Karen’s Article for the South East Bayswater Residents Association

Posted: 08/11/13

It has been another busy summer, with e-mails coming in at the rate of 200+ a day, and on every subject under the sun. I was not entirely surprised to discover that Westminster North is the largest constituency in the country by residential population (139,000) but it helps explain the workload! However, I am certainly not complaining, as it is this communication that helps keep me informed about what is going on and what constituents think. Here are some of the local matters that have been occupying me so far in 2013.

Policing Westminster:Station closures and changes to Safer Neighbourhood Teams

We seem to have reached the point when many of the cost pressures and rising demands on services are being felt. In the last few months, three police stations have closed in and on the edge of North Westminster ( Harrow Road, Queen's Park and St John's Wood), meaning there will shortly be no police station between Edgware Road and Harlesden. At the same time, the Met's ‘new policing model' has come into effect. These changes meant the Safer Neighbourhood teams as we have come to know them over the last decade no longer exist, with the old ‘ward' based teams reduced and organised into larger ‘clusters', with back up from a pool of officers and PCSOs. Unfortunately, there are real concerns that the core teams may not be getting the additional support they need, with officers being taken off for other duties. Indeed, the Bayswater and Lancaster Gate police newsletter confirmed that " Due to various operations, officers from the local safer neighbourhoods teams are regularly abstracted to assist with other duties within the MPS; these include local aid as necessary and frequent aid at ceremonial events". Safer Neighbourhood Teams were set up precisely to avoid this situation, with the aim being that a team of police would stay in a local area, building up knowledge and contacts to help them respond to crime and anti-social behaviour more effectively. Westminster's Safer Neighbourhood panel chairs have joined together to write to the Commander saying " We are extremely concerned at the heavy workload placed on our (very small) teams and the extra responsibilities, administration and computer work imposed on them. We also feel from our experience that the inspectors are similarly overstretched. In our view, this imbalance needs to be looked at now."

It may be that these are ‘teething problems' (although the question of bases from which the police can operate locally remains) but as we have already lost 200 police in Westminster in the last three years these reports are worrying. Fortunately, the long term drop in crime continues, but even so, both robbery and burglary in the borough were significantly up year-on-year. Bayswater in particular is reported as having a 90% rise in residential burglaries between 2012 and 2013.

I have raised these issues with both the borough commander and the Met Commissioner and will continue to do so- but it would be helpful to get feedback from local residents and businesses as to their experience.

Basement excavations-a continuing nuisance

Approvals have now been given to no fewer than 555 basement excavations in Westminster in the last five years- including examples in Kildare Terrace and Westbourne Park- and only around 1 in 6 applications are refused. Obviously, basements can be a useful way of expanding a family home, and no-one is arguing that they should be prohibited, but many of these developments are now huge, sometimes multi-storey excavations, extending under most or all of the available garden space, with swimming pools, cinemas and other luxury facilities. Even this would not be an issue were it not for the impact- the noise, dirt and disruption- sometimes multiplied by more than one excavation in one street at any one time. I am told of cases where neighbours cannot contact the owners when problems arise- and of examples where, even after all this work, no one normally lives there afterwards!

I have been campaigning for greater protection for neighbours, and for the government to give local authorities more ability to refuse applications (although this goes against the present government's relaxation of planning rules to encourage development). I will shortly introduce a '10 Minute Rule' Bill to Parliament to make the case again. Please continue to let me know your thoughts on the subject.

NHS re-organisation will change local services


5 of North West London's Accident and Emergency units are set to close as health chiefs plan a massive re-organisation of the delivery of health care. This will leave St Mary's as one of the most important emergency care centres in London. What was not made clear during the consultation on plans labelled ‘Shaping Healthier Futures' was that this may mean a substantial shift of planned (non-emergency) care away from St Mary's to Charing Cross, Hammersmith or even Central Middlesex hospitals. The Imperial Hospital group has faced huge financial pressures, and there are clinical arguments that greater specialism can improve patient care. However, I have been meeting with Imperial and the new ‘Clinical Commissioning Groups', responsible for planning health care, to express alarm that these decisions are proceeding without proper consultation. There are huge unanswered questions about transport, accessibility and back-up care, especially for older and more vulnerable patients, if more and more of the services they routinely use move so far away.

£31 million lost as Westminster Council fails to get affordable housing from developers

As London's affordable housing crisis deepens, Westminster Council has let developers build new luxury homes across the borough, including 138-142 Queensway and the former Tesco in Inverness Terrace, either without some affordable housing on-site, or without adequate financial contribution instead. As much as £31 million that could have gone on house-building has been lost by the Council as developers have been let off the hook and scarcely any affordable homes have been built in recent years. The consequences? Fewer shared ownership homes for young people trying to get on the housing ladder, higher homelessness costs and a gradual hollowing out of the community. With more than half of the high value home sales in central London going into foreign ownership (not itself significant, but with implications where owners leave their properties empty or simply add to the fast-churning private rented sector) there is a cost to everyone if affordable housing is allowed to slip.

Major Works problems still not resolved on Hallfield Estate

The very-long-running saga of Major Works on the Hallfield estate has continued throughout this year and into another autumn, with some residents in blocks forced to put up with scaffolding and sheeting over the windows for more than a year as disputes continue. I have been taking up specific issues on behalf of both tenants and leaseholders- with many tenants trapped in damp, cold homes, whilst lessees have serious concerns over the specifications and management of the programme. With council leaseholder issues continuing to be a major problem in several parts of the city, the Council must up its game. Major works programmes must provide value for money and have effective project management, which has not been the case on many estates, but no-one gains whenschemes like that proposed for the Hallfield drag on over many years.

Queensway to become the new Covent Garden?

Many of you will have seen the reports that Whitleys and other parts of Queensway have been bought by developers with a vision for "an ambitious £1 billion plan to turn Bayswater's scruffy Queensway into a "Covent Garden of the West by 2020...with a shopping and eating out "village" modelled on London's great family estates such as the Grosvenor in Mayfair and Belgravia". Let me know what you think!

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/whiteleys-new-owners-reveal-1bn-masterplan-for-queensway-8819405.html

I was very sorry to miss this year's summer party, but very much hope to join you for the Annual General Meeting, which is reliably lively, passionate and well informed about local issues. In the meantime, please feel free to contact me via buck@parliament.uk or 0208 9687999.