On London‘s coverage of Grosvenor Britain & Ireland’s plans to redevelop Cundy Street flats and Walden House in south Belgravia will report their progress from many angles. That includes the activities and views of people who are unhappy about those plans and even hope to thwart them. Unsurprisingly, these prominently include residents of the area whose homes are earmarked for demolition to make way for the creation of the proposed Cundy Street Quarter. Those homes comprise the 111 privately-rented Cundy Street flats and the 40 dwellings of Walden House (pictured), which Grosvenor leases to Westminster City Council for letting to social renting tenants.
A campaign against the Cundy Street Quarter project has been launched and, at the time of this article’s publication, an online petition had gathered over 100,000 signatures. A Twitter account, @SaveCundyStreetAndWaldenHouse, has picked up nearly 200 followers so far, including Steven Saxby, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for the Tory-held Cities of London & Westminster constituency which contains the Cundy Street site, and Adam Hug, who leads the opposition Labour Group on Westminster Council. A Facebook page has attracted 70-odd followers and carries testimonies from residents and other supporters. They bear the the hashtag #HumansofSW1.
The petition is formally directed at Conservative-run Westminster, which is, of course, the local planning authority, and at Sadiq Khan – the scheme is sufficiently large to eventually come before the London Mayor, who has powers to intervene over planning applications deemed of strategic significance to the capital. However, the headline and the topline wording of the petition are aimed not at them but at Hugh Grosvenor, the youthful 7th Duke of Westminster, who is the owner of Grosvenor and, as the petitioners stress, a man of exceptional wealth, much of it accrued over centuries from property holdings in London and elsewhere (Vic Keegan writes about the roots Grosvenor’s London estate here).
Grosvenor are yet to submit their plans to Westminster, but we can be confident the scheme is on the borough’s radar, and maybe the Mayor’s as well. The opposition Labour Group is taking a close and visible interest. There is a personal element to this, in that one of area’s two Labour councillors, Shamim Talukder, is a resident of Walden House. He and his Labour colleague for Churchill ward, Andrea Mann, have been working in support of the campaigners. (Interestingly, Churchill’s other councillor is a Conservative, Murad Gassanly, who has also been paying attention).
Mann says she and Labour back the attempts of residents of both Walden house and the Cundy Street flats to “save their homes from demolition” and contends that Grosvenor has so far “failed to follow its own advice” about the need for developers to act with more transparency and more closely with local communities if they are to win more public trust in and enthusiasm for their endeavours.
Grosvenor chief executive Craig McWilliam has been advocating a different approach, including at On London. However, Mann says the local community was not consulted early enough in the process and asks Grosvenor to reconsider their plans as they stand, taking on board “the depth of feeling of the residents” and other locals, and the effects the plans are already having. Adam Hug adds his view that Grosvenor have “a duty of care to this community that must not be forgotten”. Labour is also specifically critical of the way the council has been going about rehousing the resident of Walden House.
For its part, Grosvenor says it informed its Cundy Street tenants back in 2012 of “the possibility of redevelopment”, confirming earlier this year that it would happen with two years of their leases yet to run. They maintain that they have been providing “tailored support over and above what is required of us, giving particular priority to “vulnerable individuals” and members of their families.
Grosvenor also emphasise that the Walden House lease has been extended potentially to 2023 to give Westminster’s tenants there more time to find alternative council accommodation that suits them, and adds: “We have committed to at a minimum re-providing the affordable housing currently on the site and expect the final plans to show a material increase in affordable homes, all of which will be delivered on site.” They also promise investment in existing and new facilities “that will benefit all residents” in what they insist will be an “inclusive” Cundy Street Quarter.
It will be evident that there are many strands to the unfolding story of the creation of Cundy Street Quarter and many different points of view. On London will be pursuing some of those strands in more detail in future articles.
Update, 27 August 2019. Local Labour councillors Talukder and Mann have written this piece setting out their position and they’ve obtained figures from Westminster which say Walden House has 141 residents, of whom 27 are aged 18 or younger and eight are registered disabled.
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