In its response to the planning application Labour set out a number of deep concerns, particularly about the speed with which the scheme is being rushed through the planning process, the design of the scheme and the lack of significant new affordable housing.
Labour Group leader Cllr Adam Hug said, “The developers need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a scheme that can really respond to residents’ concerns about the proposed design and delivers real benefits for our community. The amount of affordable housing currently proposed is absolutely unacceptable and must be dramatically improved to ensure Westminster residents can benefit”.
Westminster Labour Group’s planning response is as follows:
Labour Group position on the proposed development on 31 London Street ‘The Paddington Shard’.
The Westminster Labour Group would like to register its strong objection to the current proposals for the redevelopment of the old Royal Mail Sorting Office site (31 London Street/128-142 Praed Street) known as the ‘Paddington Shard’. The Labour Group does not approach this application from the position of a blanket objection to tall buildings; however such massive schemes must build a significant degree of public confidence in the proposed design and deliver significant benefits for Westminster residents. It has failed to achieve its first objective and does not deliver the second.
The scheme has moved very rapidly from background discussions in autumn 2015, to planning consultation in late 2015/early 2016, with a planning decision likely in early March. In this rush the scheme has gone out to public consultation without important pieces of information being available for scrutiny by Westminster’s residents, such as the nature of the affordable housing offer. This is deeply disappointing given the scale of the project and its proposed long-term impact on Westminster and London.
The proposed design has deeply divided local opinion. However what is clear is that opposition to the design is growing rapidly, particularly amongst those who live a short distance from the site who will be impacted by the tower’s presence in the skyline but would not regularly benefit from the local public realm improvements. There have been powerful representations against the proposals by community groups such as SEBRA. The Skyline Campaign’s petition has almost 1,100 signatories at time of writing opposing the design and Heritage England have made clear their opposition to the current proposals. This increasing level of public concern must be heard by the developers and Westminster Council and be fully addressed, making the plan to ram this proposal through swiftly even more disappointing.
The proposed design of a single, narrow but extremely tall, tower has a massive impact on the skyline but is not a particularly effective use of the space available. Westminster Labour would have preferred to have seen a design for the site that delivered a similar or greater number of housing units at a much lower height, entirely possible given the space available as shown clearly in the planning objection put forward by Terry Farrell.
When assessing major developments in Westminster one of the key challenges is to ensure that they make a significant contribution to the amount of social and genuinely affordable housing in the City. It is deeply disappointing that the developers have rejected out of hand the option of providing affordable housing on site, something fully realisable with different proposals for the site and still achievable on the current plans despite the developer’s objections. However if affordable housing is not going to be provided on-site, the onus is on the developer to identify how it can deliver a greater number of affordable units elsewhere in Westminster to help local people.
As set out above, the relevant information is not in the public domain at time of writing; however what we do know is that what is being proposed is an off-site scheme that provides around 50 units of housing in a tenure akin to social rent, but with an opaque independent allocation process meaning that such units would not be directly available for residents on Westminster’s Housing waiting list, an unacceptable restriction. Not all of this provision is new, however, replacing around 19 existing units, albeit currently in poor condition. Given that the development proposes creating around 330 luxury housing units, this equates to around 15% affordable housing provision (10% entirely new affordable housing). This figure is scandalously low, particularly given the scale of the project and the developer’s current assistance that affordable housing should not be built on-site. Westminster’s current unambitious affordable housing planning target is set at 30% so this scheme currently only delivers half this percentage.
The developer’s work with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to ensure the 31 London Street design is compatible with plans for the redevelopment of St Mary’s Hospital is to be welcomed and we do recognise that development of the 31 London Street site should add value to any enabling development proposed as part of the hospital’s plans. It is disappointing however that a mechanism has not been found whereby funding could be provided to directly assist the development of the St Mary’s hospital site.
The proposals to improve the Bakerloo line station, ticket hall and the public realm around the site, alongside the proposed sky garden, are all perfectly welcome improvements. The proposed scheme would be likely to assist local regeneration efforts and improve local amenity. However it is clear that the tube development will primarily assist commuters and station users, a benefit to London as a whole rather than specifically to Westminster residents. Similarly the public realm improvements will also help in driving foot traffic to the new retail at the station and its environs as well as to the restaurants and cafés at the top of the tower, providing a more pleasant (and therefore higher rent/sale) environment for office users and residents, thereby directly benefiting the developer as well as the local community. Providing step-free access at the Bakerloo Line station and the consolidation of deliveries to the station would be welcome improvements but are not decisive given the other concerns about the scheme.
If the scheme were to be granted permission the Council must insist that the developer markets the units in London first, rather than sell overseas ‘off-plan’. While we recognise the developer’s position that this is not currently proposed and that the units will be ‘designed for local sale’, stronger guarantees on this matter should be insisted upon. Office space targeted at smaller users is to be welcomed, however rents are still likely to price out Westminster’s local entrepreneurs and emerging SMEs; therefore consideration should be given to the provision of sub-market floor space for local start-ups. An offer has been made to enable use of the Sky Garden for local residents associations, charities and SMEs, which should be formalised with a clear process for managing this commitment into the future.
The developer has displayed an enthusiasm for the scheme helping to provide local employment and apprenticeships both as part of the construction phase and as part of the future management of the site. If the scheme is given permission, clear, measurable and enforceable commitments should be made so that the scheme provides a significant boost to local employment.
Given that the area is recovering from the long-term closure of Eastbourne Terrace due to recent Crossrail works, the commitment that Praed Street will not be blocked during the development phase is important and should be adhered to.
As currently proposed Westminster Labour Group cannot support the proposed scheme and calls on the Council to reject the application.