Building under construction
Building under construction

Westminster Labour Councillors are fiercely opposed to the Conservative Government’s new ‘Planning for the Future’ proposals which would replace the current planning regime with a zoning system.

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These plans would hand huge powers to private developers, take away local people’s opportunity to have their say about new developments and further undermine the scope to build social and affordable homes for rent.

The plans have been widely criticised by organisations ranging from Shelter to the Royal Institute of British Architects, including the Tory-led Local Government Association. Even the Westminster Property Association questioned the White Paper’s ignoring the issues of “Good Growth” in central London.

At the moment, residents and local groups get a chance to fully comment on each individual development proposed for their neighbourhood. Under the new Conservative regime, new buildings which comply with a pre-agreed set of design standards would get automatic approval, no matter what the impact on local residents except in a few ‘protected’ areas.

In recent years Westminster residents have had the chance to comment on the new City Plan, local neighbourhood plans, regeneration proposals and many other initiatives but, quite understandably, most people don’t have time to get involved unless they are directly affected. The new system, which calls for democratic involvement only at the initial stage of drawing up detailed local plans will prove unwieldy and unworkable in Westminster, with its huge architectural and social diversity. Zoning requires every possible eventuality to be thought through and agreed in advance. No wonder the New York zoning resolution is 1,300 pages long!

Development in Victoria, Tottenham Court Road and Paddington could plough ahead with little no controls at all if they are nominated as “growth” zones. This would lead to a proliferation of tall, ugly buildings with much reduced benefit for the local community.

Under these proposals Westminster will be given legally binding home building targets but no requirement that any of these should be affordable. Indeed, the 84-page White Paper does not contain a single mention of social housing.

Incredibly the Conservatives are proposing that new developments of under 50 units should not have to make any contribution to affordable housing, meaning that luxury developments in Central Westminster valued at many tens of millions of pounds would not have to contribute at all!

The White Paper is worryingly silent on issues around residential amenity (such as light, sense of enclosure, noise and access) which are very important to residents in our very densely populated City. Important local groups such Neighbourhood Forums and Amenity Societies are dismissed as “the usual voices” in a new process designed to shut local people out of the debate.

The White Paper also announces a new “Infrastructure Levy” property development to replace the Section 106 contributions and the Community Infrastructure Levy. Westminster Council needs to be given direct control over setting the rate of the levy (currently proposed to be determined by national government) and obliged to use the majority of the proceeds for social and properly affordable housing.

There is a real risk the Government will pressure local authorities to divert some of this money into its ‘First Homes’ scheme to reduce the sale price of private homes for first time buyers, something that is still hugely unaffordable in central London. It may also undermine efforts to support mixed communities by diluting the requirements for new affordable homes to be built on site, further exacerbating Westminster’s land shortage.

Westminster Labour Leader Cllr Adam Hug said: “The Conservatives are proposing a massive transfer of power from local people to wealthy property developers. It will deliberately undermine the effort to build the social and key worker rented homes Westminster desperately needs while waving through new luxury developments with residents having virtually no say in the matter.”

Shadow Cabinet Member for Business and Planning Cllr Geoff Barraclough said: “After COVID, genuine economic regeneration and promoting ‘good growth’ in the West End and across Westminster can only be achieved through proactive strategic planning with the public and private sectors working together. Instead, these proposals promote laissez-faire free market solutions which will undermine our rich cultural heritage and threaten our conservation areas without delivering the jobs and homes our residents need today.”

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We need Westminster Council to stand up and tell the government how much damage these plans will do. The Conservatives promised us better housing – not a new generation of unsafe slums and an end to affordable housing. Sign our petition to remind the Conservative Council to fight for their residents!

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