WEST END WARD LABOUR ACTION REPORT – December 2018
News from Councillor Pancho Lewis and the Labour Action Team in Soho, Fitzrovia and Mayfair
Soho Special Policy Area
Westminster Council’s draft City Plan, which was released in mid-November, has now closed for consultation. We await the outcome of the consultation which will be published early next year.
In the draft Plan, the Council announced it would bring forward policies proposed by West End Labour to conserve Soho’s character. These include a Soho ‘Special Policy Area’ (SPA). In future, when applications are made to the Council, planners will have to consider whether they contribute to or undermine Soho’s character in deciding whether to grant applications approval.
This is a major campaign win for Labour Councillor Pancho Lewis and the West End Action Team. Earlier this year, Labour lobbied to bring forward a SPA for Soho. Labour argued this would provide the Council with the tools to keep Soho special and prevent the erosion of Soho’s unique identity.
The move represents a welcome U-turn by Westminster Conservatives. During the election campaign, Conservative candidates opposed proposals for an SPA, arguing that it wasn’t possible or desirable.
Other proposals put forward by Labour which have been included in the revised City Plan include:
- A commitment that “new hotels of more than 2,500 sq m will not be permitted”. The Labour Action Team campaigned to oppose controversial developments like the Film House hotel, which is displacing businesses in the film industry which are integral to Soho’s social fabric. Labour therefore welcomes this change.
We will continue to lobby for a better planning framework that works in the interests of Soho, not the developers.
Councillor Pancho Lewis’ petition to launch a full, independent investigation into the Berwick Street development debacle has now closed. It argued that the Council needs to uncover the reasons why the development has gone badly wrong and examine any financial links between developers and their agents, on the one hand, and the Council, on the other. It received 177 number of signatures. The Council responded to say a formal response would be forthcoming.Wewill continue to press the developers to respond to the concerns of the community. Recently, there was drilling during ‘quiet hours’ despite rules that ban this from happening.
Gay Hussar, Greek Street
We are continuing to liaise with the Ghoulash Co-operative a group that is attempting to re-open the Gay Hussar after the iconic restaurant closed earlier this year.
We received this update, below, in early December, and will be attending a meeting with the group in early January to see what support we can give the group in their attempts to revive the restaurant.
“First, apologies from us all for having raised your hopes unexpectedly a few weeks ago. We made our presentation to the freeholder and his representatives more than a month ago and were told that there were two or possibly three others bidding for the lease and that we would hear within days. It was at this point that we told you what was happening [that we had made a presentation and the prospects for re-opening the restaurant in a revised form, but also true to its original character, was looking very likely].
Since then, not a peep. We have been seeking further information every few days. We were told that the landlord was away and would make a decision on return. We don’t know what is going on, cannot even see how to make progress and are become somewhat pessimistic.
This is, as you will deduce, very much a holding statement. You will be hearing from us again when there is anything further to report, which we hope will be soon.”
For over a year now, there has been a collapsed vault on D’Arblay Street (as well as Poland Street) which has meant the street has remained closed off to traffic. This has led to traffic congestion and detrimentally impacted residents and local businesses. We have been pressing the Council team to take action to ensure the vaults are repaired for many months. We are pleased that the Highways Team has now updated us with the following:
“A notice has been served on the owners of 8 D’Arblay Street. We have put them on 28 days notice that we will be entering the property in the new year to rectify the defects to the vault so that the public highway can be reinstated.”
Wardour Street/Richmond Mews
Soho Lofts residents have been woken up late at night on multiple occasions in recent months as a result of loud music in the restaurant 100 Wardour Street. We are pressing the Council to take strong action to ensure that the restaurant is compliant with its license. It is unacceptable that residents should be woken up at night.
We are liaising with the resident experiencing this problem:
“I recently wrote to Veolia concerning the management of the bin men in Dufours Place . Unfortuntely he didn’t answer my email and standards are still way below par. Is it possible we residents can take this further? The outside paving area has only been cleaned once in the past 6 weeks. All residents contacted from Sandringham court and 7 Dufours are alarmed at the recent lax management of the general condition of the road and the disturbance from lorries and road sweepers being parked on double yellow lines for hours at a time? This is clearly unsuitable for a residental road ? The smells and pollution are of concern.This didnt used to be the case . So why is it now the case we have to endure this?”
Soho Then is a series of photo-centric podcasts based on oral history interviews with over 20, long-term residents and workers of Soho. Its aim is to capture key memories and experiences of specific Soho streets and buildings, from a personal perspective, at a time when the area is changing rapidly.
Riding House Street
Residents have asked:
“In the last few days 4 large black rubbish bins have been removed from Riding House Street next to West One house. I hear that this is a permanent move. As a result, rubbish is bring left all over the streets which is disgusting and will definitely attract rats andmice in an area already overrun by them. There has been no notice or explanation of this and we as residents are all extremely angry and wonder where we are supposed to dispose of our household rubbish.”
We received the following correspondence from the Council about a pilot they’re running:
“You may have recently seen some correspondence from residents regarding ongoing fly-tipping problems around the waste and recycling bins outside 36 Riding House Street (the section between Bourlet Close and Wells Street). Increasing the bin emptying frequencies and additional waste enforcement checks by City Inspectors have not fully addressed the problems and we are therefore proposing to remove the bins on a trial basis for six weeks.”
“Notices informing residents of the trial would be posted on the bins for seven days in advance of their removal and we will also distribute letters to local residents confirming their waste and recycling collection days and times. Collection vehicles will also continue to visit the site and clear any dumped waste after their removal – from previous similar trials this dumping typically stops within the first week.”
We have been pressing the Council’s officers to make sure that the concerns of residents are taken on board – in particular, cleaning of the area and better communication with residents.
104 Great Portland Street
In November an application was presented to the Council’s Licensing Committee to open a restaurant at 104 Great Portland Street. If the application had been accepted without strict conditions imposed, it would have been very disruptive to residents in the immediate vicinity. Working with Conservative councillors, Councillor Pancho Lewis argued that strong restrictions should be imposed on the restaurant. It was therefore very welcome news when the Licensing committee imposed strong restrictions.
We are supporting Christ Church in Brick Street who are opposed to the conversion of the adjacent historic Mayfair townhouse into a 24-hour casino. Developers want to turn the Grade II listed Victorian former stable block into a gambling venue with a roof terrace and restaurant.
We are delighted the Planning Committee refused the Planning Application. Residents say:
“Thank you very much for your help and support with contesting the application to turn 11 Brick Street into a casino. We are so pleased to learn that it was rejected last night. We very much appreciate the time you took to help us with this.”
This application for a 24 hour casino will be heard in January. We are working with residents and the MACE (Mayfair against Casino Expansion) campaign to oppose the application.
Buses along Oxford Street
Following correspondence with residents living in Peabody housing by Brown Hart Gardens, Councillor Pancho Lewis has written to TfL with the following:
“I’m writing to setting out concerns that have been expressed to me about changes to bus routes in West End Ward, the area that I represent as a councillor.
In particular, there are concerns about changes to the No 10 bus route, No 23, and no. 7. The issue here is that elderly people living in the West End and in particular in north Mayfair (for example residents in the Peabody flats by Brown Hart Gardens) rely on the bus routes to get to important and essential hospital appointments, including at St. Mary’s hospital.
Alternatives like taking the tube are challenging because often there are significant issues with accessibility. Also, on the tube there are lots of people, often walking very quickly, and this means it’s easy to be knocked over.
I’d be grateful if you could reply setting out what steps can be taken to ensure the residents I represent can get to hospital appointments but also to protect important bus routes.”
Park Street and Upper Brook Street
We took up this issue with the Council:
“Road rage/constant use of horns even late at night at corner Park Street/Upper Brook street. Upper Brook Street/Park Street is used versus going north on Park Lane. This part of Mayfair is residential. If there was no left turn from Upper Brook St. into Park St. there would not be an issue with the traffic. I have called the Council and Police several times about this – the answer I get is to call the other, well you live in London but I am sure if I parked in front of their residence at 11pm and sounded my car horn continually there would be an immediate reaction!”
We received this response:
“The matter has been highlighted to the Noise Team and City Inspectors to enable them to conduct their own investigations and take appropriate action. This location is within the wider district area for the Oxford Street development and is under review as part of that project. These comments have been passed on to the relevant team and, it is anticipated that measures could be proposed that might improve the situation in due course.”
WEST END WIDE ISSUES
Oxford Street proposals – Labour’s 12 key questions
Oxford Street is vital to Westminster’s and London’s economy. The retail sector faces huge challenges and it is imperative that the Council works with retailers, landowners and Transport for London to set a positive framework for the future. We want to see thriving businesses, busy shops, well-paid staff and satisfied shoppers from home and abroad.
As Councillors representing the West End and further afield, we understand the pressure that Oxford Street can be put on the surrounding communities in Soho, Fitzrovia, Mayfair and Marylebone. We welcome plans to extend environmental improvements north and south of Oxford Street and the Council’s broad ambition for the future of Oxford Street.
In our discussions with residents and businesses we have picked up concerns – “it’s alright as far as it goes – but the ‘devil is in the detail” is an oft repeated comment. We share that concern and await the Council’s response to 12 key questions.
Oxford Street area parking
The local press reports:
“Shoppers trying to snap up bargains on Oxford Street are stealing disabled parking spaces. Council staff have said that when challenged, most drivers admitted they were headed to Oxford Street’s shopping district. Figures provided to Westminster’s Audit and Performance Committee showed between April and September, 53 such offenders were successfully prosecuted, netting £19,117 in fines and victim surcharges. Marylebone High Street had the highest number of prosecutions, with 28 cases of Blue Badge fraud proven, followed by 17 in the West End.”
Westminster Almshouses Foundation
Westminster Almshouses Foundation is a charity which owns and maintains 41 almshouse flats in Rochester Row, SW1designed for independent living. The flats are self contained and a weekly maintenance charge is payable. Vacancies arise from time to time for applicants who are single, over the age of 60, have been living in Westminster for at least 3 years at the time of their application, have an acute housing need, and are on of modest incomes with less than £100,000 in savings or capital. For more details call the Clerk, Cristina O’Halloran on 0207 828 3131 or email email@example.com
We have received strong support from Westminster residents for the idea of introducing a small ‘Tourist Tax’ on hotel and Airbnb room occupancy. In particular, residents support the idea of a ‘Tourist Tax’;
- To help pay for the cost of providing facilities which tourists enjoy – keeping the environment clean and tidy, maintaining parks, street lights and open spaces, public toilets, policing and emergency services
- To help to pay for specialist inspectors to crack down on illegal short-lets.
- To put Westminster in line with other capital cities across the globe which residents visit and pay a small ‘Tourist Tax’. For example, Athens, Paris, Rome and Florence charge a “progressive visitor levy” which charges a higher tax for a higher class of room. Rome charges €7 for a five-star room and €4 for a three-star room.
Introducing a small Tourist Tax on hotel bedroom occupancy could raise about £25 million a year, based on a flat rate of £1.60p per room
What you say
“I just want to thank Pancho for all his efforts in helping myself and my son to move. I know he is a very busy man but he has truly shown his passion to help people with regards to my situation.”
“Pancho thank you so very much both my sons and my life will be changed for the better moving out of the property we are in and in to a much cleaner and healthier environment on so many different levels !!”
“Thanks (as ever) for your excellent action report.”
“I always read and enjoy your bulletin “
“Really appreciate your help”
“Thank you all so much for all your hard work on our behalf”
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Councillor Pancho Lewis and the West End Ward Labour Action Team
You can contact Pancho at firstname.lastname@example.org