Following the decision of one of Westminster’s planning committees to approve the developer’s plans for Whiteleys Westminster Labour Group is calling on the Mayor’s office to use its powers to ‘call in’ the Council’s decision. The decision whether or not to use this power to review the decision will be made by the current Mayor but if the scheme was ‘called in’ it should allow for further scrutiny of the scheme to take place over the coming months with any final decision taken by the next Mayor.
Westminster North MP Karen Buck is making similar representations to the Mayor’s office given her deep concerns about the Whiteleys project.
In a letter to the Mayor’s planning department Labour Group leader Adam Hug wrote:
I would like to take this opportunity to formally request that the Mayor’s office call in the decision of Westminster City Council to resolve to grant permission for a scheme (15/10072/FULL and 15/10073/LBC) redeveloping the historic Whiteleys Shopping Centre on Queensway. I believe that this scheme does not fulfil a number of requirements of the Mayor’s London Plan and there are practical concerns about operation of the planning committee, due to delays in the provision of information which made it difficult for informed public input and scrutiny of important elements of the scheme.
Firstly this scheme runs counter to London Plan Policy 7.8 ‘Heritage assets and archaeology’, which states that ’development should identify, value, conserve, restore, re-use and incorporate heritage assets, where appropriate’ and ‘development affecting heritage assets and their settings should conserve their significance, by being sympathetic to their form, scale, materials and architectural detail’. As set out in great detail by the Save Whiteley’s Heritage Campaign in the papers to the committee. Further important objections were made by the Victorian Society and the 20th Century Society, alongside concerns raised by Heritage England. Many Londoners do not feel that the scheme design appropriately values, conserves, re-uses or incorporates important heritage features of this well-loved building. The ocatagonal atria is being removed, the much loved Italianate staircase being moved from a central place to being hidden in a boutique hotel, the iconic roofline being dramatically altered and many other important features lost from the 1911 Grade II listed building.
The scheme proposes a total of 103 units, of which 41 are three-bedroom, 19 are four-bedroom and nine are five-bedroom; as described in the report presented at Westminster’s planning applications committee, the scheme was not only ‘heavily weighted to the larger size units’, the individual sizes of flats were also ‘very generous’. The report to the planning committee asserts that significantly more units could have been provided within the same building, but fails to assess this fact against the council’s planning policy or London Plan policy 3.4 requiring that ‘development should optimise housing output’. The overall housing density was 577 habitable rooms per hectare, substantially below the London Plan designation for this area of 650-1100 habitable rooms per hectare.
The scheme also runs contrary to the objectives set out in Policies 3.11-13 on affordable housing. Despite the scheme being potentially valued at around £1 billion, these 103 luxury flats do not meaningfully contribute to tackling London’s real housing need. Estimates by the council of what would have been a contribution compliant with Westminster’s own modest affordable housing target of 30% have ranged from around £87million to £103 million. The Westminster Committee accepted a £6 million contribution to the Westminster Affordable Housing Fund, equating to only 2% at a generous assessment. The rational for such a decision was based on viability assessments only made available to the Committee late on the working day prior to the Committee (this information was made available on the Thursday prior to the meeting on the Tuesday, with the Easter Bank Holiday in between). This left the Committee with no time to interrogate the assumptions behind this assessment or for the community to have an input on this vital matter. As the Mayor’s office will know Westminster is one of the worst performers in terms of delivering new affordable homes, coming third to bottom (excluding the City of London) of the Mayor’s most recent affordable housing league table with only 12% of new conventional housing being affordable (Key Performance Indicator 5, Table 2.8). Poor planning decisions such at this are at the heart of the problem, which has led to at least 2435 Westminster residents living in temporary accommodation across London and over 1000 families living in statutorily overcrowded homes.
Residents of Kensington Gardens Square and Redan Place have been informed the substantially increased height and massing of the new building will lead to a 30-50% loss of light for many of their homes, breaching the spirit of London Plan Policy 7.7 ‘the location and design of tall and large buildings’ for a scheme that increases the existing height by upto 20 meters despite the impact on the Queensway and Bayswater Conservation Areas. The scheme dramatically breaches the BRE limits regarding daylight and sunlight.
At the Committee the chair made clear that critical information both on the viability of providing affordable housing and key drawings providing details of the height impact on neighbouring properties was only provided at the last minute. A number of key documents relating to the management of the building process and subsequent site management were not available at the time of the hearing and were left to be resolved in the post-approval conditions. Given that this scheme is of such strategic importance not only to Queensway but to the wider area these important points should have been in the public domain for community consultation prior to approval being granted.
There are many reasons why this scheme should be subject to deeper and more sustained scrutiny by the Mayor’s office and there are thousands of Londoners who would support such a decision. Very few people are opposed to the idea of regenerating Whiteleys in some form but the scheme must get it right, protecting important heritage assets and genuinely benefiting the wider community. I look forward to hearing from you and hope that the Mayor will call in this poorly thought through scheme.