"The Most Intensive Development in History"

MP Andy discusses plans for our area in his latest newsletter

Stories From Across London

Andy Slaughter

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Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush are about to undergo the most intensive development in their history.  Between now and next March planning officers will be working at four to five times their normal rate to process applications which are among the biggest anywhere in the world, and the planning committee will be asked to oblige some of the world’s major developers by giving permission for construction of thousands of luxury high-rise flats over the next ten to twenty years.

My concerns about both the process – the way the supposedly independent committee rubber stamp agreements already reached between the council and developers – and the nature of the proposed developments are well known.  Densities are typically two to three times those of existing homes, heights are rarely below nine storeys and in many places are up to 30, the type of accommodation is aimed at City or foreign investors and in many cases it is being built on sites reserved for employment or even existing affordable homes.

But today I would like to focus just on the sheer scale and timing of the developments.  There are several reasons for concertina-ing so much into so little time.  Developers who can raise funds think they will get a better deal in the recession.  This is itself of concern as taxpayers stand to lose out – the West Ken land being offered to CapCo for a rumoured £100 million looks like a steal for the developer.  Next April the Mayor introduces a levy on applications to pay for Crossrail which could cost millions in the case of major sites, and naturally the developers want to avoid this, even though they will benefit from the investment.

But the main reason for haste is still the Mayoral elections.  Uniquely in modern times there are Tory administrations at national, London and local level, and therefore no one to put a break on unrestrained development.  That would change if Ken Livingstone were re-elected Mayor next May.  Ken has already visited several of the most contentious sites in the borough to see the effect on existing communities of the proposals.  He might not be so compliant to the wishes of speculators, so the developers – and the council – prefer to rush half thought-out plans through without proper consultation.

1.) West Ken/ Earl’s  Court.  By far the biggest single proposal, seven and a half thousand unaffordable homes built over 20 years on and around seven hundred and fifty demolished council houses and flats.  The application is out to consultation until the end of September, but it is difficult to see how it can be determined in the near future.  The planning brief for the area does not start formal consultation until December at the earliest. Without this how can the committee determine what height and density of building should be allowed, what extra provision for transport, health, education and open space would be needed to allow such a large scheme to function?

2.) White City.  Three separate developers – Westfield, Imperial College and Helical Bar are racing to put in applications for chunks of the land north of the existing Westfield Shopping centre, east of Wood Lane.  Again, tall building and dense construction, built up against motorways and railway lines or around and above shops, is the plan to make the most profit from the land.  And again the council is months behind the developers in producing its planning frameworks for the area – the tail once more wagging the dog.

3.) Shepherd's Bush Market.  The plan to demolish Goldhawk Road shops, affordable housing and hostels – and jeopardise the future of the market itself – is expected any day now.  200 luxury flats rising up to nine stories above the Victorian residential streets.

4.) Central Hammersmith and the riverside.  Here the council has given up the pretence of putting together a coherent plan as the gold rush of developers has seized on the chance to raze the town centre and build nine to 12 storey apartments along the river from Fulham Reach to Upper Mall.

St George’s application for Hammersmith Embankment will be determined at planning committee on 14 September.  Save our Riverfront are making a last ditch attempt to stop the ruination of this site at their public meeting.

Arab Investments are negotiating to buy and demolish Riverside Studios and Queen’s Wharf to build a monolithic single block of 200 plus flats up to nine storeys. Riverside may now be found land to relocate to the St George site.

Helical Bar having made minor and cosmetic changes to the Town Hall scheme have submitted their application which still includes the loss of the cinema, Pocklington Trust flats and part of Furnivall Gardens.

King’s Mall has been sold in two parts.  The area facing Glenthorne Road, including the Mall car park, is now owned by St George who while being told that 27 storeys in not appropriate in this area are still looking to build up to 12. The Mall itself has been bought by the former owners of Earl’s Court (keep up!) who intend to refurbish it, but also knock down the 230 council homes on top and replace them with new high rise.

Building is also likely over the  bus garage at Hammersmith Broadway, on the NCP Car Park site behind the Hammersmith & City line, and possible in Hammersmith Bridge Road (Landmark House) and the south side of King street, though this is further off.

Few residents will remain unaffected by these changes, but it is council’s own tenants who will bear the brunt of the development as the war of attrition to bulldoze or starve them out of their homes steps up a gear.

Pay or go

Further evidence that council and housing association tenants – one third of borough residents – are being singled out for attack comes in a series of decisions taken by the council’s cabinet on Monday.

A whole block of 68 flats off North End Road (Edith Summerskill House) has been emptied, and tenants decanted to other properties on the excuse that the homes were to be refurbished.  Now it is vacant the council intends to sell it to a private developer meaning fewer affordable homes for those in inadequate or overcrowded accommodation in the area.

Existing tenants will also have to pay over £1 million more a year in service charges – for the same service, which many find already overpriced and poor quality.  And most new tenants, including those going into exiting flats that are re-let, will find themselves paying new ‘affordable’ rents.  These will be up to 80% of market rents, meaning an increase of three or four times.  Four bedroomed properties will be let at £400 a week, requiring an income of over £74,000.

'Free' schools: a price worth paying?

Expect to read a lot about the 24 ‘free’ schools opening in England in the next few weeks.  Not because this is a significant change in the education system but because it is a ideological priority for the government.  Indeed the 24 represent an increase of 0.1% in the number of schools and a desultory outcome to the 760 expressions of interest originally claimed.  In Hammersmith two of a mooted four schools are going ahead but will open in either incomplete or temporary buildings.  But expect them to receive national attention while the new Hammersmith Academy, a new secondary school built under the Labour government’s academies programme, quietly gets on with its job.

Beyond the hype free schools are a niche market. Some are catering for minority faiths, others are projects by people who happen to have the ear of ministers.  They are unlikely to make a dramatic  difference in Hammersmith.  The primary school in Wormholt was rescued by ARK, who run Burlington Danes, when the original project stalled and is now going forward as a standard academy.  It is also half the intended size, taking only 30 pupils this year.  The secondary school in central Hammersmith will in fact recruit from all over west London, with perhaps only half its pupils coming from the borough.

While I do not agree that scarce resources should be ploughed into an experiment which, as Andy Burnham said this week, increased segregation and reduced results when tried in the Swedish education system, I wish the all the new schools well for the sake of their pupils.

However, the government’s decision to promote the free school agenda has already caused collateral damage to existing schools.  The original budget of £50m is said to be already £130m.  I have been asking for details of the costs of local free schools for months, and have been denied these by both the council and the department of education.  However, the Financial Times was told this week that the capital cost of the West London Free School was £15m.  Previously ARK told me they were bidding for £6m to build and equip their school and expected to receive the land and building, worth around £1m, a gift from the council, though this was for the bigger scheme.  What is not clear is how the WLFS site has been valued (previous estimates have ranged widely from £2m to £8m depending on land use) and whether the council expects to receive any payment for this.

Of course, I have no objection to the government putting £20m plus into new school building in the constituency, especially at a time when they have stopped almost all capital projects, but let’s not forget the back story to this.  In two weeks’ time I am speaking at the opening of Phoenix High School’s new sixth form, which like the Burlington Danes and Hammersmith Academy new buildings are  testament to Labour’s commitment to improve all our secondary schools.  But the remainder of the £200m promised under the Building Schools for the Future programme has been cancelled and it is this, in part, that is funding the free schools.

So while William Morris, Sacred Heart and Phoenix pupils have each lost around £20m for essential rebuilding of old, tired and inadequate building, nothing is too much trouble for the Tories’ pet project.  This is simply inequitable.  The principal at William Morris has been asking for ten years for a small piece of adjacent land owned by the council into which to expand.  The school’s success means it teaches 850 pupils in building meant for 550.  This week I was told they must wait at least another two years.  But to accommodate the free schools local voluntary groups are being evicted, temporary premises found and refurbished and every planning and building regulation bent to accommodate them.

There is no logic or planning to the growth of free schools.  There is a current need for more primary places in the borough, though that didn’t stop the council closing Peterborough school to sell the site to a private French school.  But, as I disclosed last week they are intending to evict over 800 primary children from their schools as part of the cuts in Housing Benefits that will force poorer families out of London.

The Financial Times, also reveals that the WLFS will take about 17% of pupils eligible for free school meals.  This is about half the borough average and a third of Phoenix’s intake. This fact alone suggests the special status and privileges given to free schools are not justified.  I believe  they will be short-lived and look forward to welcoming them into the educational mainstream sooner rather than later.

You can read Andy's last newsletter in full on his website.