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

Mayor of London puts Council’s Town Hall development plans on ice


A controversial plan to redevelop the Hammersmith Town Hall that would have involved the eviction of blind residents from nearby social housing, and provoked the ire of actors Colin Firth and Dame Judi Dench, has been blocked by Boris Johnson.

The King Street Development plans also included the construction of luxury housing and a major new supermarket, and have been met with fierce protests over the last six months. Boris Johnson has now refused the application saying he is ‘glad that common sense has prevailed’. This followed a tense five-hour standoff last month between Conservative councillors and local residents ending in the waiving through of the controversial re-development of Hammersmith Town Hall.

Conservative councillors defended the planning application that would have provided the council with £35million offices at no cost to them, in return for two high rise blocks of flats that local campaign group Save Our Skyline claim would have blighted this picturesque area. Save Our Skyline greeted the mayor’s decision with cautious optimism and has vowed to fight on should the Council re-submit the application, citing the 1,000 letters of objection, support from 38 residents’ organisations, and 8,500 petition signatures as an incentive.

Celebrities who reside in the Hammersmith area added their voices to the dissenting ranks. These included Sheila Hancock, Dame Judi Dench, Dougray Scott, Jeremy Vine, David Threlfall, Colin Firth and Ralph Fiennes. David Threlfall said: “This Council has operated dual standards for too long. What is not permitted to residential properties seems to not apply to big business. Greed should not triumph over care.”

After blocking the plans, Mr Johnson said: ‘This proposal caused much anger in the community and I am glad that common sense has prevailed. We must protect historic buildings, green space and the views of our great city.’

The plans included a large supermarket and a footbridge that would run through part of Furnival Gardens. To make way for these the developers proposed demolishing social housing for the blind and an art deco cinema.

The art deco Cineworld that is under threat of demolition

The King Street Development is jointly managed by two property companies – Helical Bar plc and Grainger plc. Helical Bar was recently in the spotlight when the Daily Telegraph alleged that the company is a major donor to the Conservative party, with contributions that total £300,000 over 10 years. Chief Executive, Michael Slade, responded to this allegation saying: “You do run the thin line of someone saying: ‘You’re only doing this to have access and influence’, but that was what politics was always about.”

Stephen Greenhalgh, who was Council leader at the time when the plans were first submitted, praised the proposals. While publicly expressing his support, he claimed he did not wish to influence the decision of the planning committee. Speaking before Boris Johnson’s scrapping of the proposals he said: “I believe that this scheme does balance the need to regenerate the area around the Town Hall with the needs of local people and the borough’s hard-pressed taxpayers.”

There is a feeling among residents that the Council’s disregard for their wishes was entirely out-of-step with the government’s professed wider agenda on planning, detailed in the Localism Act, which recently passed into law. This Act claims to empower communities by giving them a greater input when considering planning applications. However, Hammersmith residents feel that their concerns have been ignored in favour of a scheme that would have only benefitted the Council. Nick Bastin from the Save Our Skyline group said: “There’s a conflict of interest when the Council are the ones who’ll principally benefit.”

Cromwell Mansions, which houses blind residents

Cromwell Mansions sits unobtrusively just to the right of the Town Hall. Dappled in sunlight, it is a picturesque location sheltered from the bustle of King Street just around the corner. Managed by the Pocklington Trust, these flats provide social housing for nine blind people and others on low incomes. For a number of years Pocklington Trust tried to house an increased number of blind people in these flats. However, these plans were blocked because this social housing, as well as the neighbouring car park, Cineworld and a Quaker Friends Meeting House are all owned by Tesco and have been under threat of redevelopment for the past 10 years.

Simon Curtis, Property Director at the Pocklington Trust said: “Of course we’d rather it [the development] didn’t happen. The developers have to legally compensate us for the capital value of the flats but they haven’t offered any alternative accommodation for the residents with sight loss who are going to be left without a home.”

Mr Curtis also stated that the Council’s claim that the tower blocks were necessary to offset the cost of new offices were misleading. He said: “Is that the right way of doing things? Shouldn’t they pay for their own offices, rather than demolishing perfectly respectable housing and severely disrupting the surrounding community?”

Labour councillor Stephen Cowan argued that there are alternative plans the Council could have considered that would not have involved the construction of two high-rise blocks of flats. He believes that the Council determinedly stuck to their plan, despite widespread objection, because of the refurbishment savings – namely £35million worth of new council offices provided for free. He said: “A lot of people buy around here because it’s a beautiful area. Dickens wrote his plays here, Handel wrote a lot of his compositions here, and they’re now going to stick in ugly blocks of flats all so they can get £35million worth of offices.”

Local residents and the West London Architects Group proposed alternative plans that included refurbishing the current Town Hall, scrapping the proposed tower blocks of flats, and saving the cinema. However, Conservative councillors argued that the £35million that had been quoted for the cost of new offices would fall on the taxpayer unless they were provided for free by the developers in return for the two tower blocks of residential flats.

Residents believed the developers would be making a lucrative investment due to the desirable riverside location of the flats, alongside Hammersmith’s status as the third most expensive area in the country to buy property. King Street Development declined to comment on how much they would stand to gain financially from the two blocks of flats.

Councillor Harry Phibbs argued that new council offices were necessary, and that the King Street Development scheme provided a solution that benefitted both the Council and the taxpayer. He said: “It is a big financial consideration, and it’s fair enough if people say they’re prepared to pay a higher council tax to save the skyline but when I put it to people like that they don’t want to face up to it.”

However, when questioned about the perceived conflict between the aim of the Localism Act to empower communities and the residents’ feeling that their misgivings were falling on deaf ears he said: “Some of the time it’s easy to object to things in a very outspoken way and it’s harder to come up with alternatives that are viable.
“Amongst the critics of the proposal there’s a lack of consensus about what the alternative should be. The main objection is the height of the towers but if you then just say ‘Well let’s just leave things as they are and rebuild the town hall extension’ then that would mean a big bill for council tax payers whereas this alternative scheme would save about £4million a year.”

At a recent protest meeting against the Town Hall development, organised by the Save Our Skyline group, Labour councillor PJ Murphy said: “It makes my blood boil to see the Council canvas your views and then ignore them.” Councillor Phibbs admits that current consultation processes on planning are ineffective. He said: “A lot of the consultation exercises are a box-ticking exercise, because it’s a statutory requirement. People send in their comments and then feel frustrated when they don’t seem to make any difference. I think the Localism Act will make community engagement more genuine.”

The architect of the Localism Act, Conservative MP Greg Hands, wrote a foreword for the plain English version of the Act. In this he said: ‘For too long, government has hoarded and concentrated power… it leaves people feeling ‘done to’ and imposed upon – the very opposite of the sense of participation and involvement on which a healthy democracy thrives.’

This feeling of empowerment was absent from the planning committee meeting last month. In the end the vote was a hurried one, taken at midnight after hours of angry words had been exchanged. Councillors voted 8-3 in favour of the planning application. The only response from the crowd was a collective shout of “Shame!” Mr Johnson’s move to subsequently delay proceedings was seen by residents as further proof that their Council do not have their best interests at heart.

The Super Sewer

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.

Thames Tunnel Film (2011) from Thames Tunnel on Vimeo.

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.

Slashed budgets will deny vulnerable youngsters support

Labour MP for Hammersmith, Andy Slaughter, feels the cuts will have huge implications on frontline policing. Photo: Pete J

Hammersmith and Fulham Council will slash the budget of its young offending team by 63 per cent over the next three years.

Critics fear that the cuts, full details of which were buried in official statistics, will leave vulnerable youngsters without desperately needed support and lead to an increase in youth crime, with more youngsters in detention centres and out of school. Police in the borough fear a fall in incidents involving young offenders could be reversed.

Spending on young offenders in 2010 was £689,306. By 2013 it will be 63 per cent lower at £255,173. Figures published in November gave details only of a 26 per cent cut over the next two years to £510,346. But calculations show that the third year projections reveal an even larger cut of 37 per cent for 2012-13. The council says that only administrative tasks will be affected.

In the past seven months incidents involving the under 18s, have fallen by 33 per cent in Hammersmith and Fulham, against a London average of an 8 per cent drop.

Professor Bill Whyte, director of the Criminal Justice Social Work Development Centre for Scotland, said that the severity of the cuts would leave young people who are “prolific” offenders without vital support.

“The consequences could be catastrophic – more young people in detention centres or in care or excluded from school – which is already too high and is very costly. Unless some of the work is picked up by social services these offenders will be even less likely to receive the support they so crucially need, and that is horrifying.”

Inspector John Ballard, who is in charge of integrated offender management at Hammersmith police station and works with the youth offending service, fear that his team’s work will be undermined by the cuts.  “At the moment we are the second best borough in the capital when it comes to preventing youngsters from committing crime. In the last four weeks we’ve convicted six young offenders.

“But with these cuts we’re going to have to fill gaps. We’re constantly looking of ways to change the behaviour of these offenders. With a lot less people we have to be realistic – crime will increase.”

Youth offending teams were set up under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to cut the risk of young people offending or reoffending, and to support offenders and the cuts come only five years after an official inspection of the council’s service found that it only met bare minimum requirements.

The report said: “Despite the quality assurance system in place in the young offending service, the inspection found that a number of cases that had been reviewed by managers had not met basic requirements.

“The young offending service had an underdeveloped approach to evaluating the impact of its work with children and young people.”

Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith and Shadow Justice Minister, said: “Cuts of this scale will inevitably lead to reduced frontline staff and a reduction in service quality.

“If judges in youth courts don’t have confidence in youth offending programmes, they’ll be forcing offenders in to custodial sentences where a community sentence might usually be appropriate. Cutting prevention teams, which helped to drive cuts in the number of young people first committing a crime by 43 per cent over the last Parliament, is simply counterproductive.”

The council is cutting spending in an attempt to reduce its £122 million debt, which means that it has to pay more than £4 million a year in interest payments. Councillor Greg Smith, the Conservative cabinet member for residents’ services, denied that crime will increase because of the cuts: “It would be overly simplistic to argue that spending less results in a worse service or an increase in crime. There are many examples where this council has cut wasteful spending while delivering a much better service through innovation and modernisation.”

But Inspector Ballard, a police officer for 28 years, said that it was illogical to suggest that cutting the young offending team budgets would not have an adverse effect on crime rates.

He said: “We will be doing everything we can to fill those gaps but we are going to be doing a lot more with less people. We have to be realistic, there will be more administration done by staff. A logical person would argue that point when you are trying to reduce the budget by such a large amount.”