Westminster Council has announced it is bringing forward policies to conserve Soho’s character that were first proposed by West End Labour. These include a Soho ‘Special Policy Area’ (SPA). In future, when applications are made to the Council, planners will have to consider whether they contribute to or undermine Soho’s character in determining whether to grant applications approval.
This is a major campaign win for Labour Councillor Pancho Lewis and the West End Action Team. During the local election campaign in May, Labour pledged to bring forward a SPA for Soho. Labour argued this would provide the Council with the tools to keep Soho special and prevent the erosion of Soho’s unique identity.
The context is especially important. In recent years, under the auspices of former Conservative Planning Lead Robert Davis, the Council had actively approved a range of over-large developments that undermined Soho’s character.
The move represents a welcome U-turn by Westminster Conservatives. During the election campaign, Conservative candidates, including Councillor Jonathan Glanz, opposed proposals for an SPA, arguing that it wasn’t possible or desirable.
Other proposals put forward by Labour which have been included in the revised City Plan include:
- A commitment that “new hotels of more than 2,500 sq m will not be permitted”. The Labour Action Team campaigned to oppose controversial developmentslike the Film House hotel, which is displacing businesses in the film industry which are integral to Soho’s social fabric. Labour therefore welcomes this change but we believe that restriction may need to go further.
- Plans to “limit the cumulative impact of new restaurant/café uses or drinking establishments on the character of Soho’s streets and their mix of uses will be given particular attention in decision-making, in order to prevent the clustering of such uses.” Labour has been arguing that residential amenity in particular needs to be protected, after a number of applications and liquor licenses have been approved that erode quality of life for residents.
West End Labour will scrutinise these policies closely so they work in the interests of the Soho community and deliver in practice what they promise on paper.
Councillor Pancho Lewis said:
“This is a big win for us. Soho’s community has suffered an inordinate amount as a result of endless planning approvals that have eroded Soho’s character and heritage. That’s why we proposed a Special Policy Area and I’m pleased that the Council have changed their mind and agreed to bring one forward. We need to make sure these measures are implemented properly and look at what else can be done to keep Soho special. I’ll continue to work with the community to be a strong voice for locals – so that the planning process works for the community, not just developers.”