Westminster: Historic first Labour council outlines new approach

Westminster: Historic first Labour council outlines new approach

Westminster City Council’s first ever Labour administration has officially got its feet under the desk, promising a major change in priorities to embrace housing, poverty and cost of living issues, the revival of retail areas across the area, and an “urgent review” of plans for redesigning Oxford Street inherited from its Conservative predecessor.

Formally elected as the council’s new leader, Adam Hug (pictured) pledged to govern for “the whole of Westminster” and to put “the priorities of our residents first” while stressing his view “for too long many parts of our city have been overlooked by those in power” and committing to “tackling the massive inequality that has existed for too long in Westminster”. He also confirmed that council tax will be frozen in 2023-24.

Hug described housing problems as being “particularly acute in Westminster” and accused Tories of decades of failure to invest in “the social housing that it desperately needs to tackle overcrowding and homelessness”. He also promised action to “support private renters who are facing spiralling rents and too often are not being treated fairly” and said Labour wanted to “give new opportunities for families to build a life in our city”.

Before the election Hug’s colleague and predecessor as Westminster Labour group leader Paul Dimoldenberg, who sensationally became one of three Labour candidates elected for the previously solidly Conservative Hyde Park ward, told On London that a Labour Westminster would reverse the Tory policy of seeking 60% of affordable homes derived from planning agreements with private developers being of the intermediate type – aimed at middle-income households – and only 40% for social rent. He also said Labour would be far more willing than the Tories to work with Sadiq Khan to bring mayoral funding for affordable homes into Westminster.

Labour has long been sceptical about even partial pedestrianisation plans for Oxford Street and has indicated it will be very cautious about any expansion of al fresco dining in Soho and others areas, which was effective at drawing customers to a struggling hospitality sector during the pandemic but unpopular with some residents.

As well as his cabinet, which includes Dimoldenberg as member for city management and air quality, David Boothroyd as member for finance and council reform, deputy leader Aicha Less (communities and public protection) and Geoff Barraclough (city shaping, planning and economic development), Hug will be drawing on the expertise of Labour figures with long experience in the city’s politics and elsewhere to shape and guide council policy.

Neale Coleman, who as a young Labour councillor was in the forefront of exposing the notorious, covert “homes for votes” policy of Westminster Tories under Dame Shirley Porter in the late 1980s and went on to be a key adviser to London Mayors Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson – in particular on the 2012 Olympics – will head a Future of Westminster Commission, whose job will be to help redefine the council’s priorities including sharing the city’s prosperity more widely.

Steve Hilditch, a renowned housing policy expert who has worked in the past for Shelter, local authorities and the former Mayor Livingstone, will contribute to the commission, and Westminster North MP Karen Buck will lead a poverty and inequality review.

Photograph of Adam Hug from Westminster Council.

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