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.
“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”.
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.”
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.