The revelation that Malcolm Rifkind has plenty of time on his hands to read books and take walks came as no surprise to many of his Kensington constituents. Far too grand to hold MPs surgeries, Sir Malcolm who, as we know, “gets no salary”, made himself very hard to reach. When he finally agreed to meet constituents on pressing issues he was “all talk and no action”, they concluded.
The issue was an aggressively Modernist new Iranian Embassy and cultural centre within the Victorian Queen’s Gate conservation area. The planning application for it made in 2010 was in breach of previous undertakings given by the Iranians to replicate the period facades they had been allowed to demolish.
The council, under the helpful guidance of councillor Daniel Moylan (who was hoping for the Parliamentary seat) appears to have tried to get the plans approved without anyone much finding out. There was no neighbour consultation and nothing on the council website. The idea was to have permission granted under the radar in August, when many residents are away.
But exposure in the Mail on Sunday and the London Standard created a massive backlash. A decision on the scheme was deferred until late 2010 – and then again and again. In December 2011 the Iranians were expelled from their Prince’s Gate embassy, where the infamous siege had taken place. But the council would still not reject their planning application.
A year later a group of residents were finally able to meet their MP in his office. The former Foreign Secretary came up with the idea that the site should be CPOd by the council and redeveloped behind replicated facades. In the meanwhile, he added, they should force the Iranians to make it look less of an eyesore.
The residents never doubted their MP’s ability to influence RBK&C council, so when they heard nothing from him they were forced to conclude that he simply could not be arsed.
The Queen’s Gate site remains a grotty car park, which Sir Malcolm no doubt avoids when he goes on his pleasant walks.