High Court rules Government air pollution plans ‘unlawful’

Last week the High Court ruled that the UK’s plans to improve air pollution are “unlawful”. Mr Justice Garnham said the government’s approach to pollution in 45 local authority areas in England where air quality is below legal limits was “not sufficient” and “seriously flawed”. Hounslow, Ealing and Hammersmith & Fulham are all way over the European limit for acceptable air pollution.

Ruth Cadbury MP, Brentford & Isleworth challenged the Prime Minister

Ruth Cadbury put a question to the Prime Minister in parliament about it, having just visited a Chiswick primary school to discuss the problem.

“On Monday, children and parents at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Chiswick told me of their concerns about air pollution affecting children’s health. This morning, the High Court ruled that the Government’s air quality plan is unlawful. What does the Prime Minister feel is worse: losing for the third ​time in the High Court, or 40,000 unnecessary deaths and the impact on children’s health of the UK’s unsustainable air quality?”

This was the Prime Minister’s answer:

“The issue the hon. Lady has raised about air quality is important, and that is why we have been taking action to improve air quality. I say to her that I do not think that the way she has described the Court’s decision this morning properly reflects the Court’s decision. Let me just explain to the House that we welcome the fact that the Court dismissed the complaint relating to five cities with major air quality problems and found that we are taking appropriate action. It agreed that the modelling we used to support the 2017 air quality plan is sound. It has asked us to go further in areas with less severe air quality problems where we thought a pragmatic approach was appropriate; we will now formalise that. But actually, on two of the three counts, the Court found in the Government’s favour”.

This is not how then media interpreted the judgement, with papers across the spectrum, from the Guardian to the FT reporting it as a third defeat for the Government. The fact is that the Government has been told it has to make changes in the way they tackle air pollution.

Environmental charity Client Earth brought the case
The environmental charity which brough the case celebrated victory: ‘Environmental lawyers ClientEarth today won a third case against the UK government over the country’s illegal and harmful levels of air pollution… Judge Mr Justice Garnham declared the government’s failure to require action from 45 local authorities with illegal levels of air pollution in their area unlawful. He ordered ministers to require local authorities to investigate and identify measures to tackle illegal levels of pollution in 33 towns and cities as soon as possible – as 12 of the 45 are projected to have legal levels by the end of 2018’.

Speaking outside of the court, ClientEarth lawyer Anna Heslop said: “For the third time in the space of three years, the courts have declared that the government is failing in its obligation to clean up the air in our towns and cities. We are delighted that the court has today ordered the government to urgently take further action.”

Martine and Peter Oborne, painted for posterity

I was invited to the unveiling of a portrait on Saturday, of this lovely painting of Martine and Peter Oborne by artist Anthony Oakshett. Having your portrait done is not an every day occurence, so I wondered if there was a special reason, but no, it was just for the hell of it, because it’s nice thing to do and to hand on to the children, they said. Martine and Peter are well known in Chiswick as the vicar of St Michael’s Church Elmwood Rd and political journalist on the Daily Mail respectively. Peter, who is an associate editor of The Spectator and former chief political commentator of The Daily Telegraph, until he resigned in 2015 on a matter of principle, has history with the artist, as they went to university together, at Christ’s Church College Cambridge. They’ve known each other for 40 years.

‘I was dreading having to sit still’

‘It took a couple of years, but only because Peter is so difficult to pin down’ says Martine, but the actual contact time between artist and sitters was only a couple of days. They talked about how they wanted it to be and Anthony took hundreds of photos – ‘virtually every way it’s possible for two people to share the same space’ before settling on the breakfast table at their place in Wiltshire. ‘We wanted it to say something about our lives’ says Martine. The observant will notice the view across the garden shows a church in the background and those who know them really well might pick up on the birthday card on the table – a reminder that they share the same birthday on 11 July (a fact which doesn’t stop Peter from forgetting it, she says). ‘I was dreading having to sit still’ says Peter, ‘but in fact we only had to do that for about 15 minutes’. They both described the experience of being painted as ‘great fun’ and are delighted with the end result.

Anthony, who led a team of artists commissioned to paint a frieze of the Armada for the House of Lords, has composed many portraits, including the Queen. He told me the thing with a double portrait is that as well as capturing the likeness and the personality of the subjects, you have to portray something of the relationship between the two people. I think he has. Martine’s always smiling and Peter looks sceptical, as if he’s about to challenge something. Anthony dismisses the idea that a portrait painter has any particular psychological insight. ‘The artist observes the visual clues and the viewer projects their own interpretation of the subject’. So my cod psychology tells me he’s picked up on visual clues to a deep fondness and shared sense of fun. It looks to me like he’s teasing her about something and she’s just letting it roll over her, before having the final say.

If you’d like to see more of Anthony’s work, you can see it here.

The Truth about Charing Cross Hospital

There’s a public meeting on Wednesday evening about the changes planned for Charing Cross Hospital. In the past week I have received two press releases on what this will mean for us all. Such is the polarisation of politics in this country that the two versions from the (Labour controlled) Hammersmith & Fulham council and the Conservative candidate for the local elections in Chiswick Homefields ward Patrick Barr, who is an Accident and Emergency Nurse who has worked at Charing Cross Hospital, are completely at odds. It’s hard to screen out the party political tub thumping and ascertain an objective truth, but make of them what you will.

Press release 1: Public meeting called for 28 February to defend Charing Cross Hospital against continuing threat. 7.30pm on Wednesday 28 February at Hammersmith Town Hall

Hammersmith & Fulham Council is holding a public meeting to defend Charing Cross Hospital against continuing plans to downgrade services. “The plan to bulldoze Charing Cross Hospital and replace it with a small clinic remains,” said Cllr Stephen Cowan, Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council, who will be speaking at the event. “We believe we can win the fight to save the hospital, but we still need residents’ support.”

In 2013, the Shaping a Healthier Future plan was signed off by the Secretary of State. It is gradually being implemented across north west London. It includes a plan to:

  • Demolish the current Charing Cross Hospital and sell off most of the site
  • Replace the current Charing Cross Hospital with a series of clinics on a site no more than 13% the size of the current hospital
  • Rebrand these clinics as a ‘local hospital’
  • Replace the current A&E with an urgent care clinic
  • Lose more than 300, and possibly all, of the acute care beds.

“Make no mistake – we view this as the closure of Charing Cross Hospital as it is now”, added Cllr Cowan. “Health chiefs argue that by rebranding what would be a series of clinics as a ‘local hospital’ they’re simply ‘transforming’ it. This is the basis of their bizarre claim that there have never been any plans to close Charing Cross Hospital.”

Press release 2: Chiswick Conservatives welcome investment for Charing Cross Hospital

Chiswick Conservatives have welcomed the recent multi-million pound investment in Charing Cross Hospital that will benefit Chiswick residents who are reliant on the hospital’s services. They have also condemned the Labour Party for its continued scaremongering that the hospital is to close.

“It is important that residents know the facts about Charing Cross and that the hospital is very much thriving.” said Patrick Barr. “Charing Cross hospital recently announced that over the past 18 months some of the largest ever investment has taken place in the hospital… £6 million has been spent on improvements, to include a new medical assessment unit and a further £8 million on replacing imaging equipment and installing state of the art equipment. This is to meet the significant rise in the need for emergency services within the hospital…“The hospital is currently working on a further multimillion pound refurbishment and an expansion of Accident and Emergency to begin early this year.“

Patrick says he believes there will be “no decline in services” at the hospital. “Emergency attendances have grown by 16 per cent between 2015 and 2017; this figure then rose by a further 4.5 per cent in 2017. Given this trend there are no plans to reduce the number of beds available”.

“I welcome the extra investment the hospital has received and the Government’s commitment to the NHS. This extra funding will support Charing Cross Hospital in providing excellent patient care for local residents… Labour needs to recognise all this and stop frightening local residents with their claims of closure of this excellent NHS hospital.”

Independent Healthcare Commission recommends halting the reforms

Meawnwhile the Independent Healthcare Commission for Northwest London, chaired by the eminent QC Michael Mansfield, concluded in 2015 that the reforms are “deeply flawed”, and that “As a consequence there is no realistic prospect of achieving good quality accessible healthcare for all”.

“Shaping a Healthier Future, a project of unprecedented size and scope, aimed at achieving a root and branch reconfiguration of all health services across eight diverse, densely populated London boroughs.

“There is no completed, up-to-date business plan in place that sets out the case for delivering the Shaping a Healthier Future (SaHF) programme, demonstrating that the programme is affordable and deliverable. There was limited and inadequate public consultation on the SaHF proposals and those proposals themselves did not provide an accurate view of the costs and risks to the people affected. NHS facilities, delivering important public healthcare services, have been closed without adequate alternative provision being put in place. The original business case seriously underestimated the increasing size of the population in North West London and fails to address the increasing need for services.

The Commission concluded that “any further implementation is likely to exacerbate a deteriorating situation and should be halted immediately until the measures we recommend are carried out”.

If Chiswick were demolished, what would you save?

Apart from people, naturally. (Ok and dogs and cats). Hounslow Council has a list, and in this instance it’s a good thing, if you care about your heritage. Every council keeps a ‘Local List’ of buildings and sites which don’t make the grade as ‘listed buildings’ (considered to be of national significance by Historic England) but sites which are ‘recognised for their contribution to the local character and distinctiveness’.

The Local List was created in Hounslow in 1997 and hasn’t been updated since, so while many of the obvious sites are on it, there are some surprising omissions and Hounslow’s new conservation officer Sophia Laird is on a mission to put that right. Sophia is an American who studied Architectural History at Edinburgh University and came to Hounslow from the Victorian Society eight months ago, so she knows her Arts and Crafts from her Gothic Revival and her finials from her transoms. “We’re keen for the community to nominate buildings” she told me; “we’ve set out some criteria as guidance and will ask people to explain how the site they’re nominating meet the criteria.”

The Roebuck – On the list

If they do meet the criteria and are added to the List, will that save them if a big developer comes along with a demolition notice, waving their cheque book? “While being on the Local List doesn’t give them statutory protection, it does make you think a bit more” Hounslow’s Chief Planning Officer Marilyn Smith told me. You can nominate a site because of its architectural quality, historic interest, its ‘group or townscape interest’ or its social significance. That could mean just that somebody interesting lived there and ‘site’ could mean an old horse trough, a lamp post or modern statue as well as a building.

The current list includes quite a lot of Chiswick High Rd, including the Old Police Station and Old Fire Station, the Roebuck and the Packhorse & Talbot pubs, but not the Old Cinema, Chiswick Library or George IV pub.

The Old Cinema – Not on the list

The council gives quite detailed notes on what the criteria for what ‘local character and distinctiveness’ might be. For example, ‘Architectural significance’ might include ‘assets which are good examples of local or vernacular architecture’ or ‘are attributed to a noted local or regional architect, designer or craftsman’. ‘Historical significance’ could mean a site or structure which illustrates ‘important aspects of local social, economic, cultural or military history’ or ‘demonstrate a historic association with a locally important person, family or group’ as well as ‘sites or structures which are important for their age or rarity’ or ‘an important survival of the borough’s industrial heritage’. ‘Group and townscape significance’ might mean a landmark, an example of ‘architectural unity’ such as a terrace or a square or ‘locally important green spaces or public spaces’. ‘Social significance’ might mean an association with ‘local communal, symbolic, or spiritual significance’, ‘distinctive cultural heritage such as art, literature, music or film or ‘buildings which have a history of being used for important community events’.

To see the full description of what the Local List entails and nominate a structure or site, go here.

Here’s a list of the buildings in Chiswick which are already on the Local List:

Bolton Road / Number 3

Bolton Road / Number 21

Chiswick High Road / No.2-34 (even)

Chiswick High Road / No. 41-65 (odd)

Chiswick High Road / No.62-68 (even)

Chiswick High Road / No. 109-113 (odd)

Chiswick High Road / Number 122 (The Roebuck Public House)

Chiswick High Road / Packhorse and Talbot Pub

Chiswick High Road / 197-199 Former Fire Station

Chiswick High Road / 208 Former Police Station

Chiswick High Road 254-280 (even)

Chiswick High Road / The Gunnersbury (formerly The John Bull Public House)

Chiswick Lane / Number 4

Grove Park Road / Grove Park Hotel and Public House

Grove Park Road / No. 25-35 and 41-57

Grove Park Road / No. 68, 70, 72

Grove Park Road / St Paul’s Church and Vicarage

Grove Park Road / Isis Court

Grove Park Road / 23 Clifton Works

Hartington Road West / Hartington Court 1-52 (block of flats)

Hartington Road / Number 17

Spencer Road / 1 Royston Court

Spencer Road / 11-13 Churchward House

Spencer Road / 14-22 even

Spencer Road / Gardener’s Cottage (off Spencer Road)

And here’s where you go to find out if a building has been listed by Historic England

W4

Pedestrian bridge at Barnes gets planning permission

Artist’s impression of what the bridge will look like, Moxon Architects Ltd

A new footbridge underneath Barnes Railway Bridge has been given the go ahead by Hounslow Council. Having a pedestrian bridge there will mean that walkers can follow the Thames Path from Hammersmith Bridge to Chiswick Bridge without having to cut inland away from the river. Hounslow Planning Committee approved the plans for the bridge at the same time as a number of other projects around Dukes Meadows, part of an overall regeneration of the area.

Cllr John Todd, who chairs the Barnes Footpath Project Board, says he’s really pleased and excited to see it built. He told me that since council leader Steve Curran had asked him to chair the project, the plans had come together incredibly quickly, in 18 months, and paid tribute to the technical skills and expertise of both Moxon, the architects and Campbell Reith, the engineers. Moxon he said were ”outstanding” bridge architects.

The lead architect for Moxon, 38 year old Ezra Groskin from Vermont, USA, told me that they’d worked with the engineers from the outset designing the bridge from first principles because the project was complex and challenging and there were many stakeholders involved, including Network Rail and the Port of London Authority as well as the nearest rowing clubs, Thames Tradesmen, Emanuel School BC, Barnes Bridge and Cygnet Rowing clubs.

The main problem was headroom. The Grade II listed Barnes Railway Bridge has three arch spans. The rowing clubs didn’t want the bridge taking their space on the water, so wanted it as tight to the bank as possible, but to be fit for purpose it needed to be as high above the water as possible, to be above the water level at high tide while still giving pedestrians sufficient headroom.

Ezra says “it’s a very challenging, complex site” but he thinks they’ve reached “a nice compromise”. He says it should stay dry except for exceptional 100 year floods and has a deceptive simplicity of appearance, with nice clean lines. The footbridge, which will be made of metal, probably painted steel, will cater to all types of users, allowing access to wheelchairs, mobility scooters, and those with buggies.

A previous attempt a getting a footbridge designed for this space was turned down by the PLA because it didn’t overcome the concerns of people using the river.

Before joining Moxon Ezra worked for a firm of architects which exclusively designs bridges. He’s worked on bridges as far flung as the massive Tappan Zee spanning the Hudson River north of New York City and one in Hamburg, Germany. He too is “very pleased and excited” that the project has received the go ahead.

Chiswick Timeline installation in a minute and a half

You may of course be heartily sick of hearing about the Chiswick Timeline by now, but I invite you to spend just one and a half minutes more to watch this Timeline Timelapse put together by The Chiswick Calendar’s cameraman Mike McMenzie. One hundred hours of footage of the overnight installation over ten days, condensed to one and a half minutes and set to the glorious ‘Yakety Sax’ music of music of Boots Randolph, Chet Atkins and Floyd Cramer. (Which Dolly Parton can play backwards – as she proudly announced to the audience at Glastonbury before turning her back on them).

Can Chiswickians share?

Our morality is being put to the test in a major way. You may have noticed the rash of orange bikes which have suddenly sprung up everywhere. They are ‘Mobikes’ – bikes for sharing which cost just 50p for half an hour to use (once you’ve paid your £1 deposit) and are unlockable via an app. But can we be trusted with them?

My American neighbour expressed the view that the project, the brainchild of a Chinese firm, was doomed to failure in England because we were all tea-leafs and unlike other cities like Berlin or Milan we would hide them away in our houses instead of using them and leaving them in the street for someone else to use like you’re supposed to.

I took issue with her naturally, in defence of our nation, but then I Googled Mobikes and came across Helen Pidd’s brilliant piece in the Guardian about how the scheme had gone down in Manchester when it was introduced last summer.

“I was an immediate convert” she writes, “boasting about the superiority of our new bike-sharing system over London’s, pitying sadsacks in the capital who had to trundle around looking for a docking station…

“I really wanted to believe that Mancunians could be trusted with nice things” she says but “two weeks on and I fear that a dream is all it was. There are Mobikes in the canal, Mobikes in bins and I am fed up with following the app to a residential street where there is clearly a Mobike stashed in someone’s garden. On launch day, the Chinese designer told me the bikes were basically indestructible and should last four years without maintenance. It took a matter of hours before local scallies worked out how to disable the GPS trackers and smash off the back wheel locks”.

We have these bikes on a trial basis for a year in Chiswick. A year in which to prove that we in Chiswick are better than that and can be trusted to share!

‘On the Ball’ help for autistic children now available to children in the borough of Hounslow

I reported this time last year on the achievement of Samantha Silver, the parent of an autistic boy in Richmond who through sheer desperation had got together with other parents to set up a support group and with the help of the Brentford FC Community Sports Trust introduced their autistic children to the joys of team sport.

The scheme they set up, On the Ball, a programme of sport and parent support for families whose children have social communication needs, is available to other boroughs outside Richmond and starts again in April, offering free places. Families who have been involved say that the training has made a massive difference to their child, family life at home and the way the child copes at school. The programme is rated as ‘Outstanding’ by Richmond Adult Community College.

On the Ball aim to develop groups of children aged 5-11 who have similar needs so that peer groups are established that support families to have fun, enjoy sport and learn together.
If you think your child might benefit or you know someone who might, go to On the Ball 2018 Sign Up or for more information ring the parent charity Action-attainment Ltd on 0208 392 9946

There is also a new Action Learning Group for parents of children with social communication needs is starting this month with six Thursday evening meetings monthly, between February and July. The first free introductory workshop is on 8th February at Richmond AID, 4 Waldegrave Rd, TW11 8HT.

At Brentford FC Community Sports Trust’s thirtieth anniversary bash last year, Samantha described how on their first meeting the coach brought a sack of balls and laid out cones for the kids to weave in and out of. One child promptly disappeared up a tree while her own son carefully collected up all the cones into a nicely ordered pile. The default position for an autistic child when faced with the anxiety of something as socially daunting as team sport is apparently to lie on the ground with their arms over their head in a foetal position.

Even the most dedicated, specially trained coach, as theirs was, might have been forgiven for having second thoughts. He didn’t. She recounted how slowly over the years the children, now young people, have gained in confidence, to the point where they actively enjoy the sessions. She explained also how the training had affected their behaviour at home and taught the parents a thing or two which had contributed to a calmer, more positive atmosphere both at home and at school. She also told me afterwards how, heartbreakingly, while this works with younger children, by the time they get to secondary school their anxiety is too great to overcome with this sort of coaching. The trick is to get to the children young, but if they do, the results are by all accounts amazing.

Brentford FC set to start building new stadium in March

Hounslow Council has given planning permission for the revised plans for Brentford FC’s new stadium. The long drawn out planning process originally saw detailed planning permission granted in June 2014 for the construction of the 20,000 seater Brentford Community Stadium along with outline permission for 910 new homes, a 160 bedroom hotel and other commercial space.

The process has gone on so long that market demands and conditions have changed since the initial proposal was submitted. Building costs have gone up, so the revised plans show a smaller stadium of 17,250 capacity with the east and west stands just a single tier and an increase in the number of premium seats from 1,800 to 2,930 so the club can make more money from fewer ticket sales.

The number of homes planned remains the same at 910 apartments, but there has been a shift to providing a greater proportion of small flats in Phase One. In the new plan 93 studio apartments have been added. The original plan was for 40% 1 bed, 40% 2 bed and 20% 3 bed, with no studio apartments at all. The new plan is for 19% studio, 30% 1 bed, 41% 2 bed and 10% 3 bed. The vast majority of these will be for rent rather than for sale.

There is currently no ‘affordable housing’ provided in the plan. It was not required by the Council, says Project Operations Manager Sally Stephens, because this is a ‘community’ development, but there is an ‘affordable housing trigger’ which kicks in after phases one and two have been built. If at that point the developers are deemed to be making too much money, the Council can require affordable housing to be included in the next phase.

Providing there is no formal objection to the Council’s decision to grant planning permission, which would force the process to a Judicial Review, Brentford FC hopes to start work on the new stadium mid March and have the development completed by late 2019.

Brentford FC play 26 home games between August and May, typically two Saturdays a month with occasional midweek matches on Tuesday nights. Permission to use the new stadium for rugby was granted in February 2017 and the Club hopes that now that their new plans have received planning permission, negotiations with London Irish Rugby Club will lead to a commercial deal between the two clubs in the next few weeks.

The rugby club typically has smaller crowds of around 10,000 spectators and plays 16 home matches in a season which starts slightly later than football, in September. Rugby matches are expected to take place on some Sundays and occasional Fridays as well as Saturdays when Brentford FC are playing away.

The stadium has only 60 car parking spaces, which will be available to VIPs and disabled people only, so the vast majority of fans are expected to arrive at the stadium by public transport.

The leader of London Borough of Hounslow Steve Curran is hopeful that the go ahead will be given for a train station at Lionel Rd now that the Great West Corridor has been recognised as an ‘opportunity area’ in the Greater London Plan. If this were to happen the earliest it could be achieved would be 2025 realistically speaking, as this is still at the ‘ideas’ stage rather than a ‘plan’.

Hogarth Primary School considering class sizes of 40

I reported last week that a primary school in Isleworth is looking at reducing its working week to four and a half days from September because of the budget crisis in education. This week I discover that a primary school in Chiswick is considering class sizes of 40 to solve their budget problems.

Avril Stockley, headteacher of William Hogarth School in Duke Rd told me that so far they’d been able to survive on money carried forward and ‘natural wastage’, ie staff leaving and not being replaced, rather than having to make forced redundancies, but from here on in they will have to look at ways of cutting their spending. Currently they have smaller class sizes than the average while maintaining “a full cohort of teaching staff”. Given staff turnover she told me “it’s important to have a clear organisational strategic plan rather than react”, so as teachers leave the school she said classes over 30 and up to 40 is something that they would consider.

Children up to the age of seven are not allowed by law to be in class sizes that large, but children 8 and upwards are. You have to consider, says Ms Stockley, whether it would be better to pay one “fantastic teacher” a little bit more to teach a class of 40 or whether you pay less for two teachers who need more support to teach the year group together. The budget crisis “ties in with the teacher recruitment crisis” she said.

Other head teachers were less forthcoming. The head teachers of Strand on the Green Infants and Juniors would not comment on their budget deliberations, with Vanessa Townsend, head of the Infants saying: “this is a sensitive area. I’m not prepared to put anything out in public at the moment”.

If how schools are dealing with the squeezed budgets is a sensitive subject, I’d have thought it was all the more important to come clean with parents and prospective parents and share their thinking.

Re-writing history “brainwashing” our children

Rupa Huq MP

The Chair of the Parliamentary Education Committee Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow has said he would look in to Rupa Huq’s claims that the Conservatives were rewriting history by excluding Labour achievements from the A Level history syllabus.

Rupa Huq, Labour’s MP for Ealing Central and Acton asked a question in parliament last week and followed it up with a ‘Soap Box’ film on BBC 2’s Daily Politics show, arguing that there was a pro-Conservative bias to the curriculum introduced by Michael Gove, which risked “brainwashing our kids”.

While Churchill and Thatcher’s achievements were highlighted in the OCR exam board’s syllabus she said Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s governments were completely absent, as were the achievements of the Atlee government – the introduction of the Welfare State and the NHS. Students are asked to compare Labour’s weaknesses with the Conservatives’ strengths.

Since asking her question in parliament Rupa says she’s been deluged with teachers thanking her for voicing their concerns. Robert Halfon first of all dismissed her case on Daily Politics, saying it was ‘inevitable’ that the achievements of Churchill and Thatcher would predominate and that “there are much bigger priorities to worry about in schools” but was then forced to concede that his committee should look at her concerns.