Karen Buck MP and the Westbourne Ward Councillors have written the following letter to Councillor Daniel Astaire following his remarks on the result of the of recent residents’ vote on the Council’s regeneration proposals for Warwick and Brindley estate;
Westminster Conservatives told the Council meeting on Wednesday last that Westbourne councillors and I had ‘campaigned for a ‘no’ vote’ on the Warwick and Brindley estate regeneration scheme.
There is no evidence for such a claim, because it is completely false. I am therefore asking for this claim to be retracted it and an undertaking given not to repeat it.
Inevitably, residents want to know what I and their ward councillors, think about projects of this type and scale. I wrote to residents giving setting out the pros and cons as I saw them. (It is worth pointing out that I and ward councillors in Church St did exactly the same before residents voted on their scheme, and the vote there was strongly in favour). The letters to Warwick and Brindley residents, themselves reflective of several discussions with officers, stressed such points as the need to make the affordable housing offer better, to test the salience of the community offer (especially around the nursery); not to promise retail opportunities which were not within the Council’s gift, and so forth.
As can be clearly seen from those letters, which officers have copies of, I stress that it is for residents to make their own decisions and I am strenuously NOT advising them which way to vote. Councillors expressed similar views in their literature.
Over and above the letters, we have all sought to answer factual queries, and ward Councillors have attended numerous meetings with residents over a period of years. The issue rarely came up during our local election canvassing sessions somewhat to my surprise, and that, in my opinion, is itself illustrative of a much lower level of involvement and awareness than should have been the case at this stage in the scheme.
My understanding from officers is that the claim that Labour campaigned for a ‘no’ vote was based on one report to this effect. Not least in light of the fact that I have now seen a complaint that I was campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote, it is my strongly held view that we all do well to avoid drawing any conclusions about another’s actions on the basis of one or two individual recollections, however sincerely held.
I regret that so much time and money was put into a preparation for a scheme that could not command sufficient support. I think there are several reasons why this happened and we all need to seek to understand them. For what it is worth, I believe the offer was seen as insufficient to offset the disadvantages; far too little was done to engage a community which, we predicted, was harder to involve than in Church Street, more effort went into the ‘design’ elements of the scheme than on the human side and the decision to proceed with the construction of the highly visible Torquay Street tower in the months prior to the vote was ill-advised. For that matter, the luxury housing development on Amberley Road, facing the Warwick on the other side of the canal, also did not go unnoticed, and the Warwick has also been under pressure as a result of both the Adult Education centre relocation and the Thames Water excavation. With the exception of the Torquay Street tower, which was not on anyone’s radar until very late on, all of these points were put to Westminster by ward councillors and myself and discussed in detail over the last 8 months. Others may have further insights.
Obviously a period of reflection is now required, and the majority view of the residents must be respected. Yet the underlying problems of over-crowding and the need for an improved public realm remain. We also have an immediate challenge to secure the Thames Water contribution and funding for the Mary Magdalene Crypt project. I hope that we will be able to engage constructively to find a way forward. The residents will not be best-served if such a dialogue about the future is obscured by a wildly inaccurate bout of blame and finger-pointing, such as we saw last week, and I hope we can move beyond that.
Karen Buck MP
(Also on behalf of Councillors David Boothroyd, Adam Hug and Papaya Qureshi).