“Have Your Say” Event with New Councillors Kick Starts a Lively Conversation
HyPER’s inaugural “town hall” meeting on Monday turned out to be just the fast-paced and dramatic event we hoped it would be.
It was attended by Councillors Paul Dimoldenberg, Md Shamsed Chowdhury and Judith Southern. Laura White from the Church Commissioners and “H” from the Hyde Park Police also attended.
Moderator and HyPER Spokesman, Chris Gunness, began by inviting our three newly-elected ward councillors to give an overview of what they had been up to since being elected and their aspirations. That was followed by questions covering many topics, all squeezed into just over an hour of action-packed debate.
Here is a summary of the topics covered:
Cllr Judith Southern started by talking about her recent activities, which included meeting the Church Commissioners, shopkeepers and residents’ groups, to discuss issues of concern. She is particularly interested in improving cycling and reducing traffic, and as the ‘Older Persons’ champion wants to make this as accessible as possible for those older people who cycle and those with a disability. On the same theme, she is also concerned about the distance to bus stops and wants to ensure connections with other similar organisations such as Age UK and Age Concern, with a mission to improve opportunities for older people to socialise in order to combat social isolation and loneliness.
Cllr Md Shamsed Chowdhury is the champion for Edgware Road, and this, combined with his role on the planning committee makes him a pivotal man in improving both the desirability and safety of our neighbourhood. Shamsed wants to work together with us for the benefit of all ages. He has also done effective work on fly-tipping, collaborating with HyPER to reduce rubbish on the streets around Bathurst Street. Shamsed has also made clear that he has concerns about Council staff being insulted and abused as they do their work in our communities – a practice he has pledged to end.
Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg is the cabinet member for City Management and is particularly keen to see the streets kept clean and air quality improved, as well as traffic reduced and the roads made safe for walking and for cycling to be the natural choice of transport, thereby reducing the dependency on cars. He promises to put residents at the heart of decision making, whilst working with businesses to improve the area. He named some rubbish-dumping hotspots, many of which will be familiar to us, such as Star Street, Praed Street and Bathurst Street. He wants to see Connaught Village providing more everyday shops for local residents and has started working with the Church Commissioners on this. Paul wants to see the number of rough sleepers reduced and Edgware Road made more attractive. He is proud of the councillors’ record of “getting things done” and their record of replying to phone calls and emails quickly. Long-term plans so far include the possibility of pedestrian crossings on Hyde Park Crescent, which he has asked council officers to investigate.
The first question came from a blind resident, who raised the issue of cycling on pavements and dockless bikes being left on the pavement. The group heard that cycling on the pavement is a policing issue and only they have the ability to enforce it, which they do whenever possible. Dockless bikes are treated as dumped rubbish by the council and removed when reported.
The noise of helicopters was raised. This has been raised with the police by the councillors, and whilst the police have responded that they need a helicopter for advanced face recognition, the councillors believe that the technology to do this with drones should be available and they want the police to look at this.
The issue of affordable housing and empty houses was raised by one resident. This is the top priority for the new administration, including providing enough temporary accommodation and council housing. A planning committee on the 7th July will turn down planning applications with less than 35% affordable housing. At the last count there are 2,500 homes empty in Westminster, and the new administration is looking at re-introducing a council officer with the designated task of investigating these premises and working with the owners and landlords to reduce that number. It was explained that such a council existed a number of years ago.
Another attendee asked how much traffic is cutting through the estate and what will be done to combat this. It is believed that 80-90% of traffic on the estate is through traffic, including taxis and delivery vehicles. The councillors want to make it less attractive to cut through, by carrying out interventions such as narrowing lanes, slowing traffic and encouraging it to re-route to main roads. They are committed to implementing a plan with the consent and support of the local community, to also include improvements to London Street as the main north/south route from the station.
Has the low traffic neighbourhood been buried? Paul was clear. “Yes, as it did not have the support of the whole community.” Traffic will still be reduced and walking and cycling improved, with progressive changes.
What is going to be done about drug dealing, AirBnBs and prostitution? The councillors are working with the police on this, including looking at the wider issues of illegal lettings in specific streets.
There was an extensive question concerning TfL’s proposed changes to bus routes, which affect the Hyde Park Estate and make direct journeys to a number of locations more difficult. It was pointed out that north London seems to have been hit worse than south London. The councillors said they are opposed to the bus cuts and are talking to TfL about the issue. They told the group that the government needs to provide proper funding for TfL to prevent the cuts.
A concern was raised regarding the difficulty and amount of time it takes to drive around the area. The councillors said they wanted to reduce the amount of traffic on the estate.
A concern was raised that the volume of traffic in Connaught Street was getting worse, which has a negative impact on the shopping experience.
The issue of broadband fibre was raised, in that a lot of inconvenience is being caused to local residents with roads being dug up, but without any information being made available by the Council on when residents will feel the benefits. The councillors responded that the Council had no power over any utility company including internet providers, who can choose to dig up a road whenever they want. The councillors have approached G-Networks several times about a rollout schedule but have received no response.
A concern was raised about dogs fouling in the area and the mess not being cleared. Our Councillors explained that animal wardens are employed by the council, although it is difficult to cover such a large area. Councillors advised residents to obtain evidence and report the details of offenders if possible.
A question was asked about plans for electronic vehicle charging infrastructure in our area, and the problem of resident parking spaces being taken by cars owned by non-residents. The meeting heard that the council was looking into EV charging and planned to install more chargers, in order to achieve the target of 1,500 chargers in the next 12 months. Parking spaces are being provided for EV charging only.
Further concerns were raised about safety and security in the area, with a request for the installation of CCTV cameras. Attendees were told it was a priority for the council to have cameras installed and activated, although there are questions about the funding.
A question was asked about why there were so many shops in Connaught Village that are not suitable for local residents. The councillors said they wanted to see a model similar to Marylebone High Street, with a mix of shops for both residents and visitors, and they are urging a lower rate for shops that are geared towards local residents.
Further concerns were raised about the noise from helicopters and loud cars and motorbikes.
There were further questions regarding traffic cutting through the estate, with concerns about the dangers for pedestrians and the pollution this produces. The councillors emphasised that the local roads are for local traffic, and that through traffic should be pushed onto the boundary roads.
A question was asked about the precise action plan and exact timescales for dealing with the traffic issues raised in the meeting. The councillors said they expected to have plans in the next few months and would be working with the Church Commissioners on these. Ideas included improving pedestrian areas, adding planting and seating, and implementing the Connaught Village Green.
The meeting ended with an enthusiastic show of appreciation and support for the Councillors. HyPER made clear that this was the start of the conversation and that future “HyPER Have Your Say” events were planned.
Do you have comments or questions on any of the topic raised? Click here to have your say.