A Westminster Council planning committee has given permission for an office block in Foley Street to be converted into luxury flats with no affordable housing on site and only a derisory contribution to the council’s affordable housing fund. It seems the committee was more concerned about making sure the future occupants had somewhere affordable to park their luxury cars.
The building at 31-36 Foley Street, Fitzrovia, is currently occupied by BBC Worldwide and other media businesses, close to New Broadcasting House in a district known for its media industry.
The planning application was made on behalf of Dukelease Limited who describe their plans as a “joint venture with British Airways Pension Trustees” and “an exciting scheme with potential to offer 34 luxury loft-themed apartments”.
Westminster Council’s planning committee met on 19 November and approved the plans despite the planning officer recommending the scheme be refused because the alterations to the building and additional storey would harm the appearance of the East Marylebone conservation area and the neighbouring listed building. The officer also recommended refusal because no off-street parking was offered and that this would add pressure to the existing on-street parking.
The Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association had raised concerns about the loss of office space, lack of affordable housing, and insufficient family-sized units. Neighbouring occupiers raised objections about loss of privacy, loss of daylight, imbalance to the mixed-use nature of the area caused by the trend to convert offices to flats, and noise from construction works.
The planning committee gave permission subject to a Section 106 agreement to include a contribution to the affordable housing fund as recommended by the independent valuer and a parking fund of £200,000 for residents of the scheme to use in a car park of their choice within a one-and-a-half mile radius of the site.
However, the developers Dukelease had originally offered no affordable housing on site and had said it was not viable to contribute anything at all to Westminster Council’s affordable housing pot. Westminster’s planning officer had calculated that 1,586 square metres of on-site affordable housing would be required (which equates to approximately 15 units with a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom flats).
In cases where the developer argues that it is not possible to provide housing on the site, the council would ask if it could be provided on another site, and failing that, then the developer would be asked to make a payment to Westminster’s affordable housing fund.
In this case the officer calculated that the payment should be £6,937,326. However, an independent valuation expert appointed by the council said £1,304,634 could be made without adversely affecting the viability of the proposals. The applicants unsurprisingly agreed in advance of the planning committee to pay this pathetically small amount, and Westminster councillors Robert Davis (Chairman), Tim Mitchell, and Richard Beddoe were happy to oblige. David Boothroyd voted against the application on grounds that the affordable housing contribution was too small.
The CEO and founder of Dukelease is Richard Leslie who, according to their website, enjoys golf, attending major sporting events around the world, and entertaining. We’re sure he does.
Westminster City Council planning sub-committee 19 November 2013.
This article was corrected and updated at 10.00am 3 December 2013 after Cllr David Boothroyd got in touch with us to say he voted against the application on grounds that the affordable housing contribution was too small.