Once again we have reached that time of year when we look back over the six months since our AGM, review matters of current concern to members and look at progress to date on some of the issues raised previously.
PLANNING IN MARYLEBONE
Planning consent for the building of a permanent library in Luxborough Street was granted over a year ago, but still nothing has happened. After a long period of silence Westminster Council have released the reason; the preferred developer has walked away, for whatever reason unwilling to honour the agreed tender. We are assured alternative plans are being put in place and we are to expect an announcement on this in early December.
The Council have conceded that this will involve a delay in the opening of the library but have said that they will attempt to keep the temporary library in Beaumont Street open for as long as possible. This may not however be that long as there are restrictions on the length of the available lease there. What will then happen in the interim period?
Not far away lies the Moxon Street site, here progress continues behind the scenes and the developers, Ridgefords, have regularly been updating our planning committee on proposals for the site, which so far includes, as well as 59 luxury flats, 26 affordable units, shops to the ground floor level and a hall for the farmers' market to the south. This hall as presently proposed will not be large enough for the Farmers' Market and will involve it spilling out onto the street. We are at present concerned that this does not spill as far as Aybrook Street otherwise most if not all of the 27 residents spaces there would be permanently lost on Sundays. The Farmers' Market do have consent for temporary use of Aybrook Street, which we understood was only going to be used when the development of Moxon Street actually commenced and they were no longer able to trade form that site. However doubt has been cast on this recently and it appears that the Farmers' Market may wish to trade on Aybrook Street prior to being moved, to test the waters as it were. We are against this as it would cause unnecessary disruption to traffic and residents before it is absolutely necessary. Further is it still not to late to look at alternative uses? Many wished to see the Marylebone Boys' Free School go on this site and the story is not over yet as the other preferred sites for the school are encountering problems.
Over the past 6 months further submissions have been made on Westminster's latest consultation documents for the City Plan revision. The basements policy document is due out soon. Our view is that we would like to see the broad principle of one basement down only for residential and small office developments, which would actually mean no additional basement where one already exists, as it does in the majority of Marylebone's town houses.
Also coming up shortly is a meeting with the leader of the Council, Phillipa Roe, and the new Chief Executive at the Westminster Amenity Societies Forum, at which we will be posing a number of questions on funding and the working of the new developer payments (CIL) which are, in the majority of cases, replacing the old S106 tariff system from next April. The new system is complex and will be far wider, it will apply to nearly all developments, except small domestic ones. Amongst other concerns is whether this will be one more step towards putting most development in Marylebone in the hands of the big players.
Other property matters of concern at present are short lets, and the proposed government legislation to legalise these as part of its deregulation package. We have written at length about this over the year and would only say that this poses a substantial threat to many residents in Marylebone. It will create more nuisance to long term residents, from rubbish, noise and anti-social behaviour; it will result in compromised security in large blocks and the further erosion of the long term community in our area; finally it will result in more expense to Westminster in trying to enforce a more complicated regime which will affect us all in service cutbacks in this area or elsewhere.
Alternatively where flats are not over let, they can be under-occupied; 40% occupancy rates have been reported in mansion blocks in parts of Marylebone with only 15% actually owner occupied. This is an increasing problem as more flats are bought as an investment rather than to live in. Westminster's consultation on this revealed that approximately 49% of Westminster's housing stock over one million pounds in value went to foreign buyers, 78% bought them to live in, which means 22% did not. As Westminster's housing becomes less affordable the report unsurprisingly found that there had been a substantial shift from owner occupation to rental. Certainly Westminster is an expensive place to buy property. Statistics show that among 25 most expensive locations nationally, it is second only to neighbouring Kensington & Chelsea in terms of average sale price.
TRAFFIC AND INFRASTRUCTURE
We continue to be involved with the West End Partnerships Traffic Working Group and participate in the developing Vision Document for the West End, not just for traffic but for matters generally.
The proposed two way working on Baker Street and Gloucester Place is to go out to consultation early in the new year. Although supporting the general idea, we are aware of the concerns that some residents have, particularly to the north of our area, that some side streets will be compromised by the scheme. We are supportive of 2 way traffic but only in a scheme that keeps traffic to the existing roads and does not reduce capacity on these roads. We are being kept abreast of developments. By the time you read this we will have had a meeting with officers of Westminster Council to be better acquainted with the various proposals that have recently been circulated.
We are also awaiting further details of the new cycle grid for Westminster, there are worries that this could impact on car parking and deliveries amongst other things. The proposals for Marylebone Lane, involving upgrading and creating of shared surfaces, are to commence in January 2015, this and other matters are covered by Paul Neville in his report on Traffic and City Management.
Our business membership continues to grow apace and this year we have now had three very successful and well attended meetings for the business members as Patricia Neville reports on elsewhere. We have her to thank for all her hard work in organising these. David Unwin, who does so much for the Association on IT and communication matters has completely overhauled and upgraded our website and we recommend that you visit it to see the variety of work that the Association undertakes in the area. David has also developed a business directory, that offers free publicity to our business members, enabling them to easily enter key points about their business in a user friendly manner.
Amongst other matters that confront us at present is the continuing serious problem with begging and rough sleeping and particularly the Romanian rough sleepers who tend to go round in large groups. This is now a blight to some areas to the west part of Marylebone. There appears to be no adequate method of control and the matter is becoming a major nuisance. On the subject of inadequate control Pedicabs continue to annoy residents, particularly to the south, in spite of much talk about regulation.
You will read elsewhere in this Review about these and other issues of concern to residents that members of our committee deal with, as well the day-to-day matters with licensing, police liaison, families and, of course, our ever active social agenda.
Finally, please remember that all your committee members are always interested in any comments you may have or problems you wish to raise. So please contact us at any time with points of concern or interest.