WEST END WARD LABOUR ACTION REPORT – NOVEMBER 2019
News from Councillor Pancho Lewis and the West End Ward Labour Action Team
Conservatives turn their back on Soho community over ‘hotelification’
Councillor Pancho Lewis has written to Westminster Council’s planning chief, Richard Beddoe, about changes to the Soho Special Policy Area (SPA). The SPA was voted through on 13th November. Pancho says:
“The weakening of Soho SPA hotel restrictions are unacceptable. I object to both the method by which this change has been made and the change itself. On the latter point, hotel size restrictions in the original Soho SPA would have only permitted hotels with a maximum of 35-40 rooms. The latest version allows for hotels which can have up to 99 rooms – the Plan has the audacity to continue to class these as ‘small hotels’. By no stretch of the imagination can a hotel with 99 rooms be deemed small, especially in Soho which is after all a geographically small area.
On the former point, it can’t be right that this amendment with regards to the definition of a ‘small hotel’ is snuck in in the final two weeks, when the Council has been consulting on the Plan for almost a year. A lot of residents who feel strongly about stopping any further large hotels being built in Soho have been kept in the dark about all this.
Soho Square GP service
Living Care’s contract to run services at Soho Square GP is being terminated. The Central London CCG is looking for an alternative provider. The Patient Participation Group (PPG) has said the following. The community and the Action Team are backing the PPG.
“A new provider needs to ensure that there is:
– A stable and experienced staff of clinicians and support staff who understand the needs of our diverse neighbourhood and its patients – the elderly, LGBT+, Cantonese language patients, etc.
– Staff that include GP, nurse and reception staff fluent in Cantonese
– Human resources skills that value all staff and encourage skills and career development
– A management that is receptive to and positive about working with an active and engaged Patient Participation Group in a spirit of team-work and:
– A surgery (SSGP) that remains in the Soho Centre for Health & Care.
D’Arblay Street collapsed vaults
After months of pressure, an agreement to repair the collapsed vaults on D’Arblay Street has been reached. The Council says:
“It has been agreed with the property owners insurers that the Council will now undertake the works necessary to the vaults at D’Arblay Street in an effort to shorten the timescales the project managers appointed by the insurance company were working to. We are hoping to start the works this month. The cost of the work will be covered by the insurers.
The defective vaults at Poland Street and D’Arblay Street has highlighted a number of issues, and certainly one of the most frustrating aspects has been the extremely slow processes and procedures that seem exist with insurance companies and loss adjusters which have contributed to the very slow progress. Officers are looking at how this process can be shortened being mindful that any intervention by the council using its Highways Act powers does not jeopardise the property owners insurance claim.
Work is provisionally due to start on the 25th November, some final approvals are being sought including taking over 4 parking bays for the duration of the works. There will be a 2 week break over the Christmas period with works re-starting on the 6th January. The work is anticipated to last approximately 10 weeks so it is hoped nearly half the work will be completed before the Christmas break.”
90-104 Berwick Street
We wrote to Ed Jones, the Chief Executive of PMB. PMB are the company behind the 90-104 Berwick Street development debacle.
“Dear Ed Jones,
We write to express our utmost concerns about the disruption Soho residents and the community continue to experience as a result of the ongoing development works at 90-104 Berwick Street.
For years the development has caused untold inconvenience, nuisance and at times danger to residents and local businesses. There have been floods and fires, and some have even been forced to flee their homes. Meanwhile, businesses and market traders have seen profits plummet, and some have closed.
Most recently, chemical compounds have been used as part of the development in proximity to people’s homes and the Berwick Street food market and gusts of wind meant these chemicals entered residents’ flats and onto people’s possessions and were sprinkled onto traders’ stalls. The evidence suggests these chemicals are dangerous and even carcinogenic. There are numerous other problems that residents have faced which are frankly too long to outline here.
The development has now been delayed a third time. It is no exaggeration to say that residents and the local community are at their absolute wits end. They are continually promised an end date by which the development is going to be completed only to find it is pushed back further still. Unsurprisingly then, when statements are released outlining a new end date by which it is expected the development will be completed, there is zero faith in PMB’s ability to deliver in time. To put it bluntly, any remaining shred of trust has now evaporated completely.
Given the inconvenience and nuisance caused by the incompetence of PMB and your contractors, we write with two demands:
First, that you financially compensate residents, market stall holders and local businesses appropriately. This should be a considerable sum given what has been described above and the issues you will be well aware of that the community has experienced. PMB must in addition make cast-iron commitments to deliver the development in time and pay additional compensation if this isn’t met. Also, consideration should be taken to account that residents’ lockers at the basement of the building have been inaccessible for years and people’s belongings damaged;
Second, that you explore how a communal boiler can be introduced for joint use by commercial premises at 90-104 and residents (as existed previously). Residents are being asked to pay an inordinate amount of money for a new boiler, but economies of scale mean that it would be much cheaper and more efficient to provide a boiler for the entire block. Indeed, it is our understanding that a new boiler was only required as a result of the new development – so, in other words, residents are being asked to pay extra as a result of a development they didn’t request and which has in fact caused them hardship for years.
We look forward to hearing further from you.
Cllr Pancho Lewis, West End Ward (including Soho) Councillor
Cllr Adam Hug, Leader of the Westminster Labour Group
Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg, Shadow Cabinet Member for City Management”
Ed Jones gave the following response, below. It is symptomatic of the lack of accountability that exists when it comes to developers. The community deserves better.
“Dear Cllr Lewis
Thank you for your letter of 20th October.
As I believe you are aware, a meeting was held on 3rd September between WCC, Interserve, PMB Holdings, Avison Young and KHRA. At this meeting I explained that, whilst PMBH is the Developer, Interserve are responsible for construction and for managing the site with a specific obligations to work in accordance with WCC guidelines. We have used all mechanisms available to us within the construction contract, but ultimately we are reliant upon Interserve to manage and complete the construction. The ultimate sanction lies with WCC to fine Interserve for breaches of regulations; they are helping with enforcement and we are working closely with them. Our ultimate sanction is to terminate the construction contract, however this is not only extremely difficult to do from a legal perspective (and we have no legal grounds to do so) but would only result in further delay and disturbance.
The purpose of the meeting with WCC was for Interserve and PMBH to apologise for the disturbance that the development has caused. This we did and PMBH have offered to provide some respite for Residents in the form of a weekend away at a hotel in the countryside, or similar. Interserve offered to consider undertaking redecoration works around Kemp House.
Dealing finally with the projected end date, this is in Interserve’s control, not ours. Every week of delay costs us money and I can assure you that we do not want to be in the position we are. That said, at the meeting on 3rd September, the projected end date was given as the end of April, although with a target to finish before that, and this has not changed so I am unclear why you think that the end date has moved again. In reality, the main construction work should be over by the end of the year with only internal commissioning and final internal decorations in the New Year.
William Blake House and Ingestre Court – Heating
We are extremely pleased that after a long-standing battle Westminster Housing has agreed to provide heating to residents in the summer months.
Councillor Pancho Lewis lobbied Westminster Council’s housing team hard for many months to provide year-round heating to residents. Residents say that this was available previously and unexpectedly and without consultation switched off a couple of years ago.
Residents previously said:
“It’s very cold in the flats now, specially at nights. We should have the heating on all year-round as was confirmed in the previous meeting, and yet, only now, have they started working on it and they’ve told us that the heating will only be back on at the end of the month. I’m cold and ill and I’m sure many of my neighbours who are older and more fragile than I are having an even worse time. This is a total disregard to what was agreed on the previous meeting 3 months ago, and I wish to add my voice to our residents complaints. Despite the pleasant daytime temperatures, it is really cold at night high up in this tower block with all the glass that makes it so vulnerable to outside conditions.”
Lobbying included writing to the Director of Housing for Westminster Housing, Neil Wightman, and holding a public meeting to ask for the heating to be switched back on.
Broadwick Street and Poland Street
Councillor Pancho Lewis wrote to the City Highways Team with the following:
“I’m informed by residents that big trucks drive past the junction of Broadwick Street with Poland Street westwards not knowing that they can’t exit when they get to Marshall St. They they clog up the road. Is it possible to put up a sign saying on the junction of Broadwick Street with Poland Street that big trucks can’t get through and need to exit going up Poland Street?”
Highways replied saying:
“Thank you for raising this issue with us. There is currently a sign on Broadwick Street junction with Lexington Street advising motorists of the closure in Marshall Street, I have arranged for additional signage to be placed on Broadwick Street junction with Poland Street so motorists have advance warning of the closure and have the opportunity to turn off at Poland Street. Those turning from Brewer Street onto Lexington Street are likely making the move to avoid the detour via Wardour Street which could potentially add more vehicles onto Broadwick Street.
The area needs to be considered as a whole and as you are already aware there is currently a study taking place which will take into consideration the points raised. The Soho Place Plan is at its early stages, it will focus on co-creating an overarching vision towards positive change in Soho. The plan will emerge from a process with community and stakeholder engagement at its heart and collaboration across Council departments to establish a shared vision with a focus on delivery in the short, medium and long term.”
We wrote to the Council with the following suggestion:
“Is it possible to install street signs encouraging drivers not to idle as a trial on Hanson St? I’ve received numerous emails about idling happening regularly on Hanson St.” Residents say: “Some signs in the streets asking drivers to switch off would be good.””
The Council replied:
“Update regarding Hanson Street. Signs have been put up in Hanson Street Re: No idling.”
“Excellent! Thank you! A result! This will make it easier to talk to drivers.”
76 Oxford Street
We have written to the Chief Executive of Westminster Council about complaints regarding the actions of developers operating on the 76 Oxford Street site. We are demanding that punitive action be taken given the repeated issues residents have experienced. One resident summarised the issues as follows:
“1. At the beginning of works on this project, a large amount of demolition was booked. No traffic management was arranged and as a result there were a lot of very large, very dangerous lorries scattered all over adjacent streets in dangerous places, making excessive holding trips through the neighbourhood endangering other road users and damaging the public realm (one nearly went over my foot which was on the pavement). When drawn to the site’s attention, their first response was to blame their drivers. When pointed out that the drivers were not given any management to adhere to they eventually accepted that the lack of traffic management was “unacceptable” and then offered…a donation to some local benefit in lieu of proper traffic management measures.
During this period Council officers took no action when this was drawn to their attention and refused to investigate the open bribery which was attempted.
I should say that the contractors at this stage were different ones from those on site now, but it was the same site and developer.
2. Throughout works on this site there has been consistent work out of hours without dispensation. The contractor frequently cites “broken concrete pump” as a reason why it can work late without dispensation. However, sometimes it also plain lies. Example, on Saturday 13th August we were disturbed by works going on beyond the 1pm cut off. We went to enquire as to why, for how long and whether they had permission. The site manager told me that they had dispensation from the Council. I asked to see it and he said he could not find it. When I asked the Council on the following Monday I discovered they had no such dispensation. Ergo, they flat out lied.
I have lived here over 20 years and endured the whole of the Crossrail development gold rush. We have never had a site so badly and rudely run and Council officers veer between appearing very active but when it comes down to it never actually make any difference in terms of getting the site under control. As a resident you constantly feel you are being managed as a NIMBY, even when you agree that living the West End requires you to accept a level of disturbance one wouldn’t accept elsewhere and moderate your complaints accordingly.
There needs to be a serious change in prioritising residents and businesses who actually occupy the West End and not just the interests of asset owners for whom any amount of disturbance and disregard for the limited remedies we have is simply no impediment to their priorities. There is just too much money to be made ignoring the needs of the neighbourhood for people to behave decently.”
“I would like to draw your attention to the discovery of human remains on the site of the old Workhouse in Cleveland Street, latterly the Out Patients’ department of the Middlesex Hospital. The Fitzrovia Newsletter covers the story here:
We took this up with the Council who said:
“As the site is within Camden, Westminster has no role as the Local Planning Authority, so we have do not have any involvement in this. Strictly speaking it is not even a planning matter unless the remains count as archaeology – in which case the planning permission (Camden’s, that is) will probably have a condition attached requiring that the archaeology is properly investigated and recorded by appropriate professionals. If the remains are more recent, it may be a matter for the Coroner’s office rather than a Council as there could be a requirement for formal exhumation and reburial.”
Great Portland Street
We are taking up this issue:
“I am continuing to campaign regarding cycle parking on Great Portland Street and it honestly has been probably one of the biggest cycling parking battles I’ve had over the last five years! We’ve had many trees planted in the street which is great… what is not great is that it has become the unofficial cycle parking because of the lack of Sheffield stands near the trees. I love trees… but I also love cycle parking and I don’t want the trees used as cycle parking. Can you let me know, please, what is going on with the lack of cycle parking on Great Portland Street between Langham Street and new Cavendish Street?”
Utilities symbols on the street
We have taken up the following issue:
“Everywhere I walk around the southern end of Fitzrovia (Wells Street, Newman Street, Berners Street) I see these on the street. It would be ok if it were only for a little while but I believe these have been here for quite some time. I think it’s the utilities companies – how long will they be here for?”
Update on Buskers campaign: Good news
You may have heard the Council has now agreed to running a pilot where the amount of busking permitted is severely reduced in scope. For those who haven’t been made aware, they have said they will bring forward a scheme, starting in May next year, which puts forward the following rules:
– No busking on Oxford Street apart from on 3 places – north side of the street outside Debenham’s, and at the bottom of Old Quebec Street and on the Marble Arch roundabout. (They have chosen these locations so the impact on residents is lessened, but nonetheless I have concerns that I’ve outlined below).
– The busking regulation doesn’t just apply to amplified music but includes other quieter activities like living statues. The only place where amplified music will be allowed is Marble Arch.
– Buskers will need to obtain a license. They will be allowed to perform for 45 minutes as a maximum followed by a 15 minimum break.
– The resourcing will be from the Council but also BIDs like NWEC.
– This starts in May 2020 and is trialed for 1 year.
– There is some more information here: https://www.westminster.gov.uk/busking-westminster
This is in no doubt a result of the pressure that has been exerted on the Council. Thank you to everyone who signed the petition and those who have separately raised concerns. I think this decision represents a significant step forward for the community. For years they’ve turned a blind eye, but now at last we seem to be getting some results.
However, it’s crucial not to be complacent and keep a watchful eye. I’m worried about a number of things, including that May is a long time away, that the enforcement they promise won’t be effective, and that they are still going to allow busking next to Debenham’s, very close to where residents in north Mayfair live. I will raise these concerns. It’s crucial they remain accountable throughout the process of implementing these changes.
11-14 Farm Street
Grosvenor are looking to open a restaurant between Mount Street and Farm Street. There is strong opposition from the community. Councillor Pancho Lewis is backing residents in opposing the scheme. Resident say:
“The sheer scale and hours of this restaurant are of extreme concern, the disturbance to the residential quality of life will be huge. They are bringing a new form of commercialisation to this end of Farm Street as well as creating a new commercial entrance into Mount Street mews right underneath residential windows.”
“I wonder if the Council understands that there are now practically no residential amenities in Mayfair. More and more restaurants and high end shops may entice visitors but do the opposite of protecting the community. Quite apart from the problems created by eating and drinking venues this is a recipe for a ghost town as people with genuine affection for the area feel compelled to move out.”
The Audley Arms pub, Mount Street
There was concern that the Audley Arms pub would be converted for restaurant use but we understand this is hearsay and the proposal continues to be to ensure the premise remains a pub. We’ll remain vigilant.
Weighhouse Street with Binney Street
A resident has written with the following complaint which we are raising with the Council’s highway team:
“The traffic signs on Weighhouse Street junction Binney Street are still not lit up fully, only one side is lit, there has been another nasty accident at the junction which had two ambulances attend, I don’t know the full details of the accident but I am now going ahead and will be making a complaint to the council.”
Mayfair Library – empty flat
We raised the following issue with the Council:
“There are to my knowledge two flats that are currently unoccupied in Mayfair library, both owned by the Council. What is the status of these please – are there plans to lease them out? There is currently a homelessness crisis, and in this context having these unoccupied is difficult to justify.”
Corporate Property responded as follows:
“Westminster Council are not permitted to underlet the flats other than for its own employees. Once the lease expires the Council are entitled to a new lease on roughly the same terms as we have now. A request for a variation to the lease can then be made. The Council will include consideration of the use of the accommodation and in its lease negotiations with the Grosvenor estate, but they are not obliged to agree to this.”
We have argued its fine to use it for Westminster Council employees – this would be far better than leaving the flat empty.
North Row phone boxes
“The telephone box on North Road near to the junction of Balderton Street has for the last three weeks dad what looks like diarrhoea on the inside of the window and floor, it is now dried on, I have contacted B.T. three times each time I was told it would get immediate attention and be cleaned, my last call was a week O.K so far nothing has been done, the amount there is small amount but leaves the box unsightly and will attract vermin. Please can you put pressure on B.T. to clean the box”
We reported the issue. Residents have said the phone boxes have improved on North Row, although on other streets they remain in poor condition. We will continue to raise the issue.
What you say about Councillor Pancho Lewis & the Action Team
“I am immensely grateful for all the work being done on so many fronts”
“Local hero Pancho strikes again”
“Thank you so very much for all you are doing”
“I really want to thank you for the work and help you’ve given me. I want to join the Labour Party thanks to your efforts.”
You can contact Councillor Pancho Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pancho holds regular advice surgeries on the third Saturday of each month. No appointment is needed.
- 10:00-11:00 at Danceworks, 16 Balderton Street, Mayfair, W1K 6TN.
- 11:30-12:30 at 68 Dean Street, Soho, W1D 4QJ
Promoted by Pancho Lewis on behalf of the Labour Party at 4G Shirland Mews, London, W9 3DY.