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New dawn for planning in Westminster

Wed, 17/10/2018

New dawn for planning in Westminster 

  •          Local people to speak at planning meetings in ‘shake-up’
  •          Planning will become the engine room driving forward the council’s priorities

Local people will have more say on developments in their area as part of a major shake-up of planning in Westminster.

Council Leader, Nickie Aiken, is to usher in a new era of openness and aspiration following the publication of an independent review of the council’s planning system.

The shake-up will place people at the heart of decision making. Rather than being purely a regulatory check, planning will become the engine room driving forward the council’s priorities of creating affordable housing, commercial space fit for modern businesses and more healthy and green spaces.

Westminster City Council Leader, Nickie Aiken said: “We have put planning under the microscope and made changes which put local people at the heart of decision making.

“The council oversees some of the most valuable, high profile developments in the world so our entire planning process needs to be robust and transparent.

"When I became Leader I took immediate action, opening up planning decisions to more scrutiny, making sure all meetings about planning applications take place in council offices with officers present, and launching an independent review."

Westminster City Council Cabinet Member for Planning and Public Realm, Richard Beddoe said: “The review shows that our staff do excellent work, but also reveals where we can improve.

"We will use this opportunity to make planning the driving force of our vision for the future of Westminster and opening it up so every resident can contribute their views.”

The planning review was undertaken by the Planning Advisory Service (PAS), part of the Local Government Association. PAS identified a number of key findings;

  • Committees are well chaired with a good quality of debate but are not always an open and engaging experience for the public.
  • It is necessary to implement both structural and cultural changes in how the planning function operates.
  • The Council’s current planning service is operating from a purely development control perspective in determining applications and not embracing the wider Town Planning role, which provides for, and requires a much greater degree of creativity and proactivity in assessing applications.
  • The Council has a reputation for delivering innovative and high quality services and both officers and Councillors are keen to ensure that the organisation does not ‘rest on its laurels’ and continues to change and to innovate.
  • The review found that current planning application assessment and sign-off procedures are rigorous in Westminster’s current planning service, but restricted to senior officers
  • The review found no impropriety or failure to follow guidelines and protocols regarding hospitality. However, the practice of accepting hospitality from planning applicants was found to be excessive and unnecessary. It has become ‘normalised’ in contrast to the practice of most planning services across the country.

Key changes

  •          Members of the public to speak at planning committees
  •          Clearer simpler planning documents to ‘pass the pub test’
  •          Strict new guidance on hospitality and meetings to retain a distance from land owners, applicants, agents and community stakeholders
  •          Restructure of planning team to bring development management in line with council priorities and change culture.

The council will formally consider the findings of the review and the proposed changes at its upcoming Cabinet Meeting on 25 October.

The full findings of the planning review are available here 



Last updated: 25 October 2018