Note: for issues relating to Traffic changes and Illegal ‘lockdown’ parties / mini-raves, please see down this page.
High-quality street performances are an important part of the street scene in Covent Garden. But for years local people and businesses who are directly affected by inconsiderate busking have been frustrated by the inability of the system to respond to their needs. It is not fair that somebody can rock up and place a deafening beat box under your living room, or sing the same song hour after hour so that you can hear it inside your office.
To help tackle this, Westminster council is consulting on their proposed Busking and Street Entertainment Policy. The closing date for responses is Sunday 1st November. Their full consultation document and questionnaire and are available at this link.
For more information, and for details of CGCA’s position, please click here.
Seven Dials area, post-Covid traffic changes to create space
Seven Dials Traffic Management? YES. Pedestrianisation? NO!
On 22nd July residents and businesses around Seven Dials received a letter from Camden Council setting out changes to traffic arrangements to help trade in the area recover after lockdown, for a period of up to 18 months from 5th August . You can see the letter here. And click here for the council’s current Operational Plan.
The changes are being sponsored by the area’s main freeholder (Shaftesbury), who has also sent a letter to their tenants and leaseholders which you can see here.
CGCA has spoken to Camden to clarify things. It may be helpful to set out the key elements of the scheme and their aims as they currently stand:
- Road closures around Seven Dials from 10am to 6pm every day, but allowing through parking permit holders, taxis accessing hotels, and bin lorries. The aim is to make the area more welcoming to customers by giving street space over to pedestrians/cyclists and to help with social distancing. It may also free-up space for streets to be used by businesses, although Camden has not yet made any proposals about that. Emergency vehicles will have full access.
- Suspension of some full-time residents bays, loading bays and shared bays – also with the aim of creating space on selected streets. Relocation of a number of bays. Click here for what we understand to be the resident bay losses.
- 24 hour reversal of Shorts Gardens’ from the Dials to Neal Street so that no traffic can enter the Dial as a rat-run. 24 hour reversal of Monmouth Street’s South section, and blocking its bottom end so that no traffic can leave the Dial towards the South as a rat-run.
- More restriction on the North sections of Monmouth Street and Neal Street, and the market section of Earlham Street, with no access there during certain hours except for emergencies (although we understand that this has been revoked in the August version of the plan, but await confirmation).
In May 2020 Camden created a consultation called ‘Making travel safer in Camden’ and used a ‘commonplace’ website map for people to suggest traffic improvements. The CGCA, the Seven Dials Trust and others proposed removing through-traffic, which was supported by all who commented. We have never supported pedestrianisation, which is a very different matter and has many unwanted consequences, particularly for residents.
This is the CGCA’s position:
- The current scheme should be limited to 3 months (as with adjacent Westminster schemes, which commenced before Seven Dials) and reviewed after 2 months. After 2 months the area should be leafleted with a questionnaire to get feedback on the current scheme. This would provide data for any extension or revisions.
- Residents should be allowed through in any vehicles, not just those with CA-C permits. Those who have given up their cars and instead take lifts with their shopping etc., or who use car clubs, should be encouraged – not penalised.
- No residents parking bays should be lost. Overnight parking in Seven Dials will not affect the daytime scheme and should be retained. And replacement full-time residents bays can be added on the periphery. The current proposals lose 8 full-time bays and 14 overnight bays (which are usually shared loading bays during the day). This is unacceptable in zone CA-C, where bays will again be over-subscribed once things return to normal.
- The hours of access-only restrictions should be 11am to 6pm throughout the scheme; 10am is unnecessarily early as things don’t get busy until after Noon. And 11am is the start time used by Westminster around the piazza area, so it would be consistent for visitors.
- Additional loading bays should be provided around the periphery of Seven Dials for the duration of the scheme, so that deliveries that have to be made 11am – 6pm can be completed by hand or by trolley from not too far away. No deliveries should be allowed in the area at night 8pm – 8am, and deliveries should be encouraged during the 8am – 11am window
- All streets in Seven Dials should be treated the same, with no sections being singled-out to have periods with no access at all (although we understand that this has been done in the latest version of the plan, but await confirmation).
- Access 11am – 6pm should be broadened to include essential servicing & maintenance.
- Camden should make it explicit that no permanent changes will be made to pedestrianise any streets at any time, in the spirit of past commitments.
- The changes to traffic direction in this scheme will test some parts of various options put forward over many years to reduce through-traffic in Seven Dials. This should inform a review, so as to arrive at the best option for all stakeholders, including addressing the rat-run from South to North Mercer Street which is a major cause of congestion. Traffic management is never easy; it needs careful assessment so that it has wide support. The community needs its views treated seriously through a thorough feedback process and public meetings.
CGCA continues to press for these revisions with Camden. However, it is taking a disproportionate amount of time and effort to receive the sort of responses and engagement that we have been used to in the past.
If you have comments on the proposals, please also contact Camden council and also let us know: email: SafeTravel@Camden.gov.uk, or phone the officer there, Kevin Stears on 020 7974 8904 . His original report on the proposals is here.
A petition started by residents and businesses in Neal Street collected over 1,000 signatures in only its first 2 weeks. You can see it here: Seven Dials petition for proper Public Consultation.
The first proposal to deter through-traffic in Seven Dials was commissioned by the Seven Dials Trust in the early 1990’s.
It created 3 self-contained loops of streets for vehicle access. Using low fencing or bollards to separate the loops at the Dial, pedestrians could safely stroll to and from the Pillar in all directions.
It doesn’t require closing any roads, or need any private contractors to ‘guard’ it.
We still think that this is the most elegant option that we have seen – and probably the cheapest!
Illegal ‘lockdown’ parties & mini-raves
We have been getting worrying reports of what the police call ‘Unlicenced Music Events’ (UMEs) since early June 2020. They are advertised via social media and sell tickets illegally. They usually take place in flats acquired short-term on platforms like AirBnB, or even in serviced apartments like SilverDoor. As well as being unlicensed for music or alcohol, the planning permission or leases for these buildings usually do not allow short lets either.
The first time residents know of what’s going tends to be when car-loads of noisy young people turn up in the middle of the evening, and park in any free bays oustide. Before moving on, on foot, they often inhale Nitrous Oxide from balloons that they fill from the little silver canisters that then litter the street. People continue to turn up, all using their phones to find where they are supposed to meet. They are let in by the hosts, or ring anybody’s doorbell to try to gain entry – sometimes claiming to be Amazon deliveries! Later the music ramps up and people spill outside. Social distancing is ignored and residents are kept awake – until as late as 8am the following morning. These parties can become mini-raves. We have also seen evidence of vandalism and destruction of vehicles (cars & mopeds) in the early hours of the morning.
Most of these parties have taken place on Friday and Saturday nights, with the organisers coming round earlier and then returning to the flats next day.
We are in touch with the police and various council departments at both Camden and Westminster, but something can only be done as quickly as they get more evidence. Please complete OUR FORM if you have seen or heard a suspected party of this sort. Please also email us with any pictures or detailed information on info@CoventGarden.org.uk.
And, if it happens near you, please make sure to call the police on 999 first, then register a complaint with the council as well. It is essential that you call the police as soon as you get a hint that this is going on, because it gets harder to deal with as things escalate, and as other incidents are reported during the evening. It is essential that as many people as possible call about each incident because a police inspector has the power to order an instant dispersal, but this only happens if the incident rises to the top of the list of incidents on a particular night. If you can only report it after the event, please call the police on 101 instead. We know that it’s tempting to give up, but a formal record is often key to getting this sort of thing dealt with.
You may also want to consider changing the locks on your building.
How can Covent Garden re-open for business after lockdown?
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!