Planning discussion: BERWICK ST FROM BROADWICK ST TO PETER STREET by Tim Lord

Planning discussion: BERWICK ST FROM BROADWICK ST TO PETER STREET


Since the street has been repaved there is no clear strategy for its use after the market has closed. Last month we objected to tables and chairs applications which would have obstructed that part of the street on the East side which is still delineated as pavement because car park along the West side taking up half the carriageway and the remaining part is theoretically open for vehicles to pass.

Vehicle access is north to south. There are bollards at the north end which should be lifted out in the evening (7.30am-7am) but I understand these are not used. There is a 24/7 need to ensure that emergency vehicles such as fire engines and ambulances can access the street although it is not clear what would happen when the market is open and the stalls prevent such access. (A definitive explanation would be good.)

Clearly objecting to these tables and chairs applications has annoyed restaurant and café owners who see cheaply rented food stalls at lunch time eating into their trade and an empty street in front of them in the evening. Some refer to pedestrianised streets like Kingly Street which have generous provision for T&Cs. 

Kingly Street is perhaps unique in that all the T&Cs are located on the east side leaving the west for pedestrians and emergency vehicles. There is no parking allowed on that street. It is also actively managed by Shaftesbury.

In the case of Berwick Street although most businesses wanting T&Cs are on the east side at least Duck and Rice and possible once the Kemp House development some of the businesses may be either A1 coffee shops or even A3 and want T&Cs on the west side. (although generally the west side already has a much wider pavement.

One option would be to request WCC that the west side of Berwick Street is made double yellow lines to prevent parking and that this side of the street could be used for pedestrians and emergency vehicles and that a notional line (to be agreed) could be drawn on the east die to allow sufficient space additional tables and chairs.

However, unlike Kingly Street there are also many residents living on Berwick Street and close to it and the high rise Kemp House flats. There would be noise and possibly nuisance implications for these residents. The noise level has been significant especially in the summer, due to lack of effective enforcement. This is noise which did not exist previously – except for a period when the Endurance operated in a way which a licence review and eventually the courts judged to be unacceptable.

What is the balance to be struck? I think we need to agree a policy which we think is fair and sensible and can be explained to the various stakeholders. It doesn’t mean that whatever we suggest will be adopted by Westminster.

PLANNING REPORT FOR AGM 26th APRIL 2018 by Tim Lord

PLANNING REPORT FOR AGM 26th APRIL 2018

The Planning committee continues to meet monthly on the first Monday of the month. We received 452 applications in the calendar year 2017 an increase on the previous year in part caused by repeated applications for new telephone boxes (in reality just big advertising hoardings) across the area. 

Major continuing issues

Office to residential

The Article 4 changes to Westminster’s City Development Plan which came into effect on 1st September 2015 allow the Council to refuse conversion from office use to residential. This has resulted in bringing such applications to an end. 

Changes in planning law and regulations

The Government has continued to liberalise planning law and many things that WCC were previously able to control no longer require their consent. One recent example is a spate of application for new telephone ‘boxes’ for landlines in many of our already busy streets. In reality they will be nothing more than large advertising boards but Westminster appear to have no powers to refuse such applications as they just need ‘prior approval’ under telecoms legislation.

In addition, some development companies and land owners use the flexibility within planning law to have a number of simultaneous planning use consents for their buildings. Whilst this allows them to respond flexibly to the needs of tenants, it does make any sort of control difficult for the Council. 

Retail and Restaurant Use

The massive increase in internet shopping continues to undermine retail shopping and man landlords have sought to replace retail with restaurant and café use. However, there are signs that the supply of restaurants and café’s may be reaching their peak with increasing evidence that a number of chains are struggling and some high profile closures. 

Tables and chairs

We continue to see many applications for tables and chairs and/or benches outside cafes, bars, and restaurants and where they are well run and do not cause obstruction we support them.  Westminster’s policy is that at least 2 metres of pavement space should be left free for pedestrians and we agree as Soho’s increasing popularity means that the number of people walking through Soho is so great on many evenings that people are forced onto the road. If members are concerned about that tables and chairs are taking up too much of the pavement space in any particular location, they should complain to the Council. If they do so and also make sure their complaint is given a reference number, we will log these complaints and oppose further renewal of their street trading licence unless the space taken up is correctly reduced. 

In some of the really narrow streets the lack of pavement space is a real problem and we may need to see much greater use of shared surfaces where pedestrians and vehicles share the same space and this also has the effect of reducing traffic speeds.

Housing

We were very heartened to see the announcement by the new council leader, Cllr Nickie Aiken, that the Council will now expect affordable housing required as part of large developments to be provided on site or in the vicinity if a scheme is to get the go ahead. It is too early to tell how this will work in the long term but we have noticed that across the borough more schemes are being refused or deferred for reconsideration if they do not provide suitable levels of affordable housing. We were laos pleased to see that a couple of applications for the conversion of buildings into very small hotels with no facilities were refused. This would have allowed such buildings effectively to become perpetual short term lettings spaces.  

Air Quality

Although this is not specifically a planning matter our very polluted air is worrying everyone. Whilst much of this is caused by traffic, roughly 40% is emitted from buildings so we increasingly focusing on how buildings are heated and cooled to ensure the systems used are the least polluting possible. In addition, the deliveries and collections needed by buildings can increase pollution, so we will be looking at delivery service plans to encourage developers to put in place systems which consolidate freight and reduce the number of vehicle trips to and from their buildings. 

Oxford Street

Together with other amenity societies coming together as the West End Community Network (WECN) we have been participating in monthly discussions with WCC and TfL officers on the Mayor’s plan to pedestrianise Oxford Street starting at the western end. During most of that time we felt that our concerns were not really being listened to. In the recent consultation that finished on 3rd January it became clear that a large majority of local businesses and residents did not support the scheme despite wider support across London and elsewhere. It was also clear the consultation process itself was flawed and had to be withdrawn as a number of responses were omitted and others sent to a wrong email address supplied by TfL. On 20th March WCC confirmed in writing that ‘no decision has been taken, or will be taken, on whether to proceed with any scheme, until the council and TfL has looked in detail at every issue raised’.

Major Schemes

Whilst the pace of development and change continues across Soho there were only four major schemes to mention during 2017. 

At 57 Broadwick Street Shaftesbury took over the first to fourth floors previously occupied by Jaeger to enlarge the space for retail and office use plus a repositioned A3 restaurant. It was an application opposed by the Society because it removed street trees and also absorbed a large amount of forecourt which for many years had been used as a wider pavement. It was granted by the committee and is currently being implemented.

At 52/53 Poland Street the Z hotel received consent for a ground to eighth floor hotel regrettably replacing former B1 office use. Unfortunately, in the Society’s view the London Plan and Westminster’s plans support hotel use in Soho as part of the Central Activities Zone (CAZ). We feel that whilst hotels do provide employment and cater for London’s increasing number of tourists they tend to be located in former commercial buildings which provided permanent employment for those working in a wide range of industries often involving the creative industries, they tend to want increased height, open roof terraces and their servicing requirements increase congestion. They also erode the very diversity of character that makes Soho a place that visitors are keen to visit. 

At 18-24 Broadwick Street and 83 Berwick Street we were hugely disappointed to see consent given for demolition to construct a new hotel with potentially noisy new restaurant and bar terraces at 6th and 7th floors. The scheme was recommended for refusal by WCC officers but the councillors led by its then Chair Cllr Robert Davis overruled them and gave consent. We are worried that this scheme sets a bad precedent with the potential noise impacts at high level on residents and neighbours from a roof top bar and a restaurant.

In Meard Street an application has been made and since granted to transform the old film laboratory space into new retail and gym facilities with a new office building on the back. The Society supported one aspect of the scheme which allowed the Soho Housing Association to obtain an 999 year lease on the upper parts known as Royalty mansions but we opposed the new ground floor uses because of the way they will change the character of one of Soho’s most conic residential streets. 

Soho Estates are proceeding with the Walkers Court and Boulevard theatre development which should be externally complete by the end of this year while on Charing Cross Road Soho Estates also continue their new development called Ilona Rose House based on the site of the old Foyles building. 

PMB are continuing the development scheme at kemp house which has been presold to Shaftesbury plc.

Matthew Bennett April 2018

If you would like to join our planning group please contact Matthew Bennett.

PLANNING REPORT FOR AGM April 2017 by Tim Lord

Major continuing issues

Office to residential

The changes to Westminster’s City Development Plan came into effect on 1st September 2015 to allow the Council to refuse office to residential conversions in suitable cases. This has resulted in a real decline in such applications. 

Changes in planning law and regulations

The Government elected in May 2015 has continued to liberalise planning law and many things that WCC were previously able to control no longer require their consent. One recent example is a spate of application for new telephone ‘boxes’ for landlines in many of our already busy streets. In reality they will be nothing more than large advertising boards.  Westminster appear to have no powers to refuse such applications.

In addition, some development companies and land owners use this flexibility to have a number of simultaneous planning use consents for their buildings.  Whilst this allows them to respond flexibly to the needs of tenants it does make any sort of control difficult for the Council. 

The Yard

The repeated attempts by the freeholder of the Yard bar at 57 Rupert Street to get possession and redevelop it have been objected to by the Society and was supported by all our ward councillors.  I am pleased to report that the planning inspector refused the freeholder’s appeal which is a positive outcome for this well supported bar situated in the last relatively intact horse stables in Soho and should allow it to continue to trade well into the future. 

Tables and chairs

We continue to see many application for tables and chairs and/or benches outside cafes, bars, and restaurants and where they are well run and do not cause obstruction we support them.  Westminster’s policy is that at least two metres of pavement space should be left free for pedestrians and we agree as Soho’s increasing popularity means that the number of people walking through Soho is so great on many evenings that people are forced onto the road.  In some of the really narrow streets the lack of pavement space is a real problem and we may need to see much greater use of shared surfaces where pedestrians and vehicles share the space and this also has the effect of reducing traffic speeds.  

Affordable Housing

For too long developers have been able to argue successfully that they cannot viably provide affordable housing on site or in the vicinity as part of their development and pay a financial sum in lieu to the Council’s affordable housing fund. This has been very frustrating as the viability assessments on which this is all based have not been transparent.  It has left members feeling that Soho is losing out in getting almost no new affordable housing and with the money that does go into the AHF being spent in other parts of the borough. We were very heartened to see the recent announcement by Cllr Nickie Aiken that things will change and that she and the Council will now expect the affordable housing to be provided if a scheme is to get the go ahead. It is too early to tell how this will work but we welcome this commitment.

Air Quality

Although this is not specifically a planning matter, our polluted air is worrying everyone and whilst much of this is caused by traffic roughly 40% is emitted from buildings so we will be increasingly focusing on how buildings are heated and cooled. In addition, the deliveries and collections needed by buildings can increase pollution so we will be looking at delivery service plans to encourage developers to put in place systems which consolidate freight and reduce the number of vehicle trips to and from their buildings. We can all help by thinking how we use the delivery services when using internet shopping. All these white vans in Soho are delivering our purchases and taking away the items we return and that comes at a cost to our air quality.

Major Schemes

Whilst the pace of development continues across Soho there were only four really major schemes to mention. At 57 Broadwick Street the former Jaeger building is to enlarge the ground to fourth floors principally for large ground and first floor retail uses plus an A3 use. It was controversial in that it removed street trees and also absorbed a large amount of forecourt which for many years had been used as a wider pavement.

At 52/53 Poland Street the Z hotel received consent for a ground to eighth floor hotel regrettably replacing former B1 office use. 

At 18-24 Broadwick Street and 83 Berwick Street we were hugely disappointed to see consent given for demolition to construct a new hotel with potentially noisy terraces at 6th and 7th floors. The scheme was recommended for refusal by the officers but the councillors led by its then Chair Cllr Robert Davis overruled them and gave consent. We are worried that this scheme sets a very bad precedent with the potential noise impacts at high level on residents and neighbours from a roof top bar and a restaurant.

On Charing Cross Road, Soho Estates have started their new development Ilona Rose House based on the site of the old Foyles building. It is taller than we would have liked but now it has started we wish the scheme well with its ground and eight office floors, space for an art gallery, art education and basement office space at affordable rents for start up businesses coupled with a new pedestrian walkway through the site to Greek Street to help distribute the increased pedestrian flows once the Elizabeth line opens.