St John’s Wood pensioner plays postwoman after TNT Post service let down

The ‘Wood & Vale’ reports;

“A pensioner has been forced to turn postwoman after the professionals failed to do the one thing required of the role – deliver letters to the right address.

Marilyn Blum decided to take matters into her own hands after noticing TNT Post had pushed letters for a neighbouring street through her door in the heart of St John’s Wood.

Mrs Blum picked up the post herself, and headed off to to deliver it to the right addresses.

Her anger with the company – a private operation which works in opposition to the Royal Mail – was compounded by the discovery that a friend living in nearby Townsend Road found her letters had been left in the communal area of her block.

Mrs Blum, 78, fears leaving the post – which mainly comes from big businesses, like Barclays Bank – out in the open, leaves her friend open to theft and fraud.

She said: “Her mail could have been lying there for three days for all she knows. The problem is they employ people who do not know the area.”

And it seems these are not the only problems TNT Post has had since starting up their operation in St John’s Wood and other parts of the capital.

Jim Kirwan, CWU London regional secretary, said: “This isn’t the first issue that’s come about since TNT Post has been operating in central London. It’s important to hold all postal companies to the same standards.

“TNT seem to want a race to the bottom over employment standards whereas we feel that if staff are treated fairly and paid a decent wage then it’s unlikely incidents such as this will occur.”

But TNT Post defended themselves against the allegations.

A spokesman said they were “of course disappointed by these reported cases of mis-delivery”, adding: “Complaints of this nature are rare and when issues do occur we will make every effort to rectify them.

“In terms of service quality, we make every effort to deliver mail on the first attempt.

“However, sometimes despite our best efforts, human nature means that we cannot always live up to the standards we set ourselves.

“Sadly, other mail delivery companies also experience problems with their operatives who deliver mail.”

Posted in Postal services, Public Services, St John's Wood | Tagged | Leave a comment

Westminster top of league for parking fines raking in £24m

The ‘Wood & Vale’ reports;

Parking attendant

“Westminster has again been revealed as the country’s number one parking fine hotspot after new data shows the council issued penalties to drivers worth almost £24million last year.

Figures released this week show the borough issued about 455,000 penalty charge notices in 2013, the equivalent of every Westminster resident receiving about two tickets each.

Westminster came top of the table – and ahead of any other local UK authority which provided information to insurance company Churchill – for both the number of fines given and amount of revenue collected.

Westminster’s Labour group leader Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg said it is an “absolute scandal” the council appears to be exploiting motorists to boost its coffers.

“Westminster raises more money from drivers through parking charges or parking fines than it does from collecting council tax,” he said. “It’s completely idiotic that the council’s finances should be so dependent on people breaking the law.

“It can’t make sense and it’s completely unsustainable, and, more importantly, it generates a view among residents that the parking regulations are rigged against the driver.”

The research, compiled using Freedom of Information requests, found 187 councils issued parking tickets worth £255m last year.

Ten London boroughs came top of the table for the highest revenues from parking fines, with Barnet in second position behind Westminster, issuing tickets to the value of just more than £9m over the same period.

Westminster Council said revenue from parking fines is used to fund parking services or transport infrastructure projects, and compared with 10 years ago it issued half the number of penalties.

Leith Penny, the council’s strategic director of city management, said: “Westminster Council is always looking to make parking safer, easier and fairer.

“In a matter of weeks we will introduce parking sensors to help drivers find a parking space.

“Later this year, traffic marshals will take the place of wardens with a brief to help motorists and, having reduced the number of fixed CCTV cameras from 179 to 50 last year, we are conducting another review to see if they’re the best – and fairest – way to manage parking.

“Put simply, when it comes to parking not all local authorities are the same.”

Posted in Council finances, Parking, Parking charges, Westminster Conservatives | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Labour cries foul in ‘back-to-the-days-of-Porter’ row over newsletter sent to 5,000

The ‘West End Extra’ reports;

churchill gardens

“CITY Hall has been accused of using public money to promote Conservative “propaganda” just weeks before a highly contested election and in breach of government regulations.

A newsletter outlining improvements that are being considered for the area was sent to about 5,000 homes in Churchill ward, Pimlico, which is likely to be one of the closest fought in local elections next month.

But it was immediately slammed as “blatant electioneering” and “a return to the bad old days of Shirley Porter” – the disgraced former council leader was found guilty of gerrymandering and eventually paid £12million to settle the surcharge imposed on her following the “homes for votes” scandal.

A formal complaint was made to chief executive Charlie Parker this week and Labour group leader Paul Dimoldenberg, who wrote the book The Westminster Whistleblowers about his dogged pursuit of Lady Porter, said: “You know full well that the aim of the newsletter is to persuade residents that, after years of council neglect, something is now happening in Churchill Gardens. This is certainly giving assistance to Conservative attempts to shore up support for their candidates who are facing widespread and increasing criticism for the years of council neglect.”

Mr Parker rejected the claims in a letter to Cllr Dimoldenberg and said: “The content is not political, making no reference to elected members.” He said the newsletter was signed off by the council’s legal team, adding: “With regard to your concerns that this impacts on election matters, I believe that it does not – a position confirmed by the head of legal services.”

Labour believe they have a good chance of stealing a seat in the Churchill ward and they said the newsletter was intended to convince locals that the Tory-run council had not forgotten them.

Cllr Dimoldenberg said: “This is the use of council money and council staff to support the Conservatives’ election efforts. It is an absolute disgrace and it looks like both Westminster Conservatives and Westminster Council have reverted back to the bad old days of Shirley Porter.”

While not mentioning the Conservative party or their councillors by name, the leaflets bore the “Better City, Better Lives” branding that has become synonymous with the Tory leadership.

Council leader Philippa Roe has described the catchphrase as her “vision for Westminster” and the phrase is a regular motif in her public addresses.

Murad Gassanly

Murad Gassanly, who lives in Churchill Gardens and is standing as a Labour candidate, was part of the early consultations on the regeneration work, branded “Team Churchill” by City Hall.

He likened the newsletter to “propaganda” and questioned why it had been rushed out to residents in the days before the election and said the issues that were being tackled had been a problem for residents of the estate for many years.

“Why haven’t they done something before this election?

“Why suddenly start this now and send out a newsletter weeks before the election?

“We’ve been talking about these issues for years and the fact they are happening now is so blatant electioneering, coming weeks before the election. This is the most marginal ward in Westminster, clearly they are very concerned,” he said.

Among the issues that the newsletter identifies is the Balmoral Castle, which has been lying empty since 2006, while £20,000 is spent each year on scaffolding to support the building.

It also highlighted problems with drugs and anti-social behaviour on the estate and a lack of facilities for young people.

Tom Ball, a former architect who has lived on the estate for more than 30 years, said he was concerned that the architectural firm Levit Bernstein had been appointed to the project while it was still unknown what works would be carried out.

He said: “They [the council] have refused to tell me. It is a simple, straightforward, request. What are these architects briefed to do? Now I’m even more alarmed when I hear it being described as the regeneration of Churchill Gardens estate. I fear there’s something sinister behind all of this.”

A copy of the newsletter is here Churchill_Gardens_Newsletter

Posted in Churchill Gardens, Labour Councillors, Pimlico, Shirley Porter, South Westminster, Westminster Conservatives | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Westminster Labour launches plans for more Genuinely Affordable Homes and Better Management of Existing Council Homes

Labour Councillors have launched plans for more Genuinely Affordable Homes and Better Management of Existing Council Homes as one of the key priorities for the Westminster City Council Elections on 22nd May.

• We will set a target of 1,000 new social and genuinely affordable homes, across Westminster, over the next four years. The Housing Revenue Account is at its highest ever level – £100 million. We will use this money to embark on a house building programme that will be genuinely affordable to local people.

• We will give first call for the new social homes to overcrowded local families. In particular, when new homes are built on existing estates, the new homes will be offered first to existing families who need to move.

• We will press for 50% of all new housing in new private developments to be a mix of social renting, shared ownership and key worker housing. We want to encourage genuinely mixed communities.

• The Family Quota system will be reintroduced for Council lettings so that the children of long-standing residents can live close to where they were brought up.

• We will give Council tenants and leaseholders a bigger say in the running of their estates. We will ensure that the private companies responsible for estate management are accountable to residents and taken back in-house as soon as their contracts expire.

• We will introduce a ‘Residents Charter’ so that Council lessees get an improved service, including itemised service-charge bills and more say over major works proposals.

• We will consult Council leaseholders on setting up voluntary ‘Sinking Funds’ using the ground rent monies paid by leaseholders.

• We will halt the recent above-inflation rent rises for Council tenants – this year over 4.2%. Council rents will rise by no more than inflation for the next 4 years

• We will establish and enforce strict sub-letting clauses in all tenancy and leasehold agreements so that Council housing is not used for profit.

• There are hundreds of empty homes in Westminster. We will charge 150% Council Tax on all properties that have been empty for more than 2 years and will urge the Government to allow the Council to double the Council Tax on empty properties, to get these homes back into use.

• We will introduce the registration of private landlords and agents to stop the bad landlords exploiting tenants. We will press landlords to make longer, more secure tenancies available

• We welcome Labour’s promise to get rid of the hated ‘bedroom tax’.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Grou, said;

“The Conservatives have failed residents. Westminster Conservatives announced, re-announced and re-announced again ‘the biggest council house building plans for a generation’ promising 500 new homes. What happened? In fact, just 139 new ‘affordable’ homes have been built since 2010, and only 85 of them were for social rent.”

“The Conservatives promised that one new home would be built for every one sold under Right to Buy. But what actually has happened? The Council has sold 66 Council flats under the Right to Buy since 2010, pocketing £16.2 million, but has built no new Council homes with that money.”

Councillor Guthrie McKie, Labour’s Housing spokesperson said;

“Council Leaseholders – on the Warwick Estate, on Hallfield and at Churchill Gardens – have been let down again and again by Major Works shambles, by delays, by poor standards of work and by inadequate project management. 2,300 families are in Temporary Accommodation (at a cost of £29million) and over 1,000 families are severely overcrowded.”

“Of the 9,000 former council flats in Westminster that have been privately sold, over 30% are now being rented out privately, at vastly higher rents. With two families living next to each other in a council block, one could be paying £120 a week in rent to the Council, and the other paying £400 to a private landlord. No wonder Housing Benefit bills have gone up.”

Posted in Affordable Housing, Bedroom Tax, Churchill Gardens, Conservative Broken Promises, Council leaseholders, Council rents, Empty Property, Families, Hallfield Estate, House building, Housing, Housing Benefit, Housing Repairs, Labour Councillors, Out of touch Conservatives, Planning permission, Social Housing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The closure of the Westminster Chronicle – a sad day for local democracy

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Group, writes;

“I was extremely saddened to hear of the decision to close down the Westminster Chronicle. As an avid reader of the Chronicle and its predecessors, the Marylebone Mercury, Paddington Mercury and Westminster & Pimlico News, for over 40 years I know how important a free and independent local press has been to safeguarding local democracy in Westminster and holding those in power to account.

It has been a privilege to work with so many fine journalists, many of whom have gone on to have successful careers in the national media.

Looking back, the Marylebone and Paddington Mercury were both instrumental in exposing the many local scandals for which Westminster Conservatives have been responsible. Without the dogged and determined investigative work by a number of Mercury journalists the infamous ‘Homes for Votes’ scandal would not have received so much widespread publicity. It was the Mercury that first broke the story of the 15p cemeteries sold by Shirley Porter.

The Mercury campaigns helped the Council recover over £12 million of the surcharge owed by Shirley Porter for the ‘Homes for Votes’ scandal. And it was the Mercury’s reporting of the 15p cemeteries debacle that helped to force the Council to buy back the three cemeteries in Mill Hill, East Finchley and Hanwell.

More recently, the Chronicle has continued this fine tradition of reporting all the news that the Conservatives wanted hidden, this time through regular and extensive coverage of Westminster Council’s foolhardy plans to introduce evening and Sunday parking charges in the West End. No doubt the former Leader of the Council who lost his job because this parking charge fiasco would also acknowledge the important role of the Chronicle in holding to account those who exercise power.

Councillors of all parties know how much the local press is part of the democratic process. The job of Opposition Councillors is never easy but with the Chronicle’s passing our job has just got even tougher!”

Posted in Local Democracy, Local press | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Council to debate road safety in Westminster

Pedestrian safety on Westminster’s roads will be the subject of debate at the 30th April meeting of Westminster City Council when Labour Councillors have put down the following motion;

“This Council notes with deep concern the tragic pedestrian road fatalities in the Chippenham Road/Harrow Road/Elgin Avenue area over the past 18 months. These fatalities, together with accidents elsewhere at the Sutherland Avenue/Randolph Avenue junction outside St Joseph’s Primary School, in Saltram Crescent and along Grosvenor Road where residents are calling for a traffic island, are a clear sign that action is required to improve road safety for pedestrians. The Council therefore instructs officers to investigate all locations where there have been road traffic accidents involving pedestrians over the past two years with a view to bringing forward proposals to reduce the number of accidents. In particular, officers are asked to identify those streets where a 20mph speed limit would help to reduce accidents”

The motion will be moved by Councillor Adam Hug and seconded by Councillor Ruth Bush.

The Council meeting is at Porchester Hall, W2 and starts at 7pm

As part of Labour’s campaign to improve road safety the following petitions have been launched;

Posted in 20mph speed limit, Chippenham Road, Churchill Gardens, Labour Councillors, Maida Vale, Road Safety | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concerns raised at delays to the Maida Vale Flood Alleviation Works

Karen Buck MP has written to Thames Water to express residents’ and local business concerns at the delays to the Maida Vale Flood Alleviation Works;

Maida Vale Flood Alleviation Works

I am writing regarding the flood alleviation works that are taking place in Westbourne Green and Tamplin Mews Gardens and on Chippenham Road and Formosa Street.

I initially understood that the Chippenham Road work would take six months, Tamplin Mews Gardens would take from September 2013 to June 2014, Westbourne Green would run from September 2013 to September 2014 and Formosa Street would take from June to December 2013, with an additional month in late 2014.

Unfortunately it seems that Thames Water and Optimise are not set to meet any of these deadlines. Formosa Street is still closed to traffic and I understand that the other three sites are also experiencing delays, with works at Westbourne Green set to last until March 2015.

Residents are unhappy that much needed local green space will be out of action for even longer than anticipated and local businesses, particularly on Chippenham Road, are suffering due to a decline in footfall and passing trade.

I share residents’ concern that the ongoing disruption from these works should be minimised and steps should be taken to ensure the works are completed as quickly as possible. I would be grateful if you could let me know the reasons for the delays and let me have a commitment that the timetable residents were originally given can still be kept.

Thank you for your assistance

Yours sincerely

Karen Buck MP

Posted in Chippenham Road, Harrow Road, Karen Buck MP, Maida Vale, Maida Vale Flood Alleviation Works, Westbourne, Westbourne Green, Westminster North | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment