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London First coordinates response to Westminster City Plan
30 October 2020
Before the examination of the Westminster City Plan closed, London First was able to respond to the initial draft published in 2018 with a set of changes developed alongside Westminster Property Association. We were concerned with the plan’s lack of ambition for economic growth, both in terms of office space specifically and jobs growth more broadly.
Among some of the policies that would have inhibited growth, the plan required for offices and hotels in the Central Activities Zone (CAZ) to provide on-site affordable housing. Another key concern was the outmoded stance on A1 retail protection, which did not offer the flexibility needed by the retail sector to adapt to changing consumer demands. The pandemic has further intensified these issues and shone an even brighter spotlight on the plan’s inflexible detail.
Recent reform of the Use Classes Order that London First had called for and the introduction of Class E made policies requiring affordable housing from commercial development and protecting A1 retail unworkable. However, crucially, Class E also gave the City Council a hook on which to make a significant number of policy changes to the commercial policies, that collectively make for a more pragmatic Plan that will better support London’s recovery.
Here is a summary of the key changes that we had called for:
Reference in the spatial strategy to other forms of commercial growth, not just growth in office jobs.
A1 retail protection policy is now wholly superseded, not only to reflect Class E but also to take a more flexible and pragmatic approach generally to commercial activities in town centres and high streets, securing long-term sustainability.
Where commercial floorspace (office or retail) stands vacant and there is a restrictive planning condition, Westminster council have promised more flexibility to use marketing evidence from similar properties in the local area rather than each property having to stay empty for 18 months before being able to apply for change of use.
Offices and hotels no longer need to provide on-site affordable housing in any circumstances. Instead there will be a tariff-based approach for schemes exceeding 1,000 sqm.
The affordable housing policy is now better aligned with the London Plan’s Threshold Approach and makes clear that viability testing can be undertaken where a scheme cannot deliver 35%. Further clarification is also provided on how payments in lieu will be calculated.
Growth targets for the Tottenham Court Road Opportunity Area will now be quoted as a minimum.
Further clarification has been provided on the character of the West End Retail and Leisure Special Policy Area (WERLSPA) compared to the rest of the CAZ.
We now await the Inspectors’ report outlining the final recommended details of the changes. Although the inspectors were unable to make clear a timescale for their report, we will continue monitoring as things progress. If you have any queries in the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me.
London First recently hosted a virtual briefing with the Leader of Westminster City Council Councillor Robathan; you can watch it here.
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