WestEndExtra

The independent London newspaper

Hell has arrived in Soho with works that disrupt people’s lives

13 April, 2018

• WESTMINSTER City Council’s Conservative administration has long made it clear that, in contrast to property developers, residents don’t matter.

But the misery and inconvenience of developments that overlap pavements, block streets with roadworks, and wipe out anything and everything in their path, is made immeasurably worse by the behaviour (I can’t call it activity) of workers employed by the council itself to resurface its streets.

These mind-bogglingly slow, and usually invisi­ble, people took about nine months to resurface Berwick Street, one of the narrowest but most essential streets in Soho.

In other countries high­ways and dams have been built in less time. But to Hell with the nightmare this lack of access created for everybody.

And even before Berwick Street was finished, the same people with the same work ethic, closed and set about Broadwick Street. Why should the inconvenience to residents and small businesses matter?

For months the access to the whole west half of Broadwick Street was via Poland Street, where the usual traffic flow direction had been reversed, and Lexington Street, while the only way out was via Beak Street, a street so narrow and lead­ing to such static traffic lights that it’s long been known as “the car park”.

Somehow this just about worked, although taxis didn’t want to come near the area, making it difficult for those of us who need them to get to and from hospital and other medical appoint­ments.

But then, with no warning, last week on April 5, I walked out of my block of flats in Dufours Place and into Hell. I hadn’t been out since Tuesday, when the mess had been the same as usual. Now, without a word of warning to any of us, the workmen had dug a crater across Poland Street’s junction with Broadwick Street and shut it off.

Vans of all kinds, which appeared to have come from Lexington Street, had parked as though they had nowhere else to go, while Poland Street was lined with vehicles of all kinds, their drivers looking desperate and attempting to reverse out of the trap they had driven into.

I learnt later that the daughter of a woman in my block who’d had a stroke not long ago and was due at a vital appointment in University College Hospital on Wednesday (the first day of the new disorder) had been forced to push her in a wheelchair as far as Regent Street before she could find a taxi.

We now have two immobilised stroke victims in my building alone. And, since there is apparently an element in the council which holds social housing residents in especial contempt, I’d like to point out that both these residents are leaseholders.

People who live in Kemp House and Ingestre Court, at the east end of Broadwick Street, have suffered years of misery caused by property developers, but there are far more flats here, around the west end of the street, and we’re all being ignored.

There are three blocks in Dufours Place alone, and two of those blocks have disabled residents. There are private flats all around the Marshall Street end of the street, and another social housing block in Marshall Street itself.

And all of us are now hemmed in, without the faintest consideration for the nightmare which also affects businesses around and about us who depend on deliveries.

I have no idea how to reach or get back from a cancer unit I attend, or the spinal treatments after which I must not walk at all. There are wheelchair users here, you name it. And how an emergency vehicle, whether ambulance or fire engine, is to get in and out again, none of us know.

If only someone would look into the past. As far back as 1665, the remarkable Earl of Craven wanted to do something humane and intelligent about the Great Plague, and in Soho he created an enclosed village of houses, together with a physician and a surgeon, to attend plague victims and to prevent the disease spreading.

All these centuries later, and almost on the same spot, we are as enclosed as that village, but without an attendant physician or surgeon. Somehow we have to reach such help, whether we can or not. And this is progress?

We also lack one of the Earl’s plague pits, although the council might as well dig one while it’s got the street up and chuck us all in. This is a council that certainly doesn’t care about life or death.

ALIDA BAXTER
Broadwick Street, W1

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