Many local people will have read and seen reports on the future re-development of Sloane Square. I am made aware of the deep feeling about this issue by the number of letters that regularly come my way here in the Commons.
This is strictly speaking a matter for the two local councils managing the area around the Square but I have been encouraged by the genuine efforts of residents within my Cities of London and Westminster constituency and within the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea to consult widely on the matter.
What is now required is that the results of the public consultation are verified as authentic and that the outcome of the listening exercise makes a full contribution to the future look of Sloane Square.
Local democracy is a vital ingredient of good community relations and though there will be enthusiasts and opponents to any proposals especially in an iconic place like Sloane Square, this thoughtful and widespread consultation should enable the majority view to be properly heard. In this day and age when expensive consultation exercises are carried out such as that by Mayor Livingstone which was no more than a public relations stunt over the extension of the congestion charge, we need to see honest and genuine local democracy at work.
The future of Sloane Square has been under review for a long time now with estimates of £600,000 having been spent in promoting the new plans. There is, I know, widespread concern at the prospect of disruptive rat-running in the vicinity which will ruin the tranquillity of this part of central London. Similarly there are concerns that the status of Sloane Square will be undermined unless the layout is retained and the area is properly landscaped.
Now a third and final consultation is taking place which will last until 29 March 2007. A postal survey form will be delivered to residents in the consultation area and an independent market research company has been appointed with a website www.icmresearch.co.uk/sloanesquare from which a questionnaire can be downloaded or a postal questionnaire requested from 020 7845 8300.
The results will be reported to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RKBC) in April. As I understand it there are two options – the Save Sloane Square/Atkins Renovation scheme and the RBKC cross roads scheme.
In discussions with local Westminster councillors I appreciate that there is ongoing concern at the lack of up-to-date traffic information. This is all the more important following the implementation of the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge Zone on 19 February and its impact on the Belgravia streets surrounding Sloane Square. There is also much unease about the local deterioration in Air Quality as well as the possibility of rough sleepers congregating in the area, which is only a quarter of a mile from Victoria Cross station, which sees over 2000 Eastern Europeans arriving every day.
This is an opportunity for local residents to look at two alternative planning schemes which will have a profound effect on their environment. I hope that all the residents in Belgravia will take the time to respond to the postal survey and I shall then use my best endeavours to ensure that any positive enthusiasm or widespread opposition is taken fully into account when the final decision on the future of Sloane Square is taken.
As I mentioned earlier, Sloane Square is an iconic London location. No one can deny that it needs urgent attention for in recent years Sloane Square has been a dowdy, unappealing place. Ideally we need to make the centre of the Square a better piazza with benches, chairs, trees, greenery and all round a place for people to congregate and enjoy.