The mystery of the missing Porter’s Rest on Piccadilly

Porter's Rest
Peter Berthoud has alerted us to this modern mystery posted on his website http://www.peterberthoud.co.uk/2015/03/save-the-porters-rest-on-piccadilly/

We are now making enquiries with Westminster Council to get this piece of local history reinstated.

Save the Porter’s Rest on Piccadilly

In 1861 this curious piece of street furniture was installed on Piccadilly. It stood there for over a hundred and fifty years. In the past few months Westminster City Council have removed this Grade II listed structure without any explanation. A petition has been launched to reinstate it.

Porters rests were once a common sight in London. The one on Piccadilly was I believe, the last survivor. Many people are annoyed that this little bit of London’s history has been removed and many more are cross that Westminster City Council are refusing to explain their decision.

The rest was used by porters to place their burdens upon, thereby saving the effort of placing a heavy load on the floor and then having to reach down to relift it up onto a shoulder. You can see a little film of the Piccadilly rest in use here at British Pathe http://www.britishpathe.com/video/porters-bench/query/Piccadilly

A brass plaque on the rest explained why it was erected:

“At the suggestion of R A Slaney Esq who for 20 years represented Shrewsbury in Parliament. This Porters rest was erected in 1861 by the Vestry of St George Hanover Square for the benefit of porters and others carrying burdens. As a relic of a past period in London’s history, it is hoped that the people will aid its preservation.”

So why have Westminster City Council removed it? We don’t know. They won’t answer or return my calls. Dozens of people have tweeted them over the past few days and there has been no official response.

Westminster’s own planning pages offer few clues. It appears that a “complaint” was “generated internally”. The Porter’s Rest was deemed to be a “General Nuisance (loss of amenity)”.

The decision, the date of the decision and the reason for the decision to remove it are marked “Not Available”. The Case Officer is also “not available” for comment. The decision status is marked as “Pending Consideration” and yet the Porter’s Rest has already been removed. There are no supporting documents of any type.

Is this an appropriate way for Westminster City Council to treat a Grade II listed and protected Historic structure?

The petition to have the Porter’s Rest reinstated launches today. If you value London’s magnificent heritage please take a moment to sign it and please encourage others to do so.

Please sign the petition here https://www.change.org/p/westminster-city-council-cllr-robert-davis-reinstate-the-grade-ii-listed-porter-s-rest-on-piccadilly”

Posted in Listed building, Piccadilly, South Westminster, West End | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Build 400 new Council homes in Westminster with £78 million windfall from Chelsea Barracks site, say Labour

Labour Councillors have demanded that all the £39 million the Council has received from Qatari Diar as the first tranche of the £78 million s106 payment towards affordable housing on the Chelsea Barracks site be spent on building new Council flats and house on Council-owned land in Westminster.

Labour say that the first £39 million could pay for 200 new homes at Council rents for families in housing need. The second tranche of the £39 million payment from Qatari Diar is expected in 2016 and Labour say that this money should also be invested in building 200 new Council homes on Council owned land in Westminster.

Labour argue that spending the £78 million building 400 new Council homes on Council-owned land will cut the cost of house building in central London and is a much more cost effective way of spending Council money than the Council’s current practice of spending over £20 million buying back former Right to Buy Council flats in Westminster at an average cost of £450,000 per flat or spending over £3.6 million buying 25 flats in Grays in Essex.

Labour say that the Council should also establish a ‘local lettings’ policy so that existing residents living on the estates where the new homes are built are given first option to move to the new homes. This would enable those families in overcrowded conditions to move to a larger flat and those residents who wish to ‘downsize’ to move to a new home in their local area. The homes vacated by families moving to the new homes would be then let to families in priority need.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Group, said:

“The £78 million windfall from the Chelsea Barracks development must be invested for the long term in 400 new Council flats in Westminster for people in housing need. There can be no more excuses from Westminster Conservatives. The money is available, as is the Council-owned land in Westminster. The Conservatives should stop buying property outside Westminster and, instead, it should build new Council homes in Westminster.”

http://www.qataridiar.com/English/OurProjects/Pages/ChelseaBarracks.aspx

Posted in Affordable Housing, Chelsea Barracks, Council housing, House building, Housing, Labour Councillors, Overcrowded households, Social Housing, Westminster Conservatives | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thurrock Council Leader demands Westminster Council pays the social care costs of moving 25 homeless families to Grays in Essex

Thurrock Councillor Leader John Kent has demanded that Westminster Council picks up the bill for all the social care costs involved in housing 25 Westminster homeless families in Grays, Essex.

Last week it was revealed that Westminster City Council has continued its ‘social cleansing’ policy of moving homeless families out of central London by purchasing 25 properties in Grays, Essex for over £3.6 million.

Now Thurrock Council Leader, Councillor John Kent has written to Westminster Council Leader, Philippa Roe to demand “confirmation that any social care costs associated with these families, for the foreseeable future, will be fully funded by Westminster. I see no reason at all why the residents of Thurrock should bear any of these costs”.

Councillor Kent also tells Westminster that buying up properties in Thurrock is “completely contrary to the London Council’s advice note on the placement of homeless families outside London”

A copy of Councillor Kent’s letter is here Cllr Roe letter from Cllr John Kent

Posted in Council finances, Exporting those in housing need, Homeless Families, Housing, Labour Councillors, Social Cleansing, Temporary accommodation, Westminster Conservatives | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Urgent action needed to protect The Star in St John’s Wood

the-star-st-johns-wood

Along with Karen Buck MP, we are making urgent enquiries with Westminster Council about building work at The Star in St John’s Wood after receiving this message from a local resident:

“As I am sure you know the 200 year old Star Pub in St. John’s Wood Terrace was given protection status by Westminster Council. Here is the Wood & Vale report on the confirmation:

http://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/heritage/two_westminster_pubs_given_legal_protection_1_3962482

On Friday the 20th March 2015, the pub was opened as normal. The staff arrived the next day to find they did not have a job as the pub was being stripped out by builders and according to the builders is being converted to an estate agents with flats above. As if St John’s Wood needs another estate agent outlet. Using the building as anything but a pub is totally against the Westminster Council protection order.

This needs urgent political action before the premises are let, which will make matters more difficult to resolve, as another social necessity in St John’s Wood looks like being lost forever.”

Posted in Karen Buck MP, Labour Councillors, St John's Wood, The Star pub, Westminster North | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Westminster City Council spends over £20 million buying up and refurbishing 45 former Council flats it sold for a fraction of that amount under the Right to Buy

Westminster City Council is spending over £20 million buying up and refurbishing 45 former Council flats that it sold for a fraction of that amount under the Right to Buy. The average cost of the 45 former Council flats bought back by the Council is £419,000 with a further average cost of £36,000 in refurbishing the flats, giving a total cost of £20,445,000 – an average of £454,000 per flat.

Labour Councillors say that many of the 45 flats sold by the Council would have been originally sold to their former Council tenant owners for less than £100,000 when taking in to account the discounts available under the Right to Buy.

In the report authorising the flat purchases, Council offices say:

“The properties being purchased by City West Homes are located across the City but in all cases these are ex-RTB properties, primarily located on the City Council’s Estates”

This latest news comes days after Westminster City Council revealed that it had bought 25 properties in Gray’s, Essex for over £3.6 million as temporary accommodation for homeless families. This follows last month’s news that Westminster Council had spent over £6.22 million purchasing 34 properties in Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Enfield and Newham for homeless families.

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

“This is the ultimate proof that Conservative Housing policies have failed and are financial madness. Spending over £20 million of public money buying back properties that were sold for a fraction of that amount demonstrates the scale of the housing crisis in Westminster and the folly of selling off so many Council properties without building any replacement Council flats.”

“Spending the £20 million on buying back former Council flats does not increase the housing stock in Westminster. Instead, the £20 million should be spent on building new Council flats on Council-owned land so that we can both increase the number of homes and build new homes for those in housing need.”

Posted in Affordable Housing, City West Homes, Council finances, Council housing, Homeless Families, House Prices, Right to Buy, Social Housing, Westminster Conservatives, Westminster Council waste | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Labour calls on Westminster Council to allow the public to speak at Planning Committee Meetings

Labour Councillors have called on Westminster Council to allow the public to speak at the weekly Westminster Planning Committee meetings – in the same way as the public are allowed to speak at practically every other Planning Committee in London and the rest of the UK.

In a letter to Council Leader, Councillor Philippa Roe, Labour say;

“We appreciate that, given the volume of planning applications received by the Council, this needs careful thought. However, we believe that this can be managed without difficulty by introducing the following criteria:

• Speakers should be allowed where a planning application receives more than 50 individual written objections or a petition with over 50 individual signatures
• A limit of two speakers per application – one speaking for the objectors and one speaking for the applicant – with a limit of 3 minutes per speaker
• The agendas for the weekly Planning Committee meetings should be organised so that all applications which attract speakers are considered on the same agenda, perhaps once a month. The start of these meetings should be brought forward to 6pm (from 6.30pm).”

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Group said;

“We call on the Council to adopt this simple and straightforward change in the way in which Planning Committee meetings operate so that those residents most directly affected by planning proposals (and those promoting them) are able to state their case directly to the Committee members when applications are being determined. This would be a small but significant step forward in the process of restoring public confidence in local democracy in Westminster.”

Over recent months Labour Councillors have asked residents what they think and have received strong support for this, including the following comments:

“I wish to support a move to persuade Westminster City Council to allow the public to express their views at Planning Application Meetings. As things stand the Council members are largely reliant on the Planning Officer`s summary of the objections to an application and on his or her recommendation on that application. Having attended such a meeting recently I felt it would have been more democratic if interested parties had been given the opportunity to speak.”

“We have objected but never been listened to. The whole process is a mockery for those objecting. We have been ignored, not allowed to speak at meetings. No matter what, it seems there is only a semblance of democracy by letting us object…. pat us on the head…. and then go ahead and do what the planners/developers want. It is not a fair process and one begins to wonder what is going on between developers and WC. We have to live with the consequences or move.”

“I completely agree with the ending the “planning gag”. I recently attended a planning meeting. It was a complete sham. All objections were steam-rollered over to suit the head of planning’s agenda. Even public safety concerns, despite having a professional witness agree, were completely ignored. This is an issue that I believe needs to be made public, so everyone knows what is happening at the council. It is completely un-democratic and I fear even worse.”

“We entirely agree that the gag should be rescinded. It damages fair process and allows the council planners to ride rough shod over objectors.”

“We feel gagged, dismissed, voiceless, depressed and continuously defeated. And then we are expected to take the trouble to VOTE! What’s the point? I’m beginning to agree with Russell Brand, which is truly depressing.”

We had just one comment in favour of the status quo;

“Turning the planning meetings into open forums would be a retrograde step. The planning system is already under huge pressure and the time taken to gain a consent is very prolonged. Opening these meetings for consultees to state their positions would create extensive additional delays as objectors and supporters lobbied in the meetings. “

Posted in Local Democracy, Planning Committee, Planning permission | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Westminster Council buys 25 more homes in Grays, Essex for homeless families

Westminster City Council has continued its ‘social cleansing’ policy by purchasing 25 properties in Grays, Essex for over £3.6 million through its charitable company Westminster Community Homes. The 25 properties, bought at an average price of £145,000, are located in the following postcodes:

RM15 – 3 properties for £509,000
RM16 – 1 property for £148,000
RM17 – 13 properties for £1,795,500
RM18 – 1 property for £128,000
RM19 – 4 properties for £621,000
RM20 – 3 properties for £424,500

This follows last month’s news that Westminster Council has spent over £6.22 million purchasing 34 properties (30 two bedroom and 4 three bedroom) in Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Enfield and Newham – an average of £183,000 per property.

The Council says that it has made offers on 160 properties and aims to have purchased 60 units by the end of March 2015 and 150 by September 2015, all for families in temporary accommodation.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Group, said:

“Westminster Conservatives are continuing to export the homeless to east London and Essex where they have no connections or family support. This places additional educational and social services burdens on local Councils who are already struggling with the most recent Government cuts.”

“By buying up homes in bulk, Westminster Conservatives are using their financial wealth to take away homes from residents in Grays who want to buy or rent locally”

“Westminster Council should be building many more new social housing flats and houses for those in housing need and not sending families many miles away to east London, Essex and beyond”

Posted in Council finances, Council housing, Exporting those in housing need, Homeless Families, House building, Labour Councillors, Out of touch Conservatives, Social Housing, Westminster Conservatives | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment