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Marylebone Association - Chairman's Report 2015

Marylebone Association - Chairman's Report 2015

It has been another busy year for the Association, there have been a number of issues covering our area over this period, and below I outline some of the more prominent of those that have confronted us. Please continue reading........

Firstly, some news regarding the Association Committee; we are proposing two new sub-committee appointments. For Licensing we now have Paul Olins working on this together with Alex Price. Representing the Marylebone Forum is Richard Lovell who is already a committee member and now runs the Forum publicity group.

We are grateful to David Unwin who maintains the Association's website, to Charlotte Joseph who produces the Annual Report and the December Review, and to Dave Chan who maintains the membership database and posts the monthly newsletters to members without email.

Finally, a special acknowledgment to our Honorary Secretary, Kevin Coyne, for his sterling work on behalf of the Marylebone Association. This year Kevin announced his retirement after 23 years from his position as Dean of Students at International Students House. For much of this time International Students House has provided meeting rooms and other help for the Association's Committee, and Kevin has worked for many years on our behalf as Secretary. Luckily for us, Kevin has agreed to stay on in this role, and Peter Anwyl, Director of International Students House has generously agreed to continue to support the Association, for which we are extremely grateful.

PLANNING

Many of the issues outlined below are hardly new to members. Last year we were wondering when work would commence on the new Marylebone Library and Moxon Street. A year on and we are none the wiser. The Library, we are still being told, will be ready in 2017, but considering the size and nature of the proposed development, the projected completion date is beginning to look over-optimistic. With regard to Moxon Street, considerably more has happened, preliminary plans have been unveiled and there is a process of consultation on these. There are, however, a number of issues that need to be resolved, and the overall design fails to reflect the historic varied pattern of buildings that characterised the area. Also the public realm offering is disappointing, lacking any public open space or pavement widening. The accommodation of the Farmers' Market and its impact on Aybrook Street also needs to be resolved, as does the impact of the large projected basement car park on Aybrook Street. Our planning team have spent much time on this project and Neil Wilson writes on this and other notable planning matters further on in the report.

TRAFFIC

The Baker Street Two Way proposals that we mentioned last year are also still at the planning stage. A number of proposed routings have been released for discussion, maybe more than were really necessary, as some would have been unlikely to have ever seen the light of day and only served to upset residents. Various right-hand turns to the north of Marylebone Road through residential streets have now been ruled out by Westminster, which, if they had done so earlier would have saved everyone a lot of time and trouble. Paul Neville along with Amanda Feeny from the Traffic and City Management Sub-committee have been involved with this and much else besides as you will see from their report.

Staying on traffic, we are awaiting finalisation of the proposed Cycle Grid plans which could well involve the area in significant further disruption and pose various loading/unloading issues for business. Further threats to traffic flow could emerge from the West End Partnership's studies into reducing traffic in Oxford Street which, whilst in theory commendable, have one major disadvantage, in that nearly all their proposals seem to involve pushing that traffic through Marylebone. Needless to say this is something to which we remain resolutely opposed to in any form.

Two other hardy perennials are pedicabs and air pollution, both of these unfortunately, in their different ways, continue to plague the West End and Marylebone. Both appear equally difficult to tackle effectively. We continue to support, together with all of Westminster's other recognised amenity societies, the initiative to improve air quality, through the Ultra Low Emission Zone, and a more ambitious scheme for the significant reduction of air pollutants by 2018. With regard to pedicabs: TfL, the New West End Company, the Metropolitan Police and affected London Councils are now finally achieving some momentum on this. We are pleased to hear that TfL is looking at the possibility of a Private Members' Bill in the next parliament, to finally outlaw this menace.

DEVELOPMENT

Development in Marylebone and the many pressures that it brings with it appears to be the leitmotif of our time, and again, little has changed for the better here. It has many consequences including the loss of small, often family run, businesses; this year we have seen the demise, amongst others, of the Linen Cupboard just north of Oxford Street and Greens the newsagent in Marylebone High Street. Lewis & Lewis has closed and Bramah the locksmith has moved to Fitzrovia. We also see the further loss of (relatively) affordable housing stock in favour of high-end development, available to only the very rich.

Development also often brings with it an undesirable intensification of use, the loss of amenity, as well as noise, dirt and disturbance to the lives of many, not just for months, but often for years. Indeed it is on this matter that we get more complaints from members than anything else. It appears that there is no limit to the amount of disruption that can be inflicted on the surrounding communities in the course of these developments, and little attention is paid to this at any stage in the planning process. It is unfair because all the disruption is suffered by those living or working nearby, with the benefits accruing to others.
Development is of course necessary, but how much, and where, is the question. Surely it is time to look at broadening the burden and scope of development, now contained in Marylebone and the West End generally, into fringe areas such as North Westminster, which is in great need of inward investment, rather than concentrating everything in the centre. Westminster Council recognises the problem in their booklet on the West End. They suggest that such a policy would ensure that the unmet demand remained local, reinforcing, rather than diluting, the pre-eminence of the West End. Certainly the strategy of pushing demand out to fringe areas has been successful in generating growth to outlying areas of the City of London over the past twenty to thirty years.

BASEMENTS

In another of their booklets, Westminster Council seeks to deal with basement extensions, perhaps the most disruptive of all forms of development. Westminster's proposed basement policy will counter some of this, but lacks the clarity and extent of control of the policy that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have been able to put in place. Why Westminster cannot adopt similar controls is not entirely clear.

A DEVELOPMENT LEVY

Something else that has arrived this year are Westminster Council's proposals for the new Community Infrastructure Levy. This is a new tax to be levied on development, not so much to control it, however, as to attempt to gain some benefit from it. It will, in the majority of cases, replace the old S106 tariff system. The new system is complex and will be far wider, it will apply to nearly all developments, except small domestic ones. The proposed tax has been set at a high rate, particularly for residential developments, as it seeks to compensate the council for cutbacks in direct central government funding. We understand the need for alternative council funding and the desire to stem the loss of commercial to residential, but we wonder whether these high charges will be one more step towards putting most development in Marylebone in the hands of the big players.

COUNCIL CONSULTATIONS

Westminster Council has also been busy with a series of other policy reviews. They have recently commenced a 5 year licensing review, inviting submissions on the various proposed changes to licensing policy. There are the continuing City Plan Revision booklets, which this year have come thick and fast, and all the West End Partnership papers. All of these have to be read and absorbed, and submissions made, often in conjunction with other groups. This requires much time in meetings and general liaison but it is important work. Alex Price has been dealing with licensing matters generally, and writes about these in his report.

THE ASSOCIATION'S WIDER WORK

Members of the Committee are in regular correspondence and meetings with council officers on matters of concern; particularly planning, infrastructure, traffic and licensing. We work closely with our Ward Councillors too. The Association is lucky in having a close relationship with all six Councillors in the two main wards that we cover. But it is sometimes forgotten that part of our area is covered by the West End Ward, and we also have good and regular contact with all three Councillors in this ward.

Lines of direct communication with Westminster Council do not stop here. Our Planning Committee now has the opportunity for regular contact with those at the top in Westminster Council, and meets with them to run through concerns as and when necessary. It is greatly appreciated that the Head of Planning, the Chief Executive, the Leader and Deputy Leader, and others are willing to give their time listening to our concerns.

We hope that by taking a wider strategic view and participating at the policy making stage, we have a voice earlier in the process. This should lessen the need to be fighting rearguard actions on decisions where, in effect, the policy has already been made, be it on planning, licensing, city management or anything else.

OTHER MATTERS

Our Families representative, Tim Carnegie has been busy with his involvement with the Marylebone Boys' School. Police matters continue to be efficiently reported on by Keith Stuart-Smith. This year has been another successful one for our business membership which continues to grow, and has had a series of well-attended business meetings. It is Patricia Neville who is responsible for this side of things. In addition Patricia and Sheila Green continue to preside over a thriving social agenda. You can read what they all have to say in greater detail further on in this Report.

The Marylebone Forum has come a long way over the past year. Having obtained area designation it has gone on to apply for Neighbourhood Forum designation, and has held its first major public meeting. I have written more about this on pages 14 and 15.

Finally the Association is grateful to the Portman Estate and the Howard de Walden Estate for their continuing support, both generously fund our Annual General Meeting and our Annual Report, and we continue to work closely with them on matters of mutual concern within the area.

Michael Bolt, Chairman, The Marylebone Association

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Monday, 25 September 2017

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