Having trouble reading this email? Click here to view it in your browser.
At the heart of London and including neighbourhoods as diverse as Pimlico and Knightsbridge through to the West End and Queen's Park, Westminster really is like no other local planning authority.
Westminster is the largest and most diverse employment centre in the UK with over 600,000 jobs and 40,000 businesses - attracting a daytime population of over 1m workers and visitors together with 250,000 residents.
Our built environment, comprising over 11,000 listed buildings, 56 conservation areas and a World Heritage Site, is of great historic quality, diversity and uniqueness. The constant challenge is striking a balance between protecting our urban heritage and character and achieving sustainable economic, social and environmental growth.
As if that is not enough of a challenge it is less than 12 months until the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The council is working with partners such as TfL and The Crown Estate in several high profile initiatives including the refurbishment of Leicester Square and re-instating two-way working on Piccadilly and working alongside Crossrail, TfL and London Underground for improvements to various stations including Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road. In the Victoria area a number of major developments and transport projects are already underway to improve access and ease congestion.
Westminster bucks trend in planning applications
The number of planning applications received by the end of August 2011 has increased by 12% on last year’s all time record. This continues the trend of rising application numbers, which have increased by 10.5% since 2009/10. To date, 86% of applications received have been determined within the required 8-13 week deadlines, and of these 86% have been recommended for approval.
The latest national figures show that Westminster continues to be the busiest planning authority in the country, demonstrating that our unique position, flexible policy framework and approach to development management encourage growth and investment in what have been difficult economic times.
Planning fees are set nationally by government and the current fee scale dates from April 2008. The fee income received by the council for planning and related applications covers less than a third of the cost of providing the service, which means that the service is heavily subsidised by the taxpayer. The council has therefore welcomed the government’s proposals to deregulate the setting of planning fees as this would allow us to set our own fees - achieving cost recovery and reducing the burden on the tax payer. It is disappointing, therefore, that it is now expected that locally set fees will not be an option until 1st April 2012 at the earliest.
In response to this, the council is considering the introduction of a new fee of £26,000 for planning performance agreements for major applications for a temporary period until 31st March 2012, when it is anticipated that locally set planning fees will be in place. A report to the council’s cabinet on 26th September will consider this proposal.
Westminster was fortunate to experience minimal rioting and escaped with relatively little damage compared to other parts of London and other major cities. The main areas where damage occurred were Queensway and Westbourne Grove, with some isolated incidents in Pimlico and St. John’s Wood High Street. Across the city damage was limited mainly to broken windows and, thankfully, there was little structural damage to buildings.
The council’s immediate response was to clean up the debris. The Lord Mayor has also visited the worst affected businesses. We have put measures in place to help those affected, including rate relief and grants.
On 25th July the DCLG published for consultation a draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) - a key part of its reform of the planning system. It consolidates previous national Planning Policy Statements (PPS), Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) notes and some circulars and makes clear that local councils should be positive and proactive in encouraging sustainable growth and addressing barriers to investment. It has provoked some strong reactions from organisations as diverse as the National Trust, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the British Property Federation and the London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies and has received significant press coverage.
For Westminster, the NPPF raises a number of issues that will have implications for our LDF (our local plan) and how, through development management, we encourage, protect and manage land use throughout the city.
To support our newly adopted Core Strategy we are currently working on a City Management Plan (CMP). In the spirit of the 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act, but taking the concept one stage further, we are looking to go beyond traditional land use planning and consider how people use and experience places, for example taking into account that parts of the city function differently at different times of the day.
Integral to this concept of local place shaping is reaffirming and developing a sense of local uniqueness based on community objectives. This aims to encompass the government’s intentions set out in the Decentralisation and Localism Bill for a more local and community driven emphasis to place shaping and the recently issued draft NPPF.
The CMP will join up with other policies that are used to manage the city. It covers a broad range of issues, which cut across nearly all aspects of planning and managing our city. The Planning Briefs and LDF sub-committee will consider a draft of the CMP on 4th October and we will then publish a draft CMP for public consultation at the end of the year.
Westminster to undertake Community Governance Review
In June, the council’s cabinet agreed to undertake a Community Governance Review. The review was triggered by a petition on behalf of the residents from Queen’s Park, and will consider how the council can closely work with local communities.
Due to the Localism Bill and the recently published Open Public Services White Paper announcing a change to the provision of planning services, the review will also consider the potential for groups to set up neighbourhood forums and develop their own neighbourhood plans.
The Localism Bill includes proposals for local groups to establish a Community Right to Build, a Community Right to Challenge to run services, and the ability for communities to label properties as ‘assets of value’ so that they can request to take over their running should the operator choose to dispose of the property.
In October we will seek views from residents, businesses and other organisations on how they would want to be represented within their local neighbourhoods. For further information please email Tom Kimber or call 020 7641 3478.
Public Realm Credits
Since the adoption of our Public Realm Credits Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) in May 2011 we have received four applications for public realm credits with a total value of £8m. The SPD allows developers to apply to use their investment in the city’s public realm to discount the Section 106 public realm contribution requirements associated with their development schemes, if these are in the same area of the city.
The applications we have received are still being assessed, but are all for eligible locations. If approved, the use of these public realm credits will still be subject to a decision by the planning committee.
Our new design for Leicester Square aims to revitalise this key area of the West End to make it one of London's ‘must see’ public spaces once it is completed in April 2012. The implementation of the new design is now well underway. New paving is currently being laid and the foundations for the new white granite seating are being installed in the gardens in preparation for the delivery of a new architectural feature. Works are also continuing to Panton Street, Bear Street and St. Martin's Street (North) and are all scheduled to be completed later this autumn.
We are in frequent contact with local stakeholders through weekly business briefings between the council, the contractor and the Heart of London Businesses Alliance. This provides an opportunity to update businesses, explain the cause of any delays (these have predominately been caused by the poor state of utility assets) and provides an opportunity for businesses to ask questions and provide feedback.
With support from Transport for London (TfL) and The Crown Estate, Westminster City Council is carrying out a £14m scheme aimed at increasing accessibility within the West End. The main construction works started at the end of 2010 and on 3rd July 2011 Pall Mall and St. James’s Street were changed to two-way working. The project is due to be completed by the end of October 2011. Updates are being sent to local stakeholders, and can also be found here
. For further information please email Mark Allan.
More pieces unveiled in the City of Sculpture
Following confirmation that Westminster has extended the successful City of Sculpture Festival into 2012, several new artworks have been unveiled across the city. These include the installation in Soho Square of pieces by the artist Bruce Denny, including four life-size figures seated on the ground from his Interaction series, as well as the larger pieces the Conversion of St Paul and Annunciation.
Further pieces will be installed over the coming months, as we build the festival towards the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Olympics.
Hub Westminster is a ‘superstudio’ for 1,000 social businesses and entrepreneurs with all the tools to take ideas to action. Opening later this month, the 12,000 sq ft space will provide:
• a place for flexible and affordable workspace, hack-lab and events space
• a place for peer to peer learning, a night school for entrepreneurship and a business information library
• a place for investing a £3m Hub Venture Lab Fund to finance social business start-ups.
Hub Westminster will be part of a network of 28 other Hub facilities across five continents from the Bay Area to Bombay. Members of Hub Westminster will benefit from a world class business environment and an international peer network of like minded entrepreneurs. We have worked with both private sector and social business partners to launch Hub Westminster as a Community Interest Company, ensuring a significant proportion of profits will be re-invested in the local community to stimulate enterprise.
We have recently granted planning permission for a range of sites across Westminster:
• Temporary buildings and structures at Lord’s Cricket Ground for 5,000 spectators.
• Horse Guards Parade, St. James’s Park and The Mall for Beach Volleyball and road events, which will include the erection of an arena of 15,000 seats.
• Part of Hyde Park for the triathlon and marathon swimming events, which will include an arena to seat 3,000 spectators.
• We also anticipate applications for Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square to air Olympic and Paralympic events on large outdoor screens. However these applications have not yet been received.
For more information please email Tom Burke or call 020 7641 2357.
Preparing for the 2012 Games
Transport during the 2012 Games is crucial to its success ensuring that businesses, residents, visitors and athletes can get around the city. To ensure that extra pedestrians are safely managed and that the athletes get to events on time, temporary changes will be made to Westminster roads.
We therefore expect an increase in freight operations between midnight and 6am. At present, the council seeks to minimise noise disturbance by restricting overnight deliveries through location-specific loading bans, licence conditions and planning conditions attached to some premises’ planning consents.
Businesses would usually have to make applications for temporary variations but during these exceptional circumstances we are proposing a different approach. We are seeking a temporary exemption from some of our statutory obligations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to enforce against breaches of such controls.
To help minimise the impact, we propose a code of conduct for freight carriers and waste collection companies. Companies adhering to the code can have reasonable confidence that they can operate in Westminster without becoming the target of enforcement.
The poor air quality in Westminster is due to the very high numbers of vehicles, emissions from boilers used to heat buildings and a high density of roads and buildings which prevent the dispersal of pollution. These factors combine to create a complex urban environment and air quality problem. Unsurprisingly, we have a proud history of action to improve air quality and of helping others to play their part.
We were the first local authority to declare an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) in 1999 and the first to produce an Air Quality Strategy and Action Plan in 2001. We have promoted the uptake of zero emission electric vehicles, provided access to cycling infrastructure, promoted walking through initiatives such as the ‘Legible London’ signposts, and encouraged reduced car ownership through car clubs.
We have recently finished public consultation on a revised Air Quality Action Plan that includes a series of measures targeting the key sources of pollution. The plan went to our Built Environment and Enterprise & Volunteering Policy & Scrutiny Committee on 13th September.
The current proposals for the new high speed rail link High Speed 2 (HS2) include a terminus at Euston and a tunnel between Euston and Old Oak Common - where there would be an interchange station with Crossrail, Heathrow Express and Great Western rail services. A direct rail link to High Speed 1 (the Channel Tunnel Rail Link) would also run from Old Oak Common.
Although the proposed London terminus is not in Westminster, there would be a number of impacts in Westminster, including increased numbers at Euston Station putting pressure on our transport services and the proposed tunnel under Queen’s Park.
The council has now approved all station ticket hall schemes except Paddington. Westminster is now entering the busiest construction period, ahead of the launch of the tunnel boring machine in spring 2012.