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.
The opening of two secondary schools in Hammersmith and Fulham will offer local parents a choice of two widely differing philosophies of education as well as cutting the proportion of local children who have to go to school outside the borough.
Before 2011, fewer than 50 per cent of children went in-borough state secondary schools. The opening of the West London Free School (WLFS) will provide a steady increase in school places, as it accepting 120 students a year for five years as the school expands to fill its year groups.
But this has brought criticism from parents that the council is relying on the private-voluntary sector to provide extra places.
WLFS, which adopts an education for education’s sake viewpoint and offers a classical liberal curriculum, was set up in response to parental demand for more choice and aims to drive up standards for all young people, regardless of background. It is currently based at a temporary site but plans to move to a renovated old school building on Glenthorne Road – near Latymer Upper School.
The journalist and author Toby Young, who co-founded the school, told the Hammersmith and Fulham Files: “We believe that you can provide a classical liberal education to a genuinely comprehensive group of children provided it’s taught in the right way. We call it a grammar school for all which, incidentally, is how the Labour Party described comprehensives in its 1964 manifesto.”
The free school will be run on markedly different lines from the other newcomer, Hammersmith Academy (HA), which is funded by central government and aims to give its pupils skills to help them find jobs and gives priority to teaching information technology. The academy was set up under the Partnership for Schools programme and has sponsorship from the Worshipful Company of Mercers and the Information Technologists Company which enabled a new purpose-built building with state of the art facilities to be completed before the September opening. Headmaster Gary Kynaston has said: “We’re exploring different aspects of learning to inspire students to improve ability, skills and talents.”
Mr Kynaston has said that HA offers “as wide a curriculum as possible using different forms of media and approaches to learning, with a focus on personal development”.
The emphasis is different at WLFS. Mr Young said: “The thinking [behind a wider curriculum] was that it would be unrealistic to expect children of all abilities and from all backgrounds to tackle an academically rigorous curriculum and that they should put something more accessible and ‘inclusive’ in place. We don’t believe this at the WLFS.” The WLFS headmaster, Thomas Packer, shares this view and plans to give priority to traditional subjects.
The free school was set up over about two years. When it moves to its new site it will resemble an old private school. HA, with its modern infrastructure, has taken five years to complete and cost £34 million to set up, compared with an estimated £15 million spent on WLFS. The different settings derive from the separate visions – as Mr Kynaston has said, to “develop core skills using creative media and IT” would not be suited the old grammar school setting that WLFS plans to move into.
Caroline Needham, the council’s shadow cabinet member for education, said: “West London Free School has gained a lot of limelight in the press, but Hammersmith Academy… is quietly blossoming.” She adds that the academy is “an example of what can be done with investment.” But she admits that their differing philosophies make it is hard to compare the two schools: “It’s still early in the school year and the schools are very different. You can’t say which is better.”
But the choice between a classical liberal and a modern vocational style of education has proved popular with parents and both schools were oversubscribed in September. At HA there were 632 applications for 240 places and at WLFS there were almost 500 applications for the 120 places.
The intorduction of WLFS and HA create a slight increase in the number of pupil places in H&F
This demand may show that there are still not enough local school spaces in Hammersmith and Fulham. Asked about the shortages in school places, Mr Young said: “[The] situation will get significantly worse next year and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a national political scandal.”
Councillor Needham criticises the council for relying on free schools to make up the shortfall at no cost. She said “The borough needs new schools, currently the council is relying on the initiative of the free school founders – but this is not feasible in the long term.”
Ark Conway Primary Academy, part of the Ark Schools Charity, which also opened this September, is another free school offering an additional 30 places a year to children aged between four and eleven.
But Helen Binmore, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, rejects claims that it is relying on the free school initiative. She said: “We have just announced we have £15 million to spend on school improvement next year and we’ve just created more classes in our schools so that we can accommodate all children.” She has also said that “children do not need to go outside the borough to get a top quality education, especially as our local schools are constantly improving”.
However critics point out that this funding is solely for improvements, not new schools.
Former council leader, Stephen Greenhalgh, has spoken of the need for £55 million spending cuts over the next four years and parents have expressed concerns about cuts to the education budget. But Councillor Greenhalgh has replied: “We will be tough but fair. It is about delivering more for less, [driving] out needless cost while improving school standards.”
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. According 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.”
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.”
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.
When the heavens open and the rain falls, the genius of London’s Victorian subterranean engineering saves its streets from being flooded with raw sewerage. The sewers, unable to cope with their aquatic burden, are assisted by Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s interceptors, which spring into action and divert the excess rainwater that floods the combined sewers and drains, into the river Thames.
The 13,000-mile network designed by Bazalgette helped to expel cholera and eliminate the stench London had become famous for. However, three times as many people live in London now and there is less vegetation to soak up rain; resulting in 39million cubic metres of sewage spilling into the Thames with the rainwater each year. In1860s London this was not a major issue as the interceptors were only used a few times a year, the Thames was biologically dead and the knowledge of pathogenic microorganisms was still in its infancy.
The combined sewer overflow spills out on average once a week, breaching EU rules. From 2000 to 2005 the Thames Tideway Strategic Study Steering Group studied how best to resolve this problem and proposed a full-length tunnel from Hammersmith to Beckton. In 2006 the European Commission initiated environmental violation proceedings against the UK. In 2007 the government instructed Thames Water to construct a full-length tunnel from Hammersmith to Beckton at an estimated cost of about £2bn, to solve the problem. Since then the total estimated cost has increased to about £4.1bn.
The project, officially called the Thames Tideway Tunnel, but widely known as the Super Sewer is controversial.
For residents of Fulham the recent naming of Carnwath road as the preferred site for the main drill shaft for the Super Sewer has left them wondering ‘why us, why here’? If the project goes ahead, Carnworth road, the size of six football pitches will be home to a drill wider than three London buses operating 24 hours per day for at least 7 years.
The site, whilst designated by Thames Water Brownfield is home to many residents in flats and houses who overlook the wharf where construction will take place. There is also a small business park that employs 130 people, a gym, a pub and river walk. There are two nursery schools, five primary schools and one secondary school within 500 metres and a further 15,000 residents and 2,200 businesses all within 1,500 metres of the site. Clearly for them, the project is not welcome news.
Vibration, noise, pollution, foul odours and traffic problems are the major concerns that has led to a staunch campaign against Thames Water’s plans by residents and local politicians since the announcement.
Cllr Ali de Lisle, from Sands End Ward in Fulham expressed concern that “a tunnel bigger than the Channel Tunnel [will have] its entrance off a small side road in a highly residential area of South Fulham.”
Carnwath road was not Thames Water’s first choice for the site for the drive shaft. In December last year a report was published by Thames Water titled; “Barn Elms Sports Ground – How We Chose the Preferred Site”. The report states on page 3 that “the sites identified at Carnwarth Road even if used together, were considered to be too small to be used as a main tunnel drive site” it goes onto say on page 4 “we chose Barn Elms because there were no suitable sites in Wandsworth Bridge from which to drive the tunnel.” In March this year Thames Water did a huge U-turn. Carnwarth Road was reconsidered to be big enough to be the ‘main drive site’ for the Super Sewer.
The move from barn Elms to Carnwath road will add £500 million to the estimated cost of the project.
“Barn Elms was the only place that could fit us in until we changed our tunneling strategy,” said Phil Stride, Head of London Tideway Tunnels. The Carnwath road site will enable Thames Water to move significantly more of the soil away by boat – which will be better for health and safety,” Mr Stride explained further.
Hammersmith and Fulham Council are opposed to the project and have been heavily lobbying Thames Water against the use of Carnworth road. Along with 4 other London boroughs they commissioned a report by Lord Selbourne. The report concluded that the river could be made cleaner and obligations to meet EU directives on water quality without building the super sewer.
“Our forensic analysis shows there is a substantial body of evidence pointing to the fact that there is a smarter way to make the River Thames cleaner. A shorter tunnel, combined with green infrastructure solutions that are built up incrementally in the medium to long term, would be both compliant with EU directives and less costly and disruptive to Londoners. These alternatives require further study.” Said Lord Selbourne in his report.
Mr Stride disagrees with the “feasibility” of the conclusions drawn by the Selbourne Report, adding, “it’s not realistic and there’s nothing new in it.”
The project is estimated to cost Thames water customers £70-80 per year extra on top of their normal bills, “for the foreseeable future,” Thames Water have said.
A report out on Tuesday called ‘Why does London need the Thames Tunnel?’ claims the major new sewer will be a huge boost for the capital’s economy.
The report, which is backed by business organisation ‘London First’ and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) was listed in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement as one of the country’s top 40 most important infrastructure projects According to Thames Water tthe proposed tunnel is expected to directly create over 4,000 jobs at the peak of its planned seven-year construction phase.
It has not yet been decided who will finance and deliver the project, the Thames Water-led team developing the project has said that it’s “clear on the need to set contractors a minimum 20% threshold for the use of local labour.”
The project has strong political support. London mayor Boris Johnson said in an article in the Daily Telegraph, “this new super-sewer is the right thing to do for the environment – and it is above all the right kind of thing to do for a country still struggling to get back to growth.” Chancellor George Osborne has also shown his support by including the project on a list of infrastructure projects that will be underwritten by the government.
“There’s no point spending £5 billion and pushing many Londoners into water poverty if there’s a smarter and a cheaper way,” said Fulham and Hammersmith Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh.
Thames Water has a vested interest in pushing through the “gold-plated” scheme, as Cllr Greenhalgh has called it.
“They have chosen to ignore the water industry experts who say there are alternative ways to improve the cleanliness of the river without the huge environmental, social and economic costs,” a spokesperson for Hammersmith and Fulham Council claimed.
Chris Binnie, who worked for Thames Water as head of the original steering committee and created the original sewer plans, presented evidence to the Selbourne Commission. He argued that the whole basis for the project was out of date and needed to be revisited. He also appointed to the way in which the water industry is financed through international borrowing, incentivises Thames Water to build infrastructure whether it is needed or not, because the more they borrow the more money they will make.
Mr Stride refuted this claim and emphasised that no decisions on funding had been made and this assertion that Thames Water was only interested in money is incorrect.
Since the consultation period ended in February residents fighting the super sewer, in Fulham as well as other proposed sites across London where construction will take place, suffered two serious set backs. Firstly Government officials banned Hammersmith and Fulham Council from giving planning permission to housing projects in and around Carnwath Road, the site of one of three main shafts needed to construct the tunnel. Secondly, in March, a new bill had a second unopposed reading in the House of Commons that allows the Government to underwrite major water projects such as the Super Sewer.
These are austere times for local councils, and residents of Hammersmith and Fulham are feeling the pinch. Parking charges have shot up by 55 per cent in a year and the elderly, sick and disabled have to pay £12.40 an hour for their care, according to the Labour opposition, who also claim that it is harder for people who say they’re homeless to get council help.
But one group continues to attract millions of pounds of council funding even if nobody seems quite sure what they do – and they are management consultants.
The council spends total £1.9million a year on consultancy, according to its own figures – and some claim the true cost could be far higher. A significant part of the official figure, £218,000, went to one company, RedQuadrant. When its managing director, Ben Taylor, who founded the consultancy two years ago is asked to explain his job, he admits it’s a challenge.
Ben Taylor says his consultancy can help the council save money
“I try and follow that hoary old advice of saying what you achieve – or try to achieve – rather than what you do,” he says. “So I usually just say that we try to help councils save money by doing things more sensibly.”
Mr Taylor’s qualifications only add to the mystique. On the business networking website LinkedIn he describes himself as a “Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.” Six Sigma is “a form of working on process to improve their effectiveness and their predictability,” he says. Another string to his bow is expertise in “PRINCE2” – a “project management methodology” designed to stop public sector projects going wrong.
He says: “It’s actually quite a formal and quite a complex framework for making sure that you define what you’re trying to achieve, you have governance in place – people to make decisions and check that things are going right – and you formally make changes. It is quite complicated but it does have in it very good principles for how to manage projects.”
If RedQuadrant really achieves what Mr Taylor claims it would mean that organising the council’s work more efficiently could save money without cutting services. Anne Mitchell, of the Unison trade union says that council bosses find this prospect hard to resist, but she remains sceptical. “There’s a lot of the emperor’s new clothes around what results from them coming in. I think that they always over-claim what they can do.
“The reality is probably somewhere a little bit in the middle, but most people would say that they would rather have a particular service kept than pay out for somebody who usually comes in a lot higher paid than anybody else in the organisation.
“They come in at vast expense and there is very little done in the way of checking, because frankly anybody can save money if you go in and say, ‘Right, we’re gonna cut a load of jobs’ or close down services. The consequences of that on the people who are using those services and losing those jobs are quite substantial.”
Mr Taylor is aware of this point of view. “I think consultants, like everybody else, need to be prepared to justify what they get their money for.” He even advertises a Campaign Against Consultancy on his website, which rails against “costly consultants who are only in it for the money.”
“Campaign Against Consultancy is a bit of an in-joke,” he explains. “We don’t expect the public to be very interested in it. It’s really our way of saying that consultancy can be good or bad, and being completely honest.”
So what has Mr Taylor achieved for the taxpayers of Hammersmith & Fulham? He says that in some cases involving “complex reorganisation” the savings are difficult to quantify, but in others the figures speak for themselves. He describes one project called ‘SmartWorking’: “”It wasn’t just us but it did save well over £1.5 million a year. By moving people into better, smaller offices, [the council] were able to give up a lease on a very expensive building. Of course, you could argue that it could have been done without the consultants.” He says that that in this case, council chiefs made a “professional decision” that they needed outside help.
UNISON says consultants could be used to cut jobs
But Ms Mitchell is not so sure: “I think a lot of people will feel that the reason the management consultants are being brought in is to simply put another layer between [workers] and the management when it comes to cutting jobs.”
Robert Oxley, of the pressure group the TaxPayers’ Alliance, says councils are too quick to turn to consultants: “If consultants are brought in, it should be on payment by results – so that they’re only receiving taxpayers’ money if they’re saving taxpayers cash. Otherwise it is self-defeating.”
Doubts were cast on Hammersmith & Fulham’s use of consultants when a confidential report leaked to the BBC this year revealed that a former council employee was rehired on a consultancy contract despite having taken early retirement on health grounds. It also casts doubt on the council’s official figures for spending on consultants – the Labour opposition estimates the true figure could be from £5 million to £12 million – and found that consultants were hired without written contracts or proper checks that they were delivering the work they promised. Labour has demanded an investigation.
A document published by the council on its website in response to a Freedom of Information request appears to confirm that hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on consultancy is not recorded in the official figures. It reveals that in the 12 months to September, £548,000 was spent on consultants employed through 16 “personal service companies” (PSCs). The council defines PSCs as limited companies that supply the personal services of one or two contractors, who are also the sole directors and principal shareholders of the company.
The council says in the document that “in the main” the PSCs provide “interim managers” who are kept off the consultancy figures because they temporarily fill posts that would otherwise be occupied by employees. But five of the PSCs engaged in the past 12 months have been on the council’s books for more than a year, and two for more than three years. The document also reveals spending of more than £881,000 on 57 independent self-employed contractors, who are not referred to as consultants but “provided a variety of services from independent assessments of children carried out on behalf of the Children’s Services Department to sports coaching as part of the work of the Residents’ Services Department”.
The document adds: “The Council recognises that its use of consultants employed through personal service companies has been the source of some media interest. Over the course of the last three months it has carried out a comprehensive review of this aspect of its operations and as a result introduced improved procedures and processes.”
The council told the BBC that it had accepted the content of the leaked report and was making changes.
Spending on consultants could be a big issue in the next council election in 2014 when voters will be able to judge how the present Conservative leadership has managed its ever-scarcer resources. As Mr Taylor puts it: “If we think that a public sector organisation is wasting our money, then we are likely to rate it much lower.”
Hammersmith & Fulham’s top five management consultants
Spend in financial
Building management consultancy
Capita Business Services
Flexible working consultancy
Social housing consultancy
Total consultancy spend for financial year 2009-10
Hammersmith and Fulham has made big cuts in the number of children in care in the borough by leading the way in using a new form of placement called special guardianships orders.
Under the orders, a guardian has full parental responsibility for all aspects of raising a child but the children’s relationship with their birth parent is not legally severed.
Between 2007 and 2011, the number of children in care in the borough has fallen from 365 to 250, although it has one of lowest percentages of children adopted each year. Conservative Councillor Harry Phibbs says it is “bucking the national trend”. He compared the decrease in Hammersmith and Fulham to the general trend across England, where the total number of children looked after by local authorities is up by 9 per cent since 2007.
The number of special guardianship orders has risen steadily since they were introduced in 2005. In 2011, 19 per cent of children who left care in Hammersmith and Fulham did so as a result of the orders, compared with 13 per cent in 2008, the best record in England, according to the Department for Education. But the borough still has one of the worst records for children in care. In 2011 the figure was 0.91%, almost double the national average.
Special guardianship orders were introduced in December 2005, under the Adoption and Children’s Act 2002, to provide an option to provide permanent placements for children for whom adoption was not feasible, for instance due to the number of potential adopters. They are popular with the families of children in care who want to become permanent guardians. Research by the Social Policy Research Unit at the University of York found that most take-up came from relatives, particularly grandparents.
According to the York Social Policy Research Unit “there is a high degree of goodwill towards special guardianships amongst child welfare professionals… Overwhelmingly, carers in the study also welcomed it.”
The trend for special guardianship orders to increase while adoptions decrease, is common across the country, according to Jack Smith, of The Who Cares? Trust, a charity working to improve the lives of children in care. He said: “The number of children in permanent care is going up, however there has been an overall decrease in adoptions.”
Mr Smith says that the orders are particularly successful with older children, as “they do not forcibly break the links with their parents”. Older children are much less likely to be adopted than the under 5s. In the year to March 2011, 97 per cent of children adopted were under 9.
Councillor Caroline Needham, Hammersmith and Fulham’s shadow cabinet member for education and children’s services, praises the borough’s efforts: “That Hammersmith and Fulham has a high level of special guardianship orders is a very praiseworthy achievement.”
She agrees that it is good for children to retain links with their birth families: “It’s good that children are raised by somebody who loved their mothers, and who understands why their mother wasn’t able to look after them.” She adds: “I’ve always taken the view that a good outcome for children is above politics.”
Special guardianship orders are also cheaper for councils than keeping children in care. Hammersmith and Fulham said recently that “over 30 per cent of the total budget of the council’s children’s services budget is spent on just 0.6 per cent of children living in the borough. The council spends, on average, around £1,000 per week to care for a looked-after child. Over the past five years, 50 children in H&F have left care with a permanency order, which equates to a saving of around £2.5 million.” A permanency order involves adoption, or a special guardianship order.
But there are questions about the allowances guardians receive for caring for a child under a special guardianship order. Payments are means-tested, and the final decision remains with the local authority. The York University research found that “many [carers] received less money than they did as foster carers”, and that there were “continuing concerns about financial security”.
Cllr Needham said: “My view is that [carers] should get an allowance from the age which the child is their responsibility up until the age of 18, but sometimes guardians only receive it for a certain number of years.” She plans to look into the question of carers’ allowances.
Hammersmith and Fulham do still have a high proportion of children in care, with the borough’s ratio almost double the national average. Councillor Phibbs says that the high number of children in care in Hammersmith and Fulham is “partly to do with the affluence of the area.” He said: “We have made a big deal about our progress, but we need to keep going with the reduction. We do need to be better; there is still some way to catch up.”
Percentage of children who ceased to be in care due to adoption
Percentage of children who left care due to adoption
3 Year average (2009, 10, 11)
Hammersmith and Fulham
Kensington and Chelsea
Percentage of children who ceased to be in care due to a special guardianship order
Percentage of children who left care due to a Special Guardianship Order