Saturday, 28 February 2015

An Interview With Charlie Dewhirst, Conservative Candidate for Hammersmith

Charlie Dewhirst - Conservative Candidate for Hammersmith
In January we featured an interview with our local MP Andy Slaughter, who we invited to talk about some of the local issues that will affect Shepherd's Bush during the general election in May.  By way of balance, we put the same questions to our local Conservative candidate, Charles Dewhirst, so that our readers can decide for themselves which candidate offers the most compelling program for voters in our neighbourhood.

Heathrow - should it expand? Image: Wikipedia
Bush Telegraph: Elections tend to focus on national issues, but for many voters local problems can be much more pressing. What would you say are the big issues that will face our community over the next five years?

Charlie Dewhirst: Over the next five years there are a number of challenges and opportunities for the Shepherd’s Bush area. We must continue the campaign against a new northern runway at Heathrow, which would see the area blighted by a new flight path over W12, W6 and W14.

The redevelopment of Old Oak will bring 24,000 new homes, which is fantastic news, but we must ensure the necessary local infrastructure is built to support the increase in population. In addition, Westfield are planning further expansion which will bring much needed new jobs to the area. Finally, the future of QPR and Loftus Road will need to be resolved. I fully support their plans to build a brand new ground, whether it be on the current Cargiant site or elsewhere in the local area.

QPR - new site?

The Conservatives lost the Council Elections in May 2014, despite being a "flagship" Council, and apparently a favourite of David Cameron. What did they do wrong, and why did they fail to get re-elected?

Charlie Dewhirst: There were a number of factors which contributed to the result last May and it is important to remember that when you are in administration you have to take tough decisions, not all of which are popular.

However, we should be very proud of our record over eight years: Council Tax was reduced by 20%, the debt was halved, crime was down 25%, the streets and parks were cleaner and we had facilitated the opening of six new Free Schools. Ultimately the result was very close and control of the Council was decided by a few hundred votes in a borough of 200,000 people.

Hammersmith Park - under threat?

A big issue for us in Shepherd's Bush, especially families with young children, is the future of Hammersmith Park. Local opinion seems to be strongly against the Play Football development. Is there any realistic prospect of re-visting the planning permission and changing the outcome?

Charlie Dewhirst: I do understand the concerns a number of residents have about the scheme, such as the exclusive focus on football.  From a planning perspective I do not believe that any new planning permission would be required.  Nonetheless I am aware that Council is in negotiations with PlayFootball on the scheme.  I am monitoring these discussions closely.

Hammersmith Park is a wonderful public space and it needs to preserved and enhanced. However the Play Football scheme related to upgrading the existing astro-turf pitches to the north of Hammersmith Park, which was well beyond its useful life and frankly dangerous.

Play Football -privatisation of public land?

The cost of simply replacing them was in the region of £400,000, a sum of money that simply was not available to the Council at the time.  They therefore looked to the market and through a full and open tendering process completed a contract with PlayFootball to rejuvenate the sports facilities in the park. In summary, this saw the contractor spending over £2 million on refurbishments, whilst maintaining free public access to one of the new football pitches as well as paying the council an annual rent for the land.

I know many residents expressed concern regarding the lease but the alternative in this case would have been simply to shut the torn up astro-turf pitch on the grounds of public safety.

Charing Cross Hospital - facing closure? Image: Wikipedia
An even bigger issue for many locals was the closure of Hammersmith A&E and Charing Cross A&E. Was this a closure too far and if so what can be done to restore our local health services?

Charlie Dewhirst:  I am delighted that there is no longer any plan to close Charing Cross Hospital. Imperial NHS Trust put forward plans about three years ago which would have all but closed the site but have since changed their mind. New services will now be moved to Charing Cross and the A&E will remain open following an intervention from the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt.

Hammersmith Hospital still has an Urgent Care Centre, open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. It will continue to treat the vast majority of patients who go there and only the most serious cases will be transferred elsewhere by ambulance. I have spoken to residents who have used the Urgent Care Centre and they have been full of praise for the speed and quality of the treatment they received.

Hammersmith Hospital. Image: Wikipedia
I am also pleased that residents in Shepherd’s Bush are now able to access GP services seven days a week, thanks to a new service launched by NHS Hammersmith and Fulham Clinical Commissioning Group. The weekend opening service provides an alternative to A&E for people who need access to care at the weekend.

Imperial’s Chief Executive, Dr Tracy Batten, recently confirmed the plans for a brand new hospital on the existing Charing Cross site. Highlights for the site’s plans include the following:

· £150 million redevelopment

· A wide range of specialist and planned care, including: day case surgery and treatment, one-stop diagnostic clinics, outpatients, chemotherapy, and renal dialysis

· Integrated care and rehabilitation services, especially for elderly people and those with chronic conditions

· An Emergency Centre

· Existing partner services to be co-located, including mental health and cancer support

The Trust has a made a bid for capital investment to fund the proposals, which is currently awaiting approval by the North West London Clinical Commissioning Groups of GPs (CCGs). Once approved the plans will go to NHS England and the NHS Trust Development Authority for consideration.

The Trust anticipate milestones to include approval of the outline plan in 2015/16, and approval for the final plans in 2016/17. This would then enable a three-year construction programme to begin, which is currently expected to last until the end of 2020/21.

Charing Cross is a hugely valued local hospital and I am pleased that Imperial are pressing ahead with plans to build a brand new hospital with an Accident and Emergency. Time and time again, the local Labour Party have misled residents with claims that it will be demolished whilst failing to mention that there will be a brand new state-of-the-art facility in its place.

It is true that the old concrete tower block which is no longer fit for purpose will be demolished, but only after the new and improved hospital is up and running. It is time for the scaremongering to stop.

Proposed changes to hospitals are often complex but emotive and I will always be willing to challenge the NHS to secure the best deal for local residents. However, I will never bury my head in the sand and oppose change at all cost. The NHS must always look to modernise to improve outcomes for patients and I would rather be a critical friend of change than a blinkered opponent.

Voters can often feel disconnected from both national and local politics - what can be done to make residents of Shepherd's Bush feel like their voice can actually make a difference?

Charlie Dewhirst: I have always been hugely impressed by how many local residents do engage in politics in our area, particularly at a local level. Whether it is a residents’ association, “Friends” groups or neighbourhood watch there are so many people who give up their free to get involved and shape our local community. While I agree that Westminster politics can seem very distant, I am always encouraged by the level of engagement and activism at a local level in Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush.
Westminster politics - broken? Image: Wikipedia

If you could change one thing about the way politics works at Westminster - what would it be?

Charlie Dewhirst: I would like see greater opportunities for MPs to raise constituency issues with Ministers.  Currently there are various ways in which MPs can raise awareness of local issues but more often than not there is not sufficient time given to them. If there more time to hold Ministers to account MPs could better represent local residents and, in turn, engage them more in the political process.

Editor's note: In the 2010 General Election, incumbent MP Andy Slaughter won 20,810 votes (43.9% of all votes cast) to Conservative Shaun Bailey's 17,261 votes (36.4% of votes cast). The Liberal Democrats came in a distant third with 7,567 votes. The seat was a hold for Labour, with a swing of 0.5% in favour of the incumbent MP. You can see further details at Wikipedia here.

Wikipedia data for Hammersmith in 2010

The Bush Telegraph offers a personal view on life in Shepherd's Bush. Read about the Campaign to Save Hammersmith Park, find out about our new Farmer's Market, see what's on at The Bush Theatre,  find out the latest news on the future of Shepherd's Bush Market,  and the Council's plans to upgrade the Goldhawk Road and the Uxbridge Road. If you would like to contribute a story about our neighbourhood, email us at

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