The Conservative party candidates for the West End ward say they will address the issues of concern for local residents and bring improvements to Fitzrovia West, if they win their seats at the Westminster City Council elections on 4 May.
Tim Barnes, Eoghain Leo Murphy, and Julie Redmond spoke to me. I asked what the top five issues they were hearing from residents as they went from door to door campaigning.
Rubbish and recycling was top of the list.
“This is a common concern on the doorstep. Whether it is fly-tippers, businesses or from short-term lets,” says Redmond
“People are mostly concerned about things literally on their doorstep. Not much about Fitzrovia wide issues,” says Barnes.
Since Covid and lockdown people have been ordering an increased amount of goods to be delivered and this has generating an increase in dumping. People had got into “bad habits” and have not adhered to the collection times, they say.
“So the council have been increasing enforcement and re-notifying people about the hours of collection are,” says Murphy.
“Two of the things we have introduced are a new additional pickup and collection service. New food recycling. And we looking and learning about how we can roll out a new service in the dense streets of the West End,” says Barnes.
There are a great number of private companies — possibly 80 plus — collecting commercial rubbish and recycling in addition to the service provided by Westminster Council.
“But only three companies do about 90 percent of the rubbish collection,” says Barnes. “There is a need to get those big three consolidated. This is something we are doing and we are putting the framework in place to do this.”
There are problem hotspots around Fitzrovia where rubbish is dumped. At the top of Gosfield Street at the junction with Langham Street, and people dump around a tree at Holcroft Court.
“At Riding House Street we have used CCTV to identify the culprits,” says Murphy.
Barnes says the council has stepped up enforcement action and this work will continue and be improved.
However, sometimes residents don’t agree on the solutions to managing waste. Around Gosfield Street there was a large black bin which was what some residents wanted. But other residents said the bin was an eyesore and got a petition together to have it removed.
Part of the problems is agreeing how we do this “as a community” says Redmond.
However, the cabinet member for city management has “identified two-or three places” in Fitzrovia West for large refuse bins to be reinstated where they are wanted by residents. “This will probably happen after the election,” says Murphy.
The second major concern for residents according to the candidates is noise and anti-social behaviour, loitering, and personal safety at night.
The is a “general low-level anti-social behaviour” problem but also evidence of drug-dealing, and loitering late at night. Many residents — particularly elderly — said they don’t feel safe after dark.
Some of the concern is about customers leaving licensed premises
The candidates also heard a lot of concern about rough sleeping in Fitzrovia.
Westminster Council is continually working to improve its No Second Night Out project and works with a number charities. This has reduced the numbers sleeping on the street, say the candidates.
“We have employed additional outreach officers to get people off the street and into housing.
“The council pays over £7m a year to deal with rough sleeping. We’ve now got the lowest number of people recorded sleeping out for over a decade,” says Murphy.
Greening, public space and children’s play is also something they hear a lot about on the doorstop
“One of the big things is having green space in Fitzrovia. And having spaces for children to play,” says Redmond.
“We’ve been experimenting with a new tree planting system which has a small and shallow root base. We can plant them in the carriageway in place of parking places,” says Barnes.
“The council has adopted new policies to improve greenery on buildings,” says Murphy.
Transport and traffic is the fifth important issue that residents in Fitzrovia West are concerned about.
The candidates heard a number of different views on transport. Residents particularly wanted additional on-street storage for cycles and increased number of electric car charging points.
“We need to make sure that Fitzrovia gets its fair share of electric charging points,” says Murphy.
The new school street in riding House Street has divided opinion among residents say the candidates. The road was previously closed to all traffic except pedestrians and cycles but was opened again with a timed restriction for motor vehicles during school hours. However drivers have been ignoring the signs.
“Residents on Riding House Street are split on this issue,” says Barnes.
Some residents are calling for a permanent physical closure to motor vehicles while others have complained that they couldn’t access the street and be dropped off by car.
“We can’t put in a rising bollard as there are utilities under the street that prevent it. But we will look at it and explore the options about making the street outside the school safer.
“I would like to see a physical barrier there for part of the day, says Barnes.
“I think it is really important that we protect families and children outside the school,” says Redmond.
Finally we discussed Oxford Street and Westminster council’s previously proposed pedestrianisation plan of the area east and west Oxford Circus.
Redmond said she recognises residents concerns about Westminster Council’s Oxford Street District project as she sits on the committee of the Marylebone Association and the issue is frequently discussed.
“I am aware that there is a lot of traffic at the moment. However the closing of Oxford Circus and the proposals that have been made in the past would push a lot of traffic into other areas,” says Redmond.
“But the Oxford Circus piazzas are now off-the-table and there will be a fresh consultation on new proposals, says Murphy.
However, there is a commitment to provide step-free access at Oxford Circus tube station. The candidates said they have listened to residents concerns about displaced traffic and will listen again on future plans.
“We reversed our the plans for pedestrianisation on the basis of opposition from local residents,” says Barnes.
“There isn’t another street that can take the large amount of buses currently on Oxford Street. But we need those buses on Oxford Street to be zero-emission,” says Barnes.
They blame Mayor of London Sadiq Khan for continuing to run highly polluting buses along Oxford Street.
“He is putting high-emission buses along Oxford Street just to try and spite us,” says Murphy.
“Given the pollution levels on Oxford Street, it is ironic that emissions-free buses were not a priority,” says Barnes.
This is something that TfL and the Mayor needs to tackle, they say.
Finally I asked what improvements for residents they wanted to see.
“GP practices and health services in the area are a priority for me,” says Redmond.
“You should be able to visit a local GP and have continuity of care. I would like to be more involved with the decision-making on delivering local health services and making health a priority,” she said.
In some areas of care residents are being badly let down by the NHS managers in the West End.
“The length of time that some of the at-risk and vulnerable school children are having to wait for specialist assessments is outrageous,” says Barnes.
“While the management of NHS services is out of [Westminster Council’s] control we can influence how it operates and press for improvements,” he said.
Meet the candidates. The Soho Society, Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association, and Marylebone Association: Hustings for the West End ward, 6pm to 10pm, Thursday 28 April 2022. Places must be booked in advance. Tickets here. Live stream available on YouTube.