February 2018 E-Newsletter
Sadiq Khan pledges 1,000 more police - but against a backdrop of much deeper police budget cuts
There is little doubt that concern over policing has risen sharply over the last couple of years as the impact of cuts to police budgets bites harder, we have lost around 1 in 3 of our total policing strength since 2011 and levels of serious and violent crimes have risen across the country. Across London, officer numbers could drop below 29,000 by 2021 – the lowest level for almost twenty years. This means a 20% fall in the number of police per head of population since 2010, and financial pressures have been driving a further round of station closures (79 closed under the last Mayor, including St John’s Wood and Harrow Road) and the merger of Borough police commands in an attempt to cut costs whilst keeping as many resources as possible on the front line.
Westminster has a high level of overall recorded crime , and although this is, of course, heavily distorted by the impact of the huge rise in day - and night-time visitor populations, we are still an area under pressure. I am frequently contacted by residents wanting to know what more can be done, especially in respect of serious violent crime. The Met Police have already faced more than £600 million in cuts to their budget in the last few years, with a further squeeze equivalent to £350 million still to come. With 70% of funding coming from the Government, the Mayor does not have the capacity to raise sufficient funds to plug that gap, but I am pleased to report that his budget plans, just announced, include the unusual step of using income raised from business rates in London to support funding an extra 1,000 police officers than would otherwise be affordable. The Met will still be severely stretched and savings are still needed, but it is still an important step.
Additionally, Sadiq Khan has set up a new fund to help young Londoners – particularly those who are at risk of getting caught up in crime. With Westminster Council having ended all funding for youth, play and after-school services in the last couple of years, this is very welcome. We need investment in preventive services as well as policing - and if the Council’s proposed 'Voluntary Contribution Scheme' puts something back in to replace what has been lost, this will of course be welcome.
I also appeared on the Sunday Politics London you can view my interview from the 38.52 minute mark!
Broadband in Westminster - still a problem for many
Much of the coverage around broadband speeds tends to focus on rural areas, but in fact, Westminster ranks very badly.
Westminster North ranked 541st out of 650 constituencies last year for average download speed, and 646 for Superfast Broadband availability. (Cities of London and Westminster South ranked 647 and 595 respectively).
I have met/lobbied BT Openreach and recently spoke to the Council about this- there are issues around cost and planning constraints and here is the latest from Westminster and from Openreach.
Connect Westminster Voucher Scheme
Westminster City Council has secured £2.8m from the European Regional Development Fund to support SMEs to connect to gigabit capable connectivity. Over the course of the project, at least 1,250 businesses will receive grants of up to £2,000 to access affordable, future-proof connectivity.
As of the 5th February, 220 applications have been received by Westminster City Council. The average download speed for these companies is a dramatic 2,096% faster and the upload speed uplift, 15,719%. This makes a significant difference to a business’ ability to operate - but perhaps also reflects how difficult the digital environment has been in Westminster.
Openreach Fibre to Premises
Westminster City Council is also working with Openreach to support the roll out of ‘Fibre to the Cabinet’ Technology within Westminster. Although this is an outmoded technology because it is still partly based on copper rather than supported fibre, it is still more effective.
The council welcome any Openreach announcement of a switch to Fibre to Premises which is the global standard.
As of October 2017, 107 of these cabinets have been deployed. As a result, a total of 24,273 additional homes now have access to faster broadband.
Parking Bay Discounts
The cost of parking bay suspensions is a significant expense for broadband delivery all over the UK. The council has innovated to reduce these costs - broadband providers here are granted the same concessions as other major utilities. This is a suspension of bays for up to a maximum of three months. This scheme has markedly increased the attractiveness of deploying infrastructure within Westminster. Providers such as G.Network and Openreach have made full use of the offer to deploy more fibre in the area.
Coordinating Street Works
Westminster’s Street Works team has also long recognised its role in supporting network deployment, helping utilities undertake work with minimum impact on residents and road-users. While the City Council operates the London Permit Scheme to control works in the highway, the team has always taken a uniquely flexible approach to the implementation of the legislation.
While many boroughs strictly interpret the legislation, the WCC Street Works team take a different approach. In practice this means that rather than imposing strict 3-month notice periods for new major works in all cases, officers may agree earlier starts where there is limited impact on the roads or even an opportunity to phase the works to reduce disruption. This usually means that companies delivering fibre within Westminster can get access to the highway much more promptly than they would elsewhere in London.
The council has marshalled its convening and regulator power to create a conducive environment to the delivery of high speed broadband. There is evidence this is attracting very significant new investment from the market, therefore making a material difference to connectivity speeds in Westminster.
It is true that Openreach often cite high costs and difficulties with planning as barriers to the roll out of superfast broadband in Central London and there are no doubt challenges in some conservations areas. However, the emergence of new competition, the council’s leadership in managing costs and continuous pressure from residents and the business community are creating new opportunities for the delivery of broadband in the borough.
This is the most recent statement from Openreach (Feb 1st) in which they commit to an extension of the FTTP programme in London.
Openreach, Britain’s national broadband infrastructure provider, today announced an acceleration of its Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) build programme to enhance Britain’s digital infrastructure and to reinforce the UK’s position as the leading digital economy in the G20. Openreach is extending its current Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) build target by 50% to reach three million premises by the end of 2020 through its new ‘Fibre First’ programme2. Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester make up the first phase of the programme which will connect up to 40 UK towns, cities and boroughs with FTTP3 with build starting in 2018. Openreach will also continue to focus on delivering FTTP to rural areas, in partnership with the Government, to make sure some of the hardest to reach communities in the UK get access to future-proofed, FTTP networks.
You can read the whole statement here.
Winter pressures and an inspection at St Mary’s hospital
Once again, NHS staff at St Mary’s and elsewhere rose to the challenge of exceptional pressures this winter, for which they deserve our profound thanks. Only one emergency bed was spare at St Mary’s over the Christmas period, representing one of the highest levels of bed occupancy in the country. With the NHS in the midst of the deepest funding squeeze in its history, local managers also report increased demand, and the increased severity of the conditions with which patients are presenting in A&E , delays in transferring patients to Social Care outside hospital, including delays for mental health beds, difficulties with the transfer of patients from the Vocare run Urgent Care Centre to the emergency department at St Mary’s and estate problems that have led to temporary bed closures, such as in Thistlethwayte ward at St Mary’s due to a partial ceiling collapse.
In a statement in November, divisional director of medicine Professor Tim Orchard, who manages the “patient pathway” through the trust’s urgent and emergency service, said: “We’ve also already got a lot of pressure on our inpatient beds – partly as a result of estates problems causing wards to be out of action for repair work but also because we are seeing more urgent and emergency admissions – there’s been an 11 per cent increase since 2015/16."
I raised the issue of St Mary’s building conditions in Parliament in January - whilst planning proposals for the hospital re-build are going ahead, there is not yet enough money to complete them, nor are there sufficient funds to deal with what is the biggest maintenance backlog in the country. What can’t happen is nothing- either the funding gap for the new hospital has to be filled, or the existing building repaired before the situation gets even worse.
Care Quality Commission inspect St Mary’s
In late February, the Care Quality Commission re-inspected St Mary’s and upheld their earlier ‘Requires Improvement’ judgement. They found a great deal that was good about the hospital, but want to see further improvements in maternity, urgent and accident/emergency care and surgery. You can read their report here.
And the Standard coverage here.
Bayswater Children’s Centre ‘latest casualty’ of the squeeze on children’s services
Even though we know the value of ‘early help’ services for young people and families, a huge amount has been taken out of the budget in recent years- there have been £7.42 million pounds in early help cuts since 2015 (as part of more than £10m cuts to children’s services).
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’. This is a Centre that was only opened a decade ago as part of the development of a comprehensive network of Children’s Centres!
The (continuing) rise and rise of short-lets
As the scale of the short-let/nightly booked accommodation sector continues to increase, experience from cities abroad confirms that we in the interests of the wider community desperately need to make sure that it is properly managed and regulated. This is all the more the case as evidence suggests the sector is becoming increasingly commercialised and goes well beyond the informal ‘sharing economy’ in which owners let out rooms or their homes for short periods for some extra cash.
I am continuing to make the case for ‘light touch’ monitoring to enable councils such as Westminster to have a reasonable chance of effectively managing the impact of short-lets. I introduced a ‘presentation Bill’ into Parliament shortly before Christmas, which you can read on the ‘They work for you’ website.
This is not at attempt to ‘ban Airbnb’- just to make sure the interests of neighbours and communities are protected, we don’t lose too many valuable homes to the hospitality industry and councils don’t have to spend precious resources making sure the law is upheld.
I tend to receive more letters about animal welfare issues than almost anything, so here’s my party’s new manifesto on the topic. Comments are very welcome!
You may be aware that there is a campaign to ban the sale of electronic shock collars banned across the UK. The Scottish and Welsh Governments have taken action to ban their use but they can still be used legally in England and only Westminster can ban the sale. I have signed the Parliamentary Motion supporting this, and you can add your voice to the petition
Air quality issues are very dear to our hearts locally, as Central London is particularly badly affected, and as an officer of the Parliamentary All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Quality, it is very important to me. On 21st February 2018, the Government were defeated in court for the third time in three years after a case brought by Client Earth.
The judge’s ruling was highly critical of Defra, pointed out that this was the third unsuccessful attempt by the Government to produce a plan to bring down air pollution to legal levels as quickly as possible, leaving people in towns and cities at “real risk” from air pollution. The judge said:
"The history of this litigation shows that good faith, hard work and sincere promises are not enough...and it seems the court must keep the pressure on to ensure compliance is actually achieved."
Last chance to comment on the London Plan
The London Plan shapes how London evolves and develops and is the framework for all planning decisions and local plans across London.
The current plan was adopted in 2016 but the Draft London Plan now under consideration is also a material consideration in planning decisions.
All comments on the latest draft must be received by 5pm on Friday 2 March 2018. You can see how to respond here.
What is driving child poverty in London?
I spoke in last week’s Parliamentary debate, picking up the particular issue of high rents in private rented and, increasingly, social housing, as a key problem.
You can read my speech here.
Calls for greater transparency over overseas company property ownership as figures show the impact in Westminster
London is an international city and that is part of its strength, culturally and socially as well as economically. But there are growing concerns over the scale of property ownership by overseas based companies, which, without proper transparency, can be a means of concealing offences such as tax evasion, money-laundering, theft and terrorist activities.
New research shows the scale of this ownership, which is heavily concentrated in London, and in high value areas such as Westminster. That’s why I support the Mayor’s call to speed up plans for a new public register of the beneficial ownership of overseas companies that own UK property. The Government is committed to producing a register, but it is still some years away from coming into effect.
Rachel Davies Teka, Head of Advocacy at Transparency International UK, has said: “Giving the public transparency over the real owners of London’s multi-million pound properties would strike a huge blow against corrupt individuals who view our homes as nothing more than safety deposit boxes to hide their loot. Transparency International has been campaigning for the introduction of this register for over three years and with cross-party support there is no reason for any further delay. Nor should secretive company owners be given additional time to make their own arrangements - they have known this was coming for two years already. The Government should publish draft legislation before Easter, so that a Bill can be put before MPs in the current parliamentary session.”
You can see the map based on the BBC research here.
and some very local news…
St John’s Wood Society carry out air quality monitoring
To their considerable credit, the St John’s Wood Amenity Society is taking air quality issues very seriously, and has been supporting monitoring of No2 emissions.
The results are worrying, with air pollution breaching legal limits in a number of places over the autumn and winter especially around the main roads. The Society wants to promote more discussion of the actions that can be taken at different levels to tackle this public health hazard, so if you live in the area, do join them and take part in the debate, link to website.
Abbey Road Studios makes it to top 100 of Historic England’s irreplaceable places.
There may be mixed feelings about this locally, but I am sure it is of interest:
Dear Ms. Buck,
I just wanted to share the good news that Abbey Road Studios in your constituency have secured a place in Historic England's Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places.
Nominated by the public in the Music & Literature category, Abbey Road Studios were included in a shortlist we provided to our judge, writer and novelist Monica Ali, and were then chosen by her as one of the ten places.
I wanted to share this news with you in advance of the official announcement tomorrow, Tuesday 6th February, when we formally reveal the final ten.
We will make the announcement online as well as launch our new podcast series, presented by the BBC's Emma Barnett, which will discuss all ten places.
You can join the conversation on Twitter at #100Places.
Do let me know if you have any questions about 100 Places or about the work Historic England does in your local area.
Of course, there remains a degree of controversy around the pedestrian crossing outside the studios, where Westminster Council once flagged up the case for a crossing guard. A number of residents have expressed concern to me about the impact of the tourists and the risk of accidents, but the Council is not unconvinced of the need for further action, especially given the pressure on resources.
Current status of the CS11 Cycle Superhighway
Contrary to some of the recent media reports, a decision has not yet been finalised over CS11, and specifically the park gate closures. Westminster Council recently wrote to the London Cycling Campaign to clarify their own areas of responsibility, and to confirm that they are not the agency responsible for the gates. Transport for London is in discussions with the Royal Parks, the Crown Estate Paving Commission and Westminster and Camden Councils, including over the exact scope for traffic reducing measures inside the park, which are widely recognised as being necessary. I have met with the Mayor’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner to discuss local concerns, and am clear that it is absolutely right to do what we can to promote safe cycling and improved pedestrian safety whilst ensuring that we guard against any risk of traffic displacement into residential areas.
Concerns over leaseholders and the Church Street masterplan
We (ward councillors and I) share concerns with regards to the content, the assumptions made and the likely implementation of the draft Masterplan policy.
The document claims that the “council is committed to working closely with leaseholders in a way suited to their needs”. This aim was completely undermined in practice when affected leaseholders were shocked to see the demolition of their homes announced as part of the masterplan without the Council speaking to them first. Even during the consultation period communication with leaseholders was very poor, particularly with non-resident leaseholders receiving letters very late.
The key issue as to when and how the valuation of affected homes will be set is not addressed. This is even more important as many leaseholders will soon be living in the middle of a major construction site, given the scale and timeline of the published masterplan. The Council, in its dealings with leaseholders generally and in the document, MUST clearly address the scenario that mass demolition and construction in the area will undoubtedly soon affect the market value of all properties due for demolition, no matter when it might occur.
The examples of property values in the renewal areas given in the document, at least for Church Street, are unrealistic to the point of being misleading. They do not at all reflect the differences between the prices of newly built homes and those of corresponding size in the existing council stock. Prices of new homes are likely to be up to 75% higher than the values of existing homes, not just 27% as the policy document states. It is therefore likely that the council contribution to the new property will commonly be much higher than indicated – and with it the equity shares the leaseholder will not own.
Considering that many leaseholders will not own their new homes outright or will have to resort to shared ownership, the fact that they will in any case have to cover 100% of service charges and full insurance costs (likely to be higher than before) will make ‘staircasing’, gradually paying off one’s equity loan, very difficult indeed.
Even if all financial advice is made available this will not be able to circumvent the basic fact that for almost all leaseholders concerned it will be much more difficult to raise a new mortgage under current lending conditions than those available at the time they took out their original ones. Many leaseholders – in particular elderly resident leaseholders who have lived in the Church Street area for many years – may no longer qualify at all for a mortgage under current conditions.
Given the points above, the Council’s offer to facilitate the purchase of another property from its own vacant stock should not just be offered in some cases, but as a regular option for the many who simply may not be able to purchase a newly built home.
If homes in new developments are sold off plan (before completion), leaseholders who lost their homes should be given clear and enforceable priority.
Of course, some leaseholders in Church Street who bought their property directly from the council would have benefited from the Right-to-Buy discount. Others, who had bought their property off another leaseholder, would not. However, the issue is that Right- to-Buy offered a price which allowed them to move into or stay in their area. This regeneration will offer a price that compels them to move out.
An estate facing demolition is generally the lowest-value housing in any given area, partly because councils will have let the buildings deteriorate, seeing little point in maintaining something that is going to be knocked down. And who wants to buy a home scheduled for demolition anyway?
Another issue facing these leaseholders is that once the council signals its intent to regenerate an estate, it kills the market in the area. That can happen years in advance of a compulsory purchase order being made. Instead, the “market value” becomes the price that leaseholders can get from a single purchaser, the Council, which is also their landlord, and the body applying for compulsory purchase.
Given the approach adopted by councils, it is obvious that the amount offered to compensate leaseholders for the loss of their homes will rarely, if ever, be enough for them to afford a home in the area. Unless they can raise significantly more cash to buy back into the redeveloped and more expensive estate, or to buy more expensive housing in the local area, they will be compelled to leave. It is “pay to stay” for leaseholders.
In theory, people facing compulsory purchase must be given the market value of their homes. But until now, local authorities, the Government and the Land Tribunal have all backed an approach that has compensated leaseholders based on the average value of homes on the estate to be demolished, not the average value of homes in the wider area. That approach comes with some obvious problems. Now, West End Gate development is part of the Edgware Rd Housing Zone along with Church St regeneration and a one bedroomed flat is currently on sale for £935,000 and if flats go at this level, it will peg all prices on further sales in the neighbourhood!
The fact that the Council reserves the right to amend the policy in any way in the future in its absolute discretion does not instil confidence for a regeneration scheme lasting 20 years or longer.
The Church Street Ward Neighbourhood forum strongly recommends that as a matter of urgency the Church Street Regeneration Team appoint a named Leaseholders’ Consultant, based at 99 Church Street with the specific brief to make the situation more manageable for all leaseholders. This could possibly re-establish lost confidence and help the situation constructively move forward. An approach to inform only on a block-by-block basis as the demolition schedule continues, if pursued, would fail completely to recognise that people talk to each other, and that painful rumours and anxieties are already rife.
Interested in even more local news? You can find the latest ward reports for North Westminster here.
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
Karen Buck MP
Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY. The information used to supply this email is for the use of Karen Buck and will not be passed on to any third party organisation.