Letters to the Press/Articles

Letter to the ‘Evening Standard’

Sir

In defending the Conservatives’ policy of expelling the vulnerable from central London (”Kensington to house vulnerable tenants outside city”, 3 August ), Westminster’s cabinet member for Housing describes such banishment to distant ”homelands” as ”a practical step to help people in housing need”.

But if he and his Party were in any way serious about helping those in need, they could start by providing them with homes at genuinely affordable rents on the vast Edgware Road site in north Westminster which has lain undeveloped for decades and now serves only as a car-park.

Or does he take the view, made explicit by one of his Conservative predecessors, that for Westminster families to remain in Westminster should be deemed ”not a right but a privilege”?

The strategy of giving priority to non-resident millionaires should not be tolerated any longer.

Francis Prideaux

6 Riverton Close
London W9 3DS

Letter to ‘The Times’

Sir, I was a recipient of Historic England’s advice on the King’s College London Strand application as a member of Westminster council’s planning committee. Historic England’s support was surprising, but detailed written objections from SAVE Britain’s Heritage, the Victorian Society and others persuaded me that the plans would cause substantial harm. I was, sadly, outvoted.

I am glad to see Historic England has reviewed its work (letter, June 11) but Westminster City Council could help the historic environment if it allowed non-councillors to speak at planning committees. Although they will now get their say at the public inquiry, it might have saved a great deal of time and money had those who knew about the buildings been allowed a voice on April 21.

COUNCILLOR DAVID BOOTHROYD
Westminster City Council

Letter to the ‘Evening Standard’

The takeover by estate-agents of the Star pub in St. John’s Wood (”Happy Hour’s Over”, ES, 13 April) is sadly reflected by the unilateral misappropriation of multiple public assets all over London. Another such pub, the Carlton Tavern in South Kilburn, was recently completely demolished just hours before it was due to be listed for preservation. The company responsible denies any liability either for frightening the children of neighbouring families or for polluting the air around the Carlton Dene old people’s home across the road.

Isn’t there something seriously wrong with a society which allows unaccountable private companies to profiteer from the destruction of public assets, without even pretending to consult the community which they are robbing ?

Francis Prideaux
6 Riverton Close
London W9 3DS

Letter to the ‘Guardian’

Simon Jenkins fails to grasp that adjusting council tax bands will not solve the problem of the super-rich paying low local taxes. When the council tax bands were created the assumption was that moderate increases in property prices would allow the government to adjust the bands from time to time.

No one imagined either that the high-value property market would rocket out of control – or that councils like Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea would encourage such a development (both sell council land to private developers rather than build much-needed housing). What is needed is a new approach to local taxes which takes into account land values. The current chaos in property values in London and the south-east is stifling social mobility and economic growth. A mansion tax, while not perfect, will begin to ensure that high-value-property owners make a fair contribution to taxation.

Councillor Guthrie McKie
Housing spokesperson, Westminster city council Labour group

Letter to the Evening Standard

Vincenzo Rampulla asks (Letters, 23 January) why the Conservatives on Westminster Council have unanimously rejected proposals to improve the lives of those who live in the Private Rented Sector.

This knee-jerk rejection is not only inhumane but also quite self-defeating, in that private tenants include many thousands of Londoners who have previously voted Conservative. Research has also shown that a majority of Conservative tenants want rent-controls, as practised in major cities such as New York.

What ever is the matter with Westminster’s Conservative Councillors? They seem bent on neglecting the needs of Conservative tenants in unquestioning deference to the rule of Conservative landlords.

Francis Prideaux
6 Riverton Close
London W9 3DS

Letter to the Evening Standard

Dear Sirs,

Last night Westminster Council Leader, Cllr Philippa Roe, celebrated a new strategy for buskers and the Council’s efforts to license and regulate pedicabs.

Yet every Conservative councillor seemed to lose their collective urge to act and voted against a sensible motion by Labour to improve Westminster’s Private Rented Sector for landlords and tenants.

You can still read our reasonable motion on the council’s website. It called for was a dedicated PRS strategy, a working group to look at how a light-touch licensing scheme would work and be funded, and for the council to become a champion of the Mayor’s Rental Standard. What is objectionable about that?

Apparently the council sits on the board for the Mayor’s London Rent Standard but an extensive Google search later and I still can’t find any information for renters or landlords about the standard on the council’s website.

Given that four out of ten Westminster residents rent privately why are the council’s leaders determined to ignore renters and small landlords?

Councillor Vincenzo Rampulla
Labour Councillor for Church Street Ward, Westminster City Council

Letter to Property Week

It is entirely predictable that the Leaders of Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea Councils should speak up so strongly for residents living in the most expensive properties in their boroughs (Letters 10th October).

But to most people it seems increasingly unfair that the owners of properties worth tens of millions of pounds should pay the same annual property tax as someone whose home is worth £330,000 (the current Band H cut off).

Indeed, the Ramidus report commissioned by Westminster City Council this year into ‘Prime properties’ proposed additional Council Tax bands to reflect the changes at the top end, acknowledging exactly this point. It is common sense to ask those people in the most expensive properties to contribute more – and help deal with the severe and growing financial pressures on the NHS.

However, there must and will be tough safeguards to protect those long-standing residents whose homes have soared in value over time but whose incomes are modest.

This can be done, for example, by the annual uprating of the £2m threshold with property values so that properties worth under £2m are not drawn in, and by the introduction of ‘bands’ so that those whose homes are worth £2 million pay much less than the charge on properties worth many times that amount. The details are certainly important and I and my colleagues will be making our voice heard loud and clear to protect those who are vulnerable.

The Leaders of Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea Councils should stop their scaremongering and acknowledge the basic unfairness of the present Council Tax system. And the Leader of Westminster Council should start by reading the Ramidus report commissioned by her own Council and paid for by the same Council Tax payers she claims to represent.

yours faithfully

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg
Leader of the Labour Group
Westminster City Council

Letter to the ‘Wood & Vale’

Thank you for drawing attention (”Care home left elderly ‘isolated’ ”, Wood & Vale 11 September) to the plight of care home residents in Westminster. The damning allegations by the official Care Quality Commission should act as a wake-up call to us all.

The old people’s home in question used to be called ”Delaware” and was a directly- run Council service, accountable to elected Westminster Councillors. The Council, however, subsequently abandoned its own responsibility with the result that this vital facility, renamed ”Forrester Court”, is now run by a private company, ironically called ”Care UK”, which has never been elected by local people and whose only loyalty is to its profiteering shareholders. It is worth noting that this same ”Care UK” is currently in a long-running dispute with its low-paid employees in Doncaster, on whom it is trying to impose even worse terms and conditions than their previous ones.

It is clear that vital public services surrendered to private companies will always be liable to see corners cut and standards dropped in the interests of maximising shareholders’ dividends to the direct detriment of the public who depend on the service in question.

Francis Prideaux

6 Riverton Close
London W9 3DS

Letter to the Evening Standard

Sir

The Standard has once again highlighted the return of Roma rough sleepers to Park Lane and reported Westminster Council’s plea for Government assistance to cope with this influx of people. However what is often forgotten in the search for headlines is the growing number of young men and women sleeping on the streets of Westminster.

Walking around Marylebone and Paddington you can see rough sleepers in places where they were never seen before. This is a sure sign that the housing crisis in Central London is getting worse.

And with 2,000 Westminster families living on expensive temporary accommodation and overcrowded families waiting years for a bigger flat, the Government needs to help by investing more in social housing.

Westminster Council could help, too, by building social rent housing on Council owned land rather than selling it for more super prime apartments.

Yours faithfully

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg
Leader of the Labour Group
Westminster city Council
City Hall
SW1

Letter to the Wood & Vale

It’s hardly surprising that Westminster’s ”council spokesman” prefers to remain anonymous. Your story about the council’s (welcome) provision of a single unit of accommodation (”Park lodge to house homeless”, 21 August) cannot conceal the council’s historic refusal to provide the substantial numbers of genuinely affordable homes which its residents and their families require.

The old myths (”Providing accommodation is complex”, ”the council does all it can” and ”Westminster only has finite space”) are shamelessly trotted out as a cloak for the council’s housing strategy of restricting the right to live in Westminster to the super-rich and systematically reducing the opportunity for existing residents to remain.

The claim that the council has had only ”finite space” in which to house residents on low and middle incomes has been consistently exposed as disingenuous whenever a substantial site has become available, whether it was the enormous ”Carlton Gate” development on Harrow Road, the former secondary school site in North Wharf Road or, even more recently, the London Mayor’s closed-down Police and Fire Stations.

Most flagrantly of all, why does the council still refuse to insist on providing genuinely affordable homes on the vast site at the corner of Edgware Road and Church Street which has been left undeveloped for decades and is currently used just as a car-park ?

If those who run Westminster Council still dare to pretend that ”the council does all it can”, why won’t they now throw off their cloak of anonymity and come to North Westminster in order to debate their record and, even more importantly, their intentions for the future ?

Francis Prideaux

6 Riverton Close
London W9 3DS

Letter to the Evening Standard

Dear Sir,

Nick De Bois MP is right, Londoners are abandoning the Tories and voting Labour. And from what I’ve seen in Westminster, residents and business are tired of being taken for granted by a bloated and boastful Tory majority.

Thursday’s result was disastrous for Westminster Tories after the voters rejected their candidates in Churchill and Maida Vale wards and returned Labour councillors in formerly safe Tory seats.

Westminster Tories should not dismiss their dismal result, they have been put on notice by the electorate.

Councillor Vincenzo Rampulla
Westminster Labour Councillor for Church St

Make your vote count

In May 2010, Westminster Conservatives received 43% of the votes and won 80% of the seats on Westminster City Council (48 out of 60).

For the past 4 years Labour’s 12 Councillors have represented the 57% of Westminster residents who do not vote Conservative. We have represented the concerns of residents in every ward in Westminster who have been ignored or let down by the Tories.

We have led campaigns to stop the closure of police stations, fire stations, libraries, post offices and swimming pools. We have supported the setting up of the North Westminster foodbank and led campaigns in support of the London Living Wage and a 20mph speed limit on residential roads. We have taken up thousands of individual concerns of residents battling against the Council and Government agencies.

We are fighting flat out to win control of the Council but given the demographic make-up of Westminster and the past Tory gerrymandering, it is highly likely that the Tories will retain control of the Council – even if they win a minority of the votes again.

Labour is, and always has been, the only opposition party in Westminster with Council seats. In order to maintain a strong opposition which represents the majority of residents and holds the Tories to account it is vital that there are more Labour Councillors voted in on 22nd May

The two key marginal wards in Westminster are Churchill ward and Maida Vale ward where Labour Action Teams have been working in partnership with local residents and local groups and campaigning on local grass roots issues.

With more Tory cuts promised for the coming years it is vital that you make you vote count and ensure that there are more Labour Councillors to represent the interests of the majority of local residents

Make your vote count by electing more Labour Councillors so that you can hold Westminster Conservatives to account.

Yours faithfully

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg
Leader of the Labour Group
Westminster City Council

The parking tax

Letter to the Spectator

I was bemused to see Cllr Devenish boast that Westminster has the lowest council tax in England (Letters, 3 May). He failed to mention that the shortfall is made up by parking charges paid from the pockets of visitors and residents alike. This year, weary motorists will be paying Westminster City Council £52 million, and the cost of a resident’s parking permit is up by 23 per cent since 2012. This money contributes to the £111 million Westminster has spent on emergency housing in hotels since 2010, an issue directly attributable to this government presiding over the lowest level of housebuilding since the 1920s. One hopes readers in Knightsbridge and Belgravia will carefully consider the option of electing a rather more recalcitrant set of Labour candidates later this month.

Thomas Williams
Labour candidate, Knightsbridge and Belgravia, London SW1

As the super-rich of Westminster dig deeper, Mayor Boris should crack down on basements

by MURAD QURESHI

SUBTERRANEAN development is a growing issue in some parts of London, where the super-rich are digging deeper and wider in an effort to cram swimming pools, cinemas, and gyms into often historic homes.

These developments can cause flooding, sink-holes and structural damage to neighbouring buildings and construction is often severely disruptive.

The worst-affected boroughs have policies to limit inappropriate basement development but without the backing of a strong policy in the London Plan they will find it difficult to enforce and can see their decisions overturned by inspectors.

Most local authorities have planning policy on basement development but four where the problem is most acute; Camden, Hammersmith & Fulham, City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) have or are developing special policies to tackle it.

In 2013 alone there were 1,709 applications for these mega-basements in RBKC; 1,405 in the City of Westminster; 754 in Camden; and 616 in Hammersmith & Fulham.

A recent report on the application for one of the largest and most opulent basements in Holland Park included a cigar room, yoga studio, two-level gymnasium and a six car stacker system.

This is unashamed decadence at its worst; the super-rich shouldn’t have free rein to affect the ground beneath us because of lax planning law in London.

Restrictions on basement expansion must be tightened to avoid “iceberg” houses from becoming the norm and further putting upward pressure on land prices.

The damage to neighbouring houses is often devastating: Peter Symonds, chair of the Combined Residents’ Associations of South Hampstead highlighted the misery these develop­ments can bring about, saying that “dozens of local residents who live close to basement excavations have seen their cellars and gardens flooded, experienced subsidence and serious destabilisation, and watched helplessly as elaborate Victorian ceilings and bay windows are bought crashing down”.

The Mayor of London’s draft Further Alterations to the London Plan does not include any basement development policy even though, as the body which oversees strategic policy in London, the mayor is best placed to tackle this problem.

This is why I proposed a motion at the last meeting of the London Assembly on March 5.

The alterations currently being consulted on provide an opportunity to add a policy preventing inappropriate basement development.

Some of what the motion said is as follows: “This Assembly notes that inappropriate basement development is an increasing problem within London. Despite the rising concern, the draft Further Alterations to the London Plan (FALP) does not include a specific policy on subterranean development. London must adopt stronger policies to help boroughs prevent unnecessary basement development, such as prohibiting extensions under listed buildings and limiting the size and depth of new and redeveloped basements.

“This Assembly therefore calls on the Mayor of London to revise the FALP to include a specific policy against inappropriate basement development”

MP Karen Buck’s private member’s bill, the Permitted Development (Basements) Bill 2013-2014 provides some guidance on the meaning of inappropriate basement development. Her Westminster North constituency has one of the highest concentrations of planning applications for these subterranean extensions. The bill defines these as developments which include listed buildings, a depth of more than one storey and that cover more than 50 per cent of the garden area so this provides us with a good yard-stick with which to measure. The motion received unanimous cross-party support.

Despite the recent consideration of councils over planning, we need a revision of the FALP policy by the mayor to include planning restrictions that can then be enforced.

Councils have little command against the might of architectural companies, legal teams, and the super-rich without such policy. If the mayor introduces this policy into the London Plan then we can place tighter controls on these underground developments.

The mayor’s sister recently campaigned, with other residents, to block a planning application which would have seen a basement being built underneath a public road in Notting Hill.

So, if the mayor does not listen to us then perhaps he should lend an ear a bit closer to home!

The London Plan is the spatial planning strategy for London. The draft FALP were published January 15 for consultation by April 10.

The alterations can be found at: http://www.london.gov.uk/priorities/planning/london-plan/draft-further-a…

Murad Qureshi is Londonwide Labour Member of the London Assembly.

It’s time to get tough on vacant land and empty property

The London housing crisis is getting worse with every day. Every area has its own particular local story but there are some facts which remain the same wherever you are. In Westminster, there is a familiar tale with;

• Over 1,000 families living in overcrowded conditions
• Of the 828 new homes given planning permission in 2012/13 only 82 were affordable homes
• Average weekly private rents are 71% of local wages
• The Council has spent £111m housing homeless families in hotels and B&B since 2010

Yet at the same time, there are over 3,000 empty properties in Westminster, together with a number of vacant key sites with planning permission which, if developed, could contribute to meeting the intense housing in need in the heart of the capital.

Labour has been looking hard at what it will take to get new homes built quickly and available for those in need.
Ed Miliband’s new ‘use it or lose it’ planning policy would strengthen the ability of councils to compulsorily purchase land with planning permission which has not been developed.

For example, the long-vacant ‘West End Green’ site on Edgware Road should be a priority target for the new ‘use it or lose it’ planning regime following the General Election next year. This prime site has been vacant for over 20 years despite having been granted planning permission for new homes and a supermarket in 2005. Westminster Council has failed for decades to get this site developed and the owners have been content to do nothing and watch the value of their land increase. This sort of neglect is not in the public interest.

A similar situation exists at the 13 acre former MoD Chelsea Barracks site which has had a planning permission since June 2011 for 448 houses and flats, a sports centre, shops and health centre. Nearly three years later, not a single brick has been laid on this site.

Ed Miliband has also proposed allowing councils to double the Council Tax on long-term empty homes (up from the current maximum of 150%). Last year Camden increased Council tax to 150% on furnished properties left empty for more than 2 years. This move led to a reduction in the number of empty homes in the borough by 35% in just nine months.
Getting tough on vacant land and empty property, together with a massive social house building programme, is the route of the housing crisis – the sooner we get started, the better.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg is Leader of the Labour Group, Westminster City Council

November 28th 2013

A glossy brochure from Westminster Council has just been delivered through my door in North Westminster. It is shamelessly titled ”Safer Westminster : How we’re keeping our city’s streets safe”.

It entirely fails, however, to mention (let alone justify) the Conservative strategy of cutting both the number of Police on our streets and also the numbers of Fire-Stations, Fire-Engines and Fire-Fighters needed to protect us.

Why on earth should Westminster Council-Tax payers be obliged to pay for such tendentious propaganda ?

The answer, ironically, can be found in the brochure itself. As the headline on page 4 advises, ”Don’t Be Conned” !

Francis Prideaux

6 Riverton Close, London W9 3DS

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