This is my final report as Chairman of the Association as the AGM will mark the end of my three year term. It has been an agreeable experience and the time has passed all too quickly. As usual I outline below some of the more significant issues that have confronted us over the course of the year. This year we have had more than the usual number of changes to the Association Committee, consequently I have listed them below under their Committee headings for the sake of clarity.
Keith Evans, our current Treasurer, has now moved out of the area and so this is the last year in which he will be submitting our accounts. On behalf of the Committee I would like to pass on our thanks for all the work that he has undertaken over the years and wish him all the best in his future endeavours. We are aiming to have a new Treasurer in place in time for election at the Annual General Meeting.
Tim Carnegie, who has kept us all abreast of developments with the Marylebone Boys School during his time on the Families Sub-Committee, has agreed to stand for Chairman and will be proposed for election at the AGM. Tushna Ghadially who has attended our meetings on a number of occasions, and already occupies a prominent local position running Marylebone Mums, is ideally suited to take over the families’ role, which she has agreed to do. Tushna will have a different area of interest from Tim, leaning more towards families with younger children. This is why the sub-committee system works so well as it allows people to bring their individual areas of expertise and interest to the Association.
Paul Olins has resigned from his brief tenure in licensing and I thank him for his help over the past year. Following our request for further help, Guy Austin has come forward to take on this role and will accordingly be proposed for election at the AGM.
Martin Bikhit who is Manager of Marylebone Estate Agents, Kay and Co, expressed interest some time ago in helping the Association if an appropriate position arose and indeed we have now found one for him in the form of Business Representative. It was felt that the Committee needed to reflect as many different aspects of our local community as possible. This is a new role that is not to be confused with the business liaison position that Patricia Neville so ably fills. It is intended to ensure that the voice of business is heard directly within the Committee through an active and well-connected business member working in the Marylebone area.
Keith Stuart-Smith has reported on police activities for many years, but this year sadly is his final one. He is now moving from Marylebone and accordingly is resigning from the Committee. On behalf of the Association I would like to thank Keith for the valuable work he has carried out over the years and for his input and advice at our meetings. We wish him all the best for his new life in Kingston. Richard Lovell has kindly agreed to take on this responsibility with help from other Committee members.
This is by far our largest and busiest sub-committee, reviewing all the planning applications that come within the Association area, or affect it. Since last year’s AGM we have gained another much needed new member, Dan Marks, who is a qualified architect with a good local knowledge of Marylebone.
This year, as mentioned, there will be a change of personnel here too, however the office of Chair is also not immune from change. We felt on reflection that the creation of a deputy position to assist was long overdue. Although our system of having a three year rolling Chair has many advantages, it has also one particular problem, and that is of continuity. A new face at the helm every few years can lead to a certain disconnect. A recognised deputy chair position would ease this transition and help share the burden of chairmanship, which in turn will enable us to bring in people who would not otherwise have the time for this undertaking.
To implement these changes it has been necessary to codify the Chair’s function. To set out what is expected of him/her: what can or should be done by the Chair alone and what jobs, particularly those behind the scenes, can be taken on, or helped with, by a deputy or indeed other members of the Committee. It was felt that the best person to fill the deputy role would normally be the outgoing Chair, and that is the proposal for this year.
Some of our current concerns have been around for some time. We are still awaiting the commencement of work on the new Marylebone Library, as we have been throughout my period as Chair. We have had no further news on this at the time of writing, although the prolonged delay could mean that Westminster is now looking elsewhere for the development of a library site. There are concerns about this and the maintenance of the child-centred activities that the library currently offers. We hope to be in a position to report definitively on this at our AGM. The Moxon Street site still remains a car park but, if it is on schedule to be built by 2019, we assume that we will see work starting on this soon. The comments made last year on both developments continue to apply equally a year on.
We have had some major planning applications to deal with this year, the largest however was not even in our area, but so large was it that it would have affected Marylebone by its height alone. This was the now infamous ‘Paddington Pole’. Happily those in Westminster responsible for making the decision listened to the many voices raised against this, not least amongst them many of their own Councillors, and the Pole was duly axed. No sooner however had the dust settled around the collapse of this, than another threat emerged to our skyline in the form of the proposed tower at West End Green, 285-329 Edgware Road. This again is outside our area but would affect us by virtue of its size. Again this excited much opposition, not only on grounds of design and size but on the lack of affordable housing within the scheme. Sadly this time the objections were overruled and it has obtained consent to go ahead.
There is an important policy consideration here. For many years Westminster Council has been known and respected for its restraint with regard to tall buildings. Recognising that these could severely compromise our many heritage and conservation areas, they have been restricted to the Paddington Opportunity Area and this has been enshrined in policy. Further protection is found in national planning policy, which has a test applied to all tall buildings affecting conservation areas: the value of public benefit offered by the development against the adverse impact on the development to the surrounding historic environment. If Westminster is to change its existing policy on tall buildings, this should only be done when any new proposed policy has been subjected to a full public consultation, giving residents and businesses in the area a chance to have their say and the policy, if necessary, amended in the light of that consultation and national planning guidelines. If this principle is not adhered to we are in great danger of a planning free-for-all, as once the precedent is set for one tower, others could rapidly follow; the so called cluster effect, as we have seen on the South Bank and in other parts of London.
It has been an unusually busy year on the traffic front with the Baker Street Two-way proposals, the TfL Superhighway scheme, and the Westminster proposed Cycle Quietways. Paul Neville writes about all of this in his article further on in this Report. Whilst we are in principle supportive of the Two-way scheme provided stakeholder concerns can be met, the same cannot be said of some of the cycle way proposals. Indeed we have significant reservations about a number of them and none more so than the planned closure of Regent’s Park to through traffic. This has met with much opposition from all but one of the surrounding amenity societies and many other bodies including Westminster Council and the Regent’s Park Zoo. The proposed closure will push more traffic through Marylebone in order to cure a traffic problem that does not exist, one of the only areas of Marylebone where this can be said. Designated cycle lanes rather than closure are surely the answer, as in Hyde Park. On top of this we also have the proposed Cycle Quietway plans which could well involve the area in significant further disruption and pose various loading/unloading issues for business.
With all this going on, plus the continuing threat of Oxford Street pedestrianisation, which would be a disaster for Marylebone, it is important that we engage with and utilise any channels of communication open to us. One of these was the West End Partnership Traffic Group, where at least we could keep abreast of proposals and make our opinions known. We are very concerned that following its disbandment, we have not been invited to sit on the body that it now dealing with traffic matters. Indeed we wonder if little more than lip service is being paid to resident representation on the West End Partnership group generally.
There has been a significant move forward on the air quality front since last writing. Westminster Council, the Howard de Walden Estate, the Portman Estate, the Baker Street Quarter BID, the Edgware Road BID, the Marylebone Association, the St Marylebone Society, and the Marylebone Forum, the last of which we are all members, have now come together to apply for something called a Low Emissions Neighbourhood (LEN) for Marylebone. If we achieve LEN status we will get one million pounds funding to help with air quality controls. On the request of TfL the proposals for a LEN are to focus on the area around Marylebone High Street, and will probably involve regular closures of the High Street. How much this and the other proposed measures will actually do for air quality remains to be seen. Perhaps the most important aspect of setting up a LEN is in bringing the area’s major stakeholders around the table, united in a common purpose to do something to tackle this issue. Its value could be as much in its defensive position towards Marylebone, as in any projects it generates: if we have a low emission area with the support of many of Marylebone’s organisations and residents, it will make it all the more problematical for schemes that result in an increase in traffic and congestion in Marylebone to be implemented.
Following a somewhat lively AGM the Forum had its first full committee meeting earlier this year and elected directors to its Co-ordinating Committee. There have been various meetings since then, including at the time of writing, three meetings of the Planning Committee, assisted at each by planning experts, rCOH. It is apparent that there is a considerable amount of work ahead in the drafting of a Neighbourhood Plan, not to mention all the other aspects of running the Forum. It will also be a major challenge to keep it funded therefore it is necessary to have as much volunteer help as possible in order to minimise costs. So please remember that we are always looking for help from able individuals who would like to participate in this interesting venture.
We continue to be occupied with other matters such as dealing with and responding to, the large number of policy reviews generated by Westminster Council. At the present time these have focused on the continuing revisions to many aspects of the City Plan and on the Community Infrastructure Levy, which finally came into force this May. It will be interesting to see how a four hundred pounds per square metre tax on development (payable up front) affects building in Marylebone, particularly in the face of the current difficult market in the area.
We are in regular correspondence and meetings with Westminster Councillors and Officers on matters of local concern, particularly: planning, infrastructure, traffic and licensing. The regular meetings that we have established with the Heads of Planning, the Chief Executive and Deputy Leader of Westminster Council continue and indeed we last met with them a just a few months back.
Shortly after last years AGM we heard of the sad and sudden death of one of Westminster’s most respected Councillors, former Lord Mayor and Marylebone resident, Audrey Lewis. She was also a former Marylebone Association Chair and well known to many of our members and she will be much missed by all. Her passing left a vacancy in the Bryanston and Dorset Square Ward and this has been filled by Julia Alexander who has already been active on a number of issues in the area including air quality. We look forward to working closely with her, as we do with her colleagues.
Our business membership continues to grow and we once again have had a series of successful and well attended business meetings over the last year. It is Patricia Neville who is responsible for this side of things and she writes in more detail on this below. In addition Patricia and Sheila Green continue to preside over a thriving social agenda ably helped by Lois German and Rosemary Forgan.
Those working behind the scenes perform equally important work for the Association. David Unwin, as always, has been unremitting in his work on our website and newsletter, this presents the public face of the Association and as such is a vital part of our work. Charlotte Joseph continues to deal efficiently and professionally with our paper output, particularly the December and AGM Reports. David Chan as usual has been effective dealing with membership issues. The Committee is grateful to them for all the work that they undertake on behalf of the Association.
Finally we are, as always, grateful to the Portman Estate and the Howard de Walden Estate for their continuing support and their help in funding the AGM and the Annual Report. This year we are sorry to hear that Howard de Walden’s Chief Executive, Toby Shannon, will shortly be standing down. His tenure is widely acknowledged to have been a very successful one for the Estate and indeed Marylebone, and we wish him all the best in his future activities.