The Planning Group meets every month on the first Monday (unless it is a bank holiday in which case it is the Monday immediately following). It is open to all paid up members of the Soho Society. We tend to have a core group of 5-10 members who attend regularly but members concerned about a particular application are always welcome to drop in to give us their view. Meetings take around two hours and are informal and friendly. They usually end with those who wish to going for a drink/meal somewhere locally.
Westminster City Council (WCC) sends us electronically all planning applications plus applications for listed buildings consent that are made within Soho and Chinatown. These are compiled into a clear agenda to facilitate making comments and we have access to a number of lap tops so those attending can look at the plans and other documents. We consider every application and respond to them all. On average around 22% of applications receiving a comment or objection and ‘no objection’ to the remaining 78%.
We tend not to simply object to applications in their entirety and aim to provide recommendations as to how developments could be improved. The workload is not evenly distributed throughout the year, usually with clear dips around summer and winter holidays, causing busier months in spring and autumn.
How successful are we?
In 2014 we reviewed our year’s work in detail to see how our comments had influenced WCC’s decision making. 59% of the consultation responses we returned resulted in the application being refused, withdrawn, permitted after modification or permitted with conditions. Although each application touched on several areas of interest for us, we were able to broadly split the applications into categories and monitor our success rate as a consultee as follows:
We had a 38% success rate for objecting to A3 and similar in the stress area. We had a 100% success rate for requesting conditions to be applied to new A3 and similar uses. 50% of our objections to intensification in the stress area resulted in conditions applied to permission.
Noise or smells
On applications relating to plant equipment and other noise nuisance we had a 100% success rate for achieving conditions for permission. Where we objected to the entire application because of noise, we had a 0% success rate, but influenced conditions in all cases.
Shopfront removal (fully/partially openable design)
We had a 25% success rate for objections. 50% of our objections resulted in either a fully openable shopfront becoming modified to become partly openable or a partly openable shopfront becoming fixed through negotiation with developers. In some cases we asked for conditions, but Westminster Council refused permission entirely. Where we asked for conditions and the proposal was permitted, we had a 100% success rate of achieving the conditions.
We had a 100% success rate for objecting to proposals that would have adversely affected the conservation area, listed buildings and unlisted buildings of merit. We had a 100% success rate for achieving conditions relating to the conservation area, listed buildings and unlisted buildings of merit
We had a 35% success rate for objecting to tables and chairs proposals (and one bike storage proposal). We had a 100% success rate for achieving conditions relating to tables and chairs. Permissions for tables and chairs are time limited usually to a year or two years. Westminster Council tend to renew these annual consents as a matter of course, only reviewing them if they have received complaints during the year.
Loss of office space
We had a 25% success rate of objecting to loss of office space. Several of our responses were not objections, but comments.
If you would like to join our planning group please contact Matthew Bennett.