Westminster denies 'underhand' use of permitted development for estate regeneration

A London council has hit back at claims that it is behaving in an "underhand and unscrupulous" way in moving to demolish several buildings on a housing estate under permitted development rules, ahead of a full planning application for the wider scheme being submitted.

Westminster City Council: authority hits back at Labour claims
Westminster City Council: authority hits back at Labour claims

In a letter to Westminster City Council last week, the London Assembly Labour group’s housing spokesman Tom Copley said that notices were recently posted around the Ebury Bridge Estate confirming that the demolition of Wellesley House, Wainwright House, Dalton House, Hillersdon House, Pimlico House and Mercer House would be taking place in a matter of months.

In his letter, Copley claimed that these demolition works are scheduled to take place before a full planning application for the wider Ebury Bridge Estate regeneration scheme has been submitted, limiting public scrutiny of the proposals.

Copley also presented a technical objection to the proposals being put forward by the council under the scope of the prior approvals process.

According to the General Permitted Development Order 2015, demolition is not a permitted development when a site has been allowed to fall into disrepair by the owner. 

Copley argued that, under the ownership of the council, the condition of the Ebury Bridge Estate has been left to deteriorate in recent years, and on this basis, its demolition should not be considered permitted development.

Copley said: "It is clear that Westminster City Council are using all the loopholes at their disposal to rush through these underhand and unscrupulous demolition plans.

"Alongside expediently lining things up so they can dodge proper scrutiny from the public and the mayor, scheduling demolition works before a full planning application has been submitted leaves significant uncertainty about the estate’s future.

"I am urging Westminster City Council to abandon their tactics and adopt a more open and transparent approach by conducting a residents’ ballot. That way any plans for the future of the Ebury Bridge Estate could begin to reflect the genuine needs and best interests of local people."

In July 2018, the mayor of London introduced a rule that any major regeneration schemes which involve the demolition of social homes must receive the support of existing residents through a ballot in order to be eligible for mayoral funding.

Responding to Copley’s letter, councillor Rachael Robathan, Westminster City Council cabinet member for finance, property and regeneration, said: "The renewal of Ebury Bridge will provide every one of our 229 residents the right to return to a modern, energy efficient, high quality new home.

"It will deliver 752 new homes – half of which will be affordable, exceeding the mayor's targets. These homes are desperately needed by the many homeless families on our housing waiting list.

‘’It’s extraordinary that a Labour London assembly member is trying to stop this project, especially given the shortage of affordable housing in the capital.

"Westminster was an early adopter of votes on renewal projects. We’ve learned that they’re not the answer. One-off votes on regeneration projects by their nature are a snapshot in time and are no substitute for how you really know what a community thinks.

"We’ve put residents at the heart of the process, to make sure our plans reflect their views. Over the past two years, 80 per cent of Ebury Bridge residents both on and off the estate have given us their views on renewal proposals through a detailed, open and transparent engagement process."

Planning special report, published today, on office to residential conversions can be read here. 

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