Ladies and gentleman a new dawn is upon us! Westminster is poised to reveal the biggest changes to planning for a generation. Yes, change is coming. Some people do not like change, others embrace it. I say don’t be scared of change. If we are to evolve as a community, as a city.If we are to continue to respond to the changing nature of how people want and need to live in a city centre… If we are to respond to how businesses wish to operate and how we are to support retail to future proof its offer.
If we are to do all this, we must change our planning policies but also how we manage our planning system as a whole. So I’m here tonight to invite you to embrace the fresh new approach to place-shaping and planning in Westminster. We know we have to be ambitious for our city, and we know that our policies and processes have to reflect this ambition.
So our new City Plan, which Richard Beddoe will launch next month will be streamlined, focusing on the positive aspects of what we want and need in Westminster. In and of itself, this is a big change. We have taken a fresh look at what planning policy can do for a place. We are ready to revolutionise what the City Plan and a reinvigorated planning service can achieve.
Housing remains my top priority. Last week, the Prime Minister announced the lifting of the cap on HRA borrowing which makes it easier for councils to build. I sense that the long promised step-change in house building is now a reality. This Government is not offering empty promises about building more homes.
It is putting substantial investment into building more homes, billions of pounds in fact. As the Prime Minister said, housing is the biggest domestic policy challenge we face. And I’m incredibly proud that it is a former Westminster councillor, Kit Malthouse, leading the charge as Housing Minister.
As many of you know, and as many of you have experienced, I am not one to shy away from challenges or tough decisions, particularly if it helps us to deliver the very best for our city and its residents. We know that if we are setting ambitious targets for affordable house building, we have to give the property industry the ability to deliver. And I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that we are absolutely going to insist on higher levels of affordable housing than ever before.
Our new approach will be pragmatic and we will be open to ideas about how we can work together to deliver more housing for Westminster. If we are going to set a positive and creative policy framework for you to work to, we also have to adhere to those same values. We are aware that, as it stands, it is too hard for developers to deliver what Westminster really needs.
In short, we are too prescriptive. Too often we think of our role as a defender, dictating what is and isn’t allowed into Westminster. Planning shouldn’t be about writing a rule book which contains a list of things we don’t want to see in our city. It should be about setting an ambitious policy direction and freeing up those who know how best to deliver it.
That doesn’t mean Westminster is going to be a free for all – far from it. But if you are nimble enough to react and if you are committed to building for the benefit of real people, there is still a world of opportunity for you in Westminster. For our part, Westminster Council will now apply a more imaginative process, focused on what the place needs to thrive, and we will work in partnership with both developers and residents to achieve this.
So ladies and gentleman, as you can tell, things in Westminster changing, and I think for the better. What we’re creating will build the city we all want to see in 2040. Tonight I am inviting you to be part of this journey and I hope you will join us as we move forward together.
So to semi quote Nina Simone:
It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life for Westminster
And I'm feeling good