White City development – workers finally move onto site.

Architect model: White City health care centre

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.


Paving the way for the death of social housing

Hammersmith and Fulham Council has noble intentions. Its regeneration plans focus on building mixed communities to reduce the borough’s extremes of rich and poor; it has promised to build more homes and to create “a ladder of housing opportunity for all.” But in reality, it is creating a borough that looks more like an exclusive gentleman’s club, but remains unaffordable to the majority. At worse, it may set a precedent that kills off council housing in other boroughs.

The council website proudly announces that it has helped to house a total of 58 families in the last year. That was less than half the number housed in previous year, and this in a borough that has more than 10,000 people waiting for a home.

Report on social housing reform co-authored by Stephen Greenhalgh

The former council leader, Stephen Greenhalgh, has said that he believes council tenants are “locked into a culture of dependency and expectancy.” Council estates, he argues, create “social ghettos” that cause many social ills such as crime and perpetuate a cycle of deprivation. “Social housing,” he says, “has become welfare housing.”

Councillor Andrew Johnson, the council cabinet member for housing, supports this view. He says: “Council homes are a springboard, not a destination.” He wants to help those “who make an effort and penalise those who simply cannot be bothered”.

Councillor Greenhalgh has two solutions. The first is to increase the number of affordable rented homes in the borough, and the second is to try to increase home ownership. To reduce the cost to council-tax payers, he wants to offer “a hand up, not a hand out,” and minimise the number of people on housing benefits.

But the definition of an affordable rent has been changed. Accordindefinitionsg to the Affordable Housing Framework introduced this year by Grant Shapps MP, the Housing Minister: “Providers will be expected to deliver a range of rents across their development proposals from homes let at target rents up to a maximum of 80 per cent of the market rent. In order to maximise the number of new homes, it is expected that most will be let at, or close to, the 80 per cent limit.” The Homes and Communities Agency, the national homes and regeneration agency for England, has also adopted this definition.

Hammersmith and Fulham is the fourth most expensive borough in the country, both to rent and to buy property. New developments will not include any more council housing, but will instead provide a large number of properties for rent at the 80 per cent level. That offers little opportunity for current residents on lower incomes to afford to live in the borough independently. Coupled with the Government’s benefit cap, large numbers of people may be forced out of the area.

Nick Raynsford, the Labour MP for Greenwich and Woolwich and a former Housing Minister and Director for the housing charity Shelter, describes this policy as an “Orwellian distortion of the truth.” The rise in affordable rent will inevitably force up the number of households requiring housing benefits, he says.

“I can think of no better way of creating dependency than forcing rents up – it is the worst possible way to tackle it. The merit of having social housing at well below market rates, is that it allows a large proportion of lower income households to live without benefit dependency.

“The consequences of this programme will be a serious shortfall of housing. It will exacerbate deprivation, homelessness and overcrowding. It may also mean that lower income households are priced out of affluent areas entirely.”

The assumption that people who need council homes are work-shy opportunists is leading the council to overlook its working population. A recent report in a Guardian Datablog, showed the minimum salary a person would need to be able to meet the  new affordable rent levels in every borough in England. For a one-bedroom flat in Hammersmith and Fulham  they would need an income above  £37,000 a year. The average income in the borough is £30,000.

Chart showing homes are unaffordable to the majority on average salaries for the borough

The new Localism Bill poses further problems. It devolves many powers back to local governments. Among the provisions for housing it states that local authorities will be able to limit those  who can apply for social
housing in their areas. They would therefore, be able to set their own eligibility criteria.

“It has been ill thought out,” Mr Raynsford says, ‘The most significant changes relate to the allocation of housing, which could give councils wider discretion to discriminate against certain groups of people.”

The Bill would also allow the council to rely more on the private sector to house those  in need but  Mr Raynsford points out that parts of the private market are poor quality and in poor condition.

Cllr. Greenhalgh supports selling  council homes to increase home ownership – and not just to tenants. In a Localis think-tank report that he co-wrote in 2009, he proposed that vacant homes be sold off. The document entitled Principles for Housing Reform, suggests the “strategic open market sales of void properties either directly or by transferring ownership to a partner who will then sell on.” The council is cashing in, instead of rehousing some of the thousands on its waiting list.

Furthermore, attractive 50 per cent discounts are offered to council tenants to buy their home. This cuts further the amount of council housing available. Once sold, the homes will not be replaced.

Inevitably, issues such as housing are heavily politicised. Opposition councillors such as Stephen Cowan have been quick to compare this to the Shirley Porter “Homes for Votes” scandal of the 1980s in that it will force natural Labour voters out of the borough. But Mr Greenhalgh appears to shows little concern that those on lower incomes may be priced out of the area.

The changes in the definition of affordable rents allow councils such as Hammersmith and Fulham, pretend that homes are affordable when they are not. Far from being a cure for the “social ills of social housing”, the changes will not fulfill either of the council’s aims – to build mixed communities and cut reliance on benefits. Instead it will cause a mass migration of lower-income households from a borough that already has a far lower percentage of council tenants than any other in London.  The result will be a monolithic, inner London zone, exclusive to high earners. It is better compared to a sweeping broom clearing the area of the poor, than a “ladder of opportunity for all.”





Earls Court demolition: a threat to the UK economy?


The historic Earls Court exhibition venue is set to be demolished

The striking art deco facade of the Earls Court exhibition building has been a big feature in 80-year-old, Jennifer Ware’s life. She can remember playing, at the age of five, on the balcony of the top floor of her grandmother’s Earls Court hotel in 1937, watching as the venue rose above the skyline.  Jennifer still lives in the former hotel, now been converted into flats, and has fond memories of the centre. “I went for the first time when I was six. My father’s friends had developed a new garage door, and I went to demonstrate how light and easy it was to pull. The venue was vast, especially for a small girl.”

In 1991, the barrel-roofed Earls Court Two venue opened, adding a further 17,000sq m of floor area to the existing 42,000sq m of the first Earls Court. Together the two could hold 42,000 people and over the years hosted some of Britain’s best-known exhibitions, such as the Ideal Home, as well as some memorable pop moments such as at the 1996 Brit awards when Jarvis Cocker invaded the stage during Michael Jackson’s Earth Song.

But now these world famous buildings history are due to be demolished soon after they host the Olympic volleyball tournament. EC Properties, a subsidiary of property developers, Capital & Counties, which owns both buildings, plans to convert the area into a mixed residential and retail zone, in partnership with Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham councils. Public consultation documents on plans for the area, known as The Earls Court & West Kensington Opportunity Area (ECOA), have been adopted by the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. The new policy document, known as the Supplementary Planning Document, supports the planning policy, which based on Sir Terry Farrell’s Earl Court regeneration plan to develop 7,500 homes. 

Many in the exhibition industry fear that the demolition will have a devastating impact on the local and wider economy. The Association of Event Organisers have said that the Earls Court venues support £258 million of expenditure in the two boroughs, and more than £1.25 billion in the London region. According to the AEO, knocking them down will result in the loss of 30,000 national and international exhibiting companies and  2.5 million visitors a year.

Karim Halwagi, chief executive of the AEO, said: “The exhibition industry is worth £40 billion a year to the UK economy. Although the UK has other venues, it doesn’t mean you can get rid of one of the biggest and most famous venues in West London.

“How do you replace the loss of 64,394 sqm of space? The Government needs to take notice of us as an industry. We make a massive contribution to the economy, and this needs to be appreciated by government.”

The industry also claims that the UK is trailing other countries in realising the exhibition industry’s potential.  In a letter to the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, Carsten Holm, the chief executive of Diversified Business, organisers of international trade shows, said: “Business people increasingly prefer other countries with much better conference and exhibition facilities, which, in the UK, are generally considered among the worst of any major international city. Here nobody seems to care, and those that should, seem to be trying to make life for the commercial world as difficult as possible.”

The demolition will also be a blow big for the pubs, restaurants and hotels that have grown up in the area to serve visitors. Suresh David, front office manager of the Oliver Plaza hotel, said: “We’re especially worried in this current economic climate that the demolition is going to happen. In January and February, we rely on business coming from people who go to conferences and exhibitions at Earls Court, as general tourism is slow during these months.”

The proposed demolition has already affected business at the Pembroke pub in Earls Court which has seen profits fall.  Daniel Webster-Clamp, its general manager said: “We have a mezzanine floor which is hired out for private parties – usually by the visiting consumer shows. There is already less consistency with the year-on-year profits.”

Plasa, an international membership body for those who supply technologies and services to the event, entertainment and installation industries, holds its annual international trade show at Earls Court and is worried about having to relocate. Matthew Griffiths, its chief executive, said: “We will lose visitors and business. We will have to go to a great expense in advertising and marketing, to make sure people find us. It could cost us hundreds of thousands of pounds. We bring in 14,000 people to the area over three days. It has to be weighed up whether residential space will bring more people to the area.”

The two councils say that their economic appraisal of the proposed demolition shows that it will create 201,397sqm of employment floor space and that over the 18 years it will take to build, it will support 2,002 workers per year.

However Councillor Linda Wade (Lib Dem) fears that rather than creating jobs, the demolition will reduce opportunities for local people. She said: “The development could turn into Covent Garden, with boutique shops. They probably wouldn’t employ locally as there are fewer young people in the area. It will also be too expensive for the majority of people to buy anything.

“The office spaces built will take a long time to let and they wouldn’t be employing local people, or be able to replicate the number of people who come to the Earls Court venues. Building could take up to 20 years, what’s going to happen to local businesses and employment during this time?

“My worry is that it will turn into Canary Wharf. Blocks of flats were left empty because people couldn’t afford them. So the businesses that were built around them, all closed. It’s like a ghost town now.”

A spokesman for Hammersmith and Fulham said: “The Council has to consider all the options available, which includes weighing up the disruption that redevelopment might cause for existing residents against potential longer term benefits, including new homes, job opportunities and other neighborhood improvements. The views of local people are important in helping us decide.”

With planning permission not yet granted, many in the industry and local community want the venues remodeled to retain the exhibition space and maintain trade. Ms Ware, who became active  in the Earls Court liaison group, which met the venue owners to discuss how to keep disruption to the area at a minimum on event days, said the building should be constructed for modern use.

“I’m very sad that the venues are going, I’d like to turn the clock back,”  she said. “There were always lots of wonderful concerts going on, and to prevent us from complaining they would give us VIP tickets for the concerts – it was great!

“The most memorable concert I saw was Elton John in the Seventies, we were entertained royally, I was bowled over by him. It was an excellent venue.”

Events held at Earls Court

Planning committee is ducking scrutiny say Labour councillors

Hammersmith and Fulham have appeared in Private Eye's "Rotten Boroughs" section a record 13 times in the past year

Hammersmith and Fulham’s Conservative administration has been accused of denying elected councillors access to important planning information to cover up its reluctance to build affordable homes.

The council’s housing policy has attracted caustic censure. In October Ken Livingstone, the Labour candidate for London Mayor, accused the Tories of “cleansing working class people out of the borough” to improve their fortunes at the ballot box.

The latest controversy concerns a “Disclosure of Confidential Information Protocol” which restricts access to “commercially confidential information” which include justifications for not including affordable housing in planning proposals.

Urgent Planning Committee Protocol on Confidential Information (1)

Under it, members of the Planning Application Committee (PAC) have to show a “need to know” to obtain such information and, even if it is disclosed they cannot discuss it in public.

Cllr Stephen Cowan - Leader of the Opposition

“This is happening to disguise why Hammersmith and Fulham’s Conservatives don’t grant permission for any genuinely affordable social housing. It is a disgraceful undermining of the role of the committee,” according to the council’s Labour opposition Cllr Stephen Cowan.

Roy Darke, a former lecturer in town planning and urban management at Oxford Brookes University, described the protocol as “provocative” and “heavy handed”.

“To say ‘this information is off limits’ and ‘we don’t trust [opposition members]’ is a very bad way to be putting a protocol in place,” he said. “If there is commercial sensitivity around an issue typically what will happen is it won’t be taken in the public part of the committee and the meeting will go into private session … One way around the ‘need to know’ approach would be simply to give councillors information if they wish it, but to do so under the confidentiality rule until it is no longer commercially sensitive.

Roy Darke - Former Lecturer in Town and Country Planning at Oxford Brookes University

“This all revolves around trust, and I suppose Hammersmith and Fulham is saying it doesn’t trust some of its opposition councillors.”

But Rob Mansfield, a council spokesman claimed that the protocol simply clarifies existing law. “It’s an absolute bog-standard reminder to councillors of what their duties are,” he said. “Our council operates in exactly the same way as the vast majority of councils across the UK.”

At the heart of this controversy is the so-called Three Dragons financial model, which calculates how much a company can expect to make from a development. Estimated costs are subtracted from the estimated sale price to project a profit. If affordable housing is included in a scheme, it reduces the profit margin. But the figures are deemed commercially confidential, in effect allowing the council to push through developments with negligible affordable housing in them without explaining why.

Based on Three Dragons calculations, the developer of the recently approved luxury development at Fulham Reach, St George, could claim that it was viable to provide only 25 per cent affordable housing – lower than the 40 per cent stipulated in the council’s  local development framework (LDF). No affordable rented housing was included in the proposal, again in breach of the LDF and London Mayor Boris Johnson’s London Plan.

The affordable housing at Fulham Reach is mainly studio apartments priced from £175,000 to £224,000, which have been advertised in Hong Kong. One local resident dubbed them “rabbit hutches for the rich”.

“The Conservative administration keeps using Three Dragons financial modelling to explain why it is able to ignore the Mayor’s London Plan and avoid forcing developers to include affordable social housing,” said Cllr Cowan. “The Conservatives haven’t granted permission for a single affordable social home to rent since coming to power five and a half years ago.”

Planning officers refused to disclose details of the Three Dragons appraisal to opposition members. Eventually the council ceded that they had a right to see the figures, but opposition members say this has been delayed and with the new protocol in place, planning officers argue that they no longer have to release the information.

The council says that St George only supplied the information on condition that it was kept confidential but opposition councillor Mike Cartwright, who is a chartered surveyor, claims that this is not standard practice: “There’s nothing in the Three Dragons [remit] that says it has to be confidential,” he said. “You can find recent examples of Three Dragons calculations on Croydon [council’s] website and on Tower Hamlets’ website … it is public information.”

Cllr Michael Cartwright - Chartered Surveyor

“The one Three Dragons test in Hammersmith and Fulham that’s been publicly scrutinised was the Goldhawk Industrial Estate, which was subject to a public inquiry. At the inquiry the inspector asked to see the Three Dragons figures and they were proven to be incorrect. Now that makes me suspicious,” he added. “Three Dragons is very easy to manipulate. If for instance you were ‘pessimistic’ about how much your houses are going to sell for, that depresses the projected profit. If you say ‘I think we’re going to hit all sorts of problems when we start building this – we’d better put the building costs up’, then that again depresses it. So it’s a question of judgment. There’s a very large room for interpretation.”

Mr Mansfield rejected suggestions that financial appraisals might be manipulated and denied  that the Goldhawk Industrial Estate figures had been incorrect.

Asked why members of the planning committee could not be trusted with commercially sensitive information, he said: “you should go back to some of your councillors and ask whether or not they have ever released confidential information.”

Cllr Cartwright’s responded by saying: “I’ve never leaked anything. And it’s a complete irrelevance. If we leak confidential information they can report us to the standards board. The only people to get into to trouble would be us.”
“The [council] director [Nigel Pallace] said in one of his letters is that they are protecting us. He says if we accidentally release the information to the public St George could sue. I have never heard such a load of baloney. You can’t help but think that they’re not going to let us have [the figures] because they fear what we may do with [them].”