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Westminster privatises planning

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riba president Marco Goldschmied has branded moves to outsource planning work at Westminster City Council 'totally irresponsible', voicing fears that the authority's latest actions represent the thin end of the wedge.

His remarks came after it emerged last week that the council is set to hand over 20 per cent of its development planning work to the private sector. The council will later this year issue tender documents for low- risk work such as granting permissions for estate agents, boards, work to trees, ventilation ducts and air-conditioning units. The measures replace earlier plans to outsource the entire planning function.

'The decision is a relic of a bygone financial and political era. It is totally off-message in terms of the social responsibility of city authorities,' blasted Goldschmied. 'They should be taking more interest in planning, not less.'

Westminster is London's busiest planning authority and processed more than 7000 planning applications last year. The move could act as a precedent for other planning authorities, as Westminster City Council has a reputation for leading the trend for outsourcing. It already has 112 contracts with the private sector, covering everything from waste management to it. Planning consultants from firms of chartered surveyors and estate agents are expected to compete for the work.

Richard Feilden, partner at Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects warned: 'Public private partnership will only work if we can guarantee long-term relationships and not form planning policy through a scattering of short- term relationships. Coherence is very important.' Head of Assael Architecture John Assael said that an outsourced service could mean more conflicts of interest in the planning process.

But Westminster's director of planning and transportation, Carl Powell, leapt to the defence of the plan and said any bidders for the work must satisfy the council that there would be no conflict of interest. He also stressed that 'this is not part of a larger plan to outsource everything.'

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