Prescott lifts affordable targets for Westminster

Westminster City Council has been ordered by the government to boost the affordable housing quota in its unitary development plan.

A direction issued by deputy prime minister John Prescott last week requires the council to increase the amount of affordable housing provided by applicants on sites outside the central activities zone from 30 to 50 per cent. It has also been told to cut the threshold for providing affordable housing in new developments from 15 homes to ten.

Prescott issued the direction after the ODPM received two requests to order modifications to the policies. An ODPM spokesman said: "The statutory London Plan sets a strategic target for London that 50 per cent of new housing should be affordable. The first secretary of state has taken this strategic target into account in taking this decision."

Councillors in Westminster reacted angrily to the decision. Robert Davis, cabinet member for planning, described the decision as "astonishing and inconsistent", claiming that the modified policy would cut the number of affordable homes built.

"This decision shows a lack of sensitivity to the needs of central London and could see developers deciding that residential building in the area is not worth their while," said Davis. "It is the most extreme housing policy to be imposed anywhere in the UK."

But London mayor Ken Livingstone welcomed the decision. "As a result we will see more affordable homes for key workers and those in housing need being built in Westminster," he said.

Neale Coleman, Livingstone's housing adviser, said Westminster is in a better position to achieve the target than other boroughs. "There is more land value available to cross-subsidise provision of affordable housing," he pointed out.

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