Mark's campaign notepad and other stuff

Notes from the writer/LibDem parliamentary candidate for Somerton & Frome

City of Westminster Planning Committee: Quintin Kynaston School

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(nb this is my own view of last night’s events, no more, no less)

Last night Westminster’s planning committee met to discuss among other matters two applications relating to QK School. First there was an outline application relating to the redevelopment of the main secondary school (QK) and then a detailed application relating to George Elliot, the infant and junior school (GE) and the Alternative Provision Centre (APC).

The outline application for QK was merely a report on progress, and was duly noted, but the GE and APC application was a detailed submission, where planning permission was being requested. The application quickly ran into trouble, the main issue seeming to be the difficulty of dealing with the applications for different parts of the site as separate unrelated entities. There are so many issues relating to GE and the APC that have to be dealt with in conjunction with QK, and indeed the Chair (Cllr Alastair Moss) stated that a “more holistic approach” was needed in dealing with the planning process for what is a major educational facility.

Although not on the planning committee, Abbey Road Councillor Lindsey Hall spoke on behalf of the residents and I must say she made a very powerful case for the holistic approach generally and for careful further examination of the GE/APC part and its impact on the local community.

There are particular issues with both pedestrian and motor traffic, parking, floodlighting in a residential area and the Environmental Impact Survey, especially with regard to the loss of green space.

Indeed, it was interesting to me how important the loss of trees is becoming in the planning process. As Cllr Robert Rigby said, every application which goes before the committee seems to involve cutting down trees, and he implied that this could not be allowed to go on unabated. Indeed there was a suspicion that the developers had pulled a fast one in that an aerial photograph of the area in question produced by a local residents group showed a greener space than that in the drawn illustration by the applicants. The Chair feared the possibility of “a landgrab of the most sensitive part of the site”.

The APC deserves particular comment – on top of general concerns about such a facility being sited in the middle of a residential area Cllr Hall declared that we are “on the verge of merging education services with Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea” (not sure how these Supercouncil ideas fit in with the Big Society/localism justification for listening to residents’ concerns) could mean that excluded pupils from all three boroughs end up here.

In short, the Chair felt the committee was “incapable of making a decision at the moment” and the application was not approved, with an acknowledgement that a full site visit needed to be convened asap (slightly surprising this hadn’t already taken place?!) and the application urgently re-submitted – there was a suggestion that a central funding window was imminently closing, if it hasn’t already.

The residents were delighted, the applicants naturally less so – round two mooted for January 2011.


Written by markblackburn

December 3, 2010 at 11:22 am

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St John’s Wood Ward Forum Nov 18

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Well, I said I’d be back, in five years or five months.  And here I am and coincidentally it has been five months – reason being suggested I report on the St John’s Wood Forum I attended last night.

Cllr Lindsey Hall chaired the evening and there are not many Tories I like (yeah, I know we’re in Coalition but this is WESTMINSTER) but Lindsey does an excellent job as a Councillor and these ward forums have improved exponentially since she took it by the scruff of the neck. She bravely offered to take questions from the floor straight after her intro – a moment’s silence so I launched in. She promised me that local residents would have a genuine influence on how the ward budgets (now reduced to £50k from £100k) would be spent – which she later followed through on – see below.

The formal business of the evening came next – three workshops; one on crime, one on parking and one on planning. Having spoken to Rob Saunders from Parking earlier in the evening (parking policy more user focused, revenue generation no longer prime consideration, NSL = experienced contractor) I thought the planning session most relevant.  Amanda Coulson from Westminster Planning is excellent – listens to feedback, acts on it, behaves dispassionately and professionally – which is more than can be said for her boss who occasionally seemed to be losing himself in his bureaucratic jargon, let alone the rest of us. Amanda was in the spotlight as she’s handling two major planning applications in the area – the redevelopment of the St John’s Wood Barracks by its owners the Eyre Estate and the redevelopment of Quintin Kynaston School.  She expects the Barracks to be given the go-ahead by year-end once legal and technical queries have been dealt with, and QK is coming before committee on Dec 2nd, when an outline application for the main QK facility will be heard alongside a detailed application for George Eliot. The outline application hearing is more of a progress report as there are still issues to be resolved, eg completion of Environmental Impact Survey.

Residents are deeply concerned about both of these – the Barracks will take four years to complete from 2012 to 2016, with a whole year spent excavating and building at basement level. My understanding is that the Sustainability rating of the new scheme is level 4, which the team leader referred to as “incredibly high”. Either it’s changed or it’s disturbing that he believes this – a flagship development not starting for two years with extremely deep-pocketed developers should surely be the optimum level 6? Main concerns for QK seem to be more pupil presence over a longer period of time and loss of trees, as well as the usual noise and disruption caused by a major development.

Other planning issues concerned proposals for a 12 storey block of flats in Lodge Road (on a plot the size of a postage stamp – local resident) which is yet to come to committee and the number of basement developments happening in the area – again the team leader did his best to confuse us, but he seemed to be saying that there wasn’t a lot the council could do as you didn’t necessarily need planning permission for them.

After that, we moved onto a discussion about ward budgets and Cllr Hall read a list of activites which were taking place for the benefit of local residents, mostly the young and the elderly. To popular approval, she promised that CCTV would be relocated from a parking/traffic oriented location to Marloborough Hill, where there have been several violent incidents of late.

We finished on a lighter note with the announcement of the Christmas Fair in SJW High Street on Sun Nov 28th – from a couple of clues, I guessed the fair is to be opened by Gary Lineker – seems I’m right! Next forum is March 14th 2011.


Written by markblackburn

November 19, 2010 at 5:22 pm

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Election Day +5: Thank You

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So, that’s that then, and we’re on the brink of a new government being formed – it looks like (despite the efforts of the Tory press) enough people voted Lib Dem to give us influence and temper toxic Tory tendencies.

For my part, I was squeezed in Westminster North but pleased that the winner was a woman with integrity who genuinely cares for her constituents. We tried hard to focus our efforts on getting a council seat – we didn’t manage this but we beat Labour into a distant 3rd and narrowed the gap on the Tories.

I’d like to use my final “Election Day” blog to thank all the members, supporters and voters – and to list some of the tributes to our campaign below:

“Well done on a great campaign (best ever in these parts I think)” – senior party strategist.

“I just wanted to tell you that whatever happens today I think you’ve fought a brilliant campaign” – phone call on polling day from anonymous voter.

“Mark, I really admire the job that you locally and your leader nationally have done” – blog post

“Mark Blackburn made a stonking speech tonight: ‘Let’s no longer pander to the politics of fear’ ” – a fellow LibDem candidate

“Your votes were EXCELLENT. Please keep working over the next four years” – another LibDem candidate

“I am so impressed by your work and energy – and if I lived in Westminster North might even be tempted to vote for you” – a Labour Party supporter

“Awesome!” – a new member

I’m not just posting all this for my own benefit (though it is heartening to read!) but as a tribute to all of you who helped in this campaign. Thank you all. And so that’s it for now – but I’ll be back – whether it’s five months or five years!

Goodbye for now,


Written by markblackburn

May 11, 2010 at 7:50 pm

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Election Day -1: Last Blog before the Election!

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I really must get some sleep soon, been tweeting and FBing and emailing after a full-on day of politic-ing, and I’ve got to be up in a few hours for the Good Morning leaflet drop. But I’m still high on adrenaline after another tremendous day in the constituency – the polls have bounced right back in our favour and my team’s just qualified for the Champion’s League for the first time ever!

But before I go, two things – first, remember your vote tomorrow is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure real change, not just a blue rinse, so don’t fall fearful of the press conspiracy to push hope under for another who knows how many years.

And secondly, thank you everyone – all the old faithfuls who’ve never had to work so hard, the hordes of new supporters and members who’ve enthusiastically joined our campaign, friends and family who have pitched in, and everyone who’s had an encouraging word to say along the way – and it hasn’t always been easy!

To the record number of people who are now reading this, I say Goodnight, and tomorrow VOTE WITH YOUR HEART!

Written by markblackburn

May 5, 2010 at 10:32 pm

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Election Day -3 & -2: Just time for a little story…

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‘I used to be a long term Labour Supporter – but then I overheard one old lady whisper to the another whilst sitting on the park bench at lunchtime.

She said “Do you know what? The first time in my life I think I’m going to vote Lib Dems” as if she was coming out. The other lady half eating her sandwich nearly choked coughing and said “So am I but I dare not tell our John”. The smiles on their faces as they shared a common bond.

How refreshing – It’s not just the two old ladies, most of my peers who are City workers are again whispering and “coming out” as secret Lib Dem switchers.’

Written by markblackburn

May 4, 2010 at 9:22 pm

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Election Day -4: More about housing.

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Rob of W asked me to expand on my comments regarding the amount of social housing in Westminster so here’s a few more facts and figures. CityWest manages 22,000 homes on behalf of Westminster Council, of which 9,000 have been sold to private tenants.  This information comes directly from CityWest. Of the remaining 13,000, there are varying estimates as to how many are unofficially sub-let, taking them out of public-sector availability, but if we take a mean point of 10% that means another 1300 out of commission for those in need.

A few other facts and figures, some of which I may have quoted before, but just so they’re all in one place – the average re-let time for a vacant council property is 27 days, but 411 had been out of use for a year or longer in April 2009 and only 4 in this time category had been recommissioned. Some of these are buildings in need of major works.

10% of properties are checked each year to ensure that the right tenants are in occupation – that means obviously there’s a ten-year cycle for each property to be checked. We are now in the last year of a five year improvement programme and in that last year £1m has been spent on improving security.

All in all, including within the private sector, again according to which source of information you use there are between 4,500 and 6.200 empty homes within Westminster, more than any other London borough.

Written by markblackburn

May 3, 2010 at 10:49 am

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Election Day -5: Out on the Street

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Yesterday we ran our first street stall, since we’ve now got so much support we can deliver our leaflets, go canvassing and still send people to help in Brent. Phenomenal. And a fantastic reception at our stall – so many people so glad to see us mixing it up!

Concerns over whether there are Tory plans for demolition and forced movement of people from council homes, support for our stance on not charging for evening parking and raising local meter charges which would be so destructive for local businesses, and lots of general goodwill towards us for the recognised efforts we’ve been making locally.

That’s all for now – it may be raining but there’s more canvassing to be done!

Written by markblackburn

May 2, 2010 at 9:09 am

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