Church Street plans cause uncertainty among residents

Tenants concerned about how development idea will affect them

AFTER months of exhibitions and meetings, last week saw the consultation stage of the plans to revolutionise Church Street, Paddington Green and Lisson Grove draw to a close.

Westminster Council’s Futures Plan aims to improve the area’s housing, provide better parks and play spaces, and generate greater employment opportunities through a 20-year development programme.

But as Urban Initiatives, the company tasked with producing a proposal for the area, use resident feedback to draw up their preferred planning option for publication in December, the overriding feeling around Church Street is one of uncertainty.

While Marco Torquarti, Church Street Neighbourhood Centre manager, says there is some excitement about the plans within the community, he says it is currently outweighed by “fear and a distrust of the council”.

“There are so many Chinese whispers going on at the moment because there are a lot of unknowns,” he said.

“It’s a very emotive issue because it involves people’s homes.

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“For example we had a meeting with one block who rejected the proposals 100 per cent.

“We said ‘why don’t you tell us what you want to be improved’ and they spent an hour essentially saying how rubbish their block is.

“But there’s a fear of the process. They don’t want to go through all the developments even though the changes may be what they want to see. To some extent there’s apathy towards the area.”

He says he hopes residents’ worries don’t scupper what he says is a vital chance to regenerate the area.

“I can’t think anyone wouldn’t want positive change but people do not want gentrification,” he said.

“People are saying decisions have been made to knock down blocks that aren’t going to be knocked down.

“They are fearful of rich people being moved in or the complete opposite of cramming the area full of new people who need council housing.

“But at worst over the next 20 years I would think the population increase would be 500 to 1,000 people.

“At some point you need an injection of cash into the infrastructure and it could create one of inner London’s really great neighbourhoods.

“You have got the Heathrow Express coming into Paddington so people could arrive in London, take a seven-minute walk from the station and be in Church Street market.

“There’s huge economic inactivity in areas like Church Street so the creation of jobs could have a really great impact.”

Westminster North MP Karen Buck says she understands residents fearing the unknowns of the development plans.

“It’s still terribly vague and is causing a huge amount of anxiety,” she said. “People are really upset and worried about it.

“There’s no question that in general terms some redevelopment is a good thing. There are housing blocks that need fundamental improvements.

“We are completely behind a regeneration plan as long as it has the support of the residents.”

As well as the proposed housing renewal, a number of potential individual developments have been mooted including the construction of a Church Street pier on the canal to encourage tourism, and investment in the Church Street market.

Westminster cabinet member for housing, councillor Philippa Roe, says the plans offer a fantastic opportunity to help the area prosper.

“Church Street is one of the most deprived wards in London,” she said.

“There’s a 12-year life expectancy disparity between Church Street and neighbouring areas like St John’s Wood which seems completely inequitable.

“Inevitably there will be some residents who will be concerned because there are fears associated with it.

“But all tenants are assured that they will have the right to return to a bigger, better home if they have to move out.”

Urban Initiatives will present their preferred option at the end of the year before the final plans are determined by Westminster Council in February.