“Ill Thought Out and Frankly Obnoxious” – Westminster Council in North Kensington

Three and a half years on from the Grenfell Tower atrocity, councils in West London are back to the routine business of pursuing profit at the expense of residents. Rather than learning the lessons of the disastrous relationship between Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) and residents of North Kensington, just over the borough border, Westminster City Council is seeking to bypass resident rights to impose a detrimental new building development. Urban Dandy spoke to some of those affected and heard that Westminster has, to date, avoided genuine resident engagement.

RBKC & Westminster

Different boroughs, similar approaches, the border between RBKC and Westminster bisects Tavistock Crescent, with the eastern part of the road falling in Westminster. Harford House is the first building across the border, and its neighbour, a care home, is the site of Westminster Council’s proposed Westmead development for 65 new flats (10 ‘affordable’) in a bland, oversized block. Back across the border is Golborne, the most impoverished council ward in London, where life expectancy has declined by six years since 2010. This is the context for Harford House, an estate that is part of our neighbourhood yet is often missing from discussions because it happens to sit on a particular side of an invisible border.

Click here to see more on the Westminster website, reference 20/05708/COFUL.

This is not the first move against North Kensington residents since the Grenfell Tower of June 2017, when 72 people lost their lives and the whole area was profoundly traumatised. RBKC has inexorably returned to its previous role as antagonist to those who seek to preserve and uplift the local community. This blog recently outlined the ways in which RBKC leaders have failed to deliver on their promises to the Lancaster West estate, site of the burned out Tower.

Half a mile away from Grenfell Tower, Harford House residents face the same problem as that encountered by the Grenfell residents who tried to raise the alarm about their landlord’s irresponsible and avaricious plans for the Tower. The issues are crystal clear. Westminster doesn’t want to hear them, but here three local residents break it all down:

  1. Problems with the proposed building by Lay-Mon Thaung, architect, resident of Leamington Road Villas

Westminster Council are seeking to destroy a good council estate and valuable community space. They must reconsider the scale and nature of the development and work with the community to consider alternative proposals. 

Environment

The Westmead development site is dominated by 23 mature trees; a green square for all those who live around it. Some of these trees are the most mature trees in the area and significantly improve air quality. This is particularly important in North Kensington, which is in the shadow of the Westway flyover, constructed against the wishes of local residents. According to the anti-pollution campaign group RAP23:

  • 70 people die from air pollution in North Kensington every year
  • Children born and growing up in North Kensington have smaller brains and lungs (due to there being less oxygen)
  • Miscarriages, still births and premature births increase in highly polluted areas and there is an 11% increase in dementia for people living 100 meters away from the Westway
  • Life expectancy is reduced by two to nine years due to pollution

The council want to remove ten mature, environment-preserving trees to make way for their over-scaled six-storey development. The new development would not only destroy the green square, it would block existing residents’ sunlight and views.  

This site now needs the community’s protection for these reasons among others…

Architecture

The existing Westmead site was designed under one coherent master plan, evident in the architectural style. All the buildings on the site and around it were built at the same time. The low 1-2 level nature of the care home sits low in the landscape, almost unnoticed, and acts more like a ‘green square’ with the trees dominant and central, enjoyed by all those who live around it. The houses on Tavistock Crescent are 4-storeys low (no lifts required) and they have a north-south orientation which implies they were never designed to have a higher development placed in front of them, because their south aspect is their only source of sunlight.

Likewise, Fallodon House (west of site, Tavistock Crescent, located in RBKC) was built under the same master plan, with single aspect flats, either facing west (away from site) or east looking directly onto the site. These three storey flats (from street level) or four storeys (from sunken ground level) are low and will be overshadowed by the new six-storey building which will block their only source of sunlight from the east.

The height of the existing Care home is congruent with the houses around it, which were orientated to look onto the green square and have good natural sunlight. The Westmead Care home forms part of an assembly of co-existing residential buildings, co-dependent on one another in terms of height, orientation, and aspect onto the green square to provide good sunlight and views to all residents. Once you understand these facts, you understand that anything that replaces the care home should also be low in nature.

The Building Research Establishment (BRE) daylight and sunlight report submitted to accompany the planning application confirms numerous failures to meet the target values to ensure that neighbouring buildings retain adequate daylight and sunlight.

A Councillor in our ward who was formerly a town planner reviewed the daylight and sunlight report. This was his response:

‘There are significant losses to several living rooms in Harford House, on the lower ground, ground, first and second floors, on Leamington House, and in Fallodon House. If a building is breaching the light on three sides then that would raise my concerns.’ 

In the Covid era, with people working from their homes, the noise from a major three-year construction site which brings no benefits to the community is not welcome.

2. Conflict of Interest by Abraham Teweldebrhan, Film and TV Editor, Harford House resident

If the project was being pushed by a private developer, they would have to comply with all the rules and regulations imposed by local government. However, because the land belongs to Westminster Council and the developer is Westminster Council, they can break the rules with impunity. For example, this development is building higher than the mansard roofs that are no longer allowed in the neighbouring houses and it is removing trees which would otherwise have Tree Protection Orders.

Westminster Council are the site owner, developer and the approver. Westminster Council is submitting their proposal to themselves.

Communication has been very poor throughout. In our Zoom meetings with them, the Housing Programme Director was unable to answer direct questions and was dismissive of us. A greater effort could have been made to make sure every resident was made aware of such a major redevelopment. Just this week there were still residents who were not aware of this project or its true scale. We have been spending our evenings and weekends going round knocking on doors and putting posters up to let our neighbours know.

The developers have made pitiful attempts at outreach; leaflets written only in English, calls not returned, documents only available online… There is a wafer-thin pretence that this development is an improvement for the whole community but there is literally no upside for existing residents. None of our objections appear in the planning application. 

3. Post-Grenfell, No Change? by Chris Arning, Entrepreneur, Harford House resident.

Resident anger has been compounded by a sense that adequate consideration has not been paid to our concerns. I am on the Tavistock Housing Co-Operative, responsible for spending service charge surpluses for improving this block and recently installed some new signage to spruce up the block’s aspect. I put two years’ work into planning this because our built environment hugely impacts our sense of self-esteem and wellbeing. Now, this ill thought out and frankly obnoxious Westmead development that City of Westminster seem intent on bulldozing through threatens everything I know residents love about this block – the beatific light coming through the South facing windows in the morning, green space and trees and the relative quiet.

Three years ago we saw the Grenfell tragedy happening in clear view of Harford House. I could only volunteer in the crisis, like many others around here, and felt so powerless around the abuse of power. The entirely preventable tragedy followed condescension towards social housing residents shown by Kensington & Chelsea. A similar attitude towards resident welfare and voice is being shown by Westminster, who I had always thought better of until seeing this proposal for Westmead.

Increasing Inequality in North Ken

The proposed development would provide a small number of ‘affordable’ housing and social housing units, but most of the flats will be private rental for the Council’s benefit. Even if the council replaced the care home beds on another site, we Harford House residents and other affected local residents, object to the total absence of any community thinking in the proposal.

Local residents have plenty of creative, workable suggestions of what would be congruent with the current neighbourhood, but Westminster seem determined to force their proposal through on their terms only without genuinely engaging resident expertise.

Conclusion

Once again, North Kensington communities are working overtime to be heard and taken seriously. So far, Westminster has given little space for resident voices to be heard. But without the residents’ input, the Westmead plan will remain ‘ill thought out’ and Westminster council will only reinforce their image as an ‘obnoxious’ local authority.

RBKC on the left, Westminster on the right, the Westway and Trellick Tower across the bridge

by Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Photos by Chris Arning & Tom Charles

Grenfell Rehousing Policy July 2017 / Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Disclaimer
Urban Dandy makes no claim to give legal representation of any kind and has no intention of giving advice in the field of law. All opinions are the author’s personal opinion and to be considered as just that, a personal opinion. No reference to anything written is to be deemed actual evidence and should be seen as a guideline to further investigate the nature and the result of the policy upon acceptance. We suggest that support or representation ,if any, should be supplied by accredited law experts. 

 

This document was recently published on the Home Connections website under the Royal Borough Of Kensington section. It attempts to clarify the councils intended mode of operation regarding rehousing the victims of the Grenfell disaster.

As odd as it seems, I fail to find a lack of integrity here. However, we feel that it’s the duty of everyone under social housing, surrounding the Lancaster West Estate in the w10/w11 area and beyond, to check this document for compliance.

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Aminah

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”

Jiddu Krishnamurti

 

The cost to society when the vulnerable are not supported with decent housing and social service is laid bare when somebody pure and decent finds their life and what they hold dear falling apart. It is a bitter tragedy.

Such tribulation has afflicted a beautiful soul in North Kensington. A child she reared so lovingly is in a tailspin of degradation; removed from the family home and out of control. This child was 10 when her mother took me in on more than one occasion, homeless and abused myself. The child is now 15, pregnant, abused and abusive.

Aminah is a woman of strength with a strong work ethic, who could nurse me through my darkest times with assuredness. To understand the harms suffered by her child, it is not Aminah that needs to be studied, but society.

A person who would not do any harm, and could not do any harm, Aminah was born and bred in Ladbroke Grove, not in the village in which she would have been treasured and held in esteem. She was dealt urban anonymity rather than a nurturing community. But she still gives without expecting much in return, and possesses a lightheartedness that is attractive to everyone.

Aminah was orphaned in her teens, and her older siblings lacked the stability to raise her safely to adulthood. The ghetto provided its own support system and she was soon pregnant, with two girls, then abused and left to single parenthood.

She undertook this job with no complaints. And she took me in with no complaints. I had been subjected to an attempt to degrade me, but I have more tools in my kit than she ever did, that’s the only difference. Education, a discriminating and cynical mind, intellect, and a sense that things should work out were available to me. Skin colour is a factor too…

And what of society…how do we explain that a woman who now, six years later, with four children and a husband, is stuck in the same two-bedroom flat that was too small for my bags during my emergency stay. This was a powder keg, a teenage girl with baby siblings, no privacy, a stepfather, without an in-built sense of life being fair; add in overcrowded housing, poverty, acting out and social services. Even a woman of fortitude has a breaking point.

Now Aminah has a grandchild on the way and she will be the primary carer, the social workers denying the right of the mother to raise her own baby.

The family unit has been destroyed, but this woman still works, studies and provides. She plays ball with the solicitors and the social workers.

I learned all this during a chance meeting in the supermarket and I have never felt so helpless. I wanted to cry, she cried, ‘oh Aminah’, ‘oh Tom’ and I watched her walk away, a profoundly beautiful human being in a profoundly sick society. It finished me off.

 

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Scanned from Adbusters #124, VOL.24 NO.2

By Tom Charles, with permission from ‘Aminah’