A residents’ association in Fitzrovia is calling for the resignation of three Conservative ward councillors after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed they withheld information about the sell off and major redevelopment of a property just eight metres from their homes.
This summer Westminster council’s planning committee approved plans for three tower blocks and a petrol filling station to be built at 87-125 Cleveland Street despite a huge number of objections from local residents.
No social housing was included in the plans which were later approved by the Mayor of London.
In 2013 Marylebone High Street ward councillors Iain Bott and Ian Rowley were shown a confidential report and made aware of decisions that led to the sale of the council-owned property.
Councillor Karen Scarborough was not elected to the ward until May 2014 but would have likely been informed by councillors Bott and Rowley as the Cleveland Street development is one of the largest property developments in the ward.
Holcroft Court Residents Association (HCRA) in a letter seen by Fitzrovia News say the councillors failed to make residents aware of the sale or ask for them to be consulted on the plans. Yet the council’s planning department were quietly working on discussions with the developer ahead of a full planning application, and the council’s property department were drawing up a sale agreement.
Although the report detailing the sale was confidential, the summary and decisions were not, yet the ward councillors failed to pass on basic information to local residents who would be directly affected.
HCRA which represents around 800 residents — a mix of social tenants, private tenants and leaseholders — is one of the largest in the ward. Holcroft Court is a Westminster Council estate managed by City West Homes.
Roger Allen the chair of the association made FOI requests to obtain details of a deal struck by Westminster council with Soho Data Holdings and Dukelease Properties.
But only after the planning application was approved did they receive a full copy of the February 2014 confidential report which revealed that the ward councillors had been consulted on the plans.
The residents say the local councillors failed in their basic duty to represent residents interests and only paid lip service to their concerns.
The councillors said there would be regeneration benefits from the deal but the residents — who will be affected by loss of light and privacy as well as disturbance from the petrol filling station — say that there are no benefits and the whole affair has been a scandal.
A major development like this should have had a planning brief drawn up, as happened at the Moxon Street car park redevelopment which is also in Marylebone High Street ward. But this end of the ward in Fitzrovia is the poorer part and the local councillors have treated them as the fag end of the area.
Fitzrovia News and Holcroft Court Residents Association worked together to investigate the sell off of the site which Westminster City Council retains the freehold of.
The story as we understand it begins in September 2010 when Westminster City Council instructed their property managing agents Knight Frank to flog the headlease of 30 Clipstone Street and 87-125 Cleveland Street.
Knight Frank produced a brochure with some interesting architectural massing studies undertaken by Fielden Clegg Bradley Studios, an architecture practice with offices in Tottenham Street.
Then in July 2011 cabinet member councillor Jonathan Glanz gave the go ahead to flog the site to an unnamed buyer. The report on the sale was confidential and only the decision being public. (https://fitzrovianews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/glanz-87-125-cs-decision.pdf)
Later councillor Glanz was to resign his post after he publicly stated his contempt for tenants living in social housing. Being a man of his word his contempt was backed up by actions — the sell off of the property for development was only 8 metres from those social housing tenants at Holcroft Court, and the eastern boundary of the site borders on Camden Council’s manor. Although to be fair to Glanz his dislike also extended to the leaseholders who’d acquired their homes under the Tories right-to-buy scheme. Can’t say the man’s not even-handed, can we?
In 2013 after the closure of Clipstone Street petrol station a brief statement from Westminster Council said that a new lease has been granted for the former service station: “We have granted a 35 year headlease to Soho Data Holdings, who have the option of development”.
Soho Data Holdings are registered at 91-93 Cleveland Street, immediately adjacent to the service station, a building occupied by several media companies.
Then in February 2014, another confidential report, and Westminster Council cabinet members Daniel Astaire and Melvyn Caplan reached for their fountain pens to sign off more liberal terms for the headlease. Glanz’s contempt for Westminster residents clearly did not go far enough for Astaire and Caplan. (https://fitzrovianews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/astair-caplan-statement-of-decision.pdf)
Last week we asked Westminster City Council’s press office for a response to the call for the Marylebone High Street ward councillors to resign and we provided a copy of the letter sent to the councillors as well as a copy of the FOI response and a draft of our news story. We also mentioned that the West End Extra were doing a story on this and we knew they had been in touch with the press office.
We got the briefest response saying that the City Council were not going to offer any further comment on this story other than to say: “All decisions are taken in line with approved council policies.”
FOI documents: Cabinet Member Report and (partly redacted) viability assessment.