Labour Councillor Pancho Lewis is urging Westminster Council to introduce tougher measures to protect Soho’s character in the new ‘City Plan’.
At a Council meeting last week, Pancho raised concerns that the Soho Special Policy Area (SPA) had been weakened since the Council first announced plans to introduce one in November last year.
The introduction of the Soho SPA in the draft City Plan last year represented a massive victory for Councillor Pancho Lewis and the Westminster Labour Team. Westminster Labour introduced a Soho SPA in its manifesto in the run up to last year’s local elections, in stark contrast to the Westminster Tories who claimed it would be impossible to implement one. Pancho is worried that the most recent amendments are a step backwards in the fight to preserve Soho’s character.
The introduction of a SPA in November last year was also a victory for local Soho community, who have been advocating that a SPA be introduced in their own Neighbourhood Plan.
Pancho will be make a submission alongside Westminster Labour to Westminster Council’s Planning Chief, Richard Beddoe, asking him to adopt tougher measures to preserve Soho’s character. He’ll argue that additional measures should be introduced, including protecting Soho’s post-production studios as they form an integral part of Soho’s cultural heritage.
He is calling on the Soho community to submit its views regarding the SPA before the consultation closes at the end of the month. Submissions can be made on the following website: https://www.westminster.gov.uk/cityplan2040
City Plan 2019 – 2040 Westminster is a vibrant city which offers a wealth of opportunities for its residents, its businesses and more than 28.5 million tourists who visit each year. City Plan 2019 – 2040 is a plan for all these people. It sets out an ambitious strategy to make Westminster one of the best places to live, work and play. A city that will inspire the world.
Pancho is pointing to the following changes in wording which weaken protections that were provided previously:
1 WEAKENING OF MEASURES TO STOP LARGE HOTELS
Old Draft City Plan:
“New hotels of more than 2,500 sq m will not be permitted. “
New Draft City Plan:
“Although hotels are generally considered acceptable within the CAZ, within Soho, smaller scale or ‘boutique’ hotels are more appropriate due to Soho’s existing character. Large-scale hotel facilities will not generally be considered acceptable within the SPA, as their larger floorplate requirements are likely to erode local character through the loss of smaller scale existing units, which will also displace other commercial uses, as well as having potential amenity and environmental impacts. Larger floorplate units are generally at odds with Soho’s existing scale and grain. “
2 WEAKENING OF MEASURES TO SUPPORT SMALL BUSINESSES
Old Draft City Plan:
[Small units are the natural home of small businesses, as opposed to chains that often require larger floor plates. Therefore] “development involving the amalgamation of units behind retained facades will not be permitted, other than on Oxford Street, Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue”.
New Draft City Plan:
“21.3 / Where development proposals involve the amalgamation of units behind retained facades, particularly at ground floor level, they will be considered in the context of Soho’s existing scale and grain of development. Where proposals seek to reduce the duplication of cores in adjoining buildings, for example to improve energy efficiency, they may be justified provided the ability of the commercial floorspace to be let to several individual occupiers is not inhibited.”
3 WEAKENING OF MEASURES TO PROTECT PUBLIC SQUARES
Old Draft City Plan
“The scale and setting of Soho and Golden squares will be protected. The function of these squares and of St. Anne’s Churchyard as green spaces will also be protected and enhanced.“
New Draft City Plan
“21.10 / Soho’s green spaces are rare and formalised green space only exists in Soho Square, Golden Square and St Anne’s Churchyard. It is therefore important that their function as green spaces is protected and enhanced where possible, with further opportunities explored for providing green infrastructure and enhanced public realm in new development. Public realm improvements should implement the findings and recommendations of the Soho Public Realm Stud. Furthermore, Soho Square and Golden Square are designated London Squares that perform an important heritage function. As a result, their setting and scale should be respected in development proposals.”