Westminster council under fire as £1 billion regeneration of Queensway may include only four ‘affordable’ homes





The ‘Evening Standard’ reports:

“The much-vaunted £1 billion regeneration of Queensway is shaping up to include almost no “affordable” homes for young Londoners or key workers.

In the latest example of a developer wanting to go against rules requiring affordable homes to be included in multimillion-pound developments, GMS Estates’ plan for an entire block next to Bayswater Tube is awating approval from Westminster council.

The developer is promising to transform a shabby street with new shops, offices, and 58 flats.

The council’s policy is that about a third of all new homes in the borough should be affordable and aimed at beleaguered first-time buyers and squeezed renters at below-market levels. But GMS Estates says that including any affordable homes at all would make its project financially unviable.

Westminster disagrees — but is asking that the developer builds four affordable homes — only about seven per cent of the total. Instead, it wants the company, which is spending £30 million on the project, to pay £282,000 into the council’s affordable housing fund.

GMS Estates says it has agreed to four affordable homes in the development and added that, since the homes will all be rented rather than sold, they will not go to absentee owners.

“With a private rented model we can be certain we will not be faced with the ‘dark flats’ that far too many new developments suffer from, and make a positive contribution to the redevelopment of Queensway.”

However, the level of affordable housing being discussed for this project flies in the face of a recent pledge by Nickie Aiken, leader of the council, to strictly enforce affordable housing quotas in order to stop Westminster becoming a “ghetto of the rich”.

Fergus Coleman, head of affordable and private sector housing at Westminster council, pointed out that to comply with council policy 16 or 17 of the flats should be affordable.

John Zamit, chairman of the South East Bayswater Residents’ Association, believes GMS Estates should be forced to include more affordable homes in its project. “They should not be allowed to get away with it,” he said.

Westminster recently gave Berkeley Homes permission to build 200 new flats at Paddington Green in W2 with only 32 designated affordable, or just 16 per cent of the total. The developer initially offered none at all, saying the scheme, an extension of its West End Gate development, would not be financially viable with cheaper homes.

The GMS Estates project is proposed at a time when massive regeneration is planned for Bayswater, currently a relatively affordable tranche of central London.


Posted in Affordable Housing, Bayswater, Council housing, Queensway, Regeneration, Westminster North | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Westminster Council neglects scores of street signs across the city

Westminster Labour Councillors are deeply disappointed by long delays from the Council and its contractors in replacing street signs across Westminster. Working with local residents Westminster Labour identified 153 places in February 2017 where street signs were either missing, damaged, in the wrong place or of poor or non-standard design.

Despite months of chasing by Labour councillors and the promise of action by Westminster, the council has failed to tackle almost all of these cases, with only a commitment to replace 10 of the signs reported missing by Labour. Council policy claims that ‘most defective sign issues would be identified for 28 day response’ yet in reality many of these cases were first reported by residents months ago and are still waiting for a response. Replacement signs that have been put up have sometimes been of poor quality, not meeting the exacting design standards that help make Westminster’s streetscape beautiful.

Labour Group Leader Cllr Adam Hug said “Council cuts have left overstretched officers unable to properly deal with the important work of looking after our streetscape. The Sir Misha Black designed red and black Westminster street signs are seen as so iconic that the council even owns the copyright for them. They are an important part of what makes Westminster beautiful and even in this age of smart phones they have a role in showing people where they are! Westminster must ensure that signs are more swiftly replaced and properly positioned to better to protect the look and feel our streets.”

Posted in Street signs | 2 Comments

Labour hit out at Harrow Road planning delays

Labour have reacted angrily to Westminster Council’s announcement that they are shelving already long delayed plans for public engagement around the Harrow Road Area Planning Framework until 2019, after completion of the new City Plan for all of Westminster.

After several years of running a local ‘Town Team’ for part of the area the Council finally committed to a process of looking at how best to support the area around Harrow Road, particularly around Maida Hill Market and Woodfield Road. After months of discussion with local organisations the start of a wider public consultation was launched at a public meeting in April. While Labour had some concerns about the process it believed it was important that the Council finally focused on supporting Harrow Road and that it should start to engage the whole community over what they wanted to see in the area.
With this significant delay to the strategic for the area plan, a number of private developers, particularly in the Woodfield Road area, may well try to push ahead with their individual building plans with no coordination and without the rigorous focus on delivering the new social and genuinely affordable housing the area needs. A successful future for the shops, restaurants and businesses on Harrow Road also requires a proper focus and investment from the Council in consultation with local residents and this important work will be further delayed.

Labour Group Leader and Westbourne Councillor said: “Westminster’s City Plan revision doesn’t seem to have stopped the Council announcing plans for other parts of our city and local residents around Harrow Road have been waiting for action for years. With developers pushing ahead with their plans there is a real risk that the Council is delaying discussing how to shut the stable door until long after the horse has bolted. Westminster needs to continue to consult residents over their plans for the future of Harrow Road and ensure that its strategy is ready to be delivered soon after the new City Plan is implemented rather than postponing the start of the process until 2019.”

Posted in Affordable Housing, Harrow Road, Maida Hill Market, Queen's Park, Westbourne | Leave a comment

Still time to protect ambulance access to St Mary’s Hospital

Westminster Labour have long called for Westminster Council’s planners and the developers of the Paddington Cube to think again about the impact the Cube will have on the nearby hospital as a new access road could have an impact on the ability of ambulances to get quickly and safely into the hospital.

As highlighted in a recent article in the Evening Standard, Imperial Health Care Trust and the London Ambulance Service have written again to the Council asking them to use the ongoing discussions over the Cube’s Section 106 Agreement as an opportunity to change the plans. Labour Group leader Cllr Adam Hug has written to Westminster Council’s Director of Planning to reiterate Labour’s calls for the council to go back to the drawing board to protect ‘blue light’ access to St Mary’s Hospital.

Posted in Planning permission, St Mary's Hospital | 1 Comment

Priced out: blow for Westminster residents as luxury 200-home Paddington development given go ahead with just 32 ‘affordable’ flats

The ‘Evening Standard’ reports:

“One of Britain’s biggest property developers has been allowed to flout rules on affordable housing in central London, claiming it can’t afford to build homes for locals and first-time buyers.

Despite Westminster council’s policy that all new housing schemes should contain at least 35 per cent affordable homes, it has given Berkeley Homes permission to build 200 new flats at Paddington Green in W2 with only 32 designated affordable — just 16 per cent of the total.

The developer initially offered none at all, saying the scheme, an extension of its huge West End Gate development, would not be financially viable with cheaper homes.

The planning committee gave the go-ahead only weeks after council leader Nickie Aiken issued a stern warning to the property industry that she would not tolerate London’s “golden postcodes” becoming ghettos for the rich.

She told the London Real Estate Forum in June: “I do not want to preside over a borough where the housing market is polarised between multimillion properties for oligarchs and council-run estates, with not much in between.

“Too many times we have buckled on viability or surrendered to the idea that brutal market economics simply denies housing opportunities for most people and that is just a harsh fact of life.”

Two-bedroom flats in the sold-out first phase of West End Gate started at £850,000 and Berkeley Homes claimed the new homes would not be financially viable if any affordable properties were included in the scheme. This was queried by Westminster and the offer was upped to 16 per cent affordable, which the council’s planners accepted.

The decision has horrified local residents. The Marylebone Association lodged an official objection to the project. “On such a large development on-site affordable housing should be provided, particularly given the number of nearby public services employers — St Mary’s Hospital, the police station, City of Westminster College,” said spokesman William Hulbert.

However John Walker, Westminster’s director of planning, insisted the proposal offered other “public benefits” to the area, including developing a long-stalled building site which blighted the area, and would help increase the number of homes in the borough at a time when councils are under huge pressure to boost housebuilding.

Berkeley Homes declined to comment.

The scale of the development means London Mayor Sadiq Khan – who pronounced himself “outraged” when the Battersea Power Station Development Company recently managed to reduce the number of affordable homes on the landmark site after pleading poverty – has to give final approval to the plans. Some may view his decision as a marker of his will to take on developers over affordable housing across London.”


Posted in Affordable Housing, Church Street, Council housing, Edgware Road, Paddington, Westminster City Council, Westminster North | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Westminster and CityWest Homes put residents on hold

Westminster City Council and its housing organisation CityWest Homes have left residents hanging on the telephone since implementing their plans to close estate offices and replace them with a new centralised call centre. Labour campaigned against shutting estate offices and warned that the new call centre plan would face significant implementation problems.

Since the introduction of the ‘new CityWest operating model’ on 21st June Labour councillors have been inundated with stories of residents facing long-waiting times (up to an hour in some cases) as CityWest underestimated the number of people who had complaints or needed help. Furthermore residents have not been called back or have been given unsatisfactory holding responses from call centre teams who are struggling with the case load.

The new system has come under further strain due to concerns in the wake of the Grenfell fire, with residents unable to speak to long standing local staff in their offices to get reassurance and being made to join the call centre queues.

After these initial troubles and complaints CWH has brought in more temporary staff but some residents are still facing substantial waits. Labour is calling on the Council and CityWest to get a grip of the situation, looking again at staffing numbers to deal with the higher than expected call volumes and returning CWH staff to the frontline in local hub offices to help address resident’s concerns.

Posted in Affordable Housing, City West Homes, Council housing, Council leaseholders, Council tenants | 3 Comments

Churchill Labour Councillors call on Westminster Council for reassurances on Ebury Bridge Regeneration

Churchill Ward Labour Councillors Jason Williams and Shamim Talukder have called for Westminster Council Leader Cllr Nickie Aiken to step in and provide reassurances for residents of Ebury Bridge Estate on plans for the estate.

At a meeting in June 2017 Cllr Aiken tore up plans for the estate after admitting that developers did not see the Council’s plans as viable. She said the Council were going back to the drawing board,

The announcement has caused great distress to residents already kept waiting without news from the Council following the referendum in favour of the plans in 2013.

Councillor Jason Williams said:

“Despite claims at last month’s meeting of a genuine consultation with real engagement residents are left feeling worried that their homes are going to be demolished and the vast majority unaware of the failure of the initial scheme. The timing of the initial stages of the process in July and August while a lot of residents are on holiday is not helping perceptions about the Council either.” 

“This could have been the Council’s opportunity to try and regain trust in Ebury Bridge 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. We call for a clear statement by Cllr Aiken setting out parameters for the consultation which must include a commitment to social housing in the estate and a promise that any residents effected will be rehoused in Ebury,”

Councillor Shamim Talker said:

“Residents have had years of uncertainty and rather than trying to rebuild trust the Council has only added to that uncertainty. Residents deserve better than this especially after all they have been through with the Council’s poor management of this project.”

Churchill Ward Labour Councillors Jason Williams and Shamim Talukder have consistently called for any final plans to be put to a referendum of all residents before they can go ahead.

Posted in Churchill Ward, Council housing, Council leaseholders, Ebury Bridge Estate, Regeneration, Social Housing, Westminster Conservatives | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments