Fury at Ebury Bridge over botched regeneration scandal

The ‘Westminster Extra’ reports:

“FURIOUS Ebury Bridge residents demanded answers from councillors this week amid fears they are being “smoked out” of the troubled estate.

Around 50 tenants and leaseholders gathered outside nearby Grosvenor Hall in Pimlico as councillors filed in for a housing scrutiny meeting on Monday night. Residents slammed the council for botching a huge regeneration project on the estate, claiming they are being kept in the dark about its future.

Outside the meeting Charlie Walsh, a tenant of more than 30 years, said: “They are treating people like they have no importance. They are acting as though housing is a privilege and not a right.”

Since 2014 residents have been moving out of the estate, as the council planned to redevelop it by knocking down some houses and refurbishing others, as voted and agreed upon by residents in 2013. But over the summer, it emerged the council had gone back to the drawing board as no developer would take on the project as it was not “commercially viable”.

Last month, the Westminster Extra revealed that 87 flats on the estate were empty, in a borough where 4,500 households remain on the council’s priority waiting list for housing. The empty flats figure is understood to have risen since then.

Westminster Labour figures show that, despite not a single brick being laid, more than £35million has been spent on the scheme, mostly on buying back leases.

Cllr Rachael Robathan, cabinet member for housing, yesterday (Thursday) promised all residents would have the right to return, all council housing would be rebuilt and that more than a third of any new homes would be affordable.

But on Monday residents questioned why some people have been sent letters offering them help to move out when the council says it is in a “listening” phase and that there are currently no plans on the table.

Resident Sheila Martin said she felt it amounted to “socially cleansing Pimlico”.

Although Ebury Bridge was not on Monday’s meeting agenda, the chair Cllr Brian Connell allowed campaigners to address councillors before the start of business.

Rachel Reilly, who has lived on the estate for 15 years, told them residents thought the current consultation “feels like window dressing”.

“Whatever the council was hoping to achieve in June, July and August, has not been achieved as far as we are concerned,” she said. “We have received snazzy literature with a dumbed-down message but I am sorry to say we are not dumb. We feel this is a highly accelerated consultation taking place under the radar and we find that unacceptable. We want it extended to the end of the year.”

“Why the haste to clear residents in the railway blocks [which were scheduled for demolition] out? Is the council trying to smoke us out? Because sometimes that’s what it feels like.

“We do not want to be demolished or – to use the council’s word – developed. We would like to have a meaningful refurbishment, meaningful engagement and a meaningful consultation period, clarity and honesty.”

Cllr Robathan told the Westminster Extra: “We are spending the time between now and the end of October listening and talking to the community, and knocking on doors to find out what people want, and how we can help with that. Proposals for the estate could include refurbishment of existing blocks through to building new homes.

“But there are three key pledges I can make now to people living at Ebury Bridge in any scheme that involves new develop- ment. There is a right of return guaranteed for all

secure tenants and resident leaseholders; there will be a full replacement of all council homes, and more than a third of any new homes provided will be affordable for social and intermediate rent. We are also going to address over- crowding and ensure there is good local shopping.

“I know that housing renewal schemes can be unsettling for residents. My firm commitment is that we will work with the community to create pro- posals that will turn the Ebury Bridge estate into an even better place to be, preserving the vibrant and mixed community that makes it a special place to live.”

Churchill ward Labour councillor Jason Williams said: “This could have been the council’s opportunity to try and regain trust on the Ebury Bridge estate. But what has in fact happened is the vacuum they themselves have created has led to rumours, including that the site might be completely redeveloped.” His ward col- league Cllr Shamim Talukder added: “The council have failed to deliver on what was a key cornerstone of their regeneration agenda. People’s lives have been affected and all the Tories can promise is more delays and more uncertainty.”


Posted in Churchill Ward, Ebury Bridge Estate, House building, Housing, Pimlico | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

‘Carbuncle Cup’ success for Westminster Conservatives

The Nova development, opposite Victoria Station, which was given planning permission by Westminster Conservatives in 2009, has won the ‘Carbuncle Cup’ which is awarded annually by Building Design magazine to the UK’s ugliest building. It was the biggest consent Westminster Council had ever awarded.

The Guardian says:

“The £380m complex, which lurches outside the station in its bright red costume like a drunken member of the Queen’s Guard, is described by judges as “one of the worst office developments central London has ever seen”, and one that “sets a new benchmark for dystopian dysfunction”. The Nova building was especially criticised for “the bright red prows that adorn various points of the exterior like the inflamed protruding breasts of demented preening cockerels”.

“Emerging from Victoria station, visitors are now greeted with a sheer cliff face of blood red glass plunging down 18 storeys from a pointed peak, crisscrossed with aluminium bracing, giving it the look of a particularly obnoxious 90-metre argyle sweater. A screen of aluminium fins runs around the side of this great red wedge and across the neighbouring blocks, cut with rippled profiles to reveal another shimmering argyle pattern as you approach.”


Catherine Croft, judge and director of the Twentieth Century Society which campaigns for architecture built after 1914, said: “Nova should have been good as it’s a prestige site. It makes me want to cringe physically. It’s a crass assault on all your senses from the moment you leave the Tube station.”

Fellow Judge David Rudlin, chair of the architecture not-for-profit Academy of Urbanism, commented that the triangular design is inefficient and that the building’s spire is what clinched its carbuncle status for him.

Posted in Planning permission, Victoria, Westminster City Council, Westminster Conservatives | Tagged | 1 Comment

Westminster Labour welcomes screeching Tory U-turn on empty property tax

News that the Conservative leadership of Westminster City Council has reversed its position on taxing empty property has been welcomed by Labour Councillors.

On Monday, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan called for the government to give the boroughs increased powers to charge extra council tax on empty properties.

Westminster council leader Nickie Aiken promptly replied “I’m supporting this initiative to ensure we encourage people to put down roots in our great city not use property as a bank vault.” https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/sadiq-khan-let-town-halls-increase-council-tax-on-empty-luxury-homes-a3626541.html

However, the power to increase council tax on empty property already exists and Westminster Council has refused to use this power since its introduction in 2012. Councils are empowered to use the Empty Homes Premium to charge home owners 50% extra council tax if they leave properties empty for two or more years.

In December 2012, Conservative Councillor Melvyn Caplan, cabinet member for Finance, said

“We think that charging more than 100 per cent is penalising people, given that council tax is meant to be a charge for services you receive. Plus you could waste a fortune trying to find out if properties are empty or not.”

In July 2014,  Councillor Daniel Astaire, Conservative cabinet member for Housing, said:

“We don’t think the Empty Homes Premium works. Privately owned property is owned for a number of reasons by a number of people and it’s not our part to interfere. The way to build homes is not to tax existing homes and stop people investing and buying in our city. We are a low-tax borough, we are proud of being a low-tax borough and we don’t think this [the premium] will make any meaningful difference in the city.”

And in January 2017 when the Labour group proposed that Westminster use the power to charge the extra 50% Council Tax on empty properties, every Conservative councillor voted against it – including Councillor Aiken who had been elected to lead the council just minutes before.

Labour group Finance spokesman Councillor David Boothroyd said:

“This screeching, embarrassing U-turn is very welcome. It’s good the Conservatives are catching up with Labour. We have been arguing to use this power ever since the law changed. Labour has always thought it would be some help in tackling the housing crisis, and I’m offering to help the Conservatives write the new policy so it will be effective.”


Posted in Council Tax, Empty Property, Labour Councillors, Mayor of London | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Labour call for action to cut Vauxhall Bridge Road parking abuse

Labour Councillors have called on Transport for London (TfL) to take strong action against drivers who park illegally on the Vauxhall Bridge Red Route and cause increased pollution through traffic congestion and tailbacks along this important traffic artery.

Labour say that residents have been calling for action from TfL for some months after reporting the regular misuse of a redundant loading bay outside The Surprise pub on Vauxhall Bridge Road. Since then, no action appears to have been taken by TfL and the illegal parking continues to block traffic and create unwanted and unnecessary congestion. Residents say:

“I was walking on Vauxhall Bridge Rd. The southbound carriageway road was blocked from Victoria to the bridge with stationary traffic. I noticed that a small black car was parked in the delivery bay outside the small Kebab shop next to the ‘Surprise at Pimlico’ pub. This bay interrupts the bus lane and one would imagine that any conscientious driver would try to avoid using it particularly at rush hour. All public transport was being forced to deviate from the bus lane into the single general traffic lane in order to proceed southbound. This deflection of public transport into the general traffic lane was an added cause of blockage in the single general traffic lane. It also means that the public transport can not get to traffic lights further down the road and thus to get clear of the entire VBR blockage area as quickly and efficiently as possible and as the lights change. I did not see anyone unloading from the small black car into the kebab shop. Two hours later  a small black car was again parked in the small delivery bay. It looked like the car which had been parked there two hours earlier.”

The Red Route rules are “No stopping Mon-Sat except for (un)loading 10am to 4pm and for a maximum stay of 20 minutes.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg. Labour Business, Planning and Public Realm spokesperson, said:

“Tackling pollution is a major concern for residents and TfL needs to take strong action again those drivers who flout the traffic rules, increase traffic congestion, thereby increasing pollution for everyone else. We have called on the Mayor to direct traffic enforcement teams to Vauxhall Bridge Road to tackle this thoughtless and anti-social behaviour from those drivers responsible.”

Posted in Mayor of London, Pimlico, Transport for London, Vauxhall Bridge Road | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Westminster Council’s failure on homelessness and drugs means public conveniences in Church Street will not be re-opened

Westminster Council has responded to a petition calling on them to re-open the public toilets in Church Street by claiming that homelessness and drug-dealing means they will remain shuttered.

The written response, approved by the Cabinet member for Finance, Property and Corporate Services, Conservative Councillor Tim Mitchell, states that the Council plans to extend the closure of the public toilets ‘indefinitely’. They have ‘moved on’, rather than solved, the problems of rough sleepers using the facilities to wash and drug-dealers using the loos as a place of business. Re-opening them would lead to these problems’ return, and would not be safe for staff, according to the Council.

In February 2016, the Council’s answer to the problem of drug-use was to announce it was slashing funding to tackle substance misuse by £1.4m. This led to the permanent closure a month later of the North Westminster Drug and Alcohol Service on Harrow Road, which served the whole of the northern part of the borough, as well as the West End.

This March, Westminster Council leaders were so concerned by street homelessness that they decided to cut over £800k from the City’s rough sleeping budget. This was despite the number of people sleeping rough in Westminster increasing by 136% as per their own figures.

The Council attempts to comfort any residents troubled by the continued closure of the public conveniences by pointing towards the forthcoming Church Street regeneration programme’s Master Plan, which they expect will include a ‘new form of public conveniences’. The first stage of the Church Street regeneration scheme, the Futures Plan, was approved in a vote by residents in 2013 and is yet to make any significant progress.

Several studies have shown that older people often do not feel comfortable in leaving their homes to go to high streets because of the lack of public toilets. This has a serious negative effect on people’s physical and mental health. It also deprives local businesses of their custom.

Although as the Council dispassionately points out, they are not legally obliged to provide public toilets, they do have a broader duty of care to residents and businesses, especially in the borough’s most-deprived wards. If drug-dealing and rough-sleeping are concerns, they should address them directly rather than use them as an excuse to further chip away at facilities in the public realm in a misconceived ideological quest to prove to central government that devastating cuts can be managed.

Posted in Church Street, Church Street Market, Toilets | 2 Comments

Seventy eight homes are empty on Ebury Bridge estate after Westminster Council blunder

According to the ‘Westminster Extra’:

“New figures show 87 empty homes on the Ebury Bridge estate, Pimlico, where a massive regeneration project has been botched by the city council.

Since 2014 residents have been moving out of the estate, as Westminster Council planned to redevelop it by knocking down some houses and refurbishing others.

Last month the council decided to go back to the drawing board after it emerged that no developer would take on the project as it was not “commercially viable”.

For some time the empty flats were used for temporary accommodation, but this was stopped last summer.

“It is depressing, when you know that there are people with kids living in the streets,” said Jennifer Joseph, who lives in Westbourne House.

Late last year the council bought 24 houses in Hounslow to accommodate those on the list.

It is understood that some 4,500 households remain on the council’s priority waiting list for housing.

The empty homes were also bad news for the small businesses in Ebury Bridge Road, as the estate’s former residents were their regular customers.

Jane Buttigieg, who works at Occasions fancy dress shop, said: “The of empty flats on the estate and the prospect of residents having to live side by side with board- ed-up blocks due to the council’s mismanagement of the regeneration project. People are feeling worn down by the retailers have lost income due to the residents being moved out and there being no progression on the regeneration.”

Churchill ward Labour councillor Jason Williams said: “I am very concerned at the number of empty flats on the estate and the prospect of residents having to live side by side with boarded-up blocks due to the council’s mismanagement of the regeneration project. People are feeling worn down by the four years of stress.” He added: “I fear we are going to lose yet more members of our community as a result of this and I will stand with residents in ensuring their voice is heard loud and clear.”

Cllr Rachael Robathan, council cabinet member for housing, said: “There are currently 87 empty flats across the estate. Residents have been moving out since June 2014. Historically as flats became vacant they were used for temporary accommodation. Since last summer we have stopped putting new households in temporary accommodation on Ebury Bridge following concerns expressed by residents.”

Meanwhile, business owners, who had recently launched a campaign to “Save the Street”, have warned there are no firm plans for retailers in the new development and want confirmation they can return after the project is completed. The council described the meeting as a “listening” session. As there are currently no plans or designs, they are keen to get residents’ and local business owners’ views on their priorities for the project.
Retailers in Ebury Bridge Road have called for assurances over their future, after a meeting on Wednesday night on the estate to discuss regeneration plans.”


Posted in Churchill Ward, Council housing, Council tenants, Ebury Bridge Estate, Labour Councillors, Pimlico, Regeneration | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Westminster Labour calls on the Council to adopt Sadiq Khan’s new housing viability test

Westminster Labour are calling for the council to urgently adopt the recommendations of the Mayor of London’s new Homes for Londoners: Affordable Housing and Viability Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) 2017. The Mayor’s approach requires that new housing developments which fail to provide at least 35% social or genuinely affordable housing on site, must produce publicly accessible viability information that is open to scrutiny. At present developers far too often erroneously plead commercial confidentiality and make it very difficult to challenge their dubious claims to unprofitability of schemes that subsequently generate them millions in profits.

The SPG also makes a raft of different technical recommendations that can assist the provision of new social and genuinely affordable housing.

Irrespective of what the council, Westminster Labour or others may like to see in terms of national Government reform of the viability system, Sadiq Khan’s approach provides a solution that can be implemented now. Especially given that Westminster will be required to adopt this approach in 2019 at the time of the new London Plan, the Council should get on and implement this approach to put real pressure on developers to meet their basic obligations to provide social and genuinely affordable housing.

Labour Group Leader Cllr Adam Hug said “For too long the viability industry has been helping developers escape from their responsibilities to provide social and genuinely affordable housing. Westminster Council should urgently adopt the Mayor’s guidance in order to bring some transparency and accountability to these murky practices.”

Posted in Affordable Housing, House building, Housing, Intermediate Housing, Planning permission, Social Housing | Leave a comment