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Campaigners attack policy shift to allow more towers in Westminster

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The Skyline Campaign has launched a petition against a potential change to Westminster City Council’s policy on tall buildings, arguing it would be the ‘kiss of death to conservation’

The council is running an eight-week public consultation, Building height: Getting the right kind of growth for Westminster, to garner opinion about expansion in the borough, 75 per cent of which falls within designated conservation areas. Results of the discussion will help the local authority draw up planning policies.

By 2036, Westminster’s population is projected to grow from 226,000 to 262,000, according to the council, leading to demand for 21,000 new homes.

The borough, which has 11,000 listed buildings and structures and is home to the World Heritage Site of the Palace of Westminster, says it also needs to find an extra 2 million m² of business floorspace to accommodate 77,000 jobs and to compensate for the ‘signifiant amount’ of office space lost to housing since 2005.

The consultation documentation states that one way to achieve growth is to build higher – either by adding storeys to existing properties or by ‘building significantly taller buildings’. A council survey asks respondents to give their opinions on tall buildings.

But the Skyline Campaign has called for the ‘devious and dishonest’ questionnaire to be disregarded. ‘In reality the majority of the questions are phrased and grouped in such a way as to ensure that hapless respondents will be acquiescing to more and taller buildings without even realising that they are doing such a thing,’ its petition states.

The petition adds: ‘Westminster Council already has at its disposal very well-considered and carefully drafted policies that regulate tall buildings. There is no need to rewrite them. This is the latest attempt to undermine such policies to achieve a laissez-faire regime that will not be able to stop any degree of inappropriate development. This would be the kiss of death to conservation in Westminster.’

The Skyline Campaign, which suggests there are 455 towers in the pipeline in central London in 2017, is particularly concerned about the ‘inference’ of potentially building higher in Paddington, Victoria and Tottenham Court Road – areas it believes are ‘already in the process of totally losing their historic character’.

Architect Barbara Weiss, co-founder of the Skyline Campaign, told the AJ there had been a welcome change in approach to tall buildings since London mayor Sadiq Khan came to office last year.

‘The understanding is they should be of the highest quality and in appropriate locations,’ she said. ‘We are seeing definitely a move away from tall buildings to, hopefully, mid-rise blocks to accommodate the extra population growth.

‘So it comes as a bit of a shock that Westminster Council, which has one of the best policies against tall buildings, should suddenly be trying to change its own policies to allow for more skyscrapers.’

A Westminster City Council spokesperson said: ‘Protecting the Westminster skyline is of paramount importance to us, and we welcome the views of as many people as possible who live, work, visit or have an interest in Westminster, so we can plan for the continued and future success of the city. Protecting the unique character of Westminster, as well as the World Heritage site, is absolutely key to this.

‘However, there is an important balance to strike to ensure we do so while delivering the jobs and homes that will continue to position Westminster as the centre of London as a leading world city. We cannot stand still. London’s population is expected to grow by almost 25 per cent by 2041 – which means we must act now.’

The council’s survey closes on 21 May.

A separate survey by West End Labour has found that more than 80 per cent of residents believe the council is wrong to want to develop more skyscrapers and tall buildings.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • An exhibition of the 'cityscape' of Bombay/Mumbai would go a long way to enlightening people on the effect of mindlessly stuffing more and more floorspace into a tightly constricted area of land.

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