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Westminster planning logjam as council strike escalates

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Westminster's planning department was in chaos this week as planning officers joined in the borough's indefinite strike action.

Officers began their protest on Monday, bringing to a complete halt the processing of all planning applications, estimated to be piling up at a rate of 50-60 a day. Administrative and technical staff have already been on all-out strike for a fortnight in protest at plans to privatise council services (AJ 1/8.9.02).

Projects currently stuck in the system include Lord Rogers' 30-storey tower in the high-profile Paddington Basin development, and Sir Nicholas Grimshaw's £360 reworking of Paddington station. Administrative staff have no immediate plans to halt their strike, while planning officers will be meeting today to discuss whether to continue their action into next week.

Unison shop steward Billy Tipping said the transfer of services to private consortium Vertex would result in the loss for council staff of conditions of service and pension rights. And he added that the council was refusing to negotiate over the matter.

Council staff marked the first day of the escalating action with a mass demonstration and picket outside Westminster Hall.

However, Westminster council defended its privatisation plans and played down the potential impact of the strike. Director of planning Carl Powell said: 'We regret the proposed strike action as we have already addressed the concerns raised by staff, but we anticipate that the impact will be minimal, and we have contingency plans in place to ensure minimum disruption to the public.'

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