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How independent are the resident area panels?

27 February, 2017

• AFTER several weeks of letters published in the West End Extra criticising facets of policy decided on by the majority councillors of Westminster Council and enacted by the officers of CityWest Homes, at last an official response.

This came from Jonathan Cowie as chief executive of CityWest. Thanks for that, Mr Cowie, that is more than any councillor has bothered to do.

However, some of his comments do prompt further comment.

Mr Cowie mentions four separate area panels that are supposedly independent (Residents do get involved, Letters, February 17).

Having talked to people who attend meetings of these groups, plus those of the Westminster Residents Panel (WRP), and having had a little personal experience recently, leads me to seriously to ask – just how independent?

The recent experience was as part of some eight or nine non-staff attendees putting themselves forward for consideration for their respective area panels.

Some were already known to me.

One is a walking encyclopaedia of housing knowledge in several spheres; another has acquired experience in three local authorities over 40 years; another has been on the WRP for many years, was its chair for a time, and has served as a JP and, lastly, someone who is lot younger and is a founder member of his residents’ association.

There was a lot of knowledge and experience there, so it was especially disappointing that this counted for nothing.

Particularly galling is that this was set aside on the basis of 20 minutes of chat. My impression is that those having so wasted their time won’t bother again.

As to the area panels, my understanding is that they were being set up about 18 months ago and coexisted at first with the WRP.

Conversations with people having joined this set-up at the beginning revealed considerable scepticism as to this vaunted independence .

This opinion has it that those making up the panels were, in the main, carefully hand-picked and that this continues.

It also became obvious the area panels were intended to replace the WRP and it is a pity that councillors attending WRP meetings could not have been more up-front about their true intentions.

It seems clear that the decision was purely political and made by the majority party in power in Westminster and seems to have been based mainly on the need for cuts and very little else.

This being so, again raises the question of just how independent the panels actually are.



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