrong to allow regulations on stock transfer to apply without wider benefit tests in these “Opportunity Areas.”
The Conservative Council, lead by Stephen Greenhalgh, have labelled the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates as an Opportunity Area, which refers to “the capital’s major reservoir of brownfield land with significant capacity to accommodate new housing, commercial and other developments.” The Council also states that the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates suffers from a high number of long-term unemployment residents, has low levels of educational attainment and has higher crime and mortality rates in comparison to the rest of the borough.
The Council also asserts that the quality of housing on the estates is below standard; despite the millions of pounds of funding it has received through the New Deals for Communities. On the ConservativeHome blog, Greenhalgh describes the West Kensington Estate as “pretty shabby”, not “fit for purpose” and ascertains that its builders did “an appalling job” in the 1970s. In its Core Strategy Document, the Council argues:
“The area doesn’t fulfil our expectations of a decent neighbourhood; we think that redevelopment should be considered to establish mixed and balanced communities.”
Greenhalgh also insists that due to of a lack of Government resources, the demolition of the estates would be more cost effective because of the total costs of improvements and maintaining the stock would be too expensive, asking, “how can the Council afford to maintain and do all the work that is required?”
However, despite claims from the Council that re-housing the tenants will improve both their lives, and immensely benefit the wider community, the residents do not echo their judgements. Mrs Taylor describes the estate as “lovely”, and explains how the people who live there have invested their lives in their homes. She laments that the council does not value a community, in which she has lived within for twenty-five years, as a mixed and diverse neighbourhood. In fact, she argues, “they should be celebrating it as an ideal council estate.”
The West Kensington and Gibbs Green have lost their bid to block the proposed redevelopment, fighting for their futures and their homes. The Council are currently carrying out their second consultation period so it could be months before they make their final decision. As the first significant test of the Big Society, the Council and the residents should be prepared for long and bitter struggle.