How can Covent Garden emerge from lock-down in Summer 2020?
Click here for our policy document to allow businesses to trade outside on the street. This suggested framework is supported by the Soho society and other amenity groups who are members of the West End Community Network. We are asking Camden and Westminster councils to adopt our suggestions in a ‘joined up’ approach to get things moving again.
Please see our News & Events page for our activity and other community resources during the 2020 Coronavirus lock-down situation.
Click here to see how we approach Planning across Covent Garden, and to see applications being discussed at our Planning Subcommittee meetings.
Short letting & renting through websites like AirBnB
Reports of homes being rented out for short-term holiday lets have escalated in the past 4 years.
Much of this activity is illegal, but people are willing to risk high fines because it is so profitable in an area of great tourist demand like the West End of London. The activity erodes the housing stock and pushes up rents. And it can cause great distress to neighbours from antisocial behaviour and crime, or even just from a high turnover of noisy people coming in and out of a building who are always in holiday mood and don’t know the rules or conventions.
We maintain a register of particularly troublesome properties, and work with both Camden and Westminster to enforce the law in these cases.
Read more here.
The retail lobby has been pressing for deregulation of Sunday trading rules for a long time, and it’s happening again on the back of the economic problems for shops caused by Coronavirus. But are the voices of residents going to be heard? Sunday really is special for people who live in those parts of our towns and cities that have become busy retail centres.
Here in the West End of London residents say “we get our neighbourhood back” on a Sunday morning and on relatively quiet Sunday evenings. The shops are still, the traffic flows lightly, and the relentless noisy deliveries stop. It’s a breathing space for us, a little down time for our families, before we welcome the crowds back again. One of our local Members of Parliament, Nickie Aiken, should understand this as former leader of Westminster council and someone who has brought up a family in Zone 1. She is holding out for no relaxation of trading hours on Sunday mornings, but we don’t think that this goes far enough as it leaves our Sunday evenings exposed. Please let her know your views on her website.
Most residents here love the liveliness and rich cultural mix, or they would not stay amid increasingly intense commercial pressures that squeeze our community on every side. But just as a city needs its green spaces, so city dwellers need their time spaces. We ask for our needs to be respected by our visitors and by those considering policy change.
Policing & Street Crime
Covent Garden is generally a very safe place. Our residents feel secure walking our streets at night in a way that people might not elsewhere, and break-ins are relatively rare. But a lot of criminal activity does take place here that, while it rarely harms local people, can make life unpleasant.
CGCA works closely with local police from both Camden and Westminster and with other agencies to try to minimise issues such as street drug dealing and high-level antisocial behaviour. Recent increases in crime come from foreign gangs who ship thieves over for a few months at a time, accommodate them in Dickensian conditions in outer London, and bring them into the West End for prostitution or to pickpocket and snatch mobile phones in the street.
If you see a crime taking place, please dial 999 immediately. If you know about a crime but it is not actually taking place, please dial 101. It is important that we report all crimes so that the police can task their officers where it counts, and so that CGCA can bring the right priorities to their attention. It is also essential to ask for a CAD number when you call. This ‘Computer Aided Despatch’ number, with the date that is part of it, uniquely identifies the incident – and without it follow-up can be difficult.
Office to residential conversions & loss of small businesses
Surely you would expect CGCA to be in favour of building and converting as many homes as possible, with our history of campaiging for more and better homes from our earliest days in the 1970s? But not necessarily. There are many factors to consider.
Small businesses and niche industries are part of the character of the West End. Some recent permissions for redevelopment will destroy these small commercial spaces to create luxury flats for investment and small London pads for occasional use. They do not create real, primary homes. And when the offices go, they take with them the local service businesses and sandwich shops that rely on them.
Risks to peoples’ homes from changes in the law
Proposals past and present such as land taxes, increases in council tax, ‘mansion tax’ and earnings caps on social housing are all a threat to the community in Central London. They can sound quite sensible ideas at first glance. But the context here is one where house prices and rental values have sky-rocketed while nothing special has happened to the incomes of people living in them.
Our long-term residents who own their own homes cannot afford to pay more tax just because their flats are valuable on paper. And our long-term residents who rent from the council or from housing associations can’t afford suddenly to pay enormous ‘commercial rents’ when their salaries tip over an arbitrary threshold. Such measures will force people to move away from Central London, and our community will lose many who have a strong stake here and contribute so much.
ARCHIVED ITEMS of continuing interest
The Night Tube
London may benefit in some ways from a limited all-night weekend tube service such as the one introduced by TfL and the Mayor’s office last year. But in order for local communities not to suffer, it must be impeccably managed – with better plans to deal with the impact ‘above ground’ of people’s changes in behaviour at night, especially near tube stations.
Also, Covent Garden station is in a particularly sensitive, highly residential area. Until 2017 this area was generally quiet after Midnight, but now people are attracted from late night venues several streets away – people who never came near this location at this time before. These people have been having a good night out, so nobody is expecting them to be quiet. They are just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it is miserable for families who are trying to sleep. So we believe that it makes sense to keep Covent Garden station closed at night and instead have people leave the West End via thoroughfares that have always been busy at night. Four other stations on noisier thoroughfares within a few minutes’ walk can serve all the same journeys, so nobody would lose out.
Read more here.
Affordable grocery shopping
By 2021 we may no longer have a good-sized local shop for affordable food and household products.
In the 1980’s CGCA campaigned for Tesco to come to the area. In those days there were still some market stalls and butchers here, but otherwise there were only expensive convenience stores. In 1992 Tesco responded to local demand, and tried out here what would later become its successful urban ‘Metro’ brand. Then, when M&S took over the old ‘Covent Garden General Store’ in the late 1990’s, CGCA negotiated with them and Westminster City Council for various things including special delivery trucks that were sensitive to a densely residential area. Ever since, these shops had been a mainstay for local people.
M&S moved out of their 2 floor food & clothing store here in 2018. We are asking them to consider returning to Covent Garden with a food-only offering but so far no suitable site had been found. Tesco’s lease came up in 2018, too, but we understand that they have only extended it for a short period.
Finding a suitable site for a fresh food supplier is not an easy task because current rents in the West End make most main street sites unviable, while deliveries to stores need to be managed in a way that is not disruptive to neighbours – which is much more difficult on smaller back streets. Please let us know if you have a suitable site in mind!