In July 2012 the RBKC Cabinet delegated authority to the Cabinet Member for Housing and Property to order the enabling works for the KALC development, subject to a condition that the right–of-way along the western edge of the site (ie Station Walk) should be preserved. There is good reason to believe that this condition was imposed in order to fully comply with the provisions of the Town and Country Act, which stipulates that, when extinguishing traditional rights-of-way for planning purposes, local authorities are required to make suitable alternative provision.
The promise to keep Station Walk open lasted only until the new year when, without warning or explanation, the Council’s contractors blocked off all the footpaths that had previously traversed the KALC site, leaving a large part of the Lancaster West community marooned in an isolated ghetto to the south of the site. At that time the Grenfell Action Group fought them, and won, on legal technicalities, but the reprieve was only temporary, and in early February all the footpaths were again blocked and would remain so thereafter.
The contractors, Leadbitters, finally offered an explanation for their actions at the Community Forum that met on 19th February. They also made a new promise. Instead of Station Walk they offerred instead an alternative footpath right through the heart of the site on the north/south axis, the logistics of which they said would take about three weeks to arrange (ie it was due to open on or about 12th March). According to the minutes of that meeting:
“An old gas main, an old water main and old power cables have been found under Station Walk which have hindered plans to keep Station Walk open during the construction period. Due to the issues found, a temporary and alternative North/South link will be introduced by Verity Close to the emergency access to Grenfell Road with the intention for it to be closed if necessary when it is unsafe to keep it open. This will be opened promptly after the works have been done.”
Now here we are in the middle of April, Station Walk is long gone, and there is still no sign of the promised alternative on this north/south axis. Instead we have now been told that this also is undeliverable.
YET ANOTHER BROKEN PROMISE
We received this latest devastating news at the April Residents Forum, where we were also informed that the latest cancellation has more to do with the Council’s reluctance to spend the money required than with any health and safety issues, as they had falsely claimed in recent correspondence. Leadbitters, it seems have costed the provision of a right-of-way along the north/south footpath at £186,000 and Councillor Coleridge has absolutely refused to contemplate footing this bill.
One has to wonder why it would cost so much for a temporary footpath that would be no more than a couple of hundred yards long, and we can’t help wondering if the costing might have been deliberately over-estimated to give Coleridge an excuse to refuse it. We already know that Leadbitters don’t want a footpath at this location because it would be a logistical nightmare for them, blocking crucial access to the Leisure Centre site. We also have reason to suspect that both Leadbitters and the Council may already be struggling to keep within the budgets set for them by Cabinet.
In any case Coleridge’s obstinate refusal to even consider paying for the alternative footpath was fiercely resisted by all the community representatives who were present at the meeting, including Cllr Blakeman, who admonished Coleridge that the loss of pedestrian access was causing real hardship, and that the entire local community was united in opposition to it. She insisted that the funds could, if necessary, be drawn from the Parking Reserve Fund. Indeed, it is no secret that the Council has enjoyed rich pickings from parking charges on this site for many years – a fact that Coleridge appears now to have conveniently forgotten.
We find it totally unacceptable that the Council would willingly spend £30 million for paving stones in Exhibition Road, and £100 million on the hugely expensive Holland Park School, but can’t find the much more modest amount required to return some dignity to a community that has been mistreated, lied to and abused by them for far too long.
It was very obvious from Coleridge’s personal demeanour at the Forum meeting that he does not consider the loss of Lancaster West’s north/south route as a significant inconvenience to residents, and certainly not one that should be resolved by the spending of valuable council resources.
We have heard that Councillor Julie Mills, of the adjacent Norland Ward, wrote recently to the Director of Housing, Laura Johnson, and suggested that a Council representative and Ward Councillors should quite literally “walk in the shoes” of their constituents and try to negotiate the assault course that is now involved in leaving this estate and travelling north towards Portobello Road, either in a wheelchair or accompanied by two or three young children.
To the best of our knowledge this very sensible request was never entertained or followed up by Council Officers or those who are elected to represent and protect us.
THE GRENFELL ACTION GROUP THEREFORE CHALLENGES YOU DIRECTLY, COUNCILLOR COLERIDGE, TO VISIT OUR COMMUNITY AND TRAVEL FROM THE BASE OF GRENFELL TOWER UP TO LANCASTER ROAD AND LADBROKE GROVE BY WHEELCHAIR.
To assist in this venture, we have obtained the use of a modern wheelchair which can be accessed at a time of your convenience and we will be happy to notify the local press and local disability charities so that your attempt can be witnessed and your assertion that the route is easily navigable by wheelchair is duly verified.
If, as you claim, there is no inconvenience getting off the Estate for the disabled then you should easily be able to steer the wheelchair up to Lancaster Road/Ladbroke Grove without a problem. If, on the other hand, you encounter serious problems in negotiating your way off the Estate, along the minefield of Bomore Road and through Verity Close, then you will understand why the local community (both able bodied and disabled) demand that previous Council promises are kept, that Planning Law and Equality Law are respected and that a way is found to re-open a north/south footpath without further delay.
If you refuse this challenge it will show very clearly to our community that you, and your Council quislings, are not willing to empathise with the plight of our disabled, and that poor people without recourse to expensive lawyers can and will continue to be treated with contempt and disdain by this Rotten Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.