Relaxing the rules on ‘holiday lets’
New rules permitting homes to be ‘short-let’ without notification or permission (effectively for up to half the year in some cases) are now in force. Westminster Council confirms my sense that this has led to a rise in short-lets with more residential properties being advertised on the main websites. I am supporting the Council’s plans to seek an exemption for some areas - an exemption that would mean owners still have to notify them when they do holiday lets, making it much easier to deal with enforcement issues when problems arise. I am aware that Westminster are prioritising the Edgware Road area as they draw up these plans and have stressed that in my view they should also be considering some or all of Bayswater and Lancaster Gate as well, since I have had a number of residents complaining about problems in these areas. Do please let me know if you are affected, or have views on the issue.
Policing faces a further squeeze
There has been a steady increase in the number of complaints I have received about crime and ASB issues locally, from begging to burglary. A few weeks ago, police warned of a “small spate of street robberies” in parts of W2” and issued advice to people to take care using their mobiles on the street. There certainly seems to have been a rise in burglaries over the year, including some business break-ins (although crime over the long term generally remains down across the city). There have also been reports of a rise in begging in and around Queensway. Our Safer Neighbourhood teams continue to be very stretched, and there are concerns that the Spending Review settlement will leave the Met Police with another £800m or so to find in budget cuts. The Met Management Board has delayed a decision, originally due in October, to scrap all the remaining 1000 Police Community Support Officers.
Slow Broadband speeds let the local economy down
Small businesses make up two-thirds of the estimated 50,000 businesses in Westminster and many cannot afford premium-grade business services. Their development - and the wider economy - are being held back by “painfully slow” internet access, even though London is Europe’s leading ‘tech city’, according to the Council less than half the city, 47%, has access to super-fast broadband. I’ve taken this up with the Minister responsible and BT and will continue to do so on behalf of anyone who wants to contact me about it.
Westminster set to lose desperately needed social housing under new government plans
Government plans to extend the Right to Buy scheme to housing association tenants across the UK could force the sell-off of nearly 113,000 council homes, according to findings from the homelessness charity Shelter. In Westminster, three out of every four council homes- 9,213 -would be affected, with homes in areas such as Bayswater and Lancaster Gate most at risk. Not replacing properties sold to Housing Association tenants ( just one in five have been replaced) combined with the forced sales of council properties, means far fewer homes - in inner London especially - for people waiting in over-crowded or unsuitable homes, or expensive temporary accommodation.
In an even more recent announcement, the Government intends to allow developers to avoid building affordable homes to rent at all in favour of more ‘Starter Homes’, priced up to £450,000 in London. Locally, where 1-bed new builds sell for £500k or more, this will further reduce the availability of homes for lower and middle earners, with Shelter estimating that only those with incomes of £77,000 or more could afford them.
I held the third in my series of advice sessions for leaseholders in Bayswater in September- once again it was packed out with people- private and council leaseholders (including the Hallfield estate and Swanleys) struggling with issues such as the cost and quality Major Works; Service Charges, transparency and access to information. The Major Works on the Hallfield are now into their sixth year- certainly the most protracted Major Works programme I have ever known. Sadly, this means that those residents whose lives are impacted by excess cold and condensation face another winter of misery and high heating bills, whilst the cost of building works is not exactly going down.
I recently re-introduced my ‘private’ bill to give legal force to new council policy on restricting basement excavations, with cross party backing, including from MPs Mark Field and Victoria Borwick. Latest figures show that there have been 242 applications for residential basement excavations in the last two years alone, of which all but 38 were accepted. Whilst I welcome Westminster toughening up their policy (their new rules come into effect early 2016) there are still concerns that well-funded developers will be able to challenge them - as has now happened in Kensington.
It was a joy to be able to join the birthday parties organised by SEBRA this summer for two of the associations’ greatest champions: John Walton and John Zamit. It’s lovely that SEBRA is the sort of organisation to show appreciation for residents who put so much into their community without reward. The amount of hard work involved in running an amenity society, organising events, submitting responses to planning applications and so forth is often under-appreciated. Yet is it vital to a healthy civic society. Both John Walton and John Zamit deserve our grateful thanks.
Talking of events, the summer party was again great fun and blessed by the weather, and I look forward to SEBRA AGM in November (where there is usually a surprise or two in store for the main guests).
Please do continue to keep me in touch with your concerns and interests- by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), phone (02089687999), letter (Karen Buck MP, House of Commons, London SW1AOAA, or Twitter (@KarenPBuckMP).