After the Floods

Last week two major water mains burst in Hammersmith, the first in King Street on Friday 26 January and the second in Goldhawk Road on Wednesday 31 January – both late at night.

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The King Street flood was brought under control quite quickly, but uncertainty about which of several large pipes had burst meant it took most of the day to cap the Goldhawk leak. Several dozen homes, cars and businesses were inundated, and thousands of people in west London had no water or reduced pressure for a day or more.

The emergency services reacted well – especially at King Street where London Fire took down the pressure and stopped a much worse flood. Loss adjusters from Thames Water have been trying to speak to all those affected by the floods and repairs are underway, but the roads remain closed to traffic into which is causing substantial delays. King Street should re-open this weekend and Goldhawk Road by the middle of next week, providing no more damage to the roadway is found.

Thames Water’s emergency number is 0800 316 9800 and their website is thameswater.co.uk, but feel free to contact my office if you are experiencing problems with their response.

I am meeting Thames and the council for an inquest into what went wrong. Did Thames know about weaknesses in these mains? Were they due for replacement? Is there any connection between the two bursts, and any enhanced risk of others?

Reacting and compensating victims is all well and good, but this really should not be happening in 2018. The bursts are from Victorian pipework which has done its job well but is too old and not able to deal with modern demands. We need to know how much more of the network is vulnerable and what Thames’ plans for completing the upgrade are.

Thames water is a controversial organisation. It is accused of putting shareholders before customers, of risky financial practices and of lacking accountability. They have just cancelled the major sewer flood relief scheme for the area on the basis that more localised drainage and pumping schemes are preventing the disgusting back flow of sewage after heavy rain we experienced ten years ago.

This will save a lot of disruption, but I want to be sure that all such decisions are made for operational not financial reasons.

 

No break from Brexit

I was going to try and avoid the B word this month but it’s impossible. Such extraordinary things are going on that it dominates almost every day in Parliament. Virtually no other business of consequence takes place. The Government is frozen and the governing Party so fractured that there is no action on key areas like housing and the NHS, which in turn leads to more disquiet.

I am particularly troubled by the treatment of EU nationals. And for good reason. The latest figures show H&F has the third highest proportion of EU27 citizens of any Borough in England – a staggering 21.5%. It is simply untrue that their rights will be unchanged after Brexit. I have set out (and will update) what those rights will be and also asked residents to give me some feedback – if you haven’t already, please do this short survey.

I am also concerned with what happens to EU citizens who come to the UK in the so-called transition period, roughly two years from 29 March 2019. The Government says that during this period we will be out of the EU but still negotiating our new relationship with Europe and the rest of the world. This turned out to be the question of the week. I got ducking answers from Ministers last Monday and Thursday, but meanwhile the Prime Minister decided to pronounce on the matter from China. Despite the transition period supposedly maintaining the status quo, EU citizens arriving after March 2019 would lose the right to remain here.

May's intervention, designed as always to keep the hard line Brexiters on board, threw negotiations into chaos, as the EU takes the opposite view and the difficulty of pulling up the drawbridge on the day after Brexit had sensible commentators despairing. Yesterday I asked the Immigration Minister how EU citizens would know and be able to prove their status in the transition period. Her answer gives a clue to the chaos at the heart of Government on this issue.

Meanwhile the leading pro-Brexit Minister spent the week rubbishing his own civil servants and their work (because every Government model showed us worse off outside the EU) and ended up misleading the House of Commons and then apologising but staying in his job. Brexiters are unsackable it appears.

Every week I think this can’t go on much longer and every week it does. For many businesses in H&F as elsewhere it is no spectator sport however and those that can are planning to migrate or at least are retrenching against the possibility of a cliff edge exit.

All credit to H&F council however, which last week became the first council to vote in favour of a second referendum. We will soon be into the campaign for the London May elections. In H&F the choice on the issues that matter couldn’t be clearer. The Labour council opposes Brexit, has fought to stop the demolition of Charing Cross and has started building genuinely affordable homes.

Their Conservative opponents campaigned for Leave, supported the Charing Cross demolition and actually achieved a reduction in the number of affordable homes in the borough in their final years in office. Now they are hoping local people have short memories. We don’t.

 

A busy borough

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If it is Groundhog Day in Westminster, Hammersmith is quite the reverse, with lots going on.

Last week I had a tour of the new John Lewis, opening 20 March as part of the Westfield extension. With 6,000 new jobs the aim is to see local people get first dibs, hence last week's jobs fair and pro-active recruitment through Work Zone.

Constituents Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld were in Parliament on Friday for a Bill allowing opposite sex couples to enter Civil Partnerships. Charles and Rebecca have challenged the Government’s refusal to extend Civil Partnerships all the way to the Supreme Court. Now MPs from all Parties are trying to persuade the Government to change its mind. You can see why by reading the debate, which for once was very constructive. My contribution is here.

No good news on the NHS. Waiting times continue to be way beyond what is acceptable, and the Government’s response is to say they have no intention of meeting them until March 2019 at the earliest. Now GPs have had enough. Dr David Wingfield who chairs the local GP panel has written to their funding organisation to complain that what little money is available to improve GP services and take pressure off hospitals hasn’t been spent. David is the most reasonable and considered person and it will have taken a lot to provoke him into this. You can read what the doctors say here.

My neighbouring MP Karen Buck had a rare success for an Opposition Member in getting the Government to support her Housing Bill allowing tenants to challenge landlords who let out damp and dangerous flats. Incredibly it is not against the law for landlords to let flats that are unfit for human habitation. It will be when Karen’s Bill becomes law, which will help thousands of people in Hammersmith and millions across the country.

This is Karen’s third attempt in three years. The first time the Tories talked it out and the second they voted against. But she doesn’t give up and without a majority in Parliament this time they gave way.

I continue to do a lot of work on fire safety post-Grenfell, pursuing both the cause and spread of the fire. This week I am chairing a cross-Party meeting of MPs to support the Which? campaign for a proper product safety regime in the UK.

A very interesting meeting with HS2. They have just awarded the contracts for the Old Oak station design. 

Construction will take place 2019-24 with a further two years to get the track systems running. Crossrail and HS2 should be operating from there in 2026.

There are many problems to resolve, principally the effect on neighbours, though the line is now completely in tunnel for this stretch. They have promised to work closely with residents’ groups but the mitigation on offer (eg secondary rather than double glazing) is not adequate.

Something strange is going on with Hammersmith Magistrates Court. The Ministry of Justice has closed and is selling it despite it being both fit for purpose and needed. The police are particularly annoyed that officers have to travel to Westminster of Hendon for cases now. To placate me, the Minister said it would be developed as medium-rise housing with a good proportion of affordable flats. Yet their preferred bidder plans a hotel over 20 storeys tall.

More shocking news from HMP Wormwood Scrubs, where a prisoner was stabbed to death last week. I am tired of highlighting report after report that says the Scrubs is not safe for staff or inmates. I have asked to see the new prisons Minister after this latest tragedy. The Scrubs, already filthy and dilapidated thanks to Carillion having the maintenance contract, now has to sort out that mess as well.

27 January was Holocaust Memorial Day. I attended a very moving ceremony at Westminster with Hammersmith resident Lord Dubs, himself saved by the Kindertransport and now the champion of refugee children seeking sanctuary in the UK today.

Last Sunday St Augustine’s Hammersmith welcomed Cardinal Vincent Nichols for the dedication and blessing of the new altar. Several hundred people including many from neighbouring parishes packed the refurbished church for a wonderful ceremony and mass. A truly joyful occasion, and a great after party.

I also spent two hours at West London Free School’s careers day. A worrying number of pupils showed an interest in politics, despite my telling them there was no money or future in it.

 

Finally, some plugs for good things going on.


• The Bush continues to produce innovative and provoking drama. I recommend The Believers Are But Brothers, which I saw recently.
The Upper Room has stated its popular series of spring lectures. These really are good and help raise money for its range of project to help homeless people.
The Amnesty bookshop next to the town Hall is a hidden gem – well worth a visit.
• The Irish Cultural Centre is showing what I am told is a brilliant film about the life of John Hume this Friday. Details here.
The Law Centre, thanks to H&F Council, is settled into its new and improved home on the first floor of Hammersmith Library.

 

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