When Robert Davis was moved from his 17 year chairmanship of the Planning Committee on Westminster City Council, residents hoped the ‘new broom’ Richard Beddoe would firmly insist the local community got a better share out of the development boom.
Indeed, new Council Leader Nickie Aiken told the ‘Evening Standard’ that she would do things differently by no longer accepting “cheques” from developers in lieu of building more affordable homes. http://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/new-westminster-council-chief-i-m-throwing-down-the-gauntlet-to-boost-supply-of-homes-a3450356.html
But decisions at Councillor Beddoe’s first Planning Committee on 14th February show the Conservative Council still compulsively letting developers off and selling the community short.
The Old War Office in Whitehall got permission to convert to a luxury hotel and 88 luxury flats in a scheme said to cost £1bn. Under Council planning policies the developer should have paid almost £40m in lieu of providing on-site affordable housing, but only £10m will be paid.
A separate scheme on Hanover Square saw Cllr Beddoe lead the committee in accepting a £9.5m contribution when the Council’s own assessors said the developers could afford £12m. He then agreed to allow £2m to be taken off the affordable housing sum and spent improving Hanover Square, which had no justification in planning policy.
Cllr David Boothroyd, the Labour member of the Planning Committee who opposed both decisions, said: “The housing crisis is getting worse and families in Westminster are being forced out, so I was looking forward to a new chair fighting their corner. What a disappointment.”
He added “I don’t know how Cllr Beddoe can justify siphoning off £2m to improve Hanover Square when the developer has also to pay £2.5m ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’ which could be used for exactly that. On a wider level these schemes question the point of viability reports – on the Old War Office nothing was viable but £10m will be paid, and at Hanover Square £12m was viable but £7.5m was allowed.”
He concluded “All these million pound sums may sound generous but land and building costs are expensive – the official cost of a new affordable home in the middle of Westminster is £400k.”
The report on the Old War Office scheme is here
The report on the Hanover Square scheme is here