Westminster – on location

Thursday 9 February 2012

Westminster is determined to underpin its long-term future with high quality design, but faces challenges as they relate to planning changes at the neighbourhood level.

Those were some of the key points made at the NLA’s On Location event held at Millbank Tower last week, where keynote speaker Cllr Robert Davis said it was vital to keep guard against ‘tick box architecture’. Davis said that the authority received a record 12,000 planning applications last year, but that there was room for both traditional and modern architecture, warning against too many glass-fronted buildings with ‘statutory’ brises soleils. Planning chief Rosemarie MacQueen said Westminster wants to build ‘a globally attractive environment’, but without losing the borough’s DNA, whilst dealing with a population up 23 per cent since 2001. But the forthcoming National Planning Policy Framework and localism changes had thrown up all sorts of questions, not least about what exactly constitutes a neighbourhood for the proposed forums, and the ‘acceptable returns’ arising from the sustainable developments the NPPF favours. Currently, said MacQueen, there are no parish councils in London, but when they realise the local financial benefits available from development, ‘watch this space’. Another issue was that neighbourhood plans may not comprehensively cover the city, an ‘interesting debate’ about which lies in prospect. 

Director of surface planning at Transport for London Ben Plowden outlined the transport improvements affecting the borough, including the now well recognised mass public transport mode of cycling, the upgrading of the tube network, and Crossrail, with its important associated public realm improvements. Victoria underground station, which deals with 80 million passengers a year is to get an upgrade to enable it to cope with a fifth more, which will be crucial to help feed the string of developments Land Securities’ Colette O’Shea outlined from her firm in the area. Beyond the successful, already built Cardinal House project these include Wellington House by John McAslan, 62 Buckingham Gate by Cesar Pelli and other major schemes by architects including Wilkinson Eyre, PLP, Lynch Architects, and Benson and Forsyth. Victoria is the powerhouse of London, said O’Shea, home to Government, royalty, and much else besides. ‘It’s all there; it just needs unlocking’, she said. 

Other issues raised at the conference included the importance of BIDs to unlocking the potential of the Baker Street area, the long term stewardship of areas as is being facilitated by the Crown Estate at St James’, mirroring its success with Regent Street, housing, and the importance of the public realm to Westminster’s continued success, as detailed by Publica’s Lucy Musgrave. ‘The ground plane is for the city’, she said, ‘It’s for the citizens.’    

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

The event was in association with the City of Westminster and sponsored by Berwin Leighton Paisner

For more images, please click here

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