BILLIONAIRE Duke of Westminster has failed in his bid to permanently kick out dozens of families from council homes to build posh flats.
Hugh Grosvenor’s property group, Grosvenor, wants to “destroy the community” of Walden House in Belgravia, and “uproot” residents, say tenants.
Grosvenor has been pursuing plans to demolish Walden House and build luxury apartments, shops and social housing by 2023.
Walden House is owned by the property group, but historically leased to Westminster Council for council housing provision.
Grosvenor’s proposal for a new mixed-use neighbourhood in Belgravia, called ‘Cundy Street Quarter’, centres on an area partially bordered by Ebury and Cundy Streets, and Pimlico Road in Belgravia.
The land is currently occupied by five residential buildings – including Walden House – with leases expiring from 2021.
When Grosvenor’s controversial mixed-use scheme was launched earlier this year, lifelong Walden House resident Liza Begum, 34, who works as a PA at NHS, slammed it as “social cleansing”.
But the property group has refuted that accusation, calling it “highly charged and inappropriate language [which] is against everything the business… stands for”.
FORCED TO LIVE MILES AWAY
Grosvenor’s plans meant that 141 tenants, including eight disabled people, were told they would need to apply for new homes up to 12 miles away.
Cundy and Walden street residents launched an online petition to fight the bid, which has now been signed by more than 180,000 people.
The petition says: “The Duke of Westminster owns more land than the Queen. He is the richest landlord in the UK with an estimated wealth of £9billion, which at the age of 28 makes him the richest person under 30 in the world.
“He does not need to do this to us.
“We are a community that have been living in this area for over 40 years.
“Young families who have children that attend the local church school, elderly residents that should not be worried about losing their homes, but rather be enjoying their retirement, single parents and families that have been here for generations.”
“CHANGE OF HEART”
After months of battling against being turfed from their homes, the residents’ campaign has secured a “change of heart” from Grosvenor.
Westminster City Council said: “Grosvenor has confirmed any redevelopment will result in an increase of social and affordable homes.”
Labour councillors commented on the sudden U-turn on Facebook, saying that “Grosvenor has had a change of heart over the right to return, thanks to a residents’ campaign.
“We welcome the news that Grosvenor and Westminster Council have listened to residents and Churchill Labour councillors – and agreed to give Walden House tenants the right to return to the new social housing being built as part of the Cundy Street Quarter redevelopment.
“This is people power in action!”
Labour councillor Andrea Mann said: “It should have been in place from the start.”
Among those applauding the about-turn was Madge Cavalla, who also warned: “Cundy Street and Walden House tenants have won the right to return, but the fight must continue.
“What all of them must make sure [is] they get a written agreement on return – a promise means nothing – but a written agreement is something that the Duke of Westminster or Westminster Council can’t wriggle out of.
“All of the tenants should be proud of themselves on what they have achieved so far; they have proved to others facing demolition that people power is what Westminster or any other boroughs don’t want.”
Grosvenor responds to comments about the redevelopment
Grosvenor Britain & Ireland CEO, Craig McWilliam said that striving to build Cundy Street Quarter in Belgravia had shown there were “differing views” on providing homes in central London.
He said: “We want to increase, not reduce, the area’s diversity. So, in our planning application, we will offer to double the number of affordable homes on the site.
“We have a proud track-record spanning almost 150-years for creating and supporting affordable housing in central London and know that communities are stronger when they are inclusive.
“So, we want to grow the number of low-cost homes on our London estate over and above the 700 households we support across Mayfair and Belgravia today.
“Westminster City Council has a large number of households waiting for affordable accommodation.
“Around 7,000 sit on its housing waiting list where it can take up to 10 years to be assigned a two-bed flat.
“Only by building more homes can we help more people.”
Craig added: “We know our development plans affect people living on the site today and we understand their concerns.
“From the outset we put in place measures to ensure they had several years’ notice to help them plan carefully for their future and ensure no one has to face the prospect of being homeless.
“Over the next four years, the council will support and rehouse all its Walden House tenants in the borough.
“It has also offered them a right to return and will allocate the new affordable homes we build to any council tenant who wishes to return to the site.”