Westminster City Council has this week launched a consultation on future growth, dubbed “Building height: Getting the right kind of growth for Westminster”.
The consultation, open for eight weeks, will seek the views of those who live and work in Westminster on how it can manage the projected 25% growth in population by 2041. The consultation has been commissioned amidst talk of increasing building heights: of the 33 London boroughs Westminster ranks 15th in terms of tall buildings ‘in the pipeline’ (those over 20 storeys tall that are under construction, have consent or are at the pre-app stage), according to a study released on Friday.
This was expected – upon election as Leader of the Council in January 2017 Cllr Nickie Aiken was quoted as saying that a consultation on building taller was on the way. She did however stress that this did not necessarily mean a push towards skyscrapers:
“If you put one floor across Oxford Street, that would deliver the equivalent of a Shard. There are parts of Westminster where you could do it and not affect anything.”
Though certain parts of Westminster have been deemed “apt” for taller buildings by Cllr Daniel Astaire, Cabinet Member for Planning and Public Realm, he appears to support Cllr Aiken’s ‘one-storey addition’ approach:
“Protecting the unique character of Westminster, as well as the World Heritage Site, is absolutely paramount. However, there is an important balance to strike to ensure we do so while also delivering the jobs and homes that will continue to position Westminster as the centre of London. This means we will have to, where appropriate, increase the density in order to cater for the expected growth.
“Accommodating this growth needn’t necessarily mean tall buildings; in many cases it will simply mean an extra storey here and there and building behind the facades where possible, as we have seen with great success along Regent Street.”
The consultation launch has been met with a mixed response. Mike Hussey, Chief Executive of Almacantar, has said:
“It is encouraging that the council is edging away from its conservationist stance on tall buildings.”
However Simon Jenkins, columnist for the Guardian and Evening Standard, has said that a ‘pro-tower’ policy stance in Westminster would be “scandalous” and “a disaster for London”. Mr Jenkins’ protestations are not yet founded, as Westminster City Council leaders have been very quick to distance themselves from being too skyscraper-friendly.
Building taller in Westminster seems to be more a case of ‘when’ than ‘if’, with the pressure to build more homes and offices growing by the year. Though a drastic departure from the status quo remains unlikely, particularly given the council’s hesitancy, the start of this sensitive conversation should be seen as a positive move by a traditionally anti-tower borough.