The Evening Standard published a bold article last Thursday suggesting that Hammersmith & Fulham Council and the Tory leadership were in a plot reminiscent of the days of Dame Shirley Porter (‘Plot to rid council estates of Poor’, 9 July 2009)
Hammersmith & Fulham Council is currently consulting on their Local Development Framework (LDF) Core Strategy Options which repeatedly refers to a need for ‘decent neighbourhoods’. Neighbourhoods that are currently not ‘decent’ have been identified throughout the borough.
It seems to me that if these neighbourhoods contained homes which do not meet national ‘decent homes standards’ then the Council and Hammersmith & Fulham Homes should be working to bring them up to standard. Where the neighbourhoods have residents who are jobless and on benefits, then the Council has a duty to provide training and improved skills. The solution should not be to demolish and decant whole estates.
The Council has, however, shown a preference for the easy fix by proposing the rebuilding of properties primarily for sale. The only assurance they provide existing residents is that the equivalent number of ‘habitable rooms’ (not number of units) for social renting will be preserved, and this over the next 20 years!
There are two conclusions that we can draw from this. First, many local residents will be without a home in Hammersmith & Fulham in years to come and will be likely to have to seek housing outside of the borough. Second, the Tory Council seems to be focussed on changing the demographics of their voters in this marginal constituency.
The present Labour MP Andrew Slaughter has felt suitably threatened and has raised the alarm claiming to have uncovered a trail of evidence showing possible complicity amongst the leadership of Hammersmith & Fulham Council – the Tory leadership as well as the right wing think tank, Localis – on this subject.
So what can we do about this? My initial reaction was to call on Lib Dem colleagues at the London Assembly to pressure the Mayor to ensure delivery of real affordable housing in the borough. Mayor Boris Johnson has yet to fulfil his pre-election pledge to build at least 50,000 new affordable homes. I believe that these homes must include at least 35% social rented properties as opposed to low cost properties for sale, or co-ownership which Tories like to masquerade as affordable housing.
In addition, I and local Lib Dems will continue working with those residents worried about losing their homes to ensure that their voices are heard. We have also in our response to the ‘consultation’ called for a balance of private, commercial and community interests, improved transport links that would help bridge the north south divide within the borough and reminded the Council that new buildings would have to be sustainable and energy efficient.
As for the vision of Hammersmith as a ‘Borough of Opportunity’, we just hope that the slogan does not belie a more sinister intent as did Westminster’s ‘Building Stable Communities’.
* Merlene Emerson is Lib Dem PPC for Hammersmith.