Category Archives: News

St Stephens Primary school closing – sign of the times

As my one of my old primary schools – St Stephens Primary, Westbourne Park Rd (next door to the Cow pub)  – closes, it reflects on the families no longer prepared to bring up children in Central London locations like Bayswater. 

​​According to London Councils, there is a predicted 7.6% decrease in reception pupil numbers across London from 2022-23 to 2026-27 which translates to a decline of 96,424 to 89,121 pupils over this period. 

London’s birth rate is the main reason for the decrease in demand for school places. However, there are other factors at play which are also affected the number of applications as boroughs are also experiencing shifts in their local child population as a result of families leaving London during the Covid-19 pandemic and following Brexit. Let us hope we don’t see other primary schools closing in the City of Westminster. 

St Mary’s refurbishment kicked into the long grass again!

The government is once again letting down Westminster residents and many others by postponing the rebuilding of St Mary’s hospital to after 2030. The urgency of works at St Mary’s is confirmed by Prof Tim Orchard, CEO of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust response to the announcements who states quite clearly “ If we wait until 2030 to start building works at St Mary’s, it would become impossible to patch up our old facilities, many of which house clinical services. As the provider of London’s busiest major trauma centre and host of the NHS’s largest biomedical research centre, that would be hugely damaging for the health and healthcare of hundreds of thousands of people.” So watch this space in the lead up to the next General Election.  

A local hero of W9 – Flight Sergeant Peter Brown

There was a great send off for Flight Sergeant Peter Brown at St Clement Danes Church by the RAF for one of the last “Pilots of the Carribean“. He was a resident of Warrington Crescent, Little Venice, W9 for many decades and someone you would regularly see along Formosa St and also his favourite park bench at the top corner of Warrington Crescent.

We will have to do something more local for him and his neighbours, like a plaque or something going up on his old home or his favourite park bench.  I trust our councillors can do something fitting for him, as for many here his passing is as sufficient as the Coronation we had a few weekends ago. 

British Bangladeshi educational achievements continue…..

In the 1980’s the lack of educational attainment amongst British Bangladeshi children was noted as underachieving greatly but things have changed considerably now, as they outperform their peers amongst White British. So it was with great pleasure l went to the Surma Centre GCSE Awards to celebrate and recognise the outstanding success of Bangladeshi students in Camden and by implication other boroughs like Tower Hamlets and Newham. This even when many would have studied during COVID pandemic in isolation and on-line.

So things have certainly changed since my days with O levels, very much for the better and long may this continue. We just have to make sure that they get job opportunities that marry up with their outstanding results. 

Protect the right to Strike

Thanks to the TUC to organise all the Trade Unions to come and protest at Parliament Square last night, as the Commons voted on the undemocratic, unnecessary and unworkable Tory Anti-Strikes Bill. Good to hear that Labour Party will repeal this legislation when in power. 

Rana Plaza – 10th anniversary

 

10 years ago on the 24th of April, a 8 storey commercial building called Rana Plaza on the outskirts of Dhaka came crashing down on killing 1,138 people in the factories housed in the building and many thousands injured as well. This tragedy devastated the lives of thousands of families, bringing world wide attention to deathtrap workplaces and rampant exploitation in the garment industry. 

The incident brought up major issues like factory safety; freedom of association; wages; employment injury insurance and legal obligations on companies. On factory safety, the Bangladesh Accord was launched in May 2013 as the first independent and legally binding agreement between brands and trade unions to work towards a safe garment and textile industry bringing improvements to over 1500 factories. With Freedom of Association, despite changes to labour law and an initial spike in unionisation in the first years after the collapse, freedom of association has again come under severe pressure in Bangladesh. With wages, minimum wages in the garment sector in Bangladesh have been reviewed every five years since Rana Plaza collapse, they remain at levels keeping workers in poverty at 8,000 BDT per month when a living income for a family in Bangladesh is said to stand at 36,700 takas. As for employment injury insurance, some $30 million dollars was paid in compensation to victims after 3 years of consumer campaign pressure but a more payment system of employment injury compensation is needed. And finally the EU is moving towards a Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive on legal obligations on companies to respect human rights. Some like France, Germany, Norway have brought strong national legislation to build strong legal frameworks for corporate accountability unlike the UK. 

Whilst all this is happening, we will not forget the victims of Rana Plaza on this 10th anniversary. So l was glad to see on the streets of London, many who “remember the dead and fight for the living”  

SEBRA – Spring 2023 Column

Success in saving the 205 route to Paddington

In the last edition of SEBRA for Autumn 2022, l reported the efforts to save the 205 bus route still going to Paddington. I am glad to say TfL saw the wisdom of myself along with many rail operators along the Euston & Marylebone Road to continue this bus route between the railway terminuses and tube stations, as it’s a critical part of the integrated transport we expect in Central London. 

We had the 160th birthday of the tube from Paddington to Farringdon in January, at platform 5 & 6 of Baker Street and these should continue throughout the year. What was disappointing was that nothing as yet has been done at Paddington Tube station on Praed St even though it was the beginning of the tube service and a response to connecting Paddington station with Central London, over 160 years ago which was then copied around the world. 

Some historical lessons can be learnt for Old Oak Common as well from Paddington’s railway stations experience of linking up with the rest of London, when it’s being discussed whether it should be the terminus for HS2 given the huge cost overruns.   If this did happen it would mean Old Oak Common would become the new Paddington of the 21st century and this will happen anyway as the terminus will be the temporary terminus for HS2 coming to London. 

Strike Action continues along Praed St    

Strike actions continue along Praed St in response to the cost of living crisis but this time not centred around Paddington Railway stations and rail staff but St Mary’s Hospital and the nurses and ambulance staff. They chanted “claps don’t pay the bills” on their picket lines and got a lot of support from passing traffic. 

For the first time in their history, tens of thousands of Royal College of Nursing members took part in strikes during December to demand fair pay and improved patient safety. As the government has failed to act, they have been forced to continue their action into 2023. Strikes will take place across England again from the morning of the 1st of March to the morning of the 3rd of March. 

While the Ambulance strike, Unison argues that industrial action is always a last resort, and the NHS is in crisis and without proper investment from the government it will only get worse.  We are living in the worst cost of living crisis for 30 years, as everyone’s struggling, with the government’s pay award amounting to just an extra 72 p an hour. And as for patient safety, the number of staff vacancies are at a record high and without enough staff, the NHS simply can not deliver safe and efficient care.  In a nutshell, Unison members simply want a pay rise that is a better match for inflation.   

Metropolitan Police 

With the recent scandal of domestic staff use in Little Venice, we must be mindful of Modern Day Slavery in Paddington particularly with migrant domestic workers. They are at more risk of abuse as they were kept outside of the Modern Slavery Act and thus a missed opportunity  to provide any legal protection for them.  

Saying this, l do know the Met Police Trafficking and Kidnap Unit works closing with NGO partners to encourage victims to formally report any allegations of servitude. A significant amount of work had taken place between the MPS and organisations that support domestic migrant workers to ensure they received appropriate help and support if exploited when l was previously at City Hall. So let’s make sure we send potential migrant domestic workers working under modern day slavery, are pointed to the right bit of the Met. 

Council Taxes for 2023/24 in West Central  

Westminster Band D households will pay £912 a year from April, an increase of £48 (predominantly from the GLA precept) for the financial year 2023/24. Nearby Hammersmith & Fulham Council, which has the third lowest average council tax bill in England, is upping the charge by 4.99%, meaning an average bill of £1,306.  

This will see a big investment in temporary housing, the lowest Band D council tax in the country & and free school meals form the centrepiece of Westminster City Council Budget to make for a fairer city for all in our City.  

While the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea are similarly freezing their Council Tax like Westminster City Council but at a level already higher than either at Westminster or Hammersmith & Fulham.

Overdevelopment of old Paddington Green Police Station

Light Easement 

The overdevelopment of this site was drawn to my attention by the residents of the Princesses Louise Close, Winnicott House, Mary Adelaide House, 149 & 151 Church St, Paddington Green who’s HA landlord had given over their rights to light easement in the first phase of West End Gate development, to a previous developer. 

The further development of the site immediately South of West End Gate further takes away any light easement they may have left now, more so with the latest proposal of actually increasing the heights of the three towers on the Paddington Green Police station site, one even taller than the Landmark Tower. The above photo illustrates this well. 

The height and bulk of the proposal also affect the air and light easement to the East of the site, on the opposite side of the Edgware Rd, along Penfold Place & Corlett St, NW1, particularly affecting Miles Buildings which has some of the poorest private rented properties in the City maybe in the whole of Greater London. Please see the above photo again. 

Another area of concern relates to the quality of the accommodation being provided in terms of natural daylight and sunlight. A number of the affordable flats, especially those in the Western elevation of Block K and the East and West elevations of Block J, will have exceptionally low levels of light well below the BRE guidelines. Whilst it is recognised that the provision of recessed balconies will affect light levels to these flats, overall it is considered that these flats will have poor levels of light and outlook, and this is very disappointing given these are the affordable housing units. So in terms of the impact of the proposal on daylight and sunlight to existing neighbouring buildings and those also being raised by the revised proposal, I do not consider that the revisions have addressed the losses of daylight and sunlight to adjoining residents and consider that the increase in the height of the buildings has worsened the impact of the development overall, when compared to the 2021 scheme. So as to maintain my original objection on this ground. 

Finally in regards the bulk and height of the proposal, it also has an impact on the skyline of Little Venice and indeed the Westway has not been considered at all. This is particularly concerning after the protests over the Brunel Building in Hyde Park ward from Little Venice residents. These residents would have expected these concerns to be addressed in this instance particularly as it is in one end of Little Venice Ward. 

The proposal thus fails to provide high quality residential accommodation and is contrary to policy D6 of the London Plan (March 2021) and policy 12 of the City Plan 2019-2040 (April 2021).

Façade Design Inconsistences 

As for the facade design, it does not have any continuity of design with phase I of West End Gate. The changes made are in some respects subtle, but overall has the effect of making the use of metal and glass more prominent as now proposed than the use of masonry cladding elements. Those residents l have met in West End Gate in Bond, Jeremy & Garrett Mansions, have found the facade agreeable to them, so l do not see why this use of orange masonry has been dropped by the developer for aluminium and smaller windows.  

Public realm Design – Misses the subways! 

Whilst I understand the Towers have been squeezed to make more space between the towers between the two proposals for Paddington Green Police station site albeit increasing the height of the three blocks, l am sorry to see no consideration of the landscape to the Marylebone flyover junction and in particular the blocked up subways owned by TfL and managed by the Council which the Towers would be almost on top off in the proposal. 

Increase in the amount of the public realm from 3,553 sqm to 4775 sqm, decrease in play space provision from 1138 sqm to 841 sqm. The revised proposal also includes improvements to the Harrow Road subway. And a complete stopping up of Newcastle Place and partial pedestrianisation of Newcastle Place with the exception of servicing by small vehicles.

It is clearly an opportunity for TfL to invest in these assets along with the developer and bring it up to required active transport standards for all users. 

Housing elements Concerns

The development proposes only 38% affordable housing, below the required 50% on GLA planning policy for land formerly in the public sector (Pol. H5), this is contrary to one of the main objectives for the London Plan. 

The revised scheme increases the total level of affordable housing to 219 units (38% as opposed to 37% by habitable room in the 2021 scheme). The tenure split has also been amended and is now 59.9%:40.1 split social rent to intermediate compared to 48.6%:51.4% in the 2021 scheme, by habitable room. And a slight increased amount of family sized homes within social rent (44% as opposed to 42%). The affordable housing flats are now located in Block J and the lower floors of Block K.  

Shared Ownership Affordability

Concern is raised about the affordability of the 43 Shared Ownership Units. Low cost home ownership is generally unaffordable in a high value area like Westminster to households registered with the Council’s Intermediate Housing Service, either because their incomes are not high enough or households do not have sufficient deposits.

Based on the development’s average proposed pricing this development is knowingly unaffordable to local residents not only in the LSOA (Lower Super Output Areas), ward but the majority of the borough. This proposal’s average prices would also seek to further deepen the level of unaffordability as compared between average wage and house price. Therefore, this proposal is clearly unaffordable, and exclusively priced which would exclude an overwhelming percentage of local residents, and those in the borough. The Council would clearly prefer shared ownership changed to intermediate rent.

The return of “Poor Doors”  

98 social rented homes will be provided within block J (17 storeys), which is a 100% affordable housing block. A further 11 social rented homes, 67 discounted market rent units and 43 shared ownership units will be located within the tower building, block K (39 storeys). The social rented homes will be located on the 1st floor and part 2nd floor. The intermediate homes will be located from part 2nd floor to part 12th floor. Market housing units will occupy the remaining upper floors.

The affordable housing units will be provided with their own separate access arrangements and separate cores. I am not sure this is acceptable in this day and age and l had thought we had moved on from those days and given some of the adverse publicity of other schemes in London with similar access issues, it is regrettable that it is even being proposed here.

 

 

Is the Met fit for purpose anymore?

After the devastating Casey Report on the Met prompted by the Sarah Everard abduction and murder, found it “institutionally racist, sexist and homophobic”, it is only natural for us to ask whether the Metropolitan Police “fit for purpose” particularly in a borough like the City of Westminster? 

Unfortunately these issues have been long standing as its over two decade since the MacPerson report called the Met institutionally racists and books like the Broken Yard by Tom Harper on the fall of the Metropolitan Police highlight well the dysfunction and corruption at the Met from cases of the murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan to Partygate more recently.  

One thing is for sure, the Parliamentary & Diplomatic Protection Unit needs moving away from the Met’s orbit after it harboured both Wayne Cozens and Daniel Carrick. Most of the activities of the unit would be based in the borough with the Palace of Westminster and most of the embassies of the world based in the borough, so posing a threat to many women and girls in our City. 

We also hear that the canteen culture from the 1970s and 1980s has not changed much at all at Police Stations like Charing Cross with a front desk, one of the few stations left in the City under the previous Mayor of London, Boris Johnson who closed many of them.  Knowing such a work culture certainly exists does not reassure residents to visit their front desk at all.  

And then of course there minority community issues with Baroness Casey clearly stating that black communities are “over policed and under protected”. Stop and search operations and their disproportionate impact on the black community with the case Bianca Williams & her boyfriend drawing a lot of attention in W9. The indifference to the killing of Yasmin Chkaifi was also telling. She was a victim of violence on the streets of Maida Vale after the MPS had failed to arrest her assailant – even when a stalking protection order had been breached and she notified the police that she feared for her life.  

As a member of Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) during the John Charles de Menezes shooting, l saw first hand internal battles with the Met and the last Commissioner of the Police clearly did not help matters. So starting from the top, a full investigation of her handling of these issues is warranted as well.  

We are also famously reminded by a previous Police Commissioner, Mark Roberts (1972-77)  remarking that a “good police force is one that catches more crooks than it employs” when he launched his anti-corruption drive, sacking and forcing out over 450 officers. We can only wonder how many can we expect this time round.   

The clarity of the report’s findings is such that it can not be ignored by the Met and gives Londoners an opportunity to review its activities and maybe gain the trust of the police again or else it will need to be broken up to better serve Londoners policing priorities. 

This blog piece was published in Westminster Extra weekly edition of the 24th of March 2023