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Westminster’s Labour Councillors have called on the Council to make major changes to the way in which the planning system works in Westminster to improve public confidence and to give the public a bigger say in planning decisions.

Labour’s proposed changes aim to

  1. Make Planning more transparent
  2. Improve trust in decision making
  3. Improve the quality of decisions
  4. Make it easier for residents to make their voice heard

Councillor Geoff Barraclough, Labour’s Planning spokesperson, said:

“For too long Westminster Conservatives have treated residents as an afterthought in a planning process geared towards the needs of major developers. It is time for a change, particularly in the wake of the public scandal around the excessive use of hospitality by some Conservative members of the Planning Committee.”

“The Council needs to fix the broken culture at Westminster Council so that we put residents first. Councillors should have a transparent relationship with developers and other powerful interests so that residents can be assured that their elected representatives are fighting for them rather than dining out on developers’ expense accounts.”

The Council’s Review of the Planning system follows national press reports of Councillor Robert Davis’ 17-year tenure as Planning Committee chairman.

Labour submission to Review of how Planning works in Westminster

       Make Planning more transparent

  • All Planning Committee meetings should be live-streamed and recorded
  • All Planning policy should be consolidated into a single document which can be read without cross-referencing to another
  • Improve trust in decision making
  • Planning Committee members should declare their property interests in Westminster. There should be no exemptions available
  • Planning Committee members should accept NO hospitality from individual developers or their agents
  • Planning Committee members should only meet developers to discuss individual schemes with an officer present and details of the meeting posted on the Council’s website
  • Meaningful penalties for breach of planning orders. Even when retrospective permission is granted, there should be a forfeit for not playing by the rules
  • Planning portal to include single master cover sheet for major applications with summary of application, affordable housing contribution, S106 and CIL payments
  • Create publicly accessible database of Planning agreements and developers’ progress against meeting their commitments
  • Improve quality of decisions
  • Appoint a design panel of architects and other experts with a mandate to improve the quality of building in Westminster. The panel should make recommendations to the Committee on:
    • All major schemes
    • All minor schemes where subjective decisions about design quality are required
  • Design and Conservation Officers to be treated as internal consultants and be able to recommend approval/rejection independently of the Planning Officers’ recommendations.
  • All officers’ recommendations to be written in plain English
  • Make it easier for residents to make their voice heard
  • Produce a simple guide to the Westminster Planning System for residents
  • Appoint a ‘residents’ advocate’ on major applications to put the case for local people
  • Residents should be able to speak at Planning Committee Meetings. We favour:
    • Either two speakers on either side of the argument with a maximum of 3 minutes each; or
    • A total of five minutes on either side with supporters/opposers to divide the time between them as they see fit
    • Chair must be very strict on time limits
    • Speeches against go first
    • Committee members allowed to ask 1 question each but cannot use this as an opportunity to let members of the public make extra speeches
    • Items where there are speakers should be taken first
    • Speakers to notify the Committee Clerk that they would like to speak by 5pm on the day of the Committee
  • Maintain practice of sending residents’ planning notification letters but expand with digital communications and over a wider area for major scheme.
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