Developers' representative raises concerns about Westminster housing trends

Out-Law News | 20 Nov 2014 | 4:49 pm | 1 min. read

The chairman of a group representing developers has warned that a trend for the replacement of office space in London's Westminster by luxury flats or affordable homes threatens the capital's employment and risks creating "polarised communities". 

In a paper named Maintaining the Balance (16-page / 1.0 MB PDF), the chairman of the Westminster Property Association, Daniel Van Gelder, said that the recent and already planned loss of office space to homes in the borough threatened Westminster's ability to provide jobs for residents of the capital.

Noting that Westminster provided "the largest number of employees of any London borough" and that a further 35,000 jobs were projected to be required in the borough by 2031, the paper said that steps were required to halt a trend that has seen 168,000 square metres of office space lost to new homes in the past four years and planning permission granted for the conversion of a further 341,000 sq m.

The paper recommended that local planning policy be amended to provide for the protection and enhancement of office provision. It also recommended that UK government plans to remove the local exemption from rules allowing offices to be converted to homes without planning permission be strongly resisted.

Van Gelder was critical of the mayor of London's housing allocations, which he said meant "some boroughs with far less density and far more space are being told to provide far fewer homes than Westminster". He recommended that housing growth across the capital be focused outside Central London, noting that it was difficult for heavily developed boroughs such as Westminster to provide the necessary infrastructure to support housing development given the high land values and the lack of appropriate sites.

Van Gelder recommended that the Council should meet its housing targets by increasing the density of housing in the borough rather than allowing office space to be lost. This could be achieved by allowing "sensitive minor increases" such as "additional stories on certain buildings", by allowing high density development around "major new or enhanced transport hubs" or by increasing the densities at existing housing estates, the paper said.

The paper also recommended changes to prevent "an increasing polarisation of communities within Westminster between wealthy home owning and renting residents, some of whom are not living full time in the city, and those living in properties rented from local authority and registered social landlords". Noting that the existing social housing mix and particularly high property prices were excluding those on middle incomes from being able to live in Westminster, Van Gelder suggested that the Council give priority to the provision intermediate housing. The paper also suggested the use of regional social housing lists, allowing those on local lists to be offered "faster allocation in another part of London".