Hundreds – if not thousands - of Kensington and Chelsea residents, many of whom have never been active politically or in their communities before, are rising up in fury in the run-up to the local elections.
Some are furious because, fairly or not, they see the Council as toothless and complacent in the battle of the basements. One Chelsea street has no less than eight subterranean basements being excavated at the same time. Is there really NOTHING that can be done, or is the Council playing victim so as not to upset wealthy property investors?
Some are furious because they cannot understand why the Council, despite ‘reviewing’ the decision five times, still came to the conclusion that the Isaac Newton Centre should be leased to Alpha Plus - allegedly for a new location for four of their schools - with no consideration whatever of the benefits of letting it to a local business, Notting Hill Prep, or of the potentially lethal effect of additional traffic on a quiet residential road. (FWIW, the K&C Labour Group has consistently, and in public, stated that the Centre should be kept in community use for professional development. Given that that is not on the table, we decided to support the ‘least worst’ option, Notting Hill Prep.)
Others are furious because their neighbourhood has been earmarked for demolition and development, and the landlord Affinity Sutton has forgotten their principles of housing ‘not affluent’ people near their place of work and have sold out to the Ritblat motto ‘Buy, monetise, sell’. With no apparent support or input from local Councillors there, the approved masterplan for the Sutton Estate clearly shows the existing social tenants shoved away in a dark corner of the estate; Wornington Green all over again.
Yet more are furious because the approved plans for Earl’s Court are so far away from the Supplementary Planning Document agreed, and even that was a million miles from the values of our Core Strategy. Twenty years of construction hell for Earl’s Court residents will bring no obvious benefits whatever.
CORE VALUES, CORE STRATEGY
Our Core Strategy or Local Plan is NOT a set of vague aspirations or a woolly manifesto, it is a rule-book. And yet developers and their CONsultants find a way around these rules. However do they do it? Here's a clue:
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Our residents have, and are entitled to, modest requirements from their Council. Instead of satisfying them, the borough is subjected to wholesale pillaging by developers. Are residents to stand by and let this happen?
The Council has been judged by its residents and found lacking. Is the Council and its self-appointed Cabinet continually going to ignore the concerns of its electors?
Our Council knows the cost of everything, but the value of nothing. Communities and neighbourhoods are valued above all else. Just this morning I witnessed an elderly woman, with very swollen feet, offering to care for the cats of a neighbour who was going into hospital for a major operation: ‘We have to look after each other, don’t we?’ she said, looking wistfully at her feet. I assured her that one day, it would be her turn to be looked after, and a kind neighbour would be helping her.
Such is the value of a stable community, it is more valuable than gold and even more important, it cannot be bought. Neither can it be created, ‘re-visioned’ or ‘re-imagined’. I remember Terry Farrell 30 years back and still can’t believe what he’s doing now. The idea that his plan for Earl’s Court is considered worthy of the name ‘village’, is beyond laughable. It is tragic.
A DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT
To add to the sense of disentitlement and disenfranchisement that many residents are experiencing, we have just heard that the Chronicle local newspaper series in Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Kensington are to be discontinued – next week, just a month before the local elections.
How is the local voice to be heard? Where are we to have a balanced view of what is going on in the borough? Not everyone can go online and check half a dozen websites to get an overview. Many people rely on their local newspaper for local news and views.
Residents in the three boroughs are so disheartened by this, that an ugly and disgraceful rumour has been circulating. This rumour has it that the Triborough Councils, alarmed by the rise of popular democracy and dissent and afraid of major electoral losses, decided jointly to pull their advertising from the papers to force their closure. While this is clearly improbable and if true possibly illegal, it is a sign of the strength of residents’ feeling that they can even consider such an explanation.