West Ken – a sleazy deal exposed
Thanks to the courage of local residents, the shady dealings that would have seen much of Earl’s Court and West Kensington sold to foreign investors and 750 families forced out of their homes were exposed last week.
With the Mayor of London, the third member of the development cartel, having already thrown in his hand, it can only be matter of time before the whole scheme collapses.
For five years Hammersmith & Fulham Council has been plotting with developers CapCo to build 7,500 luxury high-rise flats on the site of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates. Towers up to 30 storeys would replace family homes with gardens.
Millions have been spent in persuading the residents to go quietly. But a clear majority has said ‘No’, even when the Council belatedly promised them replacement homes. Instead they wish to take the estates away from the Council and run them themselves.
Last year the Council took £15 million off CapCo as a down payment to ensure its loyalty was to them rather than residents. This month it is purporting to consult those same residents on a decision it has in practice already taken. But the consultation revealed that CapCo would pay £100 million if the Council gives up the land. And residents who had seen the agreement pointed out there was no guarantee the new homes would be built.
Any local resident who has not responded to the consultation can do so by 17 February at www.lbhf.gov.uk/westken
White City – a terrible mess
I’m not referring to today’s fire, but the (lack of) plans for the area.
Five years ago the White City Opportunity Area was a coherent and transparent project. The various landholders had formed a consortium, and instructed one of the world’s top architects Rem Koolhaas, to prepare a design brief based around the BBC’s iconic presence in the area. The development was limited to brownfield sites, with existing residents, including those on White City and neighbouring estates, set to benefit from the investment.
Now every owner is doing their own thing – Westfield, Imperial, Helical Bar and Orion are outbidding each other to construct the worst level of overdevelopment with little if any community benefit.
The Council is using the opportunity to attack the existing structures it doesn’t like – Shepherds Bush Market (the application goes to planning on 8 February), Council housing and even public parks.
And now the BBC has decided to leave the area completely. Following the decision three years ago to vacate TV Centre, the decision to sell the entire White City site by 2020/21 has been taken. Overcommitted by vanity projects in Salford and central London, the BBC cannot afford – and does not need – its historic west London home. Over 7,000 jobs will leave the area.
The commercial arm – BBC worldwide – intends to rent back space and some studios may be rented from TV Centre’s new owners – to be announced shortly – but apart from that it is goodbye to White City.
And that’s before Greenhalgh gets there.
So what is the Leader of the Council going to do in White City when he steps down in May? Not a lot, it appears. There is no money and no new powers to regenerate the area. He will be one member of one of three new boards set up to manage existing (decreasing) funds.
So why the move – especially given Cllr Greenhalgh is unpopular in the area. Kindly souls say he is actually going to spend more time with his family (or with Eric Pickles). A more prosaic explanation is that his resignation leaked six months early so he had to say something.
And did he go or was he – like Colin Barrow, leader of Westminster- pushed by the young Turks who are now scrapping for his job?
Whatever the answer it means two of the three boroughs currently merging are effectively leaderless. Not a great advert for effective local government.
On Monday night, I joined around 65 traders to ask the developers questions about the future of Shepherds Bush Market. Their responses were hardly reassuring. Developers Orion said traders will be compensated for a loss of trade profits for the duration of the works, which we were told would conclude in 2016. Orion would not commit to anything thereafter, and there are no indications of rents other than they will be relating to the success of the market.
Although the future is uncertain, I fear they will be looking to fundamentally change the character of the market to fit in with their development – pricing many of the current businesses out.
In terms of Orion’s contributions, they said they will be contributing £5m, which would go towards external and infrastructure works. In return for this, the council are granting them permission to sell all 212 houses and flats at market rates. Planning policy says 40% of homes built in a development should be affordable, but the profit on each of the 80 or more flats now to be sold at market value must run into the tens of millions.
Unfortunately this is the sort of information the council withholds – evem from opposition councillors on the planning committee.
Orion are close to purchasing land from TfL and other major landholders. Still oustanding is the judicial review by Goldhawk Road shopkeepers, the purchase of freehold units, and the issue of the New Market and all of the community groups in Cocoon House. These are not contained in the current application, but they seemed bullish about including them in a future planning application.
So far the Government is standing up to its back – and some front – benchers and supporting HS2. And I was pleased to see the interchange confirmed for Old Oak. Less popular is the Euston terminus. A lot of homes have to be demolished and money spent to arrive at London’s least accessible central station. Why not, I asked HS2, end at Old Oak and use Crossrail and the tube and Overground network to disperse passengers across London?
They made the reasonable point that this would require a lot more development at old Oak which does not have good road links and I am already worried about the disruption the line may have on west London if the money for mitigation all goes to the Tory shires. But the real reason I think is that they fear passengers will continue to use the west coast main line if HS2 doesn’t go to Euston. Which makes the whole project sound a bit shaky.
Over 20 charities have now been evicted from Palingswick House. Some have nowhere to go, some have folded, some have lost government contracts or other funding. Those that have been found a desk and a chair at Edward Woods Estate are trying to work on a building site with no ‘phone and no post.
What an extraordinary way to treat volunteers or low-paid staff who have devoted in some cases more than 20 years to serving some of the most marginalised and vulnerable people in the borough.
They are not the only victims. The Emerald Centre is now demolished with no replacement. The information centre has been closed in probably the busiest year ever for tourism.
A massive postbag in support of the Daylight Savings Bill led me – and 140 other MPs – to rearrange all of my appointment last Friday to be in the Commons to vote for putting the clocks forward an hour all year round.
Only to find that a group of 10 right-wing Tories talked the Bill out. This is not an isolated example. On the same day Greg Hands MP vetoed the Bill that would have protected War Memorials and railway lines from the current plague of metal theft. Last week the same gang of extremists objected to co-operating with other countries in Europe to fight crime and passing London by-laws.
The fact is that the Government has run out of business in the House of Commons three months before the next Queen’s Speech, which has allowed the feral backbenchers a free rein.
Better things to do
- It was a huge privilege to meet Palestinian President Abbas when he visited Parliament this month.
- Another fascinating exhibition at the Polish Centre, the work of artist Adam Bunsch, who fought with UK forces in the Second World War. I highly recommend.
- I finally got a tour of the Hammersmith Academy, a truly comprehensive and excellent school, built by the Labour government, which opened to years 7 and 12 in September and already hugely popular with local parents.
- I visited the BETT show at Olympia, which showcases IT for schools, and met some fantastic Hammersmith-based companies, Espresso, run by former BBC man Lewis Bronze and Little Bridge World, set up by Emma Rogers. Sadly, BETT is leaving Olympia after 16 years. A trend that is becoming more common not least because of TfL’s selfish decision to close the tube station on weekdays.
Talking of TfL closures, I continue to monitor the flyover week by week, urging TfL to get on with the work that will allow full re-opening in less than the promised four months. I don’t have any criticism of the engineers for the work they are now doing but object strongly to the political intervention that has probably delayed the project.
First there was the Tory MP for Brentford who decided to call a public meeting – in Hammersmith. As Shepherds Bush Blog reported, only about 20 non-politicos turned up, so badly organised was it, which gave TfL the message that there wasn’t a great deal of concern – a message I am trying to remedy.
Then Boris announced there might be a tunnel. Now I welcome this benevolent interest in Hammersmith – which now extends to postponing the Town Hall and West Ken schemes as well.
I just don’t believe it.
The Mayor must think we are all daft to believe his laissez-faire approach to developers has suddenly turned into a mix of Octavia Hill and Jonathan Porritt three months before the election. But it does mean – as the Council Deputy Leader admitted to the flyover meeting – that there is no point in building the bridge to Furnivall Gardens if there is no Great West road for it to go over.