Councillor Bora Kwon declared a non-pecuniary interest as a Governor at Flora Gardens Primary School. She considered that this did not give rise to a perception of a conflict of interests and, in the circumstances it would be reasonable to participate in the discussion and vote thereon.
With the Leader’s permission Richard Farthing, Chairman of The Hammersmith Society, addressed the Cabinet for 5 minutes, having submitted a valid deputation request. He spoke on behalf of: The Hammersmith Society, The Avonmore Residents’ Association, The Avonmore and Brook Green Ward Action Group, Ravenscourt Action, Palace Mansions Residents’ Association, Friends of Ravenscourt Park, The Brackenbury Residents Association.
Mr Farthing confirmed their opposition to the Communities Schools Programme, as they did not agree that building housing on school grounds was the right way to finance schools. They supported the redevelopment of Avonmore and Flora Gardens Primary Schools, but not at any loss of open spaces. His predecessor had written several letters to the Council raising a number of specific points of concerns but had received no written response. They were not convinced that the financial case for building on school land had been demonstrated. The provision of more affordable housing was welcome but would create a need for more school places. Education was liable to change over time and they believed better economic values could be achieved by looking at the way school was designed and using it for a wider range of purposes, not just for primary school. They believed that there were more economic, environmental, and cost-effective ways to build a replacement for those schools, such as using offsite wood construction.
The Leader stressed that there had been continuous dialogue with the former Chairman of The Hammersmith Society and understood that many of the issues raised had been dealt with. But he acknowledged that a formal written letter would be a more appropriate response.
Councillor Jones replied that he had attended four meetings with diverse groups, including the Hammersmith Society, and had done a great deal of engagement with the communities to address their views over several years, including a consultation of the original proposal and another one in 2021. They were on the process of bringing back a revised proposal after having listened to the community’s views and concerns. The valid points raised around carbon, scale and use of school space had now been incorporated on the schools redesigns. He stressed that currently there were no alternative sources of finance for the funding for those schools. The Council remained committed to provide affordable housing and they would continue to engage with the community to discuss the revised proposals of the redevelopment of the schools. He added that he would submit a written response to the Hammersmith Society addressing their concerns.
The Leader asked whether Mr Farthing‘s only concerns were about the environment and sustainability of the development in addition to the financing, or whether he also objected to affordable housing on the sites.
Mr Farthing replied that the sites, especially at Avonmore, were very constrained and mixing housing and schools with all the safeguarding issues would be a challenge, in addition to losing school land.
The Leader stated that the schools were asking the Council for the redevelopment and with the substantial cuts in the Council’s budget over the past 12 years, the closing down of the Building for Schools Programme that used to provide funding for schools, and other cuts created huge financial challengers. The Council was investing a lot of money into schools but there were also other critical areas that needed investment. Therefore an alternative plan had to be found to finance the redevelopment of the schools. The affordable homes had not been built yet because the Council was trying to create a consensus amongst the community and redesigning the scheme to a high standard, whilst maintaining sustainability and outdoor space.
The Leader moved to the Council’s Business Objectives which responded to the manifesto pledges, setting out a range of business objectives that would be delivered or progressed in 2022/23.
Councillor Adrian Pascu-Tulbure asked whether there was a proposal to give residents further detailed information on how these plans would be taken forward, such as increasing the number of housing units and the public realm, in particular dealing with rubbish on the streets.
The Leader replied that the manifesto was a consulted-on document that listed the issues that people would like the Council to deal with. It was then up to officers to develop these policies that would go to the Policy and Accountability Committees to be scrutinised at open public hearings. The final product should be a robust policy that would come to Cabinet for approval. To get a policy right it was fundamental to consult and listen to people’s views.
AGREED UNANIMOUSLY BY THE CABINET MEMBERS:
That the Cabinet approves the Hammersmith & Fulham Council Business Objectives document for 2022/23.