Introduction to Belgravia Forum

As winter now gives way to spring, with the quality of the light changing and the days lengthening and I reflect on the creation of the Belgravia Neighbourhood Forum, the great amount work we have already done and the even greater amount we have yet to do.

In country areas there are parish councils. The neighbourhood forum is very much like a parish council and it has an important job to do in terms of creating a Plan to deal with planning matters, which can touch and concern everything from land use to the size of parking bays.

Having been a member of two local authorities and sat on the Local Government Commission, the one thing I have learned is that communities are vitally important and cannot be ignored. Small is beautiful. The trouble with politicians and civil servants is that they very often forget communities and draw boundaries and create local government edifices that nobody wants! This time we have been more fortunate.

It is not really understood by the outsiders that our cities are made up of a series of villages which are well recognised by those of us who live in them. Westminster City Council is supporting the creation of neighbourhood fora and by so doing supporting the villages that make up the area. As a result of the mechanisms provided Localism Act 2012 Belgravia was designated as a neighbourhood forum area in September 2014. The Forum now has an interim working party prior to the election of the Steering Group which we expect that to be in the early summer. 

Belgravia has unique qualities. On three sides Belgravia is contained by substantial roads and the fourth boundary is that between Kensington and Westminster. That is the old boundary of the Belgravia Grosvenor Estate and can easily be recognised by the physical changing architecture, construction and colour of the facades. Something else which adds to the village nature of our community is the fact that the businesses within it are also part of the community. We know their proprietors and staff. We have watched the development of them and apart from one shop, all unique to Belgravia, (although some now have premises outside it). We have community where everybody knows each other and Belgravia Awards, newly instituted, the brainchild of the Managing Editor of the Belgravia Magazine, Adrian Day) clearly demonstrate the closeness of residents, businesses and the institutions in this village.

Although the Belgravia Forum is a residential Forum, its businesses play an important part and are guaranteed one third of the places on the Steering Committee. Indeed some of its resident members also have businesses in Belgravia.

At first sight you may think that not very much can happen in Belgravia to require either a formal Plan or for the local community to consider. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Forum will be able to look at and create priorities for the area and actually have access to direct spending of public funds to meet those priorities. These funds will come from a levy on developers (Community Infrastructure Levy). Until the Plan is completed the Neighbourhood Forum will be able to direct 15% direct spending on its priorities and once the Plan is in place that will go up to 25%. We might be looking at improving pavements, junctions, other public realm projects. We might also be considering designating specific sites for specific purposes. We will see how planning objectives inform and control many issues such as parking, builders working hours, planning conditions, times of rubbish collection and many other things that may not seem planning matters at first sight.

We will be taking advice professionals about the contents of the Plan. However, the policies within it will be those which we in Belgravia have together have decided. Apart from the consultations that we will be holding through our website, and possibly with local panels, the Plan will then need to be approved by Westminster City Council and it will then be put to a referendum of registered voters in the Belgravia Forum area.

You will know that Crossrail 2 is coming to Belgravia. The project will take 10 years to complete starting in about 2020 and completing about 10 years later. The whole of the most southern part south Belgravia will be affected. The likelihood is that the coach station, Ebury gate (23 lower Belgrave Street) and Belgrave House (the large office block fronting onto Buckingham Palace road) will be demolished to allow for the works to be carried out. We have already responded to the January consultation along the lines of how we can protect residents along the whole length of the proposed line before, during and after the work from noise, vibrations, plant moving, lorries accessing worksites, moving materials etc. We have to consider what can be done and how best to make sure that it is done. We also want to look to the future in our Plan to the long term future of the coach station site and the other sites vacated when the work is finished.

Another significant site is to be redeveloped and we would wish to ensure the interests of the surrounding residents and businesses are fully protected. We all wish to see adequate provision for protecting the local environment while works progress. After the works are completed and we wish to ensure that there are adequate means of collections and deliveries, and actions to reduce noise and disturbance are taken. We can consider whether we should include in our Plan objectives that will ensure that standard conditions relating to building work throughout the area.

It is our responsibility to be concerned with anything which could affect our environment through planning controls, conditions and the powers that we will have. Where we have no power for something we hope the Forum will have considerable influence to ensure our community is protected.

We have already established a policy relating to the illegal use of flats for short holiday lets, especially in light of proposals and changes in legislation. We have initiated work to look at the itinerant foreign nationals who are not genuine jobseekers and who are rough sleeping. This is a problem throughout Belgravia and central London. As well as considering the problem with Westminster City Council whose hands are tied by legal constraints, we hope that the matter can be escalated to central government to lobby the EU to allow us to manage our own streets or communities to put an end to this expanding problem.

We support Westminster in their policies to provide help for the homeless and whose officers give substantial support to them. 

We have a long way to go, and much work to do, but we want to create an accountable and transparent local community based body to look after all our interests through the development of policies which will be part of the Plan for Belgravia. Although we are not bound to do so we have adopted 7 principles for standards in public life, namely: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

Through our website may be asking our members if they would like to participate in a local panel from time to time so that we may obtain opinions on proposed policies at an early stage and give us their reactions. Certainly there will be early consultation with the residents and businesses to ensure the policies we develop are widely supported. Ultimately, the Plan will be put to a referendum before it has the force of Law. We want you to send us ideas for planning policy. The Plan will be a Plan for all Belgravia. 

The Interim Steering Group want all who live and work in Belgravia to take ownership of the Plan, by participating in the consultations, by supporting the Forum and by becoming members of it. To join you must either be a resident or work within the Forum area and membership is free. Nobody is too humble or too grand to join.

There is page on this website so you may join and you will find application forms in the Belgravia Magazine and a leaflet is available around the area too. A leaflet should find its way to your door! Please ask your friends and family who are eligible to join, to do so. 

For the first time you can really influence our future.

Mary Regnier-Leigh
Chairman - Belgravia Neighbourhood Forum
www.belgraviaforum.org.uk