Summer got off to a good start locally with victory for Shepherds Bush Market in their five-year legal battle with developers Orion. The compulsory purchase order for the Market, cooked up between the developer and the previous Tory council to build luxury high-rise flats on the site, was finally quashed by no less a person than the Lord Chief Justice.
Since then news has been rather less positive. HSBC is closing its Shepherds Bush branch and this week Morrisons announced their superstore in the W12 Centre is likely to close before Christmas with the loss of 170 jobs.
Major closures in other parts of the constituency are also on the cards. Last Thursday, as Parliament rose for the party conferences, the Government sneaked out a consultation on the closure of Hammersmith Magistrates’ and Youth Court.
The Post Offices serving White City, in the BBC media village, has lost its home and just this week another local office, at 185 Fulham Palace Road, announced it will close in October. Although Post Office Ltd are looking for replacements, this is easier said than done. It is two years since another Shepherds Bush Office, St Ann’s Road serving Edward Woods Estate, closed ‘temporarily’. My suspicion is the terms offered to postmasters and mistresses are so poor that few are willing to try and make a go of it. I am meeting with representatives from Post Office Ltd shortly.
The dominant local event of the summer occurred on 19 August and 120 firefighters battled a major fire in Shepherds Court, an 18-storey block overlooking the Green. 26 families were moved out owing to fire and water damage, four lost most of their possessions. According to the London Fire Brigade it could have been much worse in terms of injury and even loss of life. And the known and easily preventable cause was a faulty tumble dryer.
More on all these issues and what I am doing about them follows – along with the latest on Charing Cross Hospital and the gerrymander of Parliamentary constituencies which may see Hammersmith & Fulham carved into three to please K&C.
Fire on the Green
I got a call from local councillors Sue Fennimore and Adam Connell on the evening of 19 August and hurried up to the residents’ hall on Charecroft Estate on the north side of Shepherds Bush Green. I met several dozen people, some very elderly or disabled, who had been evacuated from their homes in Shepherds Court as the fire spread.
There were only three minor injuries, everyone praised the fire service for their skill and bravery, and councillors and council officers worked until the early hours to get everyone whose flat was damaged into local hotels. Even Tesco provided free food and drinks.
But what I found out over the next few days made me very angry. The fire was caused by an Indesit tumble dryer. 127 models of dryer manufactured by Indesit, Hoover, Creda and other lesser known brands between 2004 and 2015 all share the same fault, whereby fluff gets trapped, overheats and can catch fire.
All the brands are owned by Whirlpool, a big US firm whose UK HQ is in Peterborough. Over 5 million were made, 4 million may still be in use and fewer than a million have been repaired and replaced. Which? have identified over 750 fires caused by this fault.
Unbelievably, and with the support of the Government, Whirlpool are still telling customers they can use their machines, so long as they are in the property and awake.
But at Shepherds Court the owner of the dryer that burst into flames was in the same room, and despite unplugging it and immediately calling the fire brigade, could do nothing to stop it destroying her home and many of her neighbours’.
Whirlpool will repair your machine if it is one of the faulty models (though they haven’t published a full list), but you may have to wait a year for them to get to you – the Shepherds Court dryer was due to be repaired six days after the fire. Or they will replace it for a new one – so long as you pay.
Frankly, this is outrageous, as is the fact that they won’t publish the risk assessment for the dryers. I held a debate in Parliament last week and found many other people share my view: not just MPs from all over the country and from every Party but consumer and safety experts, fire authorities, and journalists.
Unfortunately, the government takes the side of the manufacturers not the public so we need to change their minds. Not only about stopping the use of these and other dangerous electrical products but to get a proper system of product recall in this country. Currently only one in four appliances is registered so the owners can be contacted when a fault is discovered.
While I’m delighted that through their own hard work and determination, the traders and shopkeepers of Shepherd Bush Market have saved it from the bulldozer, I am sorry that almost ten years have passed when instead of investment and planning for the future, they have faced deliberate attempts by government and greedy developers to put them out of business.
This was a true David and Goliath battle. The Goldhawk Road shopkeepers, whose successful and unique businesses faced demolition, funded two judicial reviews and a month-long public inquiry – which they won only to see the Secretary of State and the then Tory council conspire to ignore the inspector’s verdict and order the demolition to go ahead. Then the Market traders stepped in and got that decision overturned but only by another two years of legal action.
Now a new developer has taken over the site and pledged to work with the council and the Market to produce an acceptable scheme for the area. But what a waste of time, money and effort.
This is only one of many spiteful and irresponsible policies of the previous council which are being slowly unwound – their policy to sell off and demolish affordable homes was quickly reversed, and thanks to Virginia Ironside and White City residents, the sale of Hammersmith Park was aborted. But the biggest disaster – the plan to demolish 750 affordable homes in west Kensington, is still being fought over. I hope people remember these crimes when the local elections come round again in 2018.
Morrisons blow to W12
Too many Metros and Locals but not enough big stores is what most Hammersmith residents tell me. So it was a shock to be told this week that Morrisons’ one Hammersmith store – in the W12 Centre on the north side of the Green – could be closed as early as Christmas. It had weathered Westfield’s opening and whenever I went there seemed well patronised. It also employs 170 mainly local people, with Acton the nearest alternative if they are to be redeployed.
I am linking up with the council and shopworkers’ trade union USDAW and will be meeting Morrisons next week to find out what chance there is to keep it going or hand over to another retailer. But the problem is bigger than just the store. It is the anchor tenant for the whole Centre, and reduced footfall and a large empty unit will not be good for trade across this part of the Bush.
No justice in Hammersmith
20 years’ ago a purpose built magistrates’ court opened on the Talgarth Road to replace the Victorian court in Southcombe Street. Today its ten courtrooms serve (with Westminster Mags) a population of 600,000, it includes the only youth courts in West London, and until June also housed the county court (that was moved away to make more room for the magistrates’ work).
But last week the Ministry of Justice announced plans to close Hammersmith Magistrates’ Court, despite it not being named in the cull of 86 courts earlier this year. This is a very stupid idea which we must oppose – work would be relocated to Westminster or Hendon, and for youth offences to the City, Highbury or Wimbledon.
Having seen Shepherds Bush Police Station close to the public, Fulham PS be sold off and the county court move away, I feel the borough is being hollowed out with few justice services left. If you agree please respond to the consultation before 17 October.
Charing Cross - no news is only partly good news
The attempt to demolish our main local – and one of the UK’s leading – hospital is now into its fifth year and some readers may have lost track of all the twists and turns. For them I have penned this summary.
In fact, not much concrete has happened in the last few months, and now we know why. The cash crisis and the failure to meet targets is so bad that they can neither afford the grandiose redevelopment of St Mary’s Hospital and rebuilding Charing Cross as a primary care centre, nor can they risk taking over 300 acute beds out of the system when primary, community and social care cannot cope as things are.
Imperial are running more than a £50 million deficit this year. They are missing their A&E and treatment times every month. In an admirably frank interview, broadcast on BBC, the Chairman of Imperial told the Save our Hospitals campaigners that they had no money and the staff were working at breaking point. This is what I and other MPs have been told privately for some weeks.
This week we were supposed to have the detailed plans for Charing Cross’ demolition – first mooted in June 2012 and promised annually since. Once again they were postponed to ‘sometime in 2017’ but I have no faith in them coming to fruition in the foreseeable future. Certainly it will now be impossible to start demolition before 2020 and another general election.
But I still say this is only partly good news. They still want to reduce acute beds by 500 across west London despite increasing pressures, and the reason for delay is not extra but lack of resources.
In a further twist the Orwellian ‘Shaping a Healthier Future’ project has been subsumed into the north-west London ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plan’ (STP). Old wine in new bottles, save that every part of the country will have an STP. That’s good in the sense that we are not being singled out for worse treatment than other areas any more; bad in that – judging by the new Government’s response when we debated this last week – there is going to be no extra money anywhere for the NHS.
All parts of the NHS have been ordered to sign up to their local STPs on pain of being cut out of what resources there are – and that includes local councils which now have responsibility for public health. I am pleased to say H&F and Ealing Councils have refused to sign – on the basis that by doing so they were agreeing to the demolition of Charing Cross and Ealing Hospitals.
Fixing the boundaries
Remember the good old days when the Tories used to try and influence elections by social engineering – moving poorer communities out and richer people into marginal areas? Well, now it’s more sophisticated. The Boundary Review, sabotaged by the Lib Dems during the Coalition, is back.
The number of MPs will fall to 600 – not to save money or because we need fewer legislators, or why would they have pushed the number of unelected Lords past 850? – but because this is seen as the number which will maximise the number of Conservative seats. The cut off for drawing the boundaries is 2015, despite two million extra electors signing up to vote in the referendum, disproportionately in London and other metropolitan areas.
And the criteria are so restrictive that we end up with some very funny looking constituencies. Deciding that K&C should be a single seat (well, it is a Royal Borough) means Shepherds Bush has to be split off from Hammersmith and then split again at Wood Lane and the Westway, with Old Oak and the Scrubs being tagged onto Willesden, a seat otherwise entirely made up of Brent wards.
There must be a better way to sort this out, and to be fair to the Boundary Commission they did listen to arguments about local governance, communities and natural boundaries last time. If you want to make your views known, here is how to do so – please copy me in.