Thank You to the Outgoing Committee

Ahead of the 2023 Elections it seems only proper for me to thank the outgoing Garden Committee for all of their hard work over the last 19 months, including attending over a dozen 90 minute+ meetings, and ploughing through 100s of emails. 

We have, for the most part, maintained a philosophy of contribute more than we control, and I consider the Garden and local community all the better for it.

Whilst our work is best described as rapid evolution, rather than revolution, we hope the Ratepayers can notice, and approve of the steps we have taken to enhance the utility-of and appreciation-for the Gloucester Square Garden. 

The rapid improvements have been noticed and commended by the Garden Square community, and I’m pleased to share that  Gloucester Square will feature prominently in an upcoming issue of Garden Square News.

This page provides an opportunity to highlight the work undertaken by our committee of Andrew, Beverly, Colin M, Davide, Dawn, Ellen, Gary, Mark, Myself, Mukta and Zarine, and thank you for your ongoing support. 

Yours Faithfully,

Tom (Garden Secretary)

Apr 22: New Committee Elected

32 occupiers attended our elections in April 2022, representing 34 properties (2 vacant), a record as far as we are aware. All 11 candidates received a positive balance for-vs-against, and were duly elected to the committee.

The new election process broke from some past traditions, instead strictly following the contractual expectations that the committee is to be made up of occupiers (owner-residents, owner of a vacant property, or tenants of property with a 12m+ contract), where each candidate is elected on a for-or-against basis, with each keyholding property getting 1 vote (for, against or abstain) per candidate.

May 22: Governance, Tables and an Events Policy

The new committee quickly ratified the election results and communicated them to the Estate Owner. It was also agreed that this website, that I built with the support of 6 of the apartment buildings (the Active Respondents to the FTT), would be more closely adopted by the Garden Committee as a means of communicating to ratepayers going forward.

In our first meeting it was agreed the Gloucester Square Garden fell woefully short of the Garden Square norm in terms of the provision of tables and chairs, impacting the benefit and utility of the Garden to ratepayers. The committee therefore ordered 2 x flexible tables and benches (coordinated at a near 40% discount by Mark), and 2 x permanent table-benches with backs (coordinated for a similar price by me). Meanwhile the most decrepit, dangerous bench was removed.

A subcommittee of Andrew, Mark and Mukta was formed to develop a fair and consistent Events policy, which inline with best practice across other Gardens, expects event hosts to make a donation to the Garden (varying according to the event’s size), in-turn contributing to the Garden’s ringfenced reserves.

Finally the Garden Committee (re)subscribed to Garden Square News, a twice-annual magazine keeping Garden Committees informed of all the latest Garden Square News and Developments, whilst also often providing a one-stop-shop for suitably qualified Garden Square specialist contractors (from Lawyers through to Gardeners).

Jun 22: Implementing the FTT Judgement, Diversifying the Garden's workforce and Launching a Technical Review

A significant responsibility for the new Committee was implementing the FTT Judgement to install the Points Model Apportionment system, backdated to 2023. This task was made significantly easier by the 5 apartment buildings previously charged at a per-apartment level, agreeing to be charged at a building-level going forward, and supplying internal Service Charges divisions allowing us to calculate each apartments’ reapportionment for the 2022 levy. My thanks to the Directors of 13-14, 26-28, 44-46, 47 and 48-49 Gloucester Square, and Ellen on the Committee for the tireless work and support on the Garden’s finances.

The Garden Committee also started a Root and Branch Review of Garden’s management, that considered our Workforce, Access Control System, Technical Documentation, Knowledge-Management Process, Irrigation System, and suitability of Third-Party suppliers/advisors – that would lead to many changes over the coming year.

An immediate priority was diversifying the workforce, it was noted the Garden was overly reliant on a single Gardening Contractor, with little to no flexibility / competition for task-assignment. This led to some tasks, such as rubbish collection, falling by the wayside, and other jobs becoming prohibitively expensive. The Committee quickly rectified this by adding more independent contractors to the Garden’s workforce, and refocusing the main Gardening Contractors responsibilities. My thanks to Beverly and Dawn for their help coordinating along with planning the summer planting. I should also take this opportunity to thank Colin C and Abilio for the excellent ongoing work as Garden Caretakers / Supervisors, without whom many of the ad-hoc works over the last year would not have been possible.

Concerns quickly grew with the Access Control system, when non-residents were discovered using the Garden, and it became clear the fobs could be quickly duplicated for as little as £15 at local locksmiths and DIY stores.

As part of an attempt to benchmark Gloucester Square against other Garden Squares, Colin M and I (separately) visited 12+ Gardens during the London Open Gardens event, reporting back to the wider Committee.

Jul 22: Playground Rectified, New Signage Installed

Off the back of the Hyde Park Estate Party in June (approved ahead of the election), where the playground was dangerously overcrowded, the Committee became concerned about the potential liabilities of the play area. A review of previous inspections, supplied by our Managing Agent, confirmed urgent remediation works were required including the removal of the fence around the structure, a photo inspection of moving parts, and the securing of loose panels – all this work was immediately undertaken. My thanks in particular to Mukta who coordinated safety signage for the Play Area.

Unfortunately the Committee were also forced to respond to a Westminster Enforcement Notice in July, whereby a resident had (anonymously) claimed during the cut-out expansion works for the tables our contractors had poured concrete (not true). Fortunately we had taken extensive photos before and after works, responded promptly to Westminster in writing (without taking any further advice), who in-turn confirmed there was no case to answer.

To help deal with several legal matters, not least delinquent ratepayers, and the Committee’s long-term goal to incorporate, Ellen, Zarine and I engaged Robert Barham, the preeminent Garden Square legal expert, who continues to provide invaluable advice to the Committee.

July saw an unprecedented heatwave and with-it, increased scrutiny of the Garden’s Trees. The Committee looked to Tree Management Policies in countries where extreme heat was more common, including Australia, where warnings regarding Branch Drop were common (unlike in the UK). As a result the Committee Decided to install Sudden Branch Drop signs around the Garden, pre-empting two partial limb drops, and two dead-limb removals during the year.

Sadly the heat had a negative impact on some of the Trees, including two of the Cherry’s in the North-Western bed, that have died this year.

Aug 22: Secure, Smart, Wildlife Friendly Garden

With concerns growing around access control, and reports from two former committee members of overnight intruders into the Garden, the Committee installed a wireless camera system cover all entry points into the Garden, and key points along the railings.

We engaged with Westminster ahead of installing the system to come-up with Temporary Mounts that would not harm the Trees and be cost effective. The total cost of the system (for 18 cameras) was below £2k, which is less than many gardens spend each year on maintaining much smaller systems (of 2-3 cameras), having spent many multiples on the original installation. In contrast the only maintenance cost for our system is the Internet Connection. We are the first garden we are aware of to use 4-5G internet, bypassing the need for new cables, credit checks, and a postal address (which the Garden doesn’t have), and currently costs £120/year.

In 2023 the system has led to £700 of fines being levied in a single week – so should pay-back the investment within 2-3 years. 

The work coincided with Wildlife Improvements run by Colin M, utilising decades of experience, and the Wild West End report, commissioned by the Estate Owner. One area of particular criticism in that report, besides a general lack on wildlife support, was the in-lawn spotlights, that were particularly detrimental to birds. These lights were not working correctly anyway, nor had valid planning-permission, and have been decommissioned in-favour of low-level temporary/flexible lighting around the beds. 5 new birdfeeders and 5 new birdhouses were installed, along with a bird-bath to try and support wildlife through a particularly arduous summer. 

Sep 22: Playground Consultation Launched

Recognising the urgent need to replace the Play Area, and complexities should a project would entail, the Committee Launched a Playground Consultation page on the Website, with Gary taking the lead on identifying and meeting with potential playground replacement partners.

Oct 22: Electrical Works

One of the biggest jobs for the new Committee was fixing the faulty electrics, where 2 of the Garden’s 4 electrical circuits were permanently tripping. These faults were traced-back to faulty junction boxes installed underground and on trees that had subsequently broken with water-entry causing the circuits to short. The previously run cables were also disappointingly thin (1.5mm 3-core) constraining the loads the circuits can handle without burning-out.

To provide a safer and more stable solution, the Committee slowly started removing these below-round / on-tree junction boxes, with all new joins via junction-boxes / sockets installed on (low-impact) composite posts. Where possible cable-runs were replaced with 2.5mm 3-core SWA cable – to increase the load capacity, though some runs of 1.5mm cable remain (to be replaced in due course).

Unlike previous cabling/piping works in the Garden which relied on open trenching by a trenching machine (not inline with Tree Protection Standards) and caused damage to the paths / lawn, these works were conducted via use of trenchless solutions, including moling and manual driving, all under the guidance of an Arboriculturist to avoid Root damage. 

The use of these solutions, combined with my volunteered time, and the support of our Garden Supervisors, Colin C and Abilio, more than halved the cost of running cables vs. quotes from 3 Gardening Contractors for open-trenching.

Finally, smart switches were installed behind the majority of sockets installed in the Garden, allowing for them to be controlled over the internet / put on a timer – supporting endless potential purposes in the Garden.

Nov 22: New Fob System and Managing Agent

As part of the ongoing root and branch review, the Garden Committee implemented two significant changes in November.

The first was appointing Westbourne Block Management (WBM) as the Garden’s new Managing Agent, following a Due Diligence process that involved Ellen, Mark, Zarine and I considering 3 potential new agents, and having 2 complete a formal interview. Not only do WBM bring Garden Square expertise and authority given they manage 14 other Squares, they are also conveniently located on Spring Street, a 5 minute walk away from our Garden.

The second change was to replace the Garden’s access control system with a new system with trackable, uncloneable fobs. The Fob replacement day in late November saw multiple households returning more than 1 active fob, underscoring the need for a better controlled system. The wireless access control system we installed (the first time it had been used for a Garden Square), negated the need for any expensive cable runs, and delivered more functionality than other systems we were quoted (typically at 3+ times the cost). My thanks to the majority of Committee members who volunteered their time on the fob replacement day.

The new Access Control system coincided with the Committee introducing a revised set of Garden Rules, thanks to the Rules subcommittee of Dawn, Mukta and Zarine, who reviewed the rules set by a dozen best-in-class Garden Squares before revising the Gloucester Squares Rules, which were ratified by the whole committee.

Dec 22: Festive Lights Go Live

The culmination of many months of work and planning, we were able to deliver Festive Lights for the first time on Gloucester Square, with 17,000 energy efficient LED lights just in-time for the snowfall on December 11th, allowing for residents to capture some fantastic photos. My thanks to Mukta for her support throughout the process, including joining Abilio and I for several evenings putting up the lights!

With the encouragement of two Residents, Helen and Per, we held the first of what will hopefully be many Resident Festive Drinks on December 17th, though the weather and proximity to the holidays might have dented the turnout. This year we have scheduled the Drinks for November 18th to coincide with turning-on the Christmas Lights.

Jan 23: New Landscape Architect & Insurance Policy

The New Year didn’t see any reduction in work on the Garden. The Garden’s insurance policy came up for renewal, that allowed us to switch to a new provider, the Clear Group (introduced by Robert Barham in summer 2022). The Garden was moved to policy specifically intended for Garden Squares, that expressly covered the playground, as opposed to previous policies that were generic building-insurance policies where the playground was not explicitly covered. The new policy also mandates the signage that we quickly installed around the playground.

The net result is the Garden’s cover has gone up by 68% whilst the premiums have dropped by almost the same proportion. My thanks to Ellen for working with me to get this new policy in-place.

January also saw the long awaited appointment of a Landscape Architect. Throughout 2022 I had explored options for finding a Landscape Architect to support the Garden in submitting a planning application for a replacement irrigation tank, and replacing the playground. We tried numerous routes including services like Fiverr – though without a productive outcome. In January we placed a listing on the services website, and received a response back from several Landscape Architects – with Colin M and Mark joining me in the interview process, with Dr Jasmein Ayub ultimately being appointed.

Feb 23: New Noticeboards

In February we were able to install a new notice boards at both the North and South Gates. The Oak Noticeboards from Greenbarnes were carefully selected to blend naturally with the Garden and allow for enough information to be shared (with 6 x A4 frames selected over the typical 4 x A4 frames).

Extra care was taken with the installation, with the frame posts wrapped in rot-protection sleeves, that will hopefully lengthen the lifespan of the noticeboards as a whole.

Mar 23: Planning Permission Submitted

As the culmination of two months work with Dr Jasmein Ayub we were able to submit a planning application for the replacement irrigation tank and replacement Play Area, that was ultimately successful. My thanks to Colin and Mark for their efforts during the process.

Abilio started the significant undertaking of uncovering and repairing the Garden’s Drip Pipes, with dozens of splits and blowouts repaired.

Apr 23: New Fountain / Bird Bath Installed

Utilising the new cables installed in 2022, and with a view to supporting wildlife should another hot summer occur, the Garden Committee installed a bird-friendly fountain in the central wishing-well. The Fountain uses a low-power pump and light allowing it to be run continually for 3 out of 4 seasons, before being removed each November to make way for the Flagpole Christmas Tree Light (the foundations of which sit below the fountain reservoir).

My thanks for Abilio’s support in realising this pet project.

May 23: Reshaped Central Bed with Perrenial Planting

With Dr Ayub’s advice, and Abilio’s handywork, Beverly was able to reshape the central bed in the Garden.

Installed circa 2010, the central flower bed had become a severe drain of finances and Gardener time, with the twice-annual planting of Tulips and Bergonias, etc – costing well over £4k to ratepayers.

Beverly and Dr Ayub have replaced this area with perennial Heucheras of various colours, that will hopefully thrive in the location for many years to come. The Reshaping and new planting works cost roughly £2k, and should cost very little to maintain going forward. The plants have also seen a trememdous uptick in polinators in and around the central bed.

Jun 23: Open Day, New Planting, and Completion of Phase 2 Electrical Works

Ahead of the Garden joining the Hyde Park Estate Garden Open Day on June 10th Beverly, Colin M, Abilio and I planted new perennials along the lawn-edge of the inner beds, many of which had become overgrown with Ground Elder. This will hopefully be an ongoing initiative for many years to come, with the lawn edges requiring particular attention.

The Open Day was a particular success with ours generally perceived to be the best-staffed and most welcoming of the Gardens open that weekend, my thanks to Colin M and Mark for joining Abilio and I in manning the Garden for the event.

Finally Cristian from Volta Electrics came back and with further support from Abilio, completed the outer electrical circuits along the railings. These have allowed us to permanently power all cameras, including 2 x 24/7 cameras, that have captured numerous antisocial behaviours.

Jul 23: Garden's Drip Pipes Adapted

I decided to turn-my-hand to Irrigation work, and discovered we could adapt the Drip Lines in the inner beds with use of micro-sprayers that could be turned-off in the event of a Hosepipe Ban (where Drip pipes are permitted). 

Abilio and I also analysed the Garden’s irrigation system, which was being plagued by low-water shut-downs (where the shed-tank ran dry, and pump shut-off, long before irrigation cycles were complete). By removing several blockages in the mains supply, then assessing the average net water consumption (35L/min) we were able to optimise the length of irrigation cycles. The net result of these suggestions, ratified by Mark and Colin M, was we could avoid further costly irrigation works in-favour of modest updates and smarter programming.

It is disappointing that these solutions were not proposed by any of the Garden’s agents / contractors, though has reinforced the value of retaining such knowledge on the Committee and with our Garden Supervisors.

Aug 23: Fly-tipping Reported to Westminster, Section 20 Process for New Playground Initiated

In Early August two private hire vehicles dumped a pile of used/decrepit office furniture along the North Railings before driving off. The entire incident was captured by the Garden’s Security cameras, with a Witness Statement provided to Westminster who are actively pursuing the matter.

My nephew and I took some time to edge the lawn by the Garden Path – a task we have reminded our contract-gardeners is long overdue for the rest of the lawn (with photos from the early 2000s showing clean symmetrical edging).

Finally at the end of August we were able to start the Section 20 process for replacing the Play Area after over a year of discussions with more than a dozen potential suppliers. 6 families have kindly offered to sponsor some of the equipment, lowering the cost to residents.

Sep 23: More Garden Rectification Works

Beyond aesthetics, the committee had long been concerned about the 4 external tanks installed in 2021 by the play area:

  1. The tanks were not installed on a concrete slab as specified by the tank supplier, but instead on soil and sand outside of the shed
  2. Because of this the tanks had started to lean (as demonstrated from these 2022 photos), and the Easternmost tanks were resting against the shed causing a build-up of damp
  3. The tanks were not installed with Planning Permission (as required) and ran an enforcement risk from Westminster
  4. And to cap things off – they weren’t working – with the shed tank running empty whilst the external tanks were still 3/4 full
A decision in 2022 was made to remove the tanks inline with the Playground Replacement Project, and Colin C and his brother were kind enough to undertake the removal works, redirecting the attached mains supply to the shed tank (improving the flow-rate in the process), and try recovering some salvage monies for the tanks through eBay (work in progress).

We have tested the irrigation system since removing the tanks and found no impact on our ability to run the current irrigation systems in full.
Separately, Colin and I started uncovering the Garden’s tarmac path, removing circa 10 tonnes of gravel and soil to-date.

Oct 23: Fox Proofing and Playground Preperation Works Begin

Another long overdue piece of work, recommended by consulted experts as early as the 2000s, was fox-proofing the shed by burying a 40+cm deep welded mesh on all sides.

Last year despite best deterrent efforts a Fox tunnelled under the shed, creating a den where she had a litter of cubs. This creating an ongoing issues around hygiene, especially in the play area.

This November, ahead of the Fox denning season, we are buying a 50cm welded mesh around the shed, hand-digging to avoid any damage to routes / pipes / electrics. My thanks to Colin C and Abilio for assisting me with this work.

Seperately, Colin C and I started repairing the Central Path where it has been cut for past irrigation works by laying Coldlay Macadam.

Nov 23: Festive Lights Return, New Playground Selected

From the start of November we will be installing the Garden’s Festive Lights. At the end of Last season the 6m Flagpole Tree was damaged (we suspect by a fox). We have fortunately been able to repair the damage for free, though will add some Prickle Strip around the base of the Tree this year to discourage Foxes from chewing on the wires. 

By the middle of November, the Garden will be able to announce the selected Playground Supplier, and instruct works. We are hoping to include a wonderful Tribute to Robert Stephenson, potentially our most famous and highly-respected former resident.

Looking Forward

It will be for the next Garden Committee to determine the go-forward priorities of the Garde, though we have worked hard to prepare a smooth transition to the new group, with 2024 Budgets drafted and new contracts for the various Garden Contractors ready to sign.

There’s certainly a lot of work left to do in the Garden, from seeing-out the playground replacement project, to completing the path rectification works. I wish the go-forward team the best of luck with those endeavours.

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