On Tuesday 6th October the RBKC took another major step in their destruction of social networks and access to community space in North Kensington when the Planning Application Committee voted in favour of allowing the Westway Information Centre to be turned into a gaudy retail outlet and restaurant.
This decision was taken despite objections from the Grenfell Action Group, the Kensington Society and the St Helens Residents Association, all of whom pointed out that the closure of the Westway Information Centre would result in the loss of a significant amount of space previously in social and community use, and at a time when space for the voluntary sector is in very short supply.
Policy CK1 of the Core Strategy seeks to protect land and/or buildings where the current or last use was a social or community use. The Planning Application Committee chose to ignore this. In fact they blatantly admitted that the application to remove the Westway Information Centre from community use was contrary to Policy CK1 but accepted a recommendation from the Council’s own Planning Department that this was acceptable because the Council was pursuing “wider regeneration objectives”. The Grenfell Action Group believes that the decision to remove this valuable community space was cynical and indefensible and should never have been sanctioned by the Planning Application Committee. The decisive Committee Report recommendation from the Council’s Planning Department stated that;
“Policy CK1 seeks to protect and enhance social and community uses and resists the loss of buildings or land where the current or previous use was for social or community purposes. Viewed in isolation the proposal would be contrary to Policy CK1. However Policy CK1 also recognises that in some instances a more holistic approach may be necessary to take account of the particular circumstances or the council’s wider regeneration objectives.”
So here we can see that, just like so many other Core Strategy policies that appear to guarantee the protection of social, community or environmental resources, Policy CK1 has a built in loophole – a get out clause – that allows the council to approve, cynically and with impunity, any planning decision that suits their financial or other vested interests. We have seen this happen before and we will see it again. The consultation process is always a cynical sham and the habitual collusion between the Planning Department and the Planning Application Committee is likewise utterly cynical and corrupt. The end result is always the same. The property speculators and vested commercial interests always get their way and the public always gets screwed.
The space beneath the Westway was leased to the Royal Borough by London Transport at the time of the building of the Westway flyover in the mid 70’s. It goes almost without saying that, at that time, it was regarded as wasteland, with little commercial value, and was earmarked for community use as token compensation for the massive destruction of communities caused by the creation of the Westway flyover. The social and community use of these areas was envisaged by Cllr Sir Malby Crofton during the original grant of use. However times have changed, and in this new neo-con era, with grotesquely inflated property values right across London, many locations under the Westway are now regarded as prime real estate, and RBKC shows every intention of cashing in on this fact, whatever the consequences for the North Kensington community.
We believe that the recent closure of the Maxilla Nursery, the loss of the Lancaster West Community Rooms, the change of use of the London Lighthouse into a “Brand Museum”, the closure of EPIC’s, the loss of the Sir Issac Newton Centre to an elite private school and the North Kensington Library facing the same fate and being taken over for private use by the Notting Hill Prep School, are direct assaults on our community.
We do not believe that the wider regeneration objectives of RBKC and their poodles at KCTMO and The Westway Trust seek to protect our public resources and community space. On the contrary, we believe that the sole intention of RBKC is to steal as much land from under the flyover as they can, while ignoring the needs of local residents and treating all objections with contempt.