Westminster Labour Group has a number of concerns about proposals set out in the Conservative Council’s ‘Building height: Getting the right kind of growth for Westminster’ consultation. While couched in somewhat vague language, it is clear that the push from the Council is to spread the construction of tall buildings ‘wider’ across Westminster and that they are in favour of ‘significantly taller buildings’. This approach would see the spread of new tall buildings well beyond the existing opportunity areas, particularly around Edgware Road and across the ‘North Westminster Economic Development Area’ the new areas identified in the proposals.
These proposals come hot on the heels of the controversies over the failed 72 storey Paddington Pole (now the Paddington Cube) and the 30 storey West End Green, as well as the 14 storey Hathaway House development deep into the low rise residential area behind Harrow Road.
Getting the right kind of growth for Westminster is a laudable goal but Labour and the Conservatives have different ideas about what ‘the right kind’ entails. Our city needs growth but it must be growth that benefits Westminster’s residents. So Labour does not automatically oppose plans that would add a small number of floors to existing buildings (as mentioned in the consultation) or well designed, appropriate schemes within the existing Paddington, Victoria and Tottenham Court Road ‘opportunity zones’. However as the resent research from our West End action team shows residents within the opportunity areas already have deep concerns about the current approach to tall buildings, let alone about a further loosening of the council’s policies.
Westminster Labour believes that higher building density is often a preferable approach to greater height to achieve the same number of units when trying to develop schemes that benefit the local community. Through effective design, lower rise schemes can be made to work better for the local community, who often get all of the pain but little of the gain of large tower schemes. Lower rise, higher density schemes may have less of a negative impact on the look and feel of Westminster protecting the streetscapes, views and heritage that many residents value. However any increased density would only enhance our city where it delivers significant levels of social and genuinely affordable housing that local people can actually live in, affordable workspace for small business and startups or where it provides other substantial benefits to the community such as properly designed public open space. Westminster already contains some of the most densely populated wards in the country, as recent research by former Labour AM Murad Qureshi shows.
Labour is firmly opposed to the planning framework consultation for the Harrow Road-Woodfield Road area or the Church Street Masterplan being used to promote the spread of ‘significantly taller buildings’. There are also deep concerns about the Council’s plans to potentially encourage tall buildings in the areas along the Grand Union canal being vacated by Crossrail.
Labour Group Leader Adam Hug said “Westminster’s planning policy needs to meet the needs of local residents and businesses that employ local people. It does not need policies that could give developers carte blanche to build ‘significantly taller buildings’ all over our City. Westminster Tories should think again about their plans for more tall buildings.”