Saturday, 21 November 2015

TWO MEETINGS, ONE VOICE: let north and south combine


You had to be there. North and south of the borough are up in arms. Different faces, different voices, but one common message: ‘Don’t destroy our community for profit’.

On 3 November the angry voices were at Chelsea Old Town Hall. The reason – Crossrail 2’s proposal to carve an underground swathe down King’s Road, for a station many do not want or need, accompanied by years of disruption and a level of development ‘to pay for transport  improvements’ that residents will not accept and which they believe are entirely motivated by avarice not necessity. Months of petitions, meetings, street protests and lobbying, culminating in a standing-room-only public meeting, angry words against Crossrail as the developer, and the Council.

 One week later the angry voices were at the Tabernacle in Powys Square, North Kensington. The reason – Westway Trust’s plan to redevelop and monetise the 23 acres of land they hold for the benefit of local people in compensation for the Westway flyover, that carved an overground swathe through their neighbourhoods 45 years ago, demolishing entire streets on the way, belching toxic fumes. The plan is accompanied by a level of development ‘to pay for the improvements’ that residents will not accept and which they believe are entirely motivated by avarice not necessity (Westway Trust operates a healthy reserve). Months of petitions, meetings, street protests and lobbying, culminating in a packed meeting and angry words against Westway Trust as developer, and the Council.

The main difference between the two? Westway Trust did not show up, citing their need to ‘safeguard staff’. Apparently the £100,000pa chief executive of Westway Trust fears the community she is employed to serve.

Both groups are being stigmatised and their legitimacy eroded. Old Chelsea with its suits and pearls are ‘NIMBYs against the future’. Old Ladbroke Grove with its t-shirts and head-wraps are ‘jobless rastas’. Neither stereotype is in the least bit true. Both neighbourhoods are, thankfully, still a glorious cocktail of people, albeit with different spirits predominating.

Both communities are faced with massive change they neither want nor need.

Both fear their neighbourhoods will change beyond recognition for the benefit of outsiders, becoming what planning consultants call, with all the enthusiasm they can feign, ‘destinations’.

Both fear they will be priced out of the areas they were born in and belong to.

Both are faced by a juggernaut of rapacious developers with their lawyers, consultants, smarmy spin-doctors and phony consultations involving what some call ‘decision-based evidence making’.

Both are told their petitions and protests are not valid, the signatories unauthentic, and their campaigns are not representative or legitimate.

Both groups are told that yes, there will be disruption, but if these changes do not take place now, future generations will curse them.

Both groups say the Council, which was elected to represent them, is working against them, saying it knows ‘what is best’ and that the development will ‘improve the area’.

It won’t.

When challenged, senior Councillors are careful to stick to the script. But sometimes, just sometimes, the mask slips. After a typically stage-managed event of difficult questioning at a recent ‘Ask Nick’ in North Ken, the Leader of the Council was asked once again, why local people need £1,000 handbag shops and all the accompanying fol-di-ra of gentrification. This response was overheard:



Given the very similar issues faced in the borough, north and south,  wouldn’t it be interesting if these groups worked together in the fight against the Council for the long-term sustainability of their communities - around King’s Road and Portobello Road - not of businesses and shops, but of people?


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