Soho Neighbourhood Forum Annual General Meeting Minutes

Date: 3 July 2019

Time: 6pm

Venue: Soho Centre for Health and Care, 1 Frith Street, W1D 3HZ

Chair: Matthew Bennett

1.Welcome: Matthew Bennett welcomed everyone to the meeting and introduced himself. FSG Members present – Lucy Haine, Andrew Murray, John James, Leslie Hardcastle, Ken White, Peter Parker, Robin Smith, Tim Lord, Vivienne King.

3. Chair’s Report: Matthew Bennett introduced his written report on the work of the Forum during the past year (copy circulated). He provided an overview of the Steering Group’s work and spoke to the forthcoming Regulation 14 consultation over the summer.

Discussion

KW  – regarding how the Plan is set out – should we say a few words on this?

MB relayed to members that the Plan is now on our website and provided an overview of the Plan – for a quick overview MB relayed to audience that they can look at the executive summary. From the beginning MS relayed, we were committed to working in a ‘bottom up’ way, testing the Plan along the way with the public via surveys and pop up events. The plan has been developed in response to and with public feedback.

KW  – regarding how the Plan is set out – should we say a few words on this?

Cllr Jonathan Glanz – is there an aspiration around LGBTQ businesses – is there anything within this Plan that can be done to support them?

Matthew – this didn’t really come out in the public consultations, but we can look at this if not in policies but perhaps in aspirations.

AM  – Also, outside of the policies we are adding our aspirations, but it is important to note that our aspirations will not hold any weight in planning law.

Audience Question – how will the plan look at the impact of construction on residents?

Matthew – we are asking developers to look at a framework for managing development  – there is more information in Section 7 of WCC’s City Plan.

John James – there has been a lack of manintaince and repair over the years/ across a wide portfolio o Soho’s properties across the past decades – so suddenly, now there are change of uses, which when joined up with buildings that are decaying means we have to decide whether to fix these buildings or let them fall down. Many buildings have no toilets/ bathrooms for example too. So if we want these buildings to be there, and have uses common today, like toilets and bathrooms as well as build in for future use, they need to be fixed to keep Soho alive.  Soho will decay and die if the buildings don’t change.

Tim Lord – absolutely agree about repairs, but the scale of development is too much.

5. Finance Report: Matthew Bennett presented the summary financial report set out in his written report. Matthew said that the focus in fundraising (apart from government grants) had been on businesses and noted the generous donations from Nimax Theatres, New West End Company and Shaftesbury.

6. Steering Group Election: All members wished to stand again. In addition, the Steering Group proposed to co-opt two business members Robin Smith and Jamie Poulton who wished to share their membership. The following were elected to the Steering Group by Forum members, with 2 abstentions and no votes against:

Residents –Matthew Bennett, Peter Parker, Lucy Haine, Leslie Hardcastle, Tim Lord, Andrew Murray, Ken White. Farida Dungerwalla.

Businesses –John James (Soho Estates), Vivienne King (Soho Housing), Andrew Price (Shaftesbury), Joan Moynihan (Nimax Theatres), Jamie Poulton (Randall and Aubin), Gareth Evans (House of St Barnabas), Jessica Stewart (CommComm UK), Jace Tyrrell (New West End Company), Robin Smith (Soho Dairy.)

PLAN FOR SOHO ANNUAL REPORT 2019/20

We had a good AGM on 3rd July last year and the new FSG has continued to meet and progress the draft Plan. We were sorry to lose Rob Kirk as our treasurer on his leaving Shaftesbury but he was ably replaced by Farida Dungawalla and Andrew Price came on as Shaftesbury’s representative. Gareth Evans replaced Sandra Schembri at House of St Barnabas and Peter Parker came on as a resident in place of Michael Case who helped so much in earlier years with our surveys.

From the 17th July to 11th September we held the last round of public consultation organised by the Forum. In the legislation this is called the Regulation 14 stage. We received 1,057 written responses of which 970 were positive or neutral and 87 were negative. During the autumn we revised the plan in the light of the comments we received with the help of a grant funded consultant who is himself a plan inspector and also Troy Planning a specialist consultancy working for the Forum.  We were also helped by the very supportive team at Comm Comm UK to produce a report on all our consultations in formulating the Plan and in particular the Regulation 14 consultation.

We formally submitted our Plan and the necessary accompanying documents to Westminster City Council on 25th February 2020. Members of the Forum Steering Group (FSG) have remained incredibly supportive and constructive throughout the year in guiding the process and reconciling differences.

Then Covid 19 hit us all. Eventually WCC was able to respond and agreed to start their own consultation on the Plan, carried out largely through their own website and other channels. This was the Regulation 16 consultation, the last consultation stage.

It ran from 1st May to 10th July and WCC received 35 representations about the plan. These representations are sent to an independent examiner for the plan to consider. This person is appointed by Westminster and I am pleased to report that Ms Jill Kingaby BSc (Econ), MRTPI who examined both the Knightsbridge and Mayfair plans has been appointed. We have had an initial exchange of letters on the most material points and the examination process has started. Although not finalised our Plan is now a material document which applicants and the City Council must take into account in deciding planning applications so we have passed an important mile stone.

Looking forward

The examination will inevitably mean a number of modifications to the plan in the light of the examiner’s recommendations and consultation and discussions with Westminster Planning Policy officers. Troy Planning is advising us during the process.

Ms Kingaby will in due course issue her report on the Plan to Westminster and assuming Westminster accept her report and agree that it conforms to the basic conditions to become a ‘made’ plan then they will start the process to hold the two referendums required. One of residents and one of businesses. These are likely to be held in May or June 2021.      

This timetable is still dependent on Westminster’s own Local Plan being adopted. A new WCC plan was originally promised in the autumn of 2017. There was a draft in November 2018 and it was finalised and formally published 20 months later, on 19th June 2019. It has now been submitted for independent examination which has recently concluded. Once the inspector’s report has been issued and considered hopefully the Westminster Local Plan will be adopted. This is important because our Plan has to be ‘in general conformity’ with all the higher plans. These are the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the London Plan and Westminster’s local plan. Our Plan has been prepared to be in general conformity with Westminster’s draft plan but until that is finalised, we do not know if there are changes as a result of the inspector’s decisions which will necessitate changes to our plan before it goes to referendum.

We hope you will all want to vote yes and get others locally to vote yes so that finally we will have ‘made’ the first neighbourhood plan for Soho!   

Matthew Bennett MBE

Finance

A financial report will be available before the meeting from our Treasurer, Farida Dungawalla. The bank balance stood at £6,808.17 on 1st September 2020.