Labour welcomes Westminster Council’s decision to close CityWest Homes and bring services back in house

Labour are delighted that Westminster Council have finally listened to the long-standing concerns of local residents and Labour councillors by taking the much needed decision to take control of Westminster’s Housing Services back in house and closing its arms-length management organisation CityWest Homes. The move has been announced today by Cabinet Member for Housing and Customer Services, pending formal approval by Cabinet on October 15th.

For several years, but particularly since summer 2017, Westminster Labour have been sounding the alarm about the performance of CityWest Homes, highlighting many ‘nightmare’ stories of poor performance and raising deep concerns about its service and culture, including most recently in a July 2018 Council Motion calling for CWH to be scrapped.

Westminster Labour Leader Cllr Adam Hug said “We are delighted that the Council has listened to the deep concerns of CityWest Homes tenants and leaseholders by taking the service back in house. There is much still to do in order to improve the services residents receive but this is a welcome step forward.”

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Posted in Affordable Housing, City West Homes, City West Residential, Council housing, Estate Office, Housing | 1 Comment

West End Labour calls for action to safeguard future of Soho Square GP service

Councillor Pancho Lewis has called for the future of the Soho Square GP service to be protected, following a decision made by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to put the service in special measures.

On Friday 7 September, CQC released a report describing the overall rating of the service as ‘inadequate’. This is the lowest of four ratings that can be given to services.

The report specifies that service safety and service leadership are both ‘inadequate’, whilst service effectiveness, service responsiveness, and service care are ‘in need of improvement’ (the second lowest category).

The report contains alarming findings. Following inspection of the service it found that:

  • “Staff could not demonstrate effective cleaning of some clinical equipment.”
  • “There was no clinical oversight of the largely locum clinical staff.”
  • “Feedback from the patient participation group (PPG) [the patient engagement group] stated that the practice did not listen to patients views and continuity of care was poor due to the high use of locums.”

Councillor Lewis has now called for the local health authorities to ensure there are rapid improvements to the service, but also that its future is protected. Councillor Lewis said:

“Patients have long expressed concerns about Living Care – the provider that deliver services at Soho Square General Practice. Ask patients and they’ll tell you that they have a track record of failure and not listening to the community. This report exposes those failures and underscores the importance of making sure the Soho community get a better service.

“Whilst failure here is local, it also points to the deeper mismanagement and under-funding of services by the Conservative government, who have fragmented and privatised our NHS. So, whilst Living Care must assume responsibility for what is happening, it needs to be stressed that there is a broader context of mismanagement of the NHS that the Government is responsible for.

“What I really want to stress is that it’s imperative that the failures of Living Care are not used as an excuse to minimise services to local residents. Soho Square GP Service is a crucial part of the fabric of local life and has long been part of community life; it needs improvement, not to be slimmed down. Many residents worry the latter not the former may be the future of the service, but we cannot allow that to happen.

“I will be a strong voice for patients and I ask that patients contact me directly to see how I can help moving forward.”

Posted in GP services, NHS, Pancho Lewis, Soho, West End | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Thames Water and TfL join the objectors to Dolphin Square development plans

New objections to the Dolphin Square development plans have been filed on the Westminster planning portal by Thames Water and TfL.

And over 300 people have so far signed the on-line petition against the plans

https://chn.ge/2O8OO25

Thames Water say that the new development sits astride a major water main and lies alongside other important water mains and cannot proceed without a full investigation and possible major works at the developer’s expense. Thames Water also say that there is insufficient water supply currently for the scale of the development and this needs to be addressed before they will give their approval to any development.

Thames Water also has concerns about the current sewage capacity and that the development may well cause sewage overflows which needs to be investigated and addressed also before any consent can be given.

Currently, Dolphin Square enjoys the benefit of its own artesian wells which give constant high pressure water at all hours of the day and night which is healthy for drinking and supplied to tenants without any charge. The wells also provide constant water to the historic listed gardens which survived the summer drought in pristine condition. The applicant wishes to shut off these wells. This cannot be good for the environment either and should not be permitted.

A second set of documents filed by TfL argue that the applicant has understated the number of flats for the calculation of parking requirements and has not disclosed the true nature of the 160 new studio apartments for letting as hotel rooms as part of the existing Dolphin Square hotel. TfL has called for more detailed information to justify the lack of additional parking. Local residents are aware of the existing difficulties of parking caused by the hotel use and that the proposed development will put a strain on parking in the St George’s Square, Claverton Street and Chichester Street area.

Posted in Dolphin Square, Pimlico, Planning permission, Tachbrook Ward, Thames Water, Transport for London | Tagged | Leave a comment

Labour call for CityWest to be scrapped and for urgent reforms as 86% of residents slam the service

Westminster Labour have formally set out their recommendations for reform of Westminster’s Housing management (cwh-review-westminster-labour-submission.pdf), views that have been fed into the Council’s internal reviews of the future of CityWest Homes. These policy positions have been supported by the findings of major survey of CityWest Homes residents who are deeply critical of the current state of affairs.

There have been 109 responses to Labour’s residents survey so far. While we are still looking for further responses, the information provided so far shows the depth of concern about CityWest. The survey shows that:

  • 86% of residents say the service they get from CityWest is poor
  • 60% of residents would give CWH a zero or one star review (out of five)
  • 79% are either ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’ with repairs
  • 83% either ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’ with the call centre.
  • 93% believe Estate Offices should be reopened

Labour believes that the ALMO model is no-longer fit for purpose and that CityWest Homes should be brought back in house, but irrespective of structures there are many areas in need of improvement. Labour call for the return of more housing managers with responsibility for taking care of local areas, based nearer to their local patch in a restored network of local estate offices (where possible co-located with other council services). Residents need to be given greater power to make decisions for their areas and have a greater say over the running of any housing organisation.

Labour Leader Cllr Adam Hug said “CityWest Homes has let Westminster residents down for too long. Residents want to see real change and the council must deliver it”.

Read our ideas for action here: CWH Review- Westminster Labour submission

Posted in City West Homes, Estate Office, Housing | 3 Comments

Westminster Labour objects to Westbrook plans for Dolphin Square

In addition to Labour’s support for the local petition on Dolphin Square, Cllr Adam Hug has submitted the following letter of objection to the Council’s Planning Department on behalf of the Labour Group:

Dear Julia, John and Michael

I am writing to object to the Westbrook proposals for Dolphin Square on the following grounds:

Increase in short term lettings – The revised application confirms the intentions of the applicant to further reduce long-term letting in Dolphin Square in favour of the more profitable short-term lettings market and expand the current hotel use within the Rodney House northern block which trades as the Dolphin House hotel.

The applicant now describes the construction of new serviced apartments (Class C3 residential) within the Rodney House block, which is proposed to be demolished and replaced with a new block of 10 stories instead of the existing 6 stories, as “serviced apartments (Class C3 temporary sleeping accommodation). The revised application proposes that the Rodney House block will include, inter alia, 160 studios as serviced apartments. This appears to be an attempt to take advantage of the May 26th 2015 Deregulation (enabling) legislation in London which was passed to support the sharing economy by allowing individual property owners to let out their homes by the night on sites like Airbnb for a maximum of 90 days a year. Previously, such letting was forbidden.

For an existing hotel operator to use this legislation to increase their accommodation available without the benefit of a C1(hotels) consent is an abuse of process. To comply with the law, these apartments will have to be let on a serviced basis for a minimum of 90 days each time a year after the annual 90-day quota has expired. Again, this will be difficult to control and will not generate the homes for long-term letting that are so urgently needed in Westminster. I also question whether such a consent is available to a hotel operator rather than an individual property owner.
As you know, Dolphin Square’s long-term tenants have been complaining about the expansion of short-term letting from the Dolphin House hotel in Rodney House to many other parts of Dolphin Square and the constant appearance of hotel-style linen trollies in corridors and lifts away from the existing hotel. For a landlord in central London, the economics are simple. The effect is the loss of long-term accommodation which is contrary to Westminster Planning Policy H2.

Contrary to hotels policy – The plan to demolish Rodney House and effectively double the size of the hotel is also contrary to Westminster Core Strategy CS22 which states that new hotels will be directed to the Paddington, Victoria, and Tottenham Court Road Opportunity areas, the Core Central Activities Zone (CAZ) and the North Westminster Development Area. It also states that existing hotels in Pimlico and Belgravia should be converted to residential use where possible to preserve the residential character of the area.

Loss of retail arcade – The applicant also seeks to develop a substantial parade of public shops (Use Class A1-A4) in Chichester Street in place of the small and famous Art Deco arcade within the existing building which will be lost on demolition. Such retail development is contrary to Westminster Core Strategy CS10 which states that “retail and other appropriate town centre uses will be directed to the Warwick Way/Tachbrook Street Central Activities Zone (CAZ).

Density and Height – Dolphin Square has a greater density and height than the adjoining Churchill Gardens estate and is contrary to Westminster Planning Policy H11 concerning housing density.

Impact on the Listed Gardens – The revised application does not take into account the recent listing by English Heritage as Grade II of the historic Dolphin Square gardens designed by Richard Sudell and continues to seek to demolish the Spanish/Mexican garden contrary to the advice of the Westminster Society and the 20th Century Society. The Spanish/Mexican garden will make way for 2 deep basements, one of which is described as D2 (leisure). The use class D2 includes “assembly” such as conference facilities and it is to be noted that the lower basement has 4 rooms labelled as studios and a huge void area which are highly likely to provide the conference facilities that the current Dolphin House hotel lacks.

Impact on the Conservation Area – The Conservation Area audit for Dolphin Square states clearly that the adding of a storey to one of the most densely populated buildings in the country would not be appropriate. It also states that demolition should not be allowed for a building of merit. The demolition and rebuilding of Rodney House with 4 additional stories on the narrow Chichester Street will be out of scale and will have a profoundly adverse effect on the Conservation area as a whole.

Lack of Affordable Housing – There is no provision for affordable housing on site within the application for which Dolphin Square had a long tradition. The Mayor’s office has called for 35% provision of affordable housing on site in the event that this planning application is granted consent which has been estimated to amount to 100 new affordable homes. Given both the history and the current context we would strongly argue that the affordable housing requirement should be delivered on site.

I urge you to recommend this application for refusal. Please keep me informed of any potential committee date information.

Yours sincerely

Adam

Adam Hug
Leader, Westminster Labour Group
02076412230

Posted in Dolphin Square, Planning Committee, Planning Enforcement, Planning permission | Leave a comment

CityWest Residential under fire again

CityWest Residential, Westminster Council’s for-profit estate agency (part of its arms-length management organisation CityWest Homes), which was listed earlier this year by the council itself on the Mayor of London’s Rogue Landlords database is in trouble again.

Local housing campaigners have been pushing the council to reveal more information about the behaviour of its estate agency where it is believed to be charging sellers a fee even when their properties are sold directly to the council, a potential breach of the Estate Agent Act given that CityWest Residential is also acting on behalf of the buyer (the Council). They also believe there may be breaches of the Consumer Rights Act if sellers are not made aware before committing to use CityWest Residential that the council may be willing to directly purchase their property, thereby removing the need for agent fees.

There is also concern around the mechanism whereby Westminster Council pays fees from the Housing Revenue Account (the pool of council tenants’ rents and leaseholder service charges) to its own estate agent to sell and buy properties, thereby taking funds out of that housing related pot into the Council’s General Fund. According to information gained by the campaigners, from September 2016-September 2017, the council’s HRA paid almost £400,000 in sellers fees and £240,000 in buyers fees to CityWest residential- representing an almost £640,000 fee loss from the HRA to the General Fund.

The council says funds raised by CityWest Residential are spent on important Community Development activities such as employment services, youth and homework clubs and sports activities, however there is a need for absolute transparency about what proportion of this comes from the HRA. At a time when the City West’s housing repairs services are failing and the council says that it wants to build new housing with HRA funds, Labour believes residents have a right to know more about how the Council is plugging holes in important local service provision caused by the Conservative Government’s austerity policies by using local residents rent money and where possible look to fund these schemes by alternate mechanisms.

Labour Group Leader Cllr Adam Hug said “Westminster Council must call time on CityWest Residential and close its rogue landlord. There is a need for transparency about all of CityWest Homes activities to ensure local residents are being treated properly.”

Posted in City West Homes, City West Residential | 1 Comment

Please sign the petition to save Dolphin Square

Dolphin Square is at risk!

We urge Westminster City Council to prioritise the protection of irreplaceable heritage, and the rights of both residents, neighbours and low-income residents of the borough, by applying national and your own local policies to refuse the current application which proposes irreversible damage to Dolphin Square.

Dolphin Square is a historic and iconic building located by the Thames in Pimlico, a Conservation Area in its own right and adjacent to two further conservation areas. The beautiful gardens were recently listed Grade II.

Its owners, Westbrook Partners, have filed a planning application to demolish the 6-storey northern block and replace it with a 10-storey building and add one floor to the remaining buildings. Most of the redevelopment is for hotel and short-term letting use and not to provide long-term housing for locals which is so desperately needed in Westminster. If the plans are approved, the northern half of the listed gardens will be lost and replaced with a modern design to accommodate the new building and two huge deep basements providing facilities for the hotel. Also, the famous art-deco shopping parade will be demolished.

There is no provision for affordable housing within the proposed development which was a long tradition at Dolphin Square, when built between 1935-37, with more than 1,200 homes specifically aimed at those needing to live in central London for their work – a priority that continued when it was owned by a trust controlled by Westminster City Council.

The sole motive for the development is profit for the off-shore owners who are based in Jersey.

If this application is approved the character and fabric of Dolphin Square will be lost for ever.

To all who know the Square we need your urgent help – please sign this petition https://chn.ge/2O8OO25

and add your objection on the Westminster planning portal at:-

http://idoxpa.westminster.gov uk/online-applications/simpleS earchResults.do?action=firstPage

If unable to connect to the site you can write with your objection to the Case Officer, Ms Julia Asghar, Development Planning Services, Westminster City Hall, Victoria Street, London, SW1E

Posted in Dolphin Square, Pimlico, Planning permission, Tachbrook Ward, Westminster City Council | Tagged , , | 2 Comments