Swathes of central London ‘under threat of developer free-for-all’, claims Westminster Council

·3-min read
Parts of Marylebone among other iconic London districts are under threat, claims council  (Daniel Lynch)
Parts of Marylebone among other iconic London districts are under threat, claims council (Daniel Lynch)

Rules which make it easier to turn office and retail space into flats could have a “devastating effect” on swathes of central London, Westminster City Council has claimed.

Council bosses said the capital’s status as a globally-recognised shopping destination and business hub is being threatened by planning rules which gives developers the right to turn empty office and commercial spaces into flats without full planning permission.

The council had asked the Government for an opt-out for an area covering the West End, Knightsbridge, Soho, Victoria, Paddington, and Pimlico, because of their “national and international importance”.

But this was rejected by Greg Clark, the new Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), because it covered too big an area of central London.

Instead Mr Clark exempted a smaller area, with a spokesperson saying this makes sure the supply of much-needed homes is not constricted. The area covers Soho and Covent Garden, and the “International Centres of the West End and Knightsbridge” among others. Sections of Victoria and Paddington are also among those included.

However, the Labour-run council claims the character of other iconic streets in central London left out of the designation are now under threat from a “developer free-for-all”, including much of Vauxhall Bridge Road, Horseferry Road, and parts of Marylebone, Fitzrovia, Mayfair, and Pimlico.

Cllr Geoff Barraclough, Westminster City Council’s Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development, said: “The city works because of the concentration of this unique combination of businesses, hospitality, and shops, once they are gone, you will never get them back.”

He said that the rules risked a “developer free-for-all in which property owners compete to convert offices and shops into poor quality flats.”

“We do want to encourage more people to live in the West End but this needs to be carefully planned,” he said.

“Unsuitable accommodation in former office space that does not include any genuinely affordable housing is not the solution.”

But a Government spokesperson hit back at Westminster’s characterisation, saying it was “disappointing” and the proposal to exempt larger areas of central London was “not compliant with national planning policy”.

It said that the reduced zone was “what the council themselves proposed to the government.”

“Following constructive engagement with the government, the council proposed this more targeted, evidence-based approach and we accepted those revised, compliant proposals in full,” a spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities told the Standard.

“As the council themselves accepted, this strikes the right balance between protecting core commercial centres, including Oxford Street, Regent Street, Soho and Covent Garden, and supporting the supply of much-needed homes in the capital.”

The department said three other London councils - Richmond, Wandsworth and Kensington & Chelsea - had also agreed to reduce proposed areas where the right would not apply after the intervention of Secretary of State, Greg Clark.

Mr Clark said: “We’re taking action to boost the supply of much-needed housing in London, while making sure key high streets are protected.

“I want to thank these four boroughs for working with us constructively to agree an approach for the benefit of Londoners, and I expect other councils across the country to do the same.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting