'It's futile': Westminster societies bemoan council consultation

Cllr Rachael Robathan has been challenged over al fresco dining schemes

Cllr Rachael Robathan has been challenged over al fresco dining schemes - Credit: Westminster Council

The St John’s Wood Society is among more than 20 resident associations in Westminster urging the council to review how it consults with the community.  

A letter from the Westminster Amenity Societies Forum (WASF), shared with the Ham&High, voiced a host of concerns directed at the local authority’s leader, Cllr Rachael Robathan. 

The Forum expressed frustration at “not being listened to” over issues including al fresco dining schemes, the implementation of road restrictions, and the Marble Arch Mound.  

Cllr Robathan claimed that consultation is the “cornerstone” of Westminster’s approach – but the St John’s Wood Society urged the town hall to involve residents more meaningfully in its decision-making. 

The group’s chairman, Dick Schumacher, said: “There is a feeling that a lot of the consultations that occur now are box-ticking exercises and may not result in community voices really being heard. We would like that improved.” 

Dick called for greater “visibility” over how the council communicates, including a timetable for residents to see what consultations are upcoming. 

Such concerns were echoed in WASF’s letter, which claimed that many people feel their participation in local affairs is “futile”.  

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While praising the council for its initial response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Forum challenged why temporary experimental traffic orders (ETOs) are still being used to pave the way for permanent changes.  

The collective claimed that the council’s system of cabinet governance gave too much power to a small number of people at the helm, with other councillors unable to mount effective opposition. 

In response, Cllr Robathan said Westminster Council “exists to serve its residents, and that is why we seek the views of local people before taking any major decisions”. 

“For example, we only went ahead with temporary al fresco dining with the support of residents,” Cllr Robathan said.  

“We wrote to the amenity societies on July 5 telling them the temporary road closures that made the scheme possible will lift on September 30 and al fresco dining will only be extended if a majority of local people want it."  

The local authority’s leader said the council had met regularly with resident associations. Cllr Robathan added: “The challenge we face is reviving Westminster’s battered economy after lockdown and attracting visitors so their spending can protect local jobs and services.  

“That is what the local people I speak to tell me they want their council to do, and that is what I remain focused on.”