Save Empress Place

empressplacewithempressstatebldgRedevelopment proposals will only be popular if what is provided is more beautiful than what was there before. Capco’s scheme for the Earls Court and West Kensington Opportunity Area must be judged on that basis. That must include not just more homes, and replacement homes for those who live in the area, but better homes.

Knocking on doors in the tower blocks of the West Ken estate – Fairburn, Churchward, Desborough, Lickey and Sharnbrook – residents often tell me they don’t like living there. There are still lots of concerns about what the alternative offer will be. What will it look like? Among leaseholders particularly whether they will be able to afford it. How long it will take? How disruptive the process will be? There is generally a wish to continue to live locally. But most people living in tower blocks would rather they were not living in tower blocks.

So there is a case for change. But it was never intended that the redevelopment should include demolition of the attractive cottages in Empress Place. Yet this now seems to be threatened. An online petition says:

“Designate Empress Place and the Prince of Wales pub as local Buildings of Merit and add them to the Council’s Local Register. Reject developer Capco’s application to include Empress Place in the Earls Court and West Kensington Opportunity Area.

Why is this important?

Empress Place (1864-5) is one of the few remaining, visible buildings by noted architect John Young. These Victorian workers cottages with their gardens are highly desirable homes left empty at a time of housing shortage. Capco’s plan is to replace them with luxury flats. The Prince of Wales pub which has been made an Asset of Community Value thanks to local residents campaigning to save it, now stands boarded up and empty. Furthermore, the ACV protects the use of the building not the building itself, which Capco wants to demolish and rebuild. We are losing London’s architectural heritage and replacing it with bland, characterless environments that do not meet the housing and social needs of our communities.”

I have asked the Council for a response.

Residents demand that Labour come clean on plans for Gibbs Green and West Ken estates

cowanletterLabour councillors are keen to repeat the mantra that they wish to do things with residents not to residents. But that is not how some of those on the West Ken and Gibbs Green estates who voted for them see it.

Opinion is divided over the redevelopment of those estates. Before the council elections last year Labour opposed the plans. They spread scare stories that residents would have to move to Barking and Dagenham – when in fact replacement local homes are being offered. Lies such as those poisoned and politicised what should have been a practical assessment of how it might be realistic to provide new and better housing.

My own view is that was is proposed is an improvement on what exists at present – but that it could be much better. It is perfectly possible to meet that requirements for density, and for the sums to add up, while providing a really beautiful place to live.

cowanlettertwoBut while there will be a range of strongly held views it is wrong for the Labour Council to be secretive about their negotiations.

This morning a group of residents opposed to Capco’s regeneration plans declared they had “lost patience” with the Council. The Labour councillor Cllr Andrew Jones gave an evasive and bureaucratic response which sounded like a statement a lawyer had written for him.

Last December the Council leader Cllr Stephen Cowan wrote to residents saying nothing much – but that he “hoped to” feel able to tell them something in the “first few months of the New Year”. It’s August and residents have yet to hear diddly squat.

Labour canvassers last year went round telling residents that the redevelopment would be halted if they took over the Council.

As for Labour’s pledge to publish minutes of their meetings with property developers the reality has proved a sham. Rather than proper minutes the information made available for each meeting is a couple of sentences of waffle. No genuine indication of what changes are being sought or what changes have been offered.

So a year after taking power Labour are shown to be arrogant. Residents are left out of the loop. Labour’s own supporters feel betrayed.