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West End economic powerhouse under threat from planning deregulation

Published: 26 July 2022

The capital’s status as a globally recognised shopping destination and business hub is under threat after a bid to stop developers turning offices, retail, and commercial space into residential use across large swathes of the city centre was rejected by Government ministers.

Westminster City Council warned new rules which tear up its rights to reject change of use of existing buildings on the ground that they would undermine an area’s character will have a devastating effect on the country’s premier shopping and business district.

The Council had called for the majority of Westminster’s section of the Central Activity Zone (CAZ), including The West End, Knightsbridge, Soho, Victoria, Paddington, and Pimlico to be made a special case, under a so-called Article 4 Direction of the Town and Country Planning Act, on the grounds of their national and international importance.

The Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), turned down proposals insisting that the area suggested by the local authority was too large and it should cover “as small a geographic area as possible”, and has directed the council of how it must be amended.

As a result, many key streets and districts of central London are under threat including, including much of Vauxhall Bridge Road, Horseferry Road, and parts of Marylebone, Fitzrovia, Mayfair, and Pimlico. 

In positive news, the government has confirmed that it supports the Council’s proposals for a separate Article 4 Directions to protect our important local high streets, such as Harrow Road, outside the CAZ. 

Cllr Geoff Barraclough, Westminster City Council’s Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development, said he was disappointed the Council’s original proposal was not accepted.

Cllr Barraclough said:

It’s disappointing that the Government’s obsession with deregulation has blinded it to the importance of keeping the West End thriving. Central London is unique in that it is not only a major tourist destination and premier shopping district, but the heart of the nation’s business community as well.

A quarter of FTSE 100 companies are based in Westminster, and with its transport infrastructure which allows access from all corners of the capital and its 9m people and many millions beyond, it is little wonder that businesses want to be based here. These workers, combined with tourism, help drive our hospitality sector, providing jobs and revenue which acts as an engine-room for the country’s economy. We should not risk this success by allowing a developer free-for-all in which property owners compete to convert offices and shops into poor quality flats.

We do want to encourage more people to live in the West End but this needs to be carefully planned. Unsuitable accommodation in former office space, that does not include any genuinely affordable housing is not the solution.

The city works because of the concentration of this unique combination of businesses, hospitality, and shops, once they are gone, you will never get them back.

We are committed to doing everything we can to protect the unique mix of commercial used in the West End and will keep this closely under review so that central London can continue to flourish.