The international property developer set to profit handsomely from the transformation of the Gas Works site in North Kensington / Kensal Green has abandoned its offer to meet with the resident organisations of Canalside House. The historic community building on Ladbroke Grove has been pulled into plans for the ‘Kensal Canalside Opportunity Area’ despite sitting outside the site, and will be demolished by Ballymore once they complete the purchase. Instead of meeting with the Canalside organisations together, Ballymore is now offering individual drop-ins. For their part, Kensington & Chelsea council is pretending these public drop-ins are “consultations” – reprising the tactics and vocabulary of the discredited, disgraced Rock Feilding-Mellen, former deputy leader of the council. Let’s not fall for it again.
There is reason to suspect that Ballymore is ignorant about the work done at Canalside House and keen to avoid gaining knowledge of the problems that will be caused by the demolition of one of North Kensington’s last remaining community assets. To date the developer has offered only vague platitudes regarding their intentions towards the resident organisations – “our proposals incorporate all the community-focused activities of Canalside house” – that have increased suspicion in a local community that has endured it all before, including six years of public relations spin from its council.
At a public meeting in March, Ballymore’s PR representatives from Comm Comm (Community Communications) offered to meet Canalside House residents at Canalside House so that they could express their concerns about Ballymore’s plans. But Ballymore has now jettisoned this proposal and the collective of charities, community groups, care agencies, housing co-ops and small businesses are expected to content themselves with attending Ballymore’s public exhibition and drop-in hub on Kensal Road. Comm Comm told Urban Dandy “We have already met some people from the buildings at our consultation hub and hope to meet others over the coming weeks.”
Using “buildings” instead of “building” suggests Ballymore considers Canalside House and neighbouring Canalside Activity Centre to be one and the same. Ballymore can then claim that whatever green space and sports activities are included on the new development represent the “community-focused activities” of Canalside House.
In 2016, at the height of Feilding-Mellen’s aggressive asset strip, the organisations of Canalside House were invited to ‘consultations’ at the Town Hall. To their surprise, no other resident organisations were present, and they were informed they would be moved to a converted industrial site on Latimer Road. Half the size of Canalside, the hot desking space offered zero privacy and no storage. I pointed out to the council’s Head of Property, Social Investment & Property (not a typo, real job title) that it was not a consultation and asked if there would be a consultation. He was emphatic that there would not be, telling the residents “take it or leave it.” The same person remains in the role today.
Are Ballymore aware that they are aping the divide-and-rule approach of the most hated politicians in North Kensington?
Comm Comm also told us: “We understand that all tenants of the buildings have been contacted by their landlords to be updated.”
Most, but not all, Canalside House tenants, have received letters from the council that offer little to no reassurance, but plenty of carefully-worded vagueness. The same message sent to Urban Dandy by the council’s PR department in response to our reporting on the planned sale has been sent to Canalside House residents, sometimes signed by Fielding-Mellen’s replacement Kim Taylor-Smith; sometimes by the Head of Property, Social Investment & Property. Minor edits have been made to provide a friendlier tone to some organisations, but it is mainly copied and pasted from the PR statement.
Ballymore is hiding behind the ragged notion that Canalside House’s resident organisations are happy to passively receive updates this way, from the same institution that has repeatedly sought to deprive them of their building, thereby jeopardising their ability to deliver vital services in one of the most economically depressed areas of the country.
Kensington & Chelsea council tells Canalside House residents: “We would only sell the building if Ballymore were able to meet our proposed terms, including the reprovision of community space.”
But this is disingenuous, and not just because of the council’s managed decline of the building and past attempts to sell it. Multiple sources from multiple meetings with Ballymore have said that the developer told them that Taylor-Smith and the council insisted that Ballymore take Canalside House off their hands, hinting that the deal is contingent on the purchase of the building.
Ballymore and Kensington & Chelsea are attempting to play us off against each other; hiding behind each other’s statements when it is convenient and claiming ignorance of their partner’s intentions when that suits their interests. If they succeed and Canalside House is demolished, we won’t be able to say we didn’t see it coming.
by Tom Charles @tomhcharles