The Labour party will manage Westminster Council far better than the Conservatives have done, make better use of existing enforcement powers, and offer genuine consultation with residents on environmental changes.
That’s according to the three Labour candidates for the West End ward — Patrick Lilley, Paul Fisher and Jessica Toale.
I met with the three of them and asked what the five main issues residents are concerned about when they’ve spoken with people on the campaign trail in Fitzrovia West.
“Waste, fly-tipping, and bins, is the number one issue that comes up the most on the doorstep,” says Jessica Toale.
She said that current West End ward Labour councillor Pancho Lewis worked with local residents to set up a rubbish action committee to try to deal with the problem.
Although Councillor Lewis is standing down at this election they want to carry on the work that he has done to find solutions to the problem of rubbish on the streets.
“We are committed to a five-point action plan on waste in Fitzrovia, and we are currently engaging with residents to identify where hot spots are, what solutions residents might like, and how we can work with them on those.
“We are committed to taking over Pancho’s place after he steps down in May,” she says.
The second big issue is Oxford Street pedestrianisation either side of Oxford Circus, and the worry about the displacement of motor traffic and the impact of air pollution as a result.
“We’ve been opposed to the way the council has done that. They have spent £20million on private consultants and failed. Yet didn’t consult residents at all,” says Toale.
“I would say we are generally opposed to [the piazzas plan] but we want to engage and consult with residents properly,” she says.
I asked about what their opposition is exactly.
“We all want clean air and we all want safer streets,” says Patrick Lilley. “But the residents are most concerned with traffic displacement causing increased pollution on streets that aren’t really fit for huge amounts of traffic.
“For example, the east-west streets of New Cavendish, Mortimer and Goodge; and the north-south streets of Portland Place and Regent Street. Where’s the traffic going to go?
“Greater consultation and a clear plan of what to do with the displaced traffic would be a good start,” says Lilley.
The way Westminster Council has produced the Oxford Street plans and the lack of opportunity for input from residents is an attempt by the Conservatives to “rubber stamp a decision that has already been made”, says Paul Fisher.
“It is really an expensive way of reinforcing a decision that the council has already made. A consultation must be genuine and we are not seeing that from this Conservative council,” says Fisher.
“The third concern for residents, particularly around the north part of Fitzrovia West is noise nuisance from anti-social behaviour,” says Toale.
“People having impromptu parties in the street, walking home late, and Airbnb parties,” she says.
People have no idea who their neighbours are due to the prevalence of short-term letting. There should be better enforcement.
“It is so sad to see so many properties with key boxes outside,” says Toale.
The candidates say they would make more use of “soft power”. For example, by city inspectors sending out letters reminding people that they shouldn’t be sub-letting in breach of their lease.
There is also a concern about personal safety at night. Several residents have said they don’t feel safe. And there is a huge problem with urination in the street, graffiti and vandalism.
Patrick Lilley says that the council’s system for reporting problems is not working properly.
“There is a flaw in the system. When people report street problems they should have some form of feedback,” he says.
Many residents have expressed concern to them about activity by drivers late at night. Car drivers beeping and signalling to one another, perhaps in relation to drug dealing.
It is possible that proactive enforcement action by the police and council officers in other areas of Westminster has pushed the problem into Fitzrovia West.
“The emphasis seems to be on residents to photograph and report the issue. That’s dangerous and not right,” says Lilley.
Westminster council should make better use of existing enforcement powers and work with the police to proactively tackle nuisance late at night, they say.
“Fitzrovia West needs to have regular checks by city inspectors,” says Fisher.
Residents also told them that much of the nuisance comes from venues serving alcohol.
“What we want to do is look at Camden’s use of a late night levy on licensed premises and see if it could be applicable to Westminster,” says Lilley.
“It is quite shocking that we don’t have [a late night levy] here given the concentration of venues,” says Toale.
The fourth issue is housing repairs for residents in social housing.
“I met a family whose door had been bashed in because they had been mistaken for someone else and they waited months for the repair to be done,” says Toale.
“At Holcroft Court the door buzzers don’t work properly. We are seeing across the borough leaky ceiling and repairs just not getting done when they should be. This is completely unacceptable for residents,” she says.
The fifth big issue for residents in Fitzrovia West is the lack of facilities for children and young people.
“It is shocking that there isn’t adequate provision for working parents and their young children. People with slightly older children have told me that they have to take their children Battersea because there is no local play space,” says Toale.
“One of the things that the Labour group in Westminster want to do is revitalise the funding for youth clubs,” she says.
The three candidates say the neighbourhoods should have community facilities within a short distance from their homes.
“A core piece of the Labour manifesto is the creation of the 15-minute city which is based on an environmental approach to city living where you have all essential services and amenities within a 15 minute walk or cycle from where you live,” says Toale.
“If you have those, you have really beautiful mixed-use cities. But it requires political leadership to protect health centres and nurseries,” she says.
I asked the candidates how they would deal with breach by drivers of the timed closure of Riding House Street outside All Souls School and for their views on low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs).
“It divides opinion,” says Fisher. “One thing the council has to recognise across the city is that if you shut roads there are consequences. The complaint I was getting a lot was that with the road closed there were drugs being dealt in the street. Having roads that are open can be helpful.”
The solution is to have a timed closure “controlled by a rising bollard” for Rising House Street, says Fisher.
“You shouldn’t be implementing LTNs unless you are speaking to the residents most affected. It must a be a genuine consultation. It cannot be a top down approach, particularly in London. Because the consequences of creating LTNs or pedestrianisation are so large on the areas affected,” he says.
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.