Council chiefs at war with Mayor Khan over estate demolition vote

Sadiq Khan says he will ‘withhold £23.5m’ from Westminster Council unless residents are given a greater say on controversial plans for Church Street

Friday, 3rd August 2018 — By Tom Foot

Church St regen

Part of the regeneration vision for Church Street

A POLITICAL war between Westminster Council and Sadiq Khan took another twist this week after the Mayor of London was accused of “walking away” from its flagship regeneration scheme.

Mr Khan has warned the council that he will withhold £23.5million from the Church Street redevelopment unless the estate’s residents vote on whether the controversial plans should go ahead.

The council sent a letter to residents this week openly criticising the Mayor for “threatening to withhold public money” and saying it would now seek alternative methods of funding from “those who share our aims”. It has stubbornly ruled out a ballot on the proposals that will demolish and rebuild hundreds of homes.

The Church Street Neighbourhood Forum last night (Thursday) said: “Considering the scale and impact the Church Street masterplan will have on residents’ lives… we do indeed believe that a ballot is absolutely necessary and have consistently been calling for this.

“Regeneration plans and the more genuinely affordable homes that our local community desperately needs must not be used to play political hardball with the Mayor.”

The relationship bet­ween Sadiq Khan and the council is at an all-time low following the council’s decision to back out of Oxford Street pedestrianisation plans before the May 2018 election.

Last week a senior High Court judge heard evidence of a “political dispute” between the two public bodies and criticised them both failing to find common ground over the cycle safety CS11 changes around Regent’s Park. The Mayor’s funding was supposed to be spent on buying out owners of right-to-buy properties in the council-owned Blackwater House, Eden House and “an area known as Site C”.

The city council’s letter sent to residents this week has also been strongly criticised as it wrongly claims the funding is “no longer available”. It does not mention resident ballots or the new conditions for housing funding from the mayor’s office.

Community activist Mike Wohl, who has lived in the area for 20 years and has been heavily involved in the masterplan talks, said: “If people are making untrue statements they should resign. How can they write to people saying this is the truth, when the money is there if you have a ballot. It shows you cannot rely on what they say. If you can’t rely on what they say, how can we rely on their competency to carry out a major project like this?”

Mr Wohl, who set up the celebrated Let’s Go, Let’s Grow Church Street gardening project, says that at the start of the Church Street regeneration scheme a series of ballots for each phase of the development had been promised to residents.

]The council announced it would no longer use the ballot system for complex estate regeneration schemes insisting they “disengage” residents.

In February council leader Nickie Aiken said in a letter to Green Party London Assembly member Siân Berry: “There are a variety of reasons for moving away from a vote, including the low turnout these votes attract, the fact that they represent a moment in time only, whereas regeneration schemes are long and complex.”

The Labour group in Westminster has demanded the council returns to its original policy.

Residents at Ebury Bridge estate in Pimlico had wanted a ballot on council plans to demolish all of their buildings. But councillors waved through the 750-home redevelopment last month claiming “there is little purpose in holding a formal vote to determine residents’ views”.

Labour Church Street ward councillor Matt Noble said: “Many residents simply no longer believe that their opinions on regeneration are actually being listened to.”

The council stressed it was still “fully committed to the Church Street regeneration” that has already dragged on for almost a decade. It pointed out that residents had already voted in favour of regeneration in 2012.

But Church Street Neighbourhood Forum yesterday said this was “outrageous” and “false” as the scheme had changed dramatically over the years. It now “earmarks many residential blocks for demolition which had previously been flagged for refurbishment”, it said.

The council said more people had responded to its original masterplan consultation than the Mayor’s consultation on the balloting. More than half of the 1,750 homes for Church Street will be “affordable”, according to the council.

Regeneration chief Cllr Rachael Robathan said: “Rather than threatening to withhold public money, the Mayor should pull his sleeves up and help us to provide new homes for Londoners. We will explore every avenue available to us including the potential to secure government funding.”

The council added last night that it had been surprised to learn of the withdrawal of funding and added it hoped to continue a “constructive relationship with the Mayor’s housing team”.

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