Why I changed my view on Heathrow expansion – but climate change remains a real threat

For most of my life I have stood firmly against expansion of Heathrow airport, largely on the grounds of aviation’s impact on climate change.

As both a Councillor and Parliamentary candidate I committed to lie in front of bulldozers and joined the Heathrow Climate Camp, where I was the only elected politician to put up a tent!  I also called for the Cranford Agreement, which was designed to protect the residents close to the eastern end of the northern runway from high noise levels, to be codified in law. Furthermore, in 2007 I was moved to take part in non-violent direct action as a protester interrupting a keynote speech at Chatham House by then MP and Secretary of State for Transport, Douglas Alexander.

However, in late 2012 my views changed on Heathrow expansion.  As the debate reaches a critical juncture this autumn, I feel that now is the time to expand on the reasons why a significant shift in the debate – and a more dialogue-based approach from the operators of Heathrow – has led to my new outlook on this complex and tough decision facing our community.

The national debate has shifted from should we expand aviation? To where should we expand aviation?  

The key milestone in my change of outlook was the announcement of the Davies Commission in September 2012.  With the commission’s launch and despite the best efforts of the environmental movement, the national debate moved from not whether we should expand airports at all, but to where a new runway in the South East of England would be built?

Whilst the climate change impacts of aviation still give me huge cause for concern, as a West Londoner I think we would be mad to give up the economic advantage that Heathrow offers, particularly given the changes Heathrow have now made to their proposals.  I say this despite living directly under the flight path and suffering the 4.30am aircraft wake-up calls!

West London’s economic strength is intrinsically tied to Heathrow and its leading international position

We would be naive to think that our quality of life in terms of factors such as good quality jobs and high levels of employment is not linked to Heathrow airport.  As a nation we need to think carefully about whether directing investment towards Gatwick, rather than ensuring Heathrow remains a world-class airport, would risk a number of major employers taking the opportunity to simply relocate their headquarters outside the UK.  From the conversations I have with senior business leaders I am in no doubt that this is a very real danger.

Mothballed company HQs would be disastrous environmentally, socially and economically.  It took some 20 years for the EMI factory at Hayes to find a new lease of life as The Old Vinyl Factory.  Some 202 of the top 300 companies in the UK are clustered within 25 miles of Heathrow, compared to only seven around Stansted and two around the Thames Estuary.  In total we have 60% more international companies in the area around Heathrow than in the rest of the UK, as firms that rely on international long-haul flights choose to locate themselves around Heathrow.  Not surprisingly, the economy around Heathrow reflects some 60 years of investment by these firms.

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International trade

Heathrow suggest their proposals will enable 40 new long-haul destinations to be introduced.  At a time when the UK economy is still struggling to recover from recession giving business people easier access to new global markets would be a really helpful economic driver.  Nevertheless my one caveat to this is that we need to be smarter about how we use this capacity.  Placing capacity constraints on Heathrow is economically and carbon inefficient on the basis that direct flights to destinations, providing the seats are fully utilised, are lower impact.

Heathrow debate slide 2

However, none of the arguments above for expanding Heathrow, rather than Gatwick, is to say that the climate change and other environmental impacts including air quality, CO2 emissions and noise, and it is essential that the aviation industry maintains an unrelenting focus on these areas.  If these key issues are not addressed meaningfully, then West Londoners’ quality of life will slide backwards and suburban living and working will become less and less appealing, which will create its own problems for our community.

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How are Heathrow proposing to mitigate their impacts?

2010 v 2015 proposals

Heathrow’s 2015 proposals have changed significantly from those put forward in 2010 to try and reduce the impact of expansion on our local communities.  The Airports Commission’s final report recognises this, stating that the 2015 proposals are ‘a radically different plan from any previous proposals’.

Heathrow debate slide 1

On the face of it, the 2015 proposals might look like a scheme with greater impact.  However, this is a more carefully considered set of plans that is designed to respond to the feedback from local consultations regarding the key issues of noise, air quality, transport network capacity and carbon emissions.Heathrow debate slide 4

Noise

After sustained campaigning by the local community and more dialogue, Heathrow has put together a fairer deal than previously for those home-owners that would have to move as a result of expansion and those of us that would continue to experience significant noise.

Published in June 2015, Heathrow’s Blueprint for noise reduction sets out the airport’s top ten priorities for action on noise on areas which include the early phase-out of the noisiest planes, quieter approaches and better distribution of night time landing noise, as well as bigger fines for noisy departures.

Heathrow debate slide 6

Air quality

The Heathrow debate has been subject to some rather muddled arguments from politicians regarding the Airports Commission’s consultation on air quality and the validity of data collected from monitoring sites located next to the airport and its contribution to London’s pollution crisis.  The reality is that the monitoring sites located further away from the airport are failing to meet EU limits, and this is due to a variety of factors.

Heathrow debate slide 7

Data from the Hillingdon and Hayes air quality monitoring stations further away from the airport shows that air quality readings based on an annual average are breaching EU limits.  At Hillingdon the airport contributes 16% of emissions, and at Hayes it is 6%. As can be seen in the charts, at both these locations, after background contribution, it is non-airport related traffic which is the most significant emissions source.

Heathrow debate slide 8

Heathrow is doing a lot to address emissions from the airport-related activity as set out in their blueprint for reducing emissions . These measures, along with the mitigations to reduce emissions through the design of the expanded airport, demonstrate how the airport can expand and remain within pollution limits.  In addition, the Airport Commission concluded that the Heathrow North West Runway proposal would have a Nitrogen dioxide metric of 34.7 micrograms per cubic meter, below the EU air quality limit of 40.

Transport network capacity

As I set out above, surface transport is the most significant factor affecting local air quality in the Heathrow Area.  In recognition of this, Heathrow has developed a strategy that will transform rail connectivity in all directions.  This aims to help ensure that the majority of passengers use public transport at the expanded airport.  In addition, major projects such as Crossrail will deliver improved connectivity through West London with more trains and faster journey times.  With its strategy in place the airport believes there could be as many as 40 trains per hour, equating to a train every 90 seconds, with an increase in capacity from 5,000 seats per hour today to almost 15,000 seats per hour by 2040.  I have no doubt that most West Londoners would like to see this investment happen even faster!

Heathrow debate slide 3

With its Heathrow Commuter programme the airport has successfully reduced the number of airport workers who travel by car over the last 20-25 years.  The programme includes the world’s largest single site car share scheme, Heathrow Cycle Hub and a wide range of discounted travel products to support use of public transport.  This and other investment in sustainable transport will help the airport to deliver on its commitment to deliver expansion without increasing its contribution to traffic on the road network, an important factor in meeting the challenge of meeting air quality limits.

To reduce Heathrow’s air quality impact through the transport activity the airport generates even more may be required.  Perhaps we will need to see London’s Low Emission Zone (LEZ) expanded to include the airport?

Carbon emissions

The figure below from the the Committee on Climate Change’s progress report to parliament in July 2014 shows how the contribution of different sectors to the UK’s CO2 emissions has shifted between 1990 and 2013.  Fortunately for Heathrow, the aviation sector and their customers, aviation is forecast to get a significant share of the UK’s CO2 budget in 2050, even after taking technological innovations into account.  It takes a lot to get us sky-borne.

Heathrow debate slide 9

Sustainable Aviation’s roadmap published in December 2014 sets out how the sector believes it can expand whilst remaining within the UK’s international commitments on carbon reduction.  This will be achieved through a combination of high carbon trading and offset; the use of sustainable fuel such as from waste and fuel-burn reduction through a more efficient aircraft fleet.

Heathrow debate slide 5

Are all these actions sufficient for the scale of the challenge?

As I have reflected again in recent weeks, as I take on my new role as Chief Executive of West London Business where my team will develop our work on environmental sustainability in the months ahead, realising the ambitious plans of Heathrow and the wider aviation sector for a more sustainable business model will only be achieved through partnership and some healthy competition to find solutions.  With the right combination of collaboration and competition we can but hope we are successful in getting better at protecting the planet we pass onto the next generation.

As for practical steps to support the transition and make sure that Heathrow delivers on its commitments I would like to suggest the following measures:

  • Sustainable Aviation and Heathrow’s corporate responsibility initiatives must be open to external scrutiny and robust audit on an annual basis. The toughest international standards from the Global Reporting Initiative to independent verification of reports must be in place to help ensure that annual targets are achieved.
  • The right incentives for the technical innovation that reduced CO2 emissions requires must be put in place by government and industry.
  • Families and individuals’ homes impacted by the proposals, Harmondsworth most significantly, should be supported by local leaders and the airport in exploring a full range of options to assist in what will sadly for some be a traumatic experience. In fact a dedicated team should be put in place to provide support. It is important to reminder that some residents, I suspect, will be delighted at the compensation package and opportunity to relocate.

In West London I hope our business community can do far more in the years ahead with the Ellen McArthur Foundation, leveraging their insights into designing a Circular Economy.  This may also see us start to draw more on the visionary work by Andrew Simms in ‘Collision Course’ which encouraged us to start to think more strategically as to where and how the production and distribution of goods, as well as their supply, is best organised.

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The bottom line of course is that whatever capacity we have in airports such as Heathrow we need to make the smartest, most efficient use of what is a finite resource to drive our economy forward.

Make your voice heard

You can help raise awareness of the environment, social and economic issues you care about by blogging on: Blogger

Tweeting and Retweeting on: Twitter

….or take part of the debate on local internet forums where you live, such as:
BrentfordTW8.com
ChiswickW4.com

If you want to build your confidence in public speaking at meetings then if you are a young person get involved in the English Speaking Union.  I recommend all ages to read The Art of Public Speaking (12e) by Stephen Lucas.  You may also want to look at the companion website to the 9th edition.

Communityplanning.net is a great place to find a range of tools that can be used to help change your community.

For strategic advice on campaigning, read the work of Chris Rose (www.campaignstrategy.org); I particularly recommend his reflections on the long game involved in influencing political parties.

You can read my occassional blog posts or follow my Tweets.

Rebooting the Lib Dems with a new leadership model, innovation and radicalism

After the grim night of 7 May 2015 Federal Executive and other colleagues must think radically as we look forward…..

1) CONSIDER ALTERNATIVE LEADERSHIP MODELS

We could learn from the Greens and SNP and have a leader (perhaps one of the women MPs that lost their seats?) that is not in the Commons.  This might also help address the chronic lack of diversity  in our team in the Commons; and provide more capacity to reach out through the media.  (This would require a caretaker leader as it would demand reform to Clause 10 of the party constitution.)

I agree with Greg Mulholland that the new leader really should have voted against tuition fees.

2) FUNDAMENTALLY REFORM THE PARTY TO REBUILD TRUST – WE NEED A ‘CLAUSE 4’ MOMENT

A new leader should develop a clear strategy for how and why the country should trust the Lib Dems again:

  • Lib Dems MPs in any future coalition should face severe party sanctions if they undermine our internal democracy; party rules should change to reflect this.  Like many party members (and certainly the wider electorate) I was clear we ran on a manifesto that was against rises in tuition fees; and we supported a coalition agreement that left us expecting all our MPs to vote against or at least abstain on tuition fee rises.
  • Develop better mechanisms to regularly hear voices from across the party; as a 2010 PPC I was only ever invited by one parliamentarian (Ed Davey) to provide round table input on policy whilst we were in Government.  It has always been a mistake in my view to create such a gulf between HQ’s treatment of candidates in ‘development seats’ versus ‘target seats’.  Development seat candidates can usually bring huge amounts of professional expertise to the table – all too often we have been a wasted resource.
  • Better support our volunteers – the allegations against Rennard (all too slowly acted upon) simply added to the trust issues.  We should take the Investors in Volunteers standard and ensure it is robustly implemented at every level of the party.
  • Open up party conference to online participation – enabling One Member One Vote (OMOV) decisions on conference motions/ resolutions and access/input by those that can’t afford to attend party conference.  I have been a Conference Rep for many years and believe we have had our time!   (Credit due to Andy Mayer’s Facebook discussion thread for prompting this addition to the list.)

3) TAKE TIME TO DEVELOP A REFRESHED POLICY PLATFORM; AND LET’S BE INNOVATIVE IN HOW WE DO IT!

We should take time to refresh our policies – and reach out beyond the membership to NGOs, business and other stakeholders as we do this.   A structured programme of inclusive conversations should be used to surface new ideas – and we should learn from innovative NGOs within The Observor’s 50 New Radicals, such as The Finance Innovation Lab.   Every household in the country should be invited to become a part of re-writing the party’s future agenda.

4) BECOME RADICAL OPPOSITION CAMPAIGNERS

Its time to stop the ridiculous politeness that permeated too much through our time in coalition with the Tories.  Lib Dems and our allies should be outside the Chilcot Inquiry offices demanding the report’s publication…. our MPs/Lords should be camped on Parliament Square facilitating campfire talks on voting reform (not sitting inside the House legitimising the status quo) ….  etc etc

5) CONSIDER CHANGE IN THE EXECUTIVE TEAM AT HQ

I have seen little over the past five years to give me confidence that Nick Clegg was getting the right advice at the right time – there needs to be collective accountability for multiple errors of judgement.  The level of change now required probably means that it is time for the senior Executive Team at party HQ to reflect on whether they have the legitimacy and energy required to deliver the fresh start and reboot the party now needs.

Andrew writes this blog post in a personal capacity.  He is former Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for Brentford & Isleworth 2005 & 2010, and Group Leader on Hounslow Council (2006-10).

My ecological footprint

To help reduce my ecological footprint over many years I have worked with friends, neighbours and community organisations on food (Sustainable Food in Hounslow, 2007), energy and transport issues.

In May 2013, Brentford High Street Steering Group, which I chair, relaunched the now hugely popular Brentford Market, which is helping more people buy local food and providing a great focal point to our community.

Why not find out your footprint by visiting http://footprint.wwf.org.uk ?

If you want to take action you might want to consider getting an allotment, and if you live in London Boroughs of Hounslow or Ealing join Hounslow Community Farming Association, Transition Ealing or volunteer with Cultivate London?

Cabe’s opaque Design Review for Brentford Town Centre is best binned

When Cabe, now part of the Design Council, first published their latest Design Review for Brentford Waterside, Hounslow on 14 February 2013 local residents were hopeful that this once respected body would urge Ballymore and their architects to radically reconsider the density and architectural aesthetic of their scheme.  Instead residents, including many town planning and architecture professionals, were astounded by a majority of Cabe’s conclusionsOur investigations since have not lessened our concerns.  Instead they highlight the urgent need for close scrutiny of the way Cabe undertakes future Design Reviews if they are to ever live up totheir own standards.

Our analysis of the Cabe Design Review which follows, first looks at its fatal flaws in terms of complying with Cabe’s own principles and then considers the review’s conclusions.  Given the flaws in application of principles, the Design Review’s conclusions can be given little credence.

Process flaws

Cabe’s Design Review guidance sets out ten principles that their reviews are supposed to follow. These were in development at the time of the Brentford Design Review, and I understand from correspondence and a meeting with Design Council Chief Executive John Mathers that they are now being rolled out for all future Design Review commissions, which is to be welcomed.  The charity’s trustees should back him in this endeavor.  However the table below shows the gap between theory and practice is stark in the Brentford Design Review, which can no longer be given any airtime and credence by local, regional and national planning authorities.

Design Review principle Score (3 max  – 0 minimum) Commentary
Proportionate – It is used on projects whose significance, either at local or national level, warrants the investment needed to provide the service. 3 A scheme with this scale of impact in a historic town center clearly warrants careful application of the Design Review process.
Timely – It takes place as early as possible in the design process, because this can avoid a great deal of wasted time. It also costs less to make changes at an early stage. 3 Cabe have already conducted a pre-application Design Review in about 2006.  This was not published but is largely understood to have been scathing of pre-application drawings commissioned by Ballymore from BDP.
Advisory – A design review panel does not make decisions, but it offers impartial advice for the people who do. 0 ‘Advisory’ status of findings is understood but impartiality as noted below is impossible to confirm.
Objective – It appraises schemes according to reasoned, objective criteria rather than the stylistic tastes of individual panel members 0 Impossible to judge as we know neither the criteria used nor the individual panel members.

Given Cabe has not yet gone on the record and published a full account of this Design Review we can only assume that the process was fully funded by Ballymore and therefore partial.

Accessible – Its findings and advice are clearly expressed in terms that design teams, decision makers and clients can all understand and make use of. 2 See analysis below of findings and advice.
Independent – It is conducted by people who are unconnected with the scheme’s promoters and decision makers, and it ensures that conflicts of interest do not arise. 0 We have no idea as to whether the panel’s membership was independent given the membership has not been published.  We have simply been told that the panel is made up of people drawn from a pool of 250+ experts.

This does raise serious questions as to if and when the body will learn frommistakes of the past that clearly contributed to the departure of a previous Chief Executive.

 

Expert – It is carried out by suitably trained people who are experienced in design and know how to criticise constructively. Review is usually most respected where it is carried out by professional peers of the project designers, because their standing and expertise will be acknowledged. 0 We have no idea as to whether the panel was an appropriate and respected group of experts given the panel’s membership has not been published.  We have simply been told that it is made up of people drawn from a pool of 250+ experts.
Multidisciplinary – It combines the different perspectives of architects, urban designers, urban and rural planners, landscape architects, engineers and other specialist experts to provide a complete, rounded assessment. 0 We have no idea as to whether the panel’s membership was multidisciplinary give the panel’s membership has not been published.  We have simply been told that it is made up of people drawn from a pool of 250+ experts.
Accountable – The Review Panel and its advice must be clearly seen to work for the benefit of the public. This should be ingrained within the panel’s terms of reference. 0 We have no idea as neither the panel’s membership nor terms of reference have not been published.
Transparent – The panel’s remit, membership, governance processes and funding should always be in the public domain. 0 If this guidance was followed, Cabe would have published on their website for the Brentford Design Review the following:

• Objective criteria

• Panel terms of reference/ remit

• Panel membership

• Governance processes

• Funding

 

Confusion remains as to what was reviewed by the Cabe panel.  Ballymore advised BHSSG representatives that their draft revised drawings had been viewed by the panel.  The Design Council’s Chief Executive thought they had reviewed the planning application drawings (unrevised).

 

What are the findings and advice from this opaque process?

Cabe: “We are delighted to review this important project; it presents a great opportunity to regenerate Brentford High Street and the land between the high street and the Great Union Canal. We welcome the proposal and applaud the client for their commitment to design quality. We commend the thoughtful analysis which has informed the scheme.”

Response: Brentford’s local community was not at all convinced by the appropriateness of the design at a public meeting last Autumn where BHSSG was invited to contribute.  In fact all residents present at the meeting spoke out against the current designs, which have ignored the atmosphere and design aesthetic that residents explained to Ballymore and their architects at numerous design workshops in 2011/12.

“The new quarter sits comfortably in the historic context and has the potential to become a successful addition of Brentford. While the density is high and the proposed finger block typology requires great care to avoid overlooking and privacy issues, we think that phase 1 illustrates how this challenge can be resolved successfully. Equal design care needs to be applied to future stages of the proposal to achieve an acceptable outcome in the round. We have a few comments to make regarding the detailed resolution of the site layout and the building blocks.”

The density is well in excess of planning guidance with a scale that will drown out what is retained of the area’s heritage assets.

“Masterplan and site layout – The proposed masterplan works well within the historic setting and provides a street pattern that has the potential to draw people in and to create a vibrant waterfront destination.”

We broadly support the proposed street pattern, although it is unfortunate that it obliterates one of Brentford’s oldest yards – Boar’s Head Yard, visible on the 1635 Moses Glover map.

“In our view, the scheme has a strong identity based on the careful integration of historic elements, and we think that the height and volume of the proposed perimeter blocks appear appropriate in this context.”

Only in a few aspects does the proposed new build compliment the historic elements.  The height and volume is largely completely insensitive to the historic elements which will be dwarfed by what is proposed.  The proposed heights exceed the Brentford Area Action Plan (Local Development Framework) which highlighted four stories as the character of the area.

“The success of the scheme and the regeneration of the existing high street will depend on how the two areas can complement each other and also on the offer of shops, cafés and activities which need to reflect the specific identities of the high street and the waterfront.”

We would agree.

“We applaud the joined-up thinking around the Magistrates Court and the decision to create a unified public space around the building.”

So do we, but this is outside the redline of Ballymore’s proposed development.  Aspects of the Ballymore scheme that relate to Market Place still do little to respond to the scale of the space.

“The east-west route parallel to the canal and the high street has the potential to become a thriving place with shops and active frontages; the local authority should request a detailed landscape strategy in terms of the paving materials and the relationship with the water, for example, and condition the landscape design as appropriate to ensure that the intended quality will be delivered. We also recommend assessing the impact of low and high tide on the landscape proposal. We feel that the presence of water, which makes this location special, could be strengthened across the site.

We would agree.

“A different articulation of Still Yard, for example, perhaps less narrow or aligned with Half Acre, would help connect the waterfront to the wider Brentford neighbourhood as this axis could link directly to the railway station and the local library.”

This statement evidences how little the Design Panel understands Brentford a place whose character is defined by quirky, narrow, non-aligned alleyways and yards.

“Building design – While we commend the overall articulation of the finger blocks, we feel that the taller elements could be even taller and somewhat more elegant – provided they do not impact more on the views from Syon Park and Kew Gardens.

We understand this observation is based on a guidance Cabe produced on tall buildings with English Heritage, although it ignores the reality of the scheme context: Opposite a World Heritage Site (Kew Gardens) and Grade 1 listed Syon House and gardens, the advice takes leave of any common sense.

“At the western end of the site, the scheme integrates the church and existing trees and creates a new public space. The eastern side, however, appears less successful: if designed by less experienced hands the multi-story car park could become an uninspiring building facing the blank walls of the existing supermarket; this is unfortunate given the prominent location at the entrance to the high street and Brentford.”

We would agree.

“The density of the proposal and the complexity of the courtyard blocks require great design skills which are apparent in the current proposal. To ensure that the delivered scheme will match the original design intentions, we urge the local authority to condition the elevational treatment and materials.”

We would agree.

“Phase 1- We welcome the richness of the proposal and the fact that a number of skilled architects have worked together to create a homogenous, new piece of Brentford. We think that the proposal has the potential to become a vibrant place to live.”

We welcome the mix of architects but hoped for designs that were less bland and homogenous and respected the local vernacular.  We believe the scheme has a long way to go before it offers the potential for a vibrant place to live.

“Given that the presentation to the Cabe panel did not illustrate the various residential typologies, we urge the local authority to ensure themselves that the blocks provide decent floor plans with a minimum of single aspect flats and that overlooking and privacy issues are avoided as well as overshadowing and overheating problems.

We would agree.

“Finally, sufficient soil needs to be provided above the car parking to allow trees to grow.”

We would agree.

The Cabe Design Review guidance (pg 6) states: “Design Review… gives decision makers the confidence and information to support innovative, high quality designs that meet the needs of their communities…”.  The Brentford community expressed its needs through the Community Vision for Brentford High Street (2007) and the Brentford Area Action Plan (2009).  From our experience of being at the receiving end of this Cabe Design Review, the organisation still has a long distance to travel in advocating “designs that meet the needs of their communities”.  We wish their new Chief Executive luck in this journey and strongly advise planning officials to put this flawed, opaque study in a bin where it belongs.

Andrew Dakers writes this blog posting in his capacity as Chair of Brentford High Street Steering Group, the local regeneration charity.  His analysis of the wider failings in Ballymore’s planning process can be read here.

Brentford High Street – Achieving regeneration of beauty and a human scale

As many of you will know, the regeneration of Brentford High Street, has been a cause close to my heart for many years.  As a local councillor I convened the start-up of Brentford High Street Steering Group (BHSSG) in 2006 with cross-party support and I remain chair. In 2007 I spent a year facilitating the community participation that led to the Community Vision report for the high street, subsequently recognised in the annual awards of the Academy for Sustainable Communities.  Many aspects of the Community Vision were reflected in the Brentford Area Action Plan (local planning policy) published in 2009 – and then the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment report in 2010.

We have always been – and remain – constructive critics, and sometimes critical friends/partners, of the developers Ballymore.  With our dialogue based approach it was therefore with a heavy heart, feeling that some of our substantial concerns and ideas have not reached Ballymore’s management and investors that we have raised the volume on our critique of the scheme in recent months.  From our website, this was picked up by BrentfordTW8.comThe Hounslow Chronicle and now The Irish Times.

This blog endeavours to set out in some detail what BHSSG feels is to be commended, and where substantial improvements are still required…

Where the current Ballymore team are to be commended

Sadly the predecessors of the current Ballymore team in London cleared out many small businesses from the south side of the High Street in 2005-7 leaving dereliction in their wake.  This created a challenging base for the current team to start building relations with the community.

However since 2007 we would credit Ballymore’s project managers with ensuring that most of the spaces that had not been wrecked were reoccupied.  The company has:

  • supported initiatives such as the town’s Christmas lights and community art initiatives;
  • worked in partnership with volunteers and micro-enterprises on “meanwhile uses”, which has prevented Brentford High Street’s collapse through the recession;
  • co-commissioning the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment report in 2010 with Brentford High Street Steering Group; and
  • when London Borough of Hounslow looked to bid for Outer London Fund Round 2 funding from the Mayor of London and needed a delivery partner, Ballymore gamely stepped up to the table and offered to help.  (Developers ISIS eventually secured the project management brief but the tangible support of Ballymore must be welcomed).

We now have to look to the future.  Getting meanwhile usage right does not negate the need to implement the community’s vision for the regeneration.  As explained below, the planning approach has left too much in the hands of architects that do not demonstrate a deep enough empathy with the area – and been selective in what aspects of the community’s vision they incorporate.

Where the planning application falls short – too tall and ugly

In the coming days we will publish an updated version of our Regeneration Scorecard.  This looks at the present scheme alongside the goals of the 2007, 2009 and 2010 policy/guidelines.

We welcome the fact that the scheme has the potential to respond to a number of environmental sustainability issues, restore quite a few historic buildings and inject new vitality into Brentford’s retail offer.   I can vouch having visited Ballymore’s Embassy Gardens scheme that their ability to deliver high quality interiors and living spaces is impressive. On a two dimensional level there is also plenty that links the proposed street scape to the community vision – although the yard retaining Brentford’s oldest yard name (Boar’s Head Yard) is notable by its absence from the Planning Application, which is a very unfortunate loss.  Where the scheme seems to have gone adrift was when it went into 3D.

BHSSG has said for many years that the community should be involved in selecting the scheme architects.  We have also always said that the massing should respect the spirit and intent of the Brentford Area Action Plan (BAAP).

Ballymore have long stated that they could not involve the community in the choice of architect as it is a very important process for them and they needed to ensure that the selected team were able to deliver the quality that Ballymore require.  BHSSG share this desire for a quality build so we remain baffled as to why we could not have been involved in the long listing and short listing.  Community involvement in the selection of architects for ISIS’ Commerce Rd site shows the difference in collective ownership this can make.

BHSSG have tried to help the planning process reach a successful conclusion by arguing consistently for three styles of architecture to be blended across what is a substantial site: restoration of old buildings, modernism and also traditional styles in the new build.  The latter would help ensure the retention – and sometimes creation – of the “nooks and crannies” that give the area its character and charm, rather than an overwhelming amount of angular modern architecture that drowns out the historic buildings.   This approach would blend the old with the new.

We have clearly failed to make the case thus far for securing this third strand of traditional styles as part of the mix – some sadly call it pastiche in a derogatory way.  As others have argued, traditional styles “can be used confidently as symbols of continuity in our changing lives… The C20th modernists have used modernism to portray amnesia for the past and a break with any tradition.”

The need for deep community participation in design

This gap between the Community Vision and planning application reflects the reality that Ballymore and their architects have not yet embraced the “Community architecture” approach that we argue is necessary in our historic town centre.  This can simply be defined as, “architecture carried out with the active participation of the end-users”.   If their architects were asked clearly by Ballymore as the commissioners to embrace community architecture they would have let go of the modernism in some areas of the site.  This would ensure some architecture of a traditional style and respond to the full spectrum of architectural styles and characters the community envisioned.

Community architecture can be traced back to the 1950s self-help community initiatives in developing countries.  In these self-help projects, the professionals joined hands with the people to improve their environment.  It has now developed in different forms around the world with a common vision, that is, public participation in decisions affecting their environments and lives.  The Conservative’s in the UK published a green paper prior to the 2010 general election on the future of planning that talked of an “Open Source planning” approach, perhaps in a similar spirit?  If we look to the way that a traditional style was incorporated into the Kew Bridge side of the St Georges Kew Bridge scheme we can see community influence in practice.

BHSSG have always said “consultation” without genuine “participation” was insufficient for such a critical site to Brentford’s history and future.   In this vein we requested that BHSSG/ the community needed to have key site reports released iteratively to comment on – not all at the point of planning application as eventually occurred. We now have to spend our weekends, against a ticking clock, trawling through and scrutinising environmental sustainabilityretaileconomic and dozens of other reports that should have been discussed much earlier in the design process.  Perhaps most critically the Design Code and Design Approach should have secured the support of the local community 12 months ago, before the architects launched into the detailed design phase.

After giving our time in 2007 to visit a selection of London sites that excited Ballymore, we even offered to take Ballymore and their architects this Autumn to visit sites that we thought should be used as references.  Both these offers over the past year, early feedback on site reports and reference site visits,  have sadly been ignored.

Iterative improvements are not enough

Over the past 12 months we have given considerable amounts of time to the consultation process as volunteers sitting on a ‘Reference Group’.  The Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) shows the piecemeal responses from Ballymore to our substantive concerns regarding architecture and massing.

When the final planning application was submitted in September 2012 (of which the SCI is a part) it became absolutely clear that fundamental issues we are raising of massing and architectural aesthetic had been ignored – or that for some reason the Ballymore project team do not have the room for manoeuvre needed to secure the full support of the community.   With more realistic ambitions from their investors about Return on Investment (ROI) and therefore massing – as well as a shift in design approach – we would not be at this impasse. If the land has been over-valued then losses should be accepted sooner rather than later.  However it may be that ROI can be maximised through higher quality housing of reduced density – each unit may sell at a higher price point.

As someone that has personally experienced growing delays in the wait times to see a local GP as Brentford’s population has grown sharply – and seen friends struggling to get their kids into the local primary and secondary schools of their choice – 930 flats (the massing) is a real, not an abstract, concern.

Ballymore and community stakeholders are now faced with a dilemma as to whether there is value in continuing to try and achieve iterative improvements to the plans that are presently on the table.

Next steps – achieving a world-class scheme

We have continued to input to the process in recent weeks and months, despite our significant misgivings, to try and improve the scheme. Within the limited scope of Ballymore’s present readiness for change to the plans we do not want to be unhelpful.  Whilst Ballymore may be frustrated at a brighter spotlight than ever now falling on the scheme, sustained dialogue is clearly more important than ever.  Neither Ballymore nor the local community want delays or additional costs to be incurred in the scheme securing planning permission and proceeding.

We strongly believe a world class scheme can be put together that meets all stakeholders needs, but there needs to be a shift on these fundamentals.  Brentford’s town centre regeneration is a risk shared by Ballymore, their backers and the local community – whether planning permission can be secured and the development succeeds or fails will affect all our investments in Brentford.

Andrew Dakers writes this blog post in his capacity as Chair of Brentford High Street Steering Group.

Work experience and internships: an extended charter?

As I reflected in a blog post last Thursday the idea that left me least convinced in the Prime Minister’s speech to the BITC summit was the assertion that: “Put a young person into college for a month’s learning, unpaid – and it’s hailed as a good thing. Put a young person into a supermarket for a month’s learning, unpaid – and it’s slammed as slave labour.”

I pointed out that surely when Tescos, Argos and Poundland are reflecting on the concerns about the race to the bottom that these “workfare” schemes could trigger it is time for Number 10 to take note. Tescos particularly suggest in their statement that the “risk of losing benefits that currently exists should be removed”. The debate on Thursday’s Newsnight programme made clear that it is this mandatory element that is of most concern to employers. It has been further examined by Channel 4 New’s fact check team.

Principles that might underpin an extended Work Experience/ Internships Charter
These schemes raise a wider range of issues that need consideration. I would suggest the Government, and all those involved in Work Experience, should revisit and extend The Internship Charter developed by CIPD. Factors to consider are:
Pay and expenses: The deflationary pressure on wages and paid work opportunities that unpaid labour may create needs careful consideration. Unpaid work experience for a week or two at Key Stage 4 (KS4) and Key stage 5 (KS5) seems reasonable, but post-18 work experience placements/ internships should surely at least secure the minimum wage. Given participants in the DWP Work Experience programme are expected to work for 25-30 hrs/ week for JSA of £53.45 (under 25) and expenses, this equates to an hourly wage of approx £1.78-£2.13. Perhaps the Government should reduce the number of hours a week of mandatory work to 9hrs (on basis of 21+ minimum wage of £6.08). This would ensure job seekers can compliment their work experience with training hours and time to job hunt.
Qualification level of participants and genuine skills development: DWP should make an explicit commitment to focus on work experience and internships that are a close match to the qualification level of the individual concerned, if they are going to pursue a strategy of compulsion. It would seem reasonable to expect someone that needs work experience on their CV or to get in/ stay in the habit of work to undertake a placement that demands their skills level, or one rung down the ladder. Simply put, having a graduate with a masters spending weeks stacking shelves at Sainsbury’s is unlike to help them or society very much.
Access/ open recruitment: Deputy Prime Minister’s call for “access to internships [to be] open and transparent, with financial support such as providing expenses or accommodation, or by treating the internship as a job that can be paid under National Minimum Wage law” has clear moral foundations. This philosophy needs to guide Government/ DWP and businesses’ policies. They should sign up to CIPD’s charter.
Core or supplementary activity: Careful consideration should be given by businesses and non-profits as to whether they are asking people on placement to do work that would usually be carried out by a member of paid staff (i.e. are they using an intern to provide free/ cheap maternity cover) or are they doing work that is additional to ‘steady state’ activity? The former should at least attract a minimum wage salary, but should also be calibrated to the demands and responsibility of the placement. Supplementary development activity that would not happen due to financial resources constraints in an organisation (commercial or non-commercial), without the involvement of a work experience trainee/ intern, might be justified in being categorised as an unpaid volunteer position.
Organisation type: Small charities and start-ups probably have a stronger moral case than more established and financially liquid organisations for not paying people doing work experience. The money may simply not be there and the placements are essentially highly supported volunteer roles. However there may be a moral case for the organisations’ giving volunteers first option on appropriate job opportunities as and when they emerge, perhaps using a ‘deferred progression agreement’ model.
Too much work experience? At what point should employability professionals advise that people have enough work experience at different organisations on their CV and need to simply focus on job applications and interview skills? This needs careful reflection.
Progression agreements: Businesses and non-profits that are recruiting at the skills level of those undertaking work experience placements should commit to interviewing these people first for new openings. The Government or business support organisations could support this approach by putting template progression agreements in the public domain. These agreements would formalise this commitment when someone starts a placement.

Andrew Dakers is Business Development Director at Hounslow Education Business Partnership, which delivers 3000 work experience placements with partner companies each year, and former Head of Public Affairs at Business in the Community. He writes this blog in a personal capacity.

Government announces next steps towards scaling up Corporate Responsibility and Open Business

In September 2010 I reflected on the merits of the Government launching an Open Business Responsibility Deal.  Today at the BITC Summit in London – with our new Minister for Corporate Responsibility Norman Lamb looking on – I was delighted to see the idea developed into two distinct strands as the Prime Minister announced:

Open Business Forum: This will “bring together companies and organisations who, like government, believe in the power of transparency and are eager to embed openness in the way they do business. It will explore how businesses can become more transparent, without making life difficult, and identify where government can help. The Forum, will be business-led and free to shape its own detailed objectives based on the priorities of members… Members of the Open Business Forum include; Chair – Philip N Green, Government Adviser on Corporate Responsibility; Aviva; Business In The Community; Carillion; E.ON; Excell Group; Procter & Gamble; Sir William Wells; Trading for Good and Waitrose. The Forum will also be welcoming new members over the coming months.”

– Trading for Good: Being developed by Excell this is “a new online directory for SMEs that will showcase the good work they do in the community; and provide free toolkits to help businesses get involved in socially responsible practices.”  Excell report it will launch in February.  Also involved in the project led by the Every Business Commits Forum are “the British Retail Consortium, the Institute of Directors, the Forum of Private Business, Dods, Visa Europe, Ernst & Young, Itineris and Eyebright Media.”

I hope the Trading for Good website will extend to offer a kitemark for participating SMEs and also the option of submitting their light touch reports to Companies House (as Community Interest Companies already do).  This should enhance the credibility of the approach.

Also announced was Workality.  The website, which is to launch later this year, has founding sponsors that include: “Serco; Centrica; Eversheds; Engine; Mcdonald’s; Salesforce.com. With support from charities including the IEBE and The Ideas Foundation. And receiving advice and support from leading technology providers such as Facebook, Microsoft, Google, IBM, LinkedIn, Cisco and Blackberry.”

Together all these initiatives have the potential to change the internet landscape for corporate responsibility in the UK.  However, vitally important too will be the work of individuals and networks that support businesses developing their responsible business practices on the ground – as well as continued innovation by Government to encourage responsible business practice.

Work experience and internships: does pay matter?

The idea that left me least convinced today was the Prime Minister’s assertion that: “Put a young person into college for a month’s learning, unpaid – and it’s hailed as a good thing.  Put a young person into a supermarket for a month’s learning, unpaid – and it’s slammed as slave labour.”  Surely when Tescos, Argos and Poundland are reflecting on the concerns about the race to the bottom (deflationary pressure on wages and jobs) that these “workfare” schemes could trigger it is time for Number 10 to take note.   Tescos particularly suggest in theirstatement that the “risk of losing benefits that currently exists should be removed”.  I would suggest the Government should focus on work experience and internships that are a close match to the qualification level of the individual concerned, if they are going to pursue a strategy of compulsion.

Unpaid work experience for a week or two at Key Stage 4 (KS4) and Key stage 5 (KS5) seems reasonable, but post-18 work experience placements/ internships should at least secure the minimum wage.  The Internship Charter is the absolute minimum voluntary standard to which the Prime Minister should be turning for inspiration, but he would sensibly back the Deputy Prime Minister’s call for “access to internships [to be] open and transparent, with financial support such as providing expenses or accommodation, or by treating the internship as a job that can be paid under National Minimum Wage law.” [I continued these relections on Sunday…]

Time for Liberal Democrats to invoke clause 6.6 in defense of Europe and the spirit of the Coalition Agreement?

For the first time since the General Election, and stepping back from the front line of community politics in West London where I was an active Liberal Democrat for a decade (a parliamentary candidate in 2005 and 2010), I feel compelled to speak out.

The Liberal Democrats have often allowed ourselves to be presented as mindlessly pro-European – we are not. We are pro-reform and the creation of a far more efficient, less bureaucratic EU. However neither are the Liberal Democrats isolationist – we are internationalists. Thus, the news of Cameron’s inept negotiations at the end of last week have left many of us dismayed and in the first instance speechless.

We are left particularly baffled by the flagrant betrayal of the Coalition Agreement which stated:

“The Government believes that Britain should play a leading role in an enlarged European Union, but that no further powers should be transferred to Brussels without a referendum. This approach strikes the right balance between constructive engagement with the EU to deal with the issues that affect us all, and protecting our national sovereignty.

“We will ensure that the British Government is a positive participant in the European Union, playing a strong and positive role with our partners, with the goal of ensuring that all the nations of Europe are equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century: global competitiveness, global warming and global poverty.”

There was nothing “positive” about Cameron’s engagement with European trading partners last week who are grappling with a financial crisis that is already damaging the UK economy, as well as potentially regional peace and security. As Clegg has said this morning there is a real danger the UK could end up looking “Isolated and marginalised”. Beyond this Cameron’s understanding of the views of the Liberal Democrat membership/supporter base, which he should carry with him as PM, appears to be severely deficient.

Such is the severity of this foreign policy set-back from an internationalist perspective that I wonder whether it is now time for 200 Lib Dem party members (conference representatives) to call a Special Conference of the party as clause 6.6 of our constitution allows:

“The Conference shall normally meet twice a year. Additional meetings may be summoned upon the requisition of the Federal Executive or the Federal Policy Committee or the Conference itself or 200 representatives entitled to attend the Conference.”

The Special Conference should consider two options:

1) Is Prime Minister’s action of sufficient concern that the Liberal Democrats should pull out of the Coalition; and, if not,

2) What actions Nick Clegg should be calling on the Prime Minister to take, to rebuild relations with our European trading partners – and ensure that Coalition relationships are not undermined so severely again.

As Lord Oakeshott has pointed out it was David Cameron’s job to go to Brussels and represent Britain as Prime Minister of a Coalition-led Britain, not Leader of the Conservatives.

Red tape strangling sustainable ideas – Guardian Sustainable Business blog

As The Cooperation Incubator‘s work in partnership with Business in the Community continues to gather momentum you can read my article in today’s Guardian Sustainable Business blog on the challenges competition law presents public benefit collaboration by businesses:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/blog/red-tap-strangl…

I would also highly recommend this article, along a similar theme, by Jason Clay (WWF US):

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/precompetitive-behav…

…and watch a video of Jason’s presentation last July at TED: