Westminster Labour pledge to clean up the planning system by ending hospitality from developers

Labour believes that under Conservative control Westminster Council has put the needs of property developers first for far too long. For decades they have let developers get away with building far fewer ‘affordable’ homes than required under Westminster’s planning policy, they have pushed through controversial schemes and promoted an approach to architecture based on the whims of senior councillors.

There is a clear perception that senior Conservative councillors have a very close relationships with developers. For example the Conservative Deputy Leader of the Council Cllr Robert Davis has had to disclose that since the start of 2015 he has received hospitality related to his role as a City Councillor from developers, big business and other interests a record 514 times. This equates to a staggering 14 cases of declarable hospitality a month, peaking at a ludicrous 47 incidents in December 2016. Labour believes that such an approach does not help build public trust that the Council will put the needs of residents before those of property developers and business interests.

If elected to run the Council in May Labour will engage with industry representatives in open settings to share views and push for residents priorities but we will do so whilst working to achieve the highest standards. Labour commits that:

  • Labour Cabinet Members and Councillors will not accept hospitality from individual developers and their agents.
  • Labour will require the Council to formally record all meetings between Cabinet Members and developers when discussing individual schemes. There will always be an officer present.
  • A record of these meetings will be posted on the Council website within two weeks.

Cllr Adam Hug said “Labour will act to change the broken culture at Westminster Council so that we put the needs of residents before those of developers. Councillors should have a transparent relationship with developers and other powerful interests so that residents can be assured that their representatives are fighting for them rather than dining out on developers’ expense accounts.”

Notes:

There is no suggestion Cllr Davis has broken any laws or rules

See https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/feb/19/westminster-councillor-received-gifts-and-hospitality-514-times-in-three-years

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Posted in Affordable Housing, Architecture, Planning Committee, Planning permission | 1 Comment

Westminster Council’s own lettings agency shamed over dodgy business practices and sky high letting fees

Westminster Council Trading Standards have fined the Council’s own lettings and estate agent £15,000 for three breaches of the Consumer Rights Act. CityWest Residential was fined for failing to publish details of agent’s tenant fees, for failing to publish details of the agent’s client money protection scheme and for failing to publish details of the agent’s redress scheme. It has now been listed on the Mayor of London’s Rogue Landlords Register.

Unlike a number in a number of Labour Councils where local authority backed lettings agents have been used to improve standards for private renters Conservative Westminster Council have used CityWest Residential primarily for profit.

Despite heavy criticism from organisations like Generation Rent, Westminster Council’s lettings agent charges some of the highest fees to tenants in sector (which they are now forced to show on their website). These are approximately £492 for a two person household according to Generation Rent.

Labour believes CityWest Residential should be converted into an ethical housing company that works to improve standards in Westminster’s private rented sector. This would mean offering not-for-profit deals for landlords who were willing to offer long-term stable tenancies, cap rent rises and meet quality and repairs standards.

Under Labour the organisation would stop charging letting agent fees and work to reduce other costs tenants face.

Labour Group leader Councillor Adam Hug said “This story is just another example of the broken culture at Westminster Council and the deep problems at CityWest Homes.

If Labour wins Westminster in May we will make sure the council uses its full range of powers and services to improve conditions for private renters in our city. We will create a Westminster that works for the many private renters, not the few organisations that seek to exploit them. ”

Posted in City West Homes, Housing, Private rented housing, Private rents | 1 Comment

Dolphin Square flats in Pimlico to get new homes, but how many will be affordable?

A recent article in the Evening Standard asks: “Dolphin Square flats in Pimlico to get new homes, but how many will be affordable?”

Despite submitting almost 300 planning documents to the council, Westbrook has declined to say exactly how many of the new homes will be affordable and earmarked for people who would otherwise be priced out of the area, other than to promise it will designate the “maximum possible”.”

“As property values in the area have risen exponentially, however, so have rents at Dolphin Square. Today it is largely unaffordable to people on average London salaries. Rightmove is currently listing about two dozen one-bedroom flats at the red-brick square at rates ranging from £360 per week to £495 per week.” 

https://www.homesandproperty.co.uk/property-news/notorious-dolphin-square-flats-in-pimlico-to-get-new-homes-but-how-many-will-be-affordable-a117686.html

Posted in Dolphin Square, Pimlico, Private rented housing, Private rents, Tachbrook Ward | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Conservative threat to close the Bayswater Children’s Centre after cruel cuts to children’s early help services

Westminster Labour are deeply concerned that the Conservative Council is considering closing the Bayswater Children’s Centre.

Westminster Conservatives have taken huge amounts of money out ‘early help’ services for young people and families in Westminster- £7.42 million pounds in early help cuts since 2015 (as part of more than £10m cuts to children’s services). These cuts have seen services both for the most vulnerable and the wider community hollowed out across many of Westminster’s Children’s Centres.

When traditional Children’s Centre Services and stay and play drop-in sessions were cut from Bayswater Children’s Centre in 2016 the Council promised that Government funded support for 2 year olds alongside maternity services, after-school services and other voluntary sector sessions would fill the gap. The Council have now confirmed that from summer 2018 the 2 year old provision will be moving to other facilities and the council is now ‘exploring options for the site’.

Without a Labour Government to reverse the Conservative slashing of local authority funding a Labour Council, if elected in May, could not commit to reversing all of their damaging cuts. However we believe that drop-in and outreach services for young children and their parents are hugely important. So if elected to run the council in May Labour is committed to keeping the Bayswater Children’s Centre open and providing services to all local families. This will include restoring the provision of stay and play drop-ins and outreach services from the site.

Leader of the Labour Group Cllr Adam Hug said “The cruel cuts to Children’s early help services have already had a damaging impact on the life chances of many young people in Westminster and restricted the options available to parents trying to navigate their way through their children’s early years. Labour will re-invest in both ‘stay and play’ drop-ins and vital outreach services across Westminster’s Children’s Centres. We will keep Bayswater Children’s Centre open to all.”

Posted in Child Care, Child poverty, Children, Children's Centres | Leave a comment

Gay ‘cure’ film showing scrapped

A screening of a documentary purporting to show 15 people who are “emerging out of homosexual lifestyle” due to therapy or religion, at a cinema in Westminster, has been scrapped.

The film is ‘Voices of the Silenced: Experts, Evidences and Ideologies’ and was made by the Core Issues Trust who promote ‘conversion therapy’ for lesbians and gay men. It was due to be shown tomorrow at the Vue cinema on Regent Street.

Westminster Labour councillor David Boothroyd drew attention of the council to the film not having a certificate from the BBFC. Under Westminster council licensing policy, a cinema wishing to show an unlicensed film in public must show it to the council 28 days before.

Neither the cinema nor the Core Issues Trust had done so, and the council’s head of licensing has said:

“Our officers have visited Vue cinema today to alert the premises of that fact. Vue has agreed to cancel the viewing. We will be following this up with them in terms of procedures for film classification and the responsibility placed on them within their premises licence.”

Colin Appleby, Westminster Labour’s LGBT coordinator and council candidate for St James’s ward, said:

“Every major psychological and medical organisation has found trying to change sexual orientation doesn’t work. The NHS says so-called ‘conversion therapy’ is “unethical and potentially harmful”, and I have been campaigning to make it illegal.”

Cllr Boothroyd added:

 “I’m very relieved this event has been scrapped. Westminster council officers deserve praise for acting so quickly as it was only the story in PinkNews late on Tuesday that brought it to my attention. The Church of England General Synod has said gay conversion therapy is ‘unethical’ and called for it to be banned.”

Posted in Labour Councillors, LBGT, Westminster City Council | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Churchill Councillors call for Ebury Bridge referendum following Mayor of London’s guidelines on estate regeneration

Churchill Ward Labour Councillors Shamim Talukder and Jason Williams have written to Councillor Rachael Robathan, Westminster Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, to demand a full ballot of all residents on any final scheme agreed for Ebury Bridge Estate.

This follows the publication of the Mayor of London’s guide to estate regeneration, which sets out plans to protect social housing in the city.

Cllr Jason Williams said: “The Tories kept relying on the draft consultation paper as an excuse not to have a referendum, despite having one in 2013. 

“The Mayor’s best practice guide, published today, is quite clear that a referendum is mandatory on any scheme where demolition is a part. 

“As Westminster Council has been quoting the Mayor’s guidance as a reason for their own decisions, they need to be consistent and follow now the guidance proposed by the Mayor – which is that estate referendums are mandatory.”

Letter to Cllr Rachael Robathan, Westminster Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing

Dear Rachael,

We are writing following today’s publication of the Mayor’s guide to estate regeneration to ask that the Council commit to holding a referendum on any final options for Ebury Bridge Estate.

As you will be aware the good practice guide calls for residents to be at the heart of decision-making and mandatory ballots of residents for schemes where any demolition is planned.

In the meeting with residents on 28th June 2016 you said the Council’s former commitment to holding a referendum as was held in 2013 had changed due to the Mayor’s then draft guidance. This was also echoed by Conservative Councillor Murad Gassanly in his recent speech to Full Council in January. As the final good practice guide does call for mandatory referenda then we take it that the Council’s decision has changed and you will continue to follow the Mayor’s advice.

Can you therefore please outline a timetable for a referendum in Ebury Bridge Estate on any final plans which come out of the current consultation. 

We believe that any scheme must win the support of the existing residents before it can go ahead. 

Posted in Churchill Ward, Ebury Bridge Estate, Estate Regeneration, Mayor of London, Regeneration, Westminster City Council, Westminster Conservatives | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Conservative Case for Disruption: Tory Cabinet Minister confirms Government opposition to regulating Airbnb

Conservative Cabinet Minister Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has used a major speech at the think tank Policy Exchange to attack a bill put forward by Westminster North Labour MP Karen Buck that seeks to restrict the spread of homes in Westminster being used permanently by Airbnb and other short let operators.

Truss tweeted about her comments thatKaren Buck MP has put forward legislation to restrict Airbnb.#antifreedom’ .

Her speech claimed that ‘Labour’s Karen Buck has put forward legislation which would force people to register with the government before using AirBnB’ as part of a wider attack on Labour’s efforts to crack down on those abusing the rules and re-balance the economy.

As a leading member of the Government Truss is bound by Cabinet collective responsibility meaning that her public statements must reflect Government policy,  showing Conservative Government opposition to legislative efforts to tackle the spread of short lets. (The speech was live tweeted by the Conservative Party Press Office showing that it reflected party policy).

Since the Conservative- Lib Dem Coalition removed the requirement for short-lets flats to require planning permission if they are being let out for under 90 days in the 2015 Deregulation Act, the number of properties in Wesminster being used for short-lets has ballooned. Much of this growth has been by those breaking the new rules and using them for year-round short-lets that rent the flat out through different websites, change the flat numbers advertised or falsely claim only one room was being let out.

Labour supports the rights of ordinary people to rent out their properties when they go away on holiday but argue that councils need greater support to tackle the problems caused by unscrupulous landlords. Because landlords in Westminster can earn far more by letting out a flat on a weekly basis rather than a normal shorthold tenancy a huge number of flats that could be providing homes for local people are instead becoming mini-hotels. These short let flats are causing huge disruption to local communities with security concerns due to the number of people coming and going, late night parties and increased littering.

Westminster Labour Group Leader Cllr Adam Hug said:

“Hard working Council officers face huge challenges trying to manage the mushrooming ‘buy-to-short let’ market in Westminster. Karen Buck MP has tried to work on a cross-party basis to give councils the information they need to separate out the law abiding residents occasionally letting out their flat from the rogue landlords who are hurting our communities.

It is hugely disappointing the Conservative Government does not recognise this problem in Westminster but it is clear that Labour does and we will continue to fight for change to support the efforts of local council officers. Elizabeth Truss called her speech ‘The Conservative Case for Disruption’ and that is exactly what her Government’s policies are doing to our communities.”

Notes

The outline of Karen Buck MP’s proposed legislation, put forward as a 10 minute rule bill in Parliament, would encourage those using Airbnb and other sites to inform their local councils that they were doing so. This would hugely assist council environmental health teams narrow down on who was breaking the law and who was following it.

Posted in Airbnb, Housing | 1 Comment