Stephen Greenhalgh and Nick Botterill are former leaders of Hammersmith and Fulham Council.
Some of the wealthiest households in the country are located in Hammersmith and Fulham. The borough ranks fourth highest in London, with the average home costing £921,297, according to a report last November by Right Move.
But the borough also has significant areas of deprivation, where people’s lives are blighted by crime, poor environment, and low aspiration. Hammersmith and Fulham remains a highly polarised borough.
A Conservative Council was elected in Hammersmith and Fulham on May 4th 2006 with a strong mandate for positive change. We won over 50 per cent of the popular vote and, with 33 out of 46 councillors, had outright control of the authority for the first time in 38 years. This was the only inner-city gain in 2006 for the Conservatives in the entire UK.
With such high levels of poverty and inequality, we set ourselves a mission to create ‘a Borough of Opportunity’. This involved:
- Offering excellent state education and school choice. In 2006, there were very limited opportunities for Hammersmith and Fulham pupils at the vital secondary school level. By the end of our two terms in office, we had become the most Academy friendly and Free School friendly borough in the country, with the opening of outstanding schools such as the Hammersmith Academy, the West London Free School, and most recently, the Fulham Boy’s School.
- Creating a housing ladder of opportunity with home ownership at its core. We believed that Hammersmith and Fulham would be better off with more people owning their own homes and having a real stake in the community. Building assets such as a home is central to advancing social mobility and an important foundation for personal security. To support our objectives we launched a home ownership unit called ‘H&F Home Buy’ at the beginning of 2007. In just seven weeks, nearly 3,000 people on household incomes of less than £60,000 expressed an interest in low-cost home ownership. First, we scrapped the previous Labour administration’s restrictive planning policies that discouraged change of use to anything other than social housing. We then set about promoting low-cost home ownership schemes and discounting mechanisms. By the end of our eight years in administration, we had helped nearly a thousand local residents onto the housing ladder. In contrast, and allowing for the pipeline of developments under construction, the Labour administration has only managed to average around 80 social housing completions per year of all types, with no low-cost home ownership or open market completions in the last year.
- Regenerating the most deprived parts of the borough with a focus on physical, economic, and social renewal. Our vision was for the borough to grow along the West London Line and so we worked with Boris Johnson, when he was the Mayor of London, to create new Opportunity Areas in both Earl’s Court and Old Oak, alongside the White City Opportunity Area that already existed. However, the significant challenge has always been to attract the required huge levels of investment required to make the Opportunity Areas a reality. That is why we needed a borough that was open for business. The role of public money should only be to pump prime, and councils need to be creative with public land.
Sadly, the Labour administration elected in 2014 has turned Hammersmith and Fulham into a ‘Borough of missed Opportunity’. They celebrate the return of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates. Instead they should hang their heads in shame at consigning Sir Terry Farrell’s brilliant masterplan for Earl’s Court to the bin. Built in the 1970s on land acquired from British Rail, the West Kensington estate first gained prominence when the then council took the original builders to the High Court in a dispute over the quality of the build. Within a couple of years, more was spent on estate refurbishment than the original cost of construction and it has remained in a pretty shabby state with many inherent problems since, despite repeated maintenance programmes. Can we really expect the West Ken buildings to survive as decent homes for the next 50 years?
Our scheme would have seen every single council flat replaced with new homes of a far higher standard, as well as providing for a huge increase in the number of low-cost home ownership properties. The overall package to tenants negotiated was the best of any proposed in London, with a guaranteed single move to an area close to where they already lived, in groups along with their neighbours, and to new flats fully fitted out including with all new white goods.
Given the Earl’s Court/West Ken land for this scheme was under the various ownerships of TfL, Hammersmith and Fulham Council, and the owner of the Earl’s Court Exhibition site (which was CapCo until they sold to Delancey), the only way it was ever going to be developed with the hundreds of new replacement Council homes was by a big scheme like this. The deal negotiated with CapCo was fair and judged good value by all the market professionals who were involved. That was because the Conservative council was led by two successful entrepreneurs who understand how to engage with the developers and secure the best deal for the borough. The Labour council after it was elected, by contrast, refused even to meet CapCo.
The masterplan to achieve all this is now dead, because of a tin-eared Labour council, that has only ever been interested in stopping all major regeneration schemes. The status quo suits their political ends. For five years they have been in office rather than in power and have failed lamentably to use their mandate for the greater good of Hammersmith and Fulham residents. Instead, they have spent all their efforts and public money, including a recent £100,000 forensic audit of the scheme, in a crude failed attempt to construct a false political narrative. The opportunity to create a new vibrant district of West Kensington and Earl’s Court has been missed and instead the borough will at best only see piecemeal development, instead of the thousands of new homes and jobs which could have resulted from the creation of a new district for West London.
We should not be surprised that this lamentable Labour council scheme away, rather than try to govern in the interests of Hammersmith and Fulham residents. As the great Iain Macleod once said: “Let the Liberals dream their dreams, and let Labour scheme their schemes, but we Conservatives have a serious job of work to do.”