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Robert Davis leaves Westminster planning role after 17 years

Robert davis crop
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Westminster City Council’s deputy leader Robert Davis will no longer be cabinet member for the built environment – ending his responsibility of nearly 17 years over the borough’s planning applications 

Davis will vacate his role as chair of the planning committee, and instead take on a new cabinet position: business, culture and heritage.

The new role was announced by Westminster City Council leader-elect Nickie Aiken as part of her proposed cabinet, which included a number of fresh posts. 

In recent weeks, Davis had come under pressure from campaigners including Save Britain’s Heritage, which claimed that he had unfairly favoured Renzo Piano’s Paddington Cube, a scheme he was involved in giving planning permission to. 

In a statement, Davis said: ‘It has been an amazing unprecedented time leading on planning in Westminster. I look back with huge pride on what has been achieved by a sense of common purpose and collective effort.

‘Working effectively together with landowners and developers and keeping a high benchmark on design standards has seen Westminster at the forefront of development and design.’

Davis added that he would continue to lead the council’s relaunched Design Excellence campaign and take charge of its urban design strategy.

He said he would also continue to be in charge of ‘all major public realm schemes’ in Bond Street, Hanover Square, Baker Street and Oxford Street.

Richard Beddoe, who was announced as chair of planning, will now head the planning application committees.

Meanwhile, Daniel Astaire will become cabinet member for planning and the public realm, and will take charge of the borough’s strategic planning policy. The new cabinet will take up their roles on 25 January.

Davis recently came under fire from Save Britain’s Heritage for his support for the 14-storey Paddington Cube, which was granted planning permission earlier this month, having replaced an earlier concept for a 72-storey tower.

The conservation body accused Davis of presenting the scheme to other committee members in a ‘partisan one-sided manner’.

The group added that Davis disregarded ‘significant objections’ and noted how he had previously voiced his support for the scheme in the media. 

During an interview with the AJ in September, Davis praised the building and said it would make Paddington ’the coolest place in London’.

Save added that his support for the scheme showed Davis had ‘predetermined his position and should not have taken part in deciding this application’. 

In November, Davis announced a new People’s Choice Award, as part of the council’s Design Excellence campaign, at the AJ100 Breakfast Club in Claridge’s.

According to Davis, the award will ask residents to vote for ‘an outstandingly designed building that they feel makes a palpable contribution to Westminster’s built environment’.

He added: ‘This People’s Choice award will be promoted via various channels in the new year for the people of Westminster to have their say, choosing from a shortlist selected by a panel of councillors and outside experts, including architects.’

Robert Davis’s full statement

After just short of 17 years continuous service as chairman of the council’s planning committee and almost 15 years as cabinet member for planning, I have felt for some time that it was time for a new challenge. So, in anticipation of [Nickie Aiken’s] election as leader of the city council at the council meeting on the 25th January, I have agreed with her that I should take on a number of new council responsibilities as cabinet member for business, culture and heritage.

I remain deputy leader of the city council and at the new leader’s request will take on a significantly greater role assisting Cllr Aiken in the leadership of the city council and in more corporate and strategic decision making.

I will retain responsibility for the mayoralty, for West End Live, for public art (including the city of sculpture initiative); for the green plaque scheme and for special events and filming as well as ‘City Promotions’.

I will also continue taking the lead on all major public realm schemes such as Bond Street, Hanover Square and Baker Street and in particular for the Oxford Street project. I will chair the Oxford Street Steering Group – part of the West End Partnership.

I will become responsible for heritage matters and will continue to chair the Westminster World Heritage Site (UNESCO) committee and lead on the relaunched ‘design excellence’ campaign as well as taking responsibility for the city’s urban design strategy.

I will also lead on ‘place making’ with a new team of officers who are currently being recruited. I will also take on the business portfolio which includes responsibility for business support, SMEs, skills, training and apprenticeships. My role will also include responsibility for the Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) as well as for tourism and theatres.

It has been an amazing unprecedented time leading on planning in Westminster. I look back with huge pride on what has been achieved by a sense of common purpose and collective effort. Working effectively together with landowners and developers and keeping a high benchmark on design standards has seen Westminster at the forefront of development and design. In fact, it is timely that we will be celebrating exactly that in a new book which we intend to launch in early 2017, ‘Westminster: A Fresh Perspective’ which looks at many of the schemes we have been involved with over recent years.

I have of course been supported by a talented team of officers led initially by Rosemarie MacQueen and more recently by John Walker and Barry Smith as well as by my colleagues on the council’s planning committees and my various deputy cabinet members. So I want to put on record my thanks to these colleagues for their support and commitment to the work we have done to enhance the built environment of Westminster

The proposed cabinet in full 

  • Leader of the council, Nickie Aiken
  • Deputy leader and cabinet member for business, culture and heritage, Robert Davis
  • Cabinet member for adult social services and public health, Heather Acton
  • Cabinet member for planning and public realm, Daniel Astaire
  • Cabinet member for city transport, highways and parking, Danny Chalkley
  • Cabinet member for public protection and licensing, Antonia Cox
  • Cabinet member for environment, sports and community, David Harvey
  • Cabinet member for children, families and young people, Richard Holloway
  • Cabinet member for finance, property and corporate services, Tim Mitchell
  • Cabinet member for housing, Rachael Robathan
  • Chair of planning, Richard Beddoe
  • Chair of Licensing, Angela Harvey
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