Closure of the Chronicle
As many of you will no doubt already know, the Hammersmith & Fulham Chronicle is to close on the 25th of April, leaving Hammersmith & Fulham as the only London Borough without a local newspaper.
I was very sad to hear this, having been a reader for the best part of half a century and a columnist or correspondent for almost 30 years. I recently submitted what may well be my final column in the paper.
I hope I have used my words wisely over the years, whether it has been informing residents about the great work of the Save Our Hospitals campaign, holding the Council to account over their controversial housing and planning policies, or explaining my decision to resign from the last Government to fight the third runway at Heathrow.
With local and European elections only four weeks away it will be a real blow to lose the borough’s independent campaigning newspaper.
The Chronicle have led the way on many issues, covering resident-led campaigns to save Sulivan School from closure, Shepherd’s Bush Market’s fight against greedy developers, and West Ken residents battle to save their homes and the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre from demolition.
It was only four years ago that the Chronicle broke the mould of declining sales to start free delivery borough-wide and take on ‘HFNews’ the Council freesheet which in the words of the Chronicle’s editor was ‘peddling the views it wants you to read’. This bold move succeeded and ‘Pravda’ went out of business. It was a great victory for a free press.
The closure of the Chronicle (founded in 1888) will put 15 jobs at risk, and will leave 180,000 residents without the opportunity to read a local, weekly newspaper.
This has put the Council in a tricky position, as it has a statutory duty to publish local notices so they can be read by residents in the Borough. With the Chronicle gone, it is unclear how the Council will fulfill that duty.
One worrying possibility is that we may see the return of H&F news, the free paper printed by the Council that closed in 2010. This was widely seen as Council propaganda, with Eric Pickles himself criticising such ‘town hall pravdas’.
The Council may claim that this is its only option, but this is not necessarily the case, as it may be possible for the Council to fulfill its statutory duty by publishing notices online.
One slightly odd suggestion, made by Pickles’ department is that the Council can place local adverts in the Evening Standard, at extortionate cost to local taxpayers.
No matter the outcome, the closure of the Chronicle is a blow to local democracy. While bringing back H&F News would allow the Council to publish public notices, it would also be seen as a move designed to promote the Council that leaves no room for critical comment or debate.
Old Parrs Head
Another sad loss to the local area is the closure of the Old Parr’s Head pub.
The Old Parr’s Head was run by Joe and Betty Hynes, who have quit after 25 years as landlords. It has been announced that the pub is to close after Easter.
Punch Taverns has acted entirely in its own interest without a thought as to the consequences for this local business. Like the local Council, the large Pubcos often show no regard for local High Streets and local businesses.
20 pubs have closed in the Borough since the Tories came into power in the Borough, and many others are currently under threat.
HS2 Petitions, a how-to guide
I was recently passed a very useful document by the former Tory Cabinet Minister, Cheryl Gillan with helpful advice on how to submit a formal petition to Parliament for those wishing to object to the HS2 proposals.
While I broadly support the plans for HS2, we need to ensure that the best possible outcome is achieved for the local area. HS2 presents a wonderful opportunity for much needed redevelopment, but we must ensure that development does not come at a cost to Wormwood Scrubs or to local businesses.
This development must be in the best interests of local residents, and not in the interests of the Council and its developer friends.
The deadline for submitting a petition in this way will be in May 2014, although no firm date has been set as of yet.
The document can be read here, and for those interested in HS2 and the redevelopment of Old Oak it is well worth a read.
London Legal Walk
Last year there were a record 7,500 walkers including many top judges who raised over £530,000 to provide free legal advice.
There is a desperate need to raise funds for our internationally-renowned Law Centre. Following the withdrawal of its funding from the Council, the irreplaceable work done by the Centre has been severely curtailed.
Without the money efforts like this raise, there is a real danger that the service provided by places like the Law Centre will simply disappear, leaving thousands of people helpless and adviceless in the face of legal problems.
The work of HFLC enables ordinary local residents to access legal advice when they most need it and are least able to afford it. Every pound you donate via this link will go directly to supporting the work of the centre and supporting the worst-off members of our community at a time when they need it most.
Week in Westminster
It has been an interesting week in Westminster. The public were rightfully outraged by the news that a Tory Minister Maria Miller had been ordered to pay back nearly £50k after an expenses scandal, and I was able to raise this issue in a question to the Prime Minister. Naturally he dodged the question…
In a special debate I took the opportunity to make a speech on three topics that really matter here in Hammersmith: housing, hospitals and Heathrow. You can read it here. The policy in Hammersmith is to build no new social rented accommodation, in a borough where the average house price is, at a conservative estimate, £675,000, and where rent for a two-bedroom flat is £400 to £500 a week. This is why we have a Hammersmith Housing Crisis, with the Council trying to engineer a borough suitable only for the wealthy.
Every week I hear stories from constituents who are worried about the future of West London’s hospitals, so it was no surprise to hear legendary musician Billy Bragg raise the issue on BBC’s Question Time. Note there was no denial from the new Tory minister on the intention to knock down the hospital to build luxury flats.
On a more positive note I was invited to give a speech to over 500 graduates from the CILEX. It was a privilege to address this bright bunch of chartered legal executives and wish them every success in their careers. I used the speech to call on the Government to improve diversity in the legal professions and promised that this would be a real priority under a Labour government. You can watch my speech here.
State visit by the President of Ireland
Last week I had the great pleasure of attending the speech given by the President of Ireland, Michael Higgins, to a joint session of Parliament.
He spoke in both English and Irish, and gave a moving and measured speech about the reconciliation that has taken place between Britain and Ireland. He spoke of the work that remains to be done but said of the Irish that ‘we are free to be your friends.’
Of course, Hammersmith has one of the largest Irish communities in England, and the Irish Cultural Centre has been at the centre of this community since opening in 1995. Work has now started on the new Centre, and this week I wrote a in support of the Centre’s work and to attract grant funding.