Speaking Out

The Cabinet Member for Housing and Property, Cllr Coleridge, has been very down on the Grenfell Action Group lately, accusing us of unreasonable and unprincipled wrecking behaviour in our relentless and determined opposition to the KALC project.

“Your continued attack”, wrote Coleridge  “on both the TMO and the Council is regrettable, and from a personal point of view I am disappointed in your attitude and the damage you seek to inflict on the progress of the new Academy. You continue to show no interest in the future of children’s education or the benefits that a new leisure centre will bring for thousands of local residents”.

We beg to disagree, and we believe that our support of the recent petitions to save school playing fields is evidence that we care very much about the future of education, and of our children.  We do, however, take a starkly different view from that emanating from the Tory right, whether it be at Downing Street or at Hornton Street.

In his recent email Cllr Coleridge went on to remind us that the KALC issue is 100% settled and that the entire Council – Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat – supports the planning application, along with our MP and the vast majority of residents in the borough.

We would seriously challenge Coleridge’s claim to have the support of the majority of residents. We don’t believe this level of support was ever tested, and we rather suspect that a casual poll of shoppers in the borough’s busier shopping streets might well reveal many, if not most, to be totally oblivious.

We know that the KALC consultations were targeted exclusively at residents of Notting Barns and Norland wards, and the only survey that the Council conducted (ie in the Lancaster West area) revealed that two thirds of those surveyed were against the siting of the academy at Lancaster Green.

There was, of course, the famous pro-academy petition organised in late 2010 among parents of local schoolchildren. Cllr Blakeman, in the local ward councillors’ response to the planning application, refers to this saying that

“…the need for a secondary school in the north of the Borough is long-standing, urgent and unequivocal, and the petition submitted by local parents in support of KALC includes signatures from many who live on Lancaster West Estate, including several who reside in Grenfell Tower.”

In fact the petition in question made no mention of location, calling only for a new academy to serve the children of North Kensington. It was delivered by Cllr Blakeman herself, who we suspect was one of the chief organisers of the petition, and contained a mere 118 signatures, of which only 30 were Lancaster West residents – hardly the ringing endorsement of KALC suggested in Blakeman’s text, certainly not an endorsement of the Lancaster Green site, and certainly not the ‘many’ from Lancaster West that Blakeman boasts of.

Curiously the minutes of a KALC Officer Working Group meeting held some weeks before the petition (ie in November 2010) contains a reference to a “request for a petition”.  Is it conceivable that the Council’s planners, reeling from the fierce opposition they had encountered locally, were contriving to organise a supportive petition for their own propaganda purposes? And if so, is it conceivable also that Blakeman might have aided and abetted them in this? In any case Blakeman’s characterisation of the petition is certainly misleading – whether it is deliberately so is a matter for Blakeman herself to clarify. We make no further comment.

This brings us nicely back to Cllr Coleridge’s boast that the whole council, including the Labour group, are behind the KALC project. It is certainly true that Labour joined the Tories and LibDems in a unanimous vote of support for the project in 2010. However, their actual position is somewhat more complicated than this alone would suggest, as they constantly appear to be facing both ways on this issue and have continued to simultaneously support and criticise the Council’s plans to this day.

It is noteworthy, and more than a little ironic, that the Labour response to the planning application (published with their approval on this site), is severely critical of the project, and on grounds that we have argued all along. They condemn:

  • the loss of vital green space,
  • the loss of residential amenity in the Grenfell Tower area,
  • the loss of informal play-space,
  • the gross over-development resulting from the inclusion of 35 luxury residential units on a site that was too small even before the imposition of this housing,
  • and last, but not least, the introduction of a dangerous and intrusive through-road bisecting Lancaster Green, and further degrading what little residential amenity value it might otherwise have retained.

The Labour ward councillors’ submission is well worth a read, and we strongly recommend it to all our readers. However, it leaves us struggling to understand how they could think it right and appropriate to join with the Tories in voting to support the project, while simultaneously recognising and acknowledging that it is so fatally flawed as to be unfit for purpose.   Here’s the link.

The irony of the Labour position is that if the Council were to concede on the issues that they raise, it would be impossible to deliver the project on the Lancaster Green site. It is really as simple as that. The site is too small and the project can only be delivered by destroying residential amenity, green-space, play-space and all the rest of it.  The Grenfell Action Group has recognised this from day one. We have stuck to our guns – and been condemned as wreckers for our trouble. Meanwhile our local councillors, in their determination to play both ends, have left us feeling bemused, and at times betrayed.

The illustration above shows the relationship of the reconfigured public realm to the new academy and leisure centre, and how the open space is designed to serve the needs of the new building complex. The entrances to the new buildings are marked by ‘X’s and the fluorescent green areas show how the reconfigured open spaces will be entirely dominated by these entrances. The residential amenity needs of Grenfell Tower residents appear to have been entirely ignored, and despite their false claims to have enlarged and improved Lancaster Green, the intentions of the planners can be seen as entirely cynical and self-serving.

Unfortunately, the massive Tory majority on the Council, which the minority parties can never hope to overcome, ensures that the Tories can easily force through even the most unsavoury of plans, and the quisling behaviour of these Labour councillors may be no more than a desperate attempt to win, by the only means possible, any concessions or compromises that might benefit the local community in some small measure. Horse trading, sometimes of a decidedly dodgy kind, may well be be the only way that Labour can hope for success on any issue.

However, on this issue we have seen no concessions won, and no quarter given, only a cynical and insensitive land grab that has entirely destroyed the residential amenity of the Grenfell Tower area. The proposed works to Grenfell Tower may deliver some benefit to the residents who live in that block, but fall far short of what is needed, and offer nothing of worth to the majority of local residents who live beyond that arbitrary Pale.

Given Cllr Coleridge’s recent claim that “the issue is 100% settled” our readers might be interested also in the contents of an email we received from Cllr Blakeman a year and a half ago in February 2011.  She said;

“Since the Academy is now 95% certain to be built, and to be built on this site, it is vital that we build in as many safeguards and elements of community gain for the immediate locality as possible; this includes not just the Estate but beyond, for example, Whitchurch House, the sheltered housing block immediately opposite where the new Academy will be.”

This might be a good time to remind both Blakeman and Coleridge that we can see precious little sign of the ‘safeguards and community gain’ to which Blakeman was referring. We are still waiting for a decision on funding for double-glazed windows in Verity Close. Meanwhile, Whitchurch House, to which Blakeman pointedly referred, has so far been pointedly excluded from those discussions. So much for safeguards and community gain. So much also for the Labour strategy of collaboration.

This might also be a good time to ask if the meeting of Cllr Buxton’s Major Planning Development Committee on 26th September, ostensibly to make a decision on the planning application, is anything more than a complete sham. It would seem that Cllr Blakeman knew the outcome of that meeting nineteen months ago. Cllr Coleridge may have been a bit slower on the uptake, or maybe he knew already, but just kept his mouth shut like a good boy.

We won’t be keeping our mouths shut.

They’ll have to put us in jail if they want to silence us.

 

Apologies – and RESPECT – to Pussy Riot.

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