In a letter to planning officials Westminster Labour has called for Westminster Council to reject the current plans for the ‘Paddington Cube’, which the NHS has confirmed will make ambulance access to St Mary’s Hospital unsafe. Labour believes that any development on the former post-office site must not be allowed to harm the hospital.
Labour group leader Cllr Adam Hug set out the group’s concerns in a letter to the planning department that reads:
Dear Sarah, Amanda and John
I am writing on behalf of the Labour Group to set out our opposition to the current proposals for the Paddington Cube.
For our members this had not been, until recently, as straightforward a decision as on the previous proposal – the Paddington Pole. The new proposals mark an improvement compared with the Pole in terms of the visual impact for the wider community of North Westminster and, if amended, such a scheme could have the potential to provide a significant regeneration benefit to Praed Street and beyond. There have always been areas for improvement in this new scheme which Labour group members have raised both with the developers and council officers; these are addressed again below. It remains disappointing that the architect did not more actively consider some of the innovative ideas developed through the community-led Create Streets project that produced a number of new ideas for lower-density development. However the proposed scheme design, higher than desired, is one that divides local opinion on its aesthetic merits. This is not, for us the determining factor in our decision to urge the planning committee to reject the current plans, although it is a factor.
The deciding factor is that as Imperial College Health Care NHS Trust have made clear to us, and have set out in their planning submission, they cannot accept the plans as they are currently formulated. The new road in the scheme would be the revised access route for St Mary’s Hospital via Praed Street; it would serve as a new ‘blue light’ ambulance route for ambulances once a partial diversion of London Street takes place to support the Paddington Quarter development. The same route would also be used for the servicing of the Paddington Quarter. The new road would be longer than the current access route and introduces two 90-degree bends. According to Imperial the concentration of parking, servicing and access at the northern end of the new road is also likely to result in congestion which could cause unacceptable delay to ambulances, particularly in the context of the major trauma centre status of St Mary’s, a status they argue is at risk due to the Paddington Cube plans, which they argue make the access arrangements ‘poorer’ to the point of being ‘unsafe’.
This development must not be allowed to proceed while the NHS believes that operation of St Mary’s could be compromised. The impact of any scheme on St Mary’s had been central to Labour’s position on any development on this site. We are therefore disappointed that, contrary to the feedback provided by the developer, this scheme is going to planning without the full support of Imperial and the team at St Mary’s. Any development on this site must not only assist any plans the NHS has for improving its facilities at St Mary’s by boosting land values but also ensure that it in no way compromises access to or operation of the hospital site. If the scheme makes ambulance access to St Mary’s unsafe (in the words of the NHS) then Westminster’s Planning Committee must not under any circumstances approve the developer’s plans until this issue is resolved to the full satisfaction of all NHS partners.
Turning to some of the wider issues in the proposed development that need to be considered ahead of any final committee decision on the scheme, although we appreciate that the scheme has now become an office-led rather than residential development, as previously set out to both officers and developers the scheme’s lack of affordable housing contribution is deeply disappointing. If the scheme was to be passed by the committee we would urge that the scheme should identify a nearby site and build a significant affordable housing contribution, comprising much-needed social and genuinely affordable units. At the very least the scheme needs to provide a significant contribution to Westminster’s Affordable Housing Fund.
Aspirations around ensuring that the development provides job training and apprenticeship opportunities for Westminster residents should be enshrined by planning conditions (insisting on local residency rather than recruitment from a London-wide pool of apprentices). Furthermore undertakings should be made that ensure local people are given enhanced opportunities to apply for facilities management and support roles in the new development, along with mechanisms aimed at encouraging new office tenants to promote local recruitment. As previously mentioned to officers and developers the scheme should provide some allocation of reduced rent office space for local SMEs and start-ups, either onsite or in the local area.
The development should take a holistic view of the regeneration of Praed Street, an area that has already suffered from the impact of the Crossrail development for many years. The development should make a financial contribution to the street scene beyond the immediate environs of the development, whether through the 106 or the allocation of CIL; funds should be allocated to assist shopkeepers to make improvements to their shop fronts (if desired) and improve the wider public realm.
Labour also remain concerned about remarks made by Cllr Davis to the Architects’ Journal, presumably in his role as Cabinet Member for Built Environment, around the scheme’s potential benefits. We would suggest that this makes it difficult to argue that he will be approaching the scheme with an open mind. We would strongly recommend that Cllr Davis exclude himself from the decision on this item.
As set out here there are a number of ways in which the proposal could and should be improved before any eventual committee approval. However the failure of the plans to adequately protect St Mary’s should be an absolute red line for the Council and therefore the planning committee must reject the plans as they are currently constituted.