My weekly E-news
Putting Residents First
What a difference 9 months makes!
Since May 2014, the new Labour council in Hammersmith & Fulham have been making a real difference and on Tuesday, in the annual debate on local government, I had my chance to explain how. You can read the full text of my speech here. I got to almost 40 in listing the positive changes Council Leader Stephen Cowan and colleagues have achieved. Those achievements range from setting up a health unit to oppose the closure of hospital services to saving Sulivan primary school, investing in affordable housing and funding more police officers.
Some policies are forward-looking like scrapping care charges for the elderly and disabled. Others look to undo the damage done over the past eight years – fighting against the demolition of Shepherds Bush Market and the West Ken and Gibbs Green Estates and buying back Hammersmith Park from developers.
But in the long run it is the change of culture at the town hall that may be more significant. Now residents have speaking rights at planning committees. They are being asked not just their views but to lead commissions on key local issues, like the recent inquiry into Heathrow expansion. And they are being invited in at the time policy is decided not implemented.
Labour councillors in opposition - like many residents’ groups – watched open mouthed in horror as the previous administration took controversial decisions on housing and planning that had little or no public support or input. And they have learned to do things differently.
I was invited to speak about this inclusive approach at the meeting of Civic Voice, the national association of community groups in Parliament on Wednesday. The attendance of Rosemary Pettit, Secretary of the Hammersmith Society, at the meeting made my second point.
You not only need politicians willing to listen but civic, residents' and lobby groups that are effective in representing the public interest. That has never been a problem in Hammersmith but with both single issue and umbrella groups we are getting stronger every year.
It is a pity that the localist message hasn’t reached City Hall or Whitehall yet. My second speech was on the unfolding disaster at Old Oak, where competing national interests – HS2, Crossrail, developers and the Mayor of London – are failing to coordinate the excellent regeneration opportunities on that site but are united in side-lining local councils and resident interests. You can read that speech here.
Boris Johnson has dubbed Old Oak a ‘mini-Manhattan’ and the’ Canary Wharf of the West’ and has pushed through powers to take control of the area and neighbouring Park Royal – Europe’s biggest industrial estate – for himself, the so-called Mayoral Development Corporation. In an Op-ed I wrote for City AM I explained how the Mayor’s plans for 25,000 luxury high rise homes not only ignores the crying need for affordable homes to rent and buy but will have knock on effects on the local economy and environment. Many Park Royal businesses are small and medium-sized family concerns employing local labour. They stand to be pushed out by high-end residential.
Equally worrying, the MDC also poses a threat to one of London’s major wild open spaces, Wormwood Scrubs.
To protect local interests we need at least parity on the MDC Board but at present the three councils and local interests have only five out of 15 seats.
Old Oak has the potential to solve much of the local housing crisis. It is a test of how serious City Hall and Whitehall are about building homes for ordinary Londoners.
Another week, another expose of our overstretched west London NHS. This week it was the Care Quality Commission report into Hillingdon Hospital, which one patient described as staff battling to do their jobs in third world conditions.
Please sign the ‘Save our Hospitals’ petition on my website and put 7.30pm on 10 March in your diary. That is the major rally at Hammersmith Town Hall organised by the Save our Hospital Campaign. You can read more about that event here.
Constituency round up
Make Tax Fair. Yesterday my constituent Håvard Skogerbø was one of the organisers of the Make Tax Fair campaign’s lobby of Parliament. The campaign highlights global tax dodging but they could not have chosen a better week to come to Westminster given the controversy over the Conservative Party’s links to tax avoidance.
LAMDA Groundbreaking. Today I joined staff and students at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art for the groundbreaking of their new centre for drama training. We were joined by many former students, now stars of stage and screen, who helped with the burial of a time capsule containing well-loved Shakespearian texts, in the foundation of the new building.
London Job Show. Last week I had the pleasure to open the London Job Show at Westfield. Thousands of jobs from a vast range of employers were on offer.
World Cancer Day. Almost of all us have lost a dear friend or member of our family to cancer. This week I marked World Cancer Day by meeting dedicated cancer awareness nurses and hearing about Cancer Research UK’s Cross Cancer Out campaign. You can read more about it here.
University for the Creative Arts. On Tuesday I was interrogated by journalism students from the University for the Creative Arts. I was asked a wide range of questions about the upcoming election, the rise of UKIP, and – testing my knowledge - railway rolling stock.
Kosovan Independence. Tonight I will be speaking to hundreds of Londoners of Albanian and Kosovan origin at Hammersmith Town Hall to mark Kosovan Independence Day. The evening celebrates the warm bonds between Kosovo and the UK.
Peggy Aslett. I was sad to hear Peggy Aslett has died, aged 103. Peggy became a local celebrity when she was the guest of honour at the 100th birthday of Wormholt Park: they were the same age. She was still active into her second century and always celebrated her birthdays with a new adventure such as a hot air balloon ride. She was a great example of how age is no barrier to living a full and active life. On her 100th birthday we gave her a champagne reception on the terrace at the House of Commons. She will be missed by her family and many friends including fellow residents at Harleyford Manor.