Westminster council plans skyscraper ban

Advantage, experts in structural defects insurance, takes a look at the proposed Westminster skyscraper ban and considers what this would mean for developers.

Here at Advantage Construction Insurance, we’re proud to provide structural warranties for a broad range of large (and small) scale developments, and we’ve recently written about how developers are attempting to make the very most of the limited space available in the capital, with 76 new tall buildings joining the London skyline this year.

However, according to a new report in The Evening Standard, Westminster City Council wants to clip developers’ wings by restricting the number of skyscrapers in the West End.

The newspaper stated: (Westminster) is home to approximately 55,000 businesses, including the Ritz, Fortnum & Mason and Tate Britain, which produce £53.6 billion in annual output — higher than any other local authority. At more than eight square miles, it is also one of Greater London’s largest central boroughs, and its most densely populated. It has 114 people per hectare, almost double the capital’s average, and forecasts suggest its population will swell by more than 10% to 276,150 by 2040.

All this calls for a major housebuilding and office expansion programme to protect the area’s economic pre-eminence. But this is where council leaders are on a collision course with the property developers who want to deliver the buildings. Westminster City Council’s latest City Plan doesn’t want skyscrapers, but the industry reckons that the only way is up.

Architects, developers and planning firms are this month examining the council’s new blueprint (all 208 pages of it), ahead of a consultation closing on July 31.

Westminster wants to create 1495 homes every year for 10 years, plus 1850 affordable homes by 2023. On top of that, it wants to create the space for 63,000 new jobs. It reckons some 4.8 million sq ft of offices — around five Shard towers — either in new or existing buildings, are needed.

Richard Beddoe, the council’s cabinet member for planning, says: “Our plan is unapologetically ambitious.”

But under its proposals, the council wants to rule out high-rises — with Paddington and Victoria the possible exceptions as their skyline is already taller. It reckons there are plenty of other ways to create new space. The plan suggests adding one or two storeys to existing buildings, refurbishing outdated properties and bringing forward land for new developments. Property firms can also submit new ideas for building.

Beddoe believes it is “realistic” that Westminster can be “one of the best places to live, work and visit. Not just in London or the UK, but globally”.

But Andrew Southern, chairman of London developer Southern Grove, thinks the borough’s ambitions may be difficult to meet.

He says: “Tall modern buildings — when designed to a high standard — can enhance London’s skyline while providing a high density of homes.” Southern warns that height restrictions could keep some builders away.

And Pete Ladhams, managing director of Assael Architecture, says being anti-skyscrapers sends the wrong message. He adds:

“The Government has set ambitious targets, but given the lack of developable land in urban areas, intensification of land use is really one of the only options available to ramp up the number of homes being built, alongside new and innovative forms of housing. Tall buildings are an inevitability in this respect.”

Meanwhile, affordable housing targets may not be easy to meet, says Antony Stark, director at builder Linea Homes. He points out that high land values in Westminster mean the economics of introducing affordable housing on some sites can be unfeasible. Stark says:

“This in turn could be detrimental to delivering the private homes target as developers will be reluctant to purchase sites if they are going to get refused [planning permission] for not providing enough affordable housing.”

Westminster’s plans for offices have been given a similarly lukewarm reception. Property agent BNP Paribas Real Estate’s planning director David Phillips says there is scope to create workspace within upcoming redevelopments in the council’s “opportunity areas” such as Victoria and near Tottenham Court Road. Despite that, Phillips says: “I suspect the emerging plan is overly ambitious given the scarcity of land.”

Phillips thinks the plan may be good for protecting the historic character of the West End, but ponders: “Is it going to be progressive enough to deliver the quantum of development being sought?”

The Evening Standard concluded: The council may need to think higher — literally — to convince sceptical developers that its growth targets can be achieved.

We’ll continue to keep you abreast of the latest trends and developments (in both senses of the word!) and will be back soon with a new Advantage blog.

In the meantime, you may also enjoy: The property market remained steady in May as London bounced back.

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Advantage Home Construction Insurance (AHCI) provides structural defects insurance – operating nationally with offices in Warrington, London and Birmingham – offering development-related insurances and a service designed to give customers peace of mind.

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