Councillor Pancho Lewis has written this article for the next edition of the ‘Soho Clarion’
KEEPING SOHO SPECIAL: A NEW ‘SPECIAL POLICY AREA’
Last year Westminster Council announced they would adopt one of Westminster Labour’s key manifesto pledges – a Soho ‘Special Policy Area’ (SPA) to protect and conserve Soho’s character. This is an important step forward and shows Labour is a strong voice standing up for the people who live and work in Soho.
The Soho SPA is part of Westminster Council’s draft City Plan – a framework that sets out the guidelines developers should follow. It will help protect and preserve Soho’s character by restricting the development of large hotels. This is crucial because the Conservative Council has given the green light to the development of mega hotels in places where they are totally inappropriate, like Film House and elsewhere.
The SPA will also aim to protect and conserve smaller shop front units – and smaller units are more likely to house independent businesses rather than chains.
The announcement marks a welcome U-turn by the local Conservatives, who last year said a Soho SPA was impossible to implement!
Perhaps decision makers in the Council are starting to wake up to the depth and extent of discontent among the local community. Rightly so, people are angry about the way elected representatives cosied up to developers instead of representing the concerns of the community.
I am proud Labour has begun to make a real difference to life in Soho. I’ll continue to stand up for Soho and work to hold developers to account.
* It should be noted the details of the SPA may still change. At the time of writing, the Council hasn’t yet approved a final City Plan, which means its contents are still being revised.
HOLDING DEVELOPERS TO ACCOUNT: BERWICK STREET
The 90-104 Berwick Street development approved by Westminster Council has been a massive blow to the community. The constant disruption of diggers, fires and floods has been a constant source of disruption and many local businesses have closed since the development works started.
A big power cut on Berwick Street at the end of last year felt like confirmation that something urgent had to be done. I called for the Council to launch a formal and independent investigation to get to the bottom of the Berwick Street development debacle.
I was pleased when hundreds signed my petition but disappointed when Soho councillors Tim Barnes and Jonathan Glanz didn’t join me and the rest of the community.
The review called for the Council to uncover:
– Any financial links between developers and their agents and public authorities.
– What measures could be put in place so the project is finished as quickly as possible.
– What compensation the local community is entitled to.
The Council chose not to support my community backed campaign – they said they would return to reviewing the proposal this year. I will continue to lobby them to respond to the needs of the community.
RUBBISH BAGS AND BLOCKED GULLIES
One of the issues residents raise with me is the issue of rubbish bags piling up on Soho’s streets. In fact, improving how rubbish is collected was one of the key requests made by the Soho Society to the Council as part of a recent consultation.
I’m keen to explore what can be done to improve the current system – I think there needs to be a better way. I can hardly believe it when I see spots like Meard Street and others where pedestrians have to dodge large mounds of bags to walk past. This is Soho, the centre of London, after all. I’m meeting with officers and Soho Society members to see what can be done.
I’m also working with residents to fix blocked gullies. Blocked gullies mean that when there is heavy rainfall large ponds form on Soho’s streets. Two places are the corner of Old Compton Street and Greek Street, and St Anne’s courtyard – there are many more.
SAVE THE COACH AND HORSES
Finally, we all know how much of a cherished pub the Coach and Horses Pub is. Pub landlord Alistair and his daughter Hollie do a sterling job of managing the pub – it’s a historic place full which stretches back to the days of the Norman Balon, who proclaimed himself “London’s rudest pub landlord”. I love the fact that they run good old fashioned piano sing-alongs twice a week.
I’m working with Alastair to try and save the pub from being taken over and managed by Fuller’s. We want it to remain a community pub.