Residents Accuse Council of "Abuse of Power"

As "bogus" campaigners turn up at Town Hall meeting

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EC Properties' My Earls

Outline planning application

Hammersmith and Fulham Lib Dems

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Hammersmith and Fulham Council have been accused of orchestrating a "bogus" residents' campaign to support its plans for West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates.

The accusation has been made by Jonathan Rosenberg, Community Organiser with West Kensington and Gibbs Green Tenants and Residents Associations after the council's Cabinet approved controversial plans involving the redevelopment of Earls Court, including the demolition of the estates.

The agreement approved by the council will grant an exclusive right for EC Properties - a subsidiary of developer Capital and Counties, or CapCo - to continue negotiations with the council "around a possible conditional land sale agreement for inclusion of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in a comprehensive redevelopment scheme", according to papers presented to the authority’s cabinet.

In order to enter into the agreement, EC Properties will pay the authority a non-refundable deposit of £5 million and £10 million, which would be refundable if a deal is not agreed within a one-year time frame.

The West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates are earmarked for demolition under the plans contained in the Earls Court masterplan. The developer applied last month for outline planning permission for the plan, which sees the redevelopment of the 77 acre Earls Court Opportunity Area, including the Earls Court exhibition centres, the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates and the 7.5 acre space on Seagrave Road currently used as a car park.

You can see all the details of the plans, drawn up by renowned architect Sir Terry Farrell, at My Earls the website produced by the project team.

The scheme, says the site, will represent a multi-billion pound investment in London, and the project has a total estimated value of £8 billion. More than 7,500 new homes and 12,000 new jobs will be created by the Masterplan (pictured below) which together with Seagrave Road involves 11.4 million square feet of development. In addition to the new homes, the Masterplan includes offices, leisure, hotel and retail space, as well as a new primary school, library, an integrated health hub and 23.5 acres of public open space including the 5-acre ‘Lost River Park’.

The application for the Seagrave Road site replaces the existing 7.5 acre car park with a scheme comprising 808 new homes ranging from townhouses to apartments, and centred around a 90 metre long garden square.

The planners assure residents of the exisiting estates that their futures are safe, saying: " Good progress is being made on a land agreement between the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham and EC Properties which, if approved by the relevant parties, could pave the way for residents on the council-owned estates to be included in the development and receive new modern homes in the same area as they are already living.

"The Leader of the Council has stated today that he is convinced that a comprehensive approach to the Opportunity Area, including all of the three main landholdings, represents the best way forward. Secure tenants, leaseholders and freeholders on the estates have negotiated a set of legally-binding guarantees for new homes with the Council should planning permission for redevelopment be granted, which would be reflected in any agreement between EC Properties and LBHF. "

Residents however have fought the plans to demolish their homes and are hoping to use new powers to take over the management of the estates from the council. Two thirds have joined the tenants association, and the campaigners turned out in force at the Cabinet meeting to protest about the plans and demand the council ballots residents to test their feelings.

However, when they arrived at the Town Hall, the residents found another group of people campaigning for the proposals, wearing Tshirts saying Yes! To Our Future and carrying instructions which claim to be printed on behalf of West Kensington and Gibbs Green Steering Group, though no details or contact numbers for this group are provided.

Jonathan Rosenberg says: " Having produced and circulated a notice on its behalf, Hammersmith & Fulham council officers assembled an unrepresentative and unelected group in the local hotel, issued them with T shirts and instructions, finalised and printed their deputation statement, packed them onto a minibus (presumably also hired by the Council), took them to the town hall where they organised them to pose for a photo, and then accompanied them into the meeting.

" Unlike our 80% petition and two-thirds sign-up verified by our Solicitor, which we showed to the Cabinet, this group was unable to evidence any support, and justified demolition with the unfounded allegation that it's no longer possible to buy a pair of children's shoes in Fulham. To its consternation several of their small number joined us in cheering and clapping our deputation.

" The Council’s use of money and resources to orchestrate a bogus campaign to separate neighbour from neighbour is an abuse of power, is improper, and is not a purpose for which a local authority may act. Councils have a duty to promote wellbeing and cohesion, not to stoke up division in communities.

" We intend to expose this disgraceful and cynical subversion of democracy, and to press home our demand for the Council to organise an independent ballot of residents so the community can vote for themselves on whether they want redevelopment or would prefer to take over their homes."

Earl's Court Lib Dem Cllr Linda Wade joined West Kensington and Gibbs Green residents and local Lib Dems at the Cainet meeting to protest Hammersmith and Fulham Council's decision, saying it creates a conflict of interest for the Council since it will be determining the developers' planning application.

Lib Dem spokesman Meher Oliaji says: "The Council decision was a joke. Councillors didn't pay any attention to the petition or protests from residents. They seem to be trying to rush the sale through before Government legislation to help residents take control of their own estates can come into force."

Fellow Lib Dem Paul Kennedy said the small group of pro-development campaigners seemed confused: "Several of them told us they were campaigning to save their homes, so we thought for a while they must be campaigning against the development," he says. " They didn't seem to realise that they were being used for propaganda by the Council and developers who want to demolish their homes."

However, Maureen Way, a member of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Resident Steering group responds: "Contrary to the rumours, many, many people on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates want to see what improvement this development could bring to the area. If the development does go ahead, we believe that we have negotiated the best deal for residents."




July 20, 2011