One of the major features of all historic city centres is the wide range of public and private organisations they contain, frequently with conflicting interests and responsibilities for the same area. In central Covent Garden this complexity is intensified by the need to cater for large numbers of visitors.
The plan of the study area on the previous page shows the boundary of ownerships and responsibilities in the Central Covent Garden Area. The City of Westminster has overall statutory responsibility and provisions in its relevant documents, design guides and supplementary guidance as well as the Unitary Development Plan, all of which should be consulted and considered, in recognising the area's unique, mixed character.
All those with whom we discussed our study to date, except a few local residents, were agreed that the study area should retain broadly its current mix of activities; that it should remain predominantly a high-class specialist shopping area and we have taken this as given, despite some obvious commercial pressures to introduce standard high street
At the time of writing, professional attention to the problems of conservation has attained a high profile. There is increased guidance and statutory provisions from Central and Local Government; initiatives by English Heritage and the English Historic Towns Forum have produced more research studies and technical information. The prospect of increased funding available for ‘Heritage’ projects from the National Lottery and Millennium Commission makes the possibility of implementing Conservation Area improvements more likely now than at any time over the last 20 years.
It is therefore essential that those organisations with existing powers, duties and responsibilities for Covent Garden do not miss the opportunity to bring about a consistent, raised level of quality rather than more piecemeal action.
There can be no doubt that some of the existing problems in Covent Garden are due more to a tangle of responsibilities and the absence of a single clear strategy than to lack of will. In addition to the Covent Garden Community Association, there are many other important groups that help coordinate local views, including the Covent Garden Business Group and the Covent Garden Liaison Group.
It must be recorded that the City of Westminster, with the majority of duties and powers to ensure quality is maintained, is currently very well organised to provide the proper response to most problems.
The current “At Your Service...An A - Z Guide to Westminster City Council Services” is a model of its kind (available from One Stop Services, 1st floor, City Hall, 64 Victoria Street, London SWlE 6QP Tel: 020 7641 6000, or local libraries), with clear identification of relevant services and “Hotline” telephone numbers, for matters as diverse as Abandoned Cars to Pigeons and Street Trading. Information on all mobility and access issues is also available from the City Council, with guidance included in various planning leaflets, including “Shopfronts” and “Tables and Chairs on the Highway”.
The problem of overlapping interests and responsibilities is that without a clear strategy of action for improvement, genuine efforts can be diluted or counter productive. The following brief outline gives basic information about some of the relevant organisations that should sign up to a single improvement strategy.