Westminster approves plans to turn underground car park into health and wellbeing centre

A virtual planning committee at Westminster City Council has given the go-ahead to plans to transform a 432-space underground car park in London’s West End into a 26,000 square metre subterranean health and wellbeing centre.

A visualisation of the Cavendish Square Gardens health and wellbeing scheme. Pic: Reef Group
A visualisation of the Cavendish Square Gardens health and wellbeing scheme. Pic: Reef Group

Developer the Reef Group secured consent from the committee, held remotely on Tuesday, for its application to convert the 1960s car park at Cavendish Square Gardens, where it sits underneath the Georgian square.

The scheme, which is located to the north of Oxford Street and the foot of Harley Street, will deliver a mixed-use scheme including specialist facilities for the private healthcare sector. The Reef Group claims it would be the UK's first subterranean health and wellbeing development.

Under Reef Group's plans for a mix of healthcare, office, retail, entertainment and leisure uses, the car park’s current bottom level will be extended and a new fourth basement level dug out on the same footprint.

The extensions will provide approximately 10,000 square metres of additional floorspace, producing a total floorspace of 25,593 square metres.

The square will also undergo significant landscaping above the ground. The existing vehicular entrance and exit ramps will be removed and replaced with three new entrances.

The committee report by planning officers said that any harm caused by the addition of new above-ground structures is outweighed by the benefits of creating a new use for the car park.

In addition, as the majority of the works are below ground, officers felt the use of the square at surface level as public open space would be enhanced by improved accessibility, while the proposed public realm works would improve the pedestrian environment.

The report went on to say said that the council’s Unitary Development Plan policy does not protect commercial public car parks, provided their removal does not put pressure on street parking elsewhere.

According to a transport statement, submitted in support of the application, the current maximum occupancy of the car park at any one time is 197 vehicles. This figure marked a "sharp decline" from 2017, when maximum occupancy peaked at 281 vehicles, reflecting the London-wide policy for discouraging journeys by car.

The report states: "The existing car park is under used and its loss is considered acceptable, as the demand for car parking can be successfully accommodated elsewhere in the vicinity."

And it says the uses proposed for the development are all considered to be in principle "appropriate" for this site, which is in the heart of the Core Central Activities Zone. According to the developer, construction is expected to start next year with completion in 2023.

The committee granted conditional permission subject to the completion of a legal agreement and consideration by the mayor of London.

Matthew Green, the council's cabinet member for business and planning, said: “We are changing the way that we shop and our development must reflect that. We want to champion schemes like this to ensure our shopping districts rival those in capitals across the world."

Stewart Deering, joint chief executive of Reef Group, said: “The health and wellbeing industry is predicted to grow substantially and Cavendish Square London is well placed to respond to this trend.”

According to Reef Group, consultants CBRE and Savills act as planning agents for the scheme with UrbanR the lead architects.

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