It’s time to drain the swamp and stop attracting the pestilence

This is a slightly edited version of the latest email newsletter which I wrote for Fitzrovia News. (If you want to keep up to date with bad news and our somewhat hapless efforts to keep an eye on property developers, Camden and Westminster councils, and occasionally the Mayor of London, you can read past editions and sign up here.)

It’s that time of year when we’re supposed to wish good will to everyone. And we’d like to. But while the good folks in Fitzrovia are doing just that, an ill wind is blowing in from the west…

“When you’re up to your neck in alligators and being bitten by mosquitoes, it’s easy to forget that the initial objective was to drain the swamp.”

And so it seems in our little square kilometre. We’ve been caught up dealing with the mosquitoes and alligators for too long, when we should have been dealing with their breeding ground.

In the east it is useless Camden, while in the west it is Westminster’s evil Tories…

Plan of building development.

Like a piece of French Brie. But a titanic development planned.

Right under our noses Westminster City Council have been attracting a pestilence into a little piece of Fitzrovia shaped like a piece of French Brie. The pestilence wants to turn this hitherto neglected piece of cheese into something more suited to a Harland and Wolf shipyard — a titanic property development in Cleveland Street.

But while we’ve been dancing to the alligator gait of Dukelease Properties and its obscuring of the true nature of the plans, we should have been looking more closely at Westminster City Hall and Westminster Property Association.

But don’t blame us because, from our inquiries so far, no-one else seems to have been keeping an eye on them either. Partly because what they’ve been doing has been marked as “confidential”.

Luckily for us, a few local people have passed us some useful information…

We’ve now dispatched our investigative reporter into the quagmire. Angela Lovely has donned her fetish scuba outfit and is at this very moment snorkeling her way through the trousers and stockings of Westminster’s councillors and their minions in the property department.

After some long sessions of very stimulating breath control, she’s dredged up the following so far.

Image from abrochure.

Buy some real estate and do what the fuck you like with it.

In September 2010 Westminster City Council instructed their property managing agents Knight Frank to flog the headlease of the piece of cheese mentioned above, also known as 30 Clipstone Street and 87-125 Cleveland Street. They produced a brochure with some interesting architectural massing studies undertaken by Fielden Clegg Bradley Studios, an architecture practice with offices in Tottenham Street and also connected to the highly controversial Mount Pleasant development. FCB are making quite a name for themselves.

Then in July 2011 cabinet member councillor Jonathan Glanz gave the go ahead to flog the site to an unnamed buyer. The report on the sale was confidential and only the decision being public.

Later councillor Glanz was to resign his post after he publicly stated his contempt for tenants living in social housing. Being a man of his word his contempt was backed up by actions — the sell off of the property for development was only 8 metres from those social housing tenants at Holcroft Court, and the eastern boundary of the site borders on Camden Council’s manor (not as if they give a toss, either). Although to be fair to Glanz his dislike also extended to the leaseholders who’d acquired their homes under the Tories right-to-buy scheme. Can’t say the man’s not even-handed, can we?

A whiff of petrol and a movement in the swamp was detected in 2013 with the closure of Clipstone Street petrol station. A brief statement from Westminster Council mentioned that the headlease had been flogged to a local occupier with “the option to develop”. Yes, I know what your’re thinking, we should have been more alert and asked more questions then. But, like I said, there are all those midge-like creatures and hard-shell predators out there…

A few months later in February 2014, another confidential report, and Westminster Council cabinet members Daniel Astaire and Melvyn Caplan reached for their fountain pens to sign off more liberal terms for the headlease. Glanz’s contempt for Westminster residents clearly did not go far enough for Astaire and Caplan.

In August 2014 the property press reported:

“Dukelease Properties Ltd and Starwood Capital Europe Advisors LLP have purchased the freehold (sic) interest in 60,000 sq ft (5,574 sq m) of office space at 87-125 Cleveland Street London for £18.5m as an investment. The purchasers intend to replace the existing building with a mixed use scheme, providing ground floor retail and office space with residential accommodation above. The redundant station will be reprovided and brought back to use on Clipstone Mews. Colliers International acted on behalf of Dukelease Properties Ltd and Starwood Capital Europe Advisors LLP.” report in property press August 2014. (We presume freehold is a mistake and it should read leasehold.)

We are awaiting a reply from Westminster Council’s spin doctors about all this. In the meantime, if anyone’s got anymore information, particularly a copy of any of the above-mentioned confidential reports, we’d love to receive it.

Merry Fucking Christmas

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