Last night (Thursday 2 February) at a planning committee and after nearly two hours of discussions, Westminster City Council approved plans by a consortium of Exemplar, Aviva Investments and the former Kaupthing bank to redevelop the vacant site. Subject to some conditions and after some eleventh hour negotiations the developers got what they wanted.
Disappointed were those parents of the nearby school who had petitioned Westminster City Council asking for the height of the building to be reduced on the Riding House Street elevation because it would cast a shadow over the children’s playground, and those in the neighbourhood who had argued for more affordable housing on site.
West End ward councillor Jonathan Glanz had addressed the planning committee calling for more affordable housing on site in line with Westminster’s own planning guidelines. He told the councillors: “Whilst I welcome the scheme we have just one chance to get it right. We should be very concerned about rising property values and that properties in this area are selling at considerable prices.”
He went to tell the committee that there is a need for a mix of property types on the site and not just for the very rich and “not just for Lady Gaga”. He said he was disappointed that in their negotiations with the developer that there had been a failure to put more affordable homes “on the site as the policy states”.
Councillor Glanz was concerned that as property prices continue to rise in the area that the owners of the site will gain from this but that those in need of affordable housing won’t. He wanted to see some condition where the viability of the development in relation to the amount of affordable could be “reviewed as time goes on with the rising property prices”.
He welcomed the news that the dowry for the Grade II* listed chapel had been increased to £300,000. The greening on the site, the open space, and especially the tree planting was to be welcomed. He hoped that the council would work with their counterparts in Camden to improve greening and tree planting along Cleveland Street.
On the subject of parking on the site, councillor Glanz said that many people had expressed concern that there would be far too many private car parking spaces. “Many people choose not to have a car in this area” as there is adequate public transport and “I have some sympathy with those concerned about parking”.
However, despite Jonathan Glanz’s concerns and the many written comments received by the council about the height of the buildings the discussion was framed by the previous planning consent given to the Candy brothers’ scheme. Chair of the planning committee Alastair Moss commented at the start of round the table discussions with his fellow committee members that “It’s regrettable, but we’ve set a precedent”. One of his colleagues said: “Let’s not make it worse than it was before.” Boris Johnson had apparently remarked on the Candy brothers’ plans: “What on earth’s that?”
Instead of comparing the plans to the Planning Brief which Westminster had produced, the discussion centred on the previously approved scheme. Indeed the planning brief of 2005 which had been welcomed by local residents was hardly mentioned.
The committee members added a condition that use of the loading bay in Cleveland Street should not be allowed on Sunday mornings because of the high numbers of residents living opposite.
The Mayor of London is to receive £3.3 million towards Crossrail but hopes for a £2 million contribution to restoring a swimming pool at the new Fitzrovia Community Centre evaporated. And plans for allotments on the site were consigned to the compost heaps of history.
Construction is due to start as soon as the current enabling works are completed, and will take around three years to complete.