Westminster City Council has claimed that the capital’s status as a globally recognised shopping destination and business hub is “under threat”, after Government ministers rejected the local authority’s application for a wide-ranging Article 4 Direction.
The application under the Town & Country Planning 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 on the grounds of their national and international importance.
This was intended to stop developers turning offices, retail, and commercial space into residential use across the city centre.
However, the Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), has turned down the 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 directed the council of how it must be amended.
Westminster said: “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.”
The council did though welcome confirmation from the government that it supported its proposals for a separate Article 4 Directions to protect 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.
He 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 the 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.”
Cllr Barraclough added: “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.”