A planning committee headed by the deputy leader of Westminster City Council is due to decide on Tuesday if a development of 105 apartments in Fitzrovia can go ahead despite the scheme providing no social housing, and in the face of criticism that the council is not being open about its own interest in the site. (Update — 20 April 2015: Westminster Council has told us that this application has now been withdrawn from the planning committee agenda.)

End of building.
Thin end of the wedge. Holcroft Court (right) is just eight metres from a planned redevelopment of the triangular site to create 105 flats. A petrol filling station would be entered from the narrow road.

Councillor Robert Davis will chair a meeting which will look at an application by Dukelease Properties to demolish a two-storey triangular site in Cleveland Street to create a ten-storey tower block, shops, a restaurant, and a petrol filling station entered from alongside neighbouring homes.

Fitzrovia News understands that Dukelease is making the application and developing the site on behalf of Soho Data Holdings Ltd.

Westminster council owns the freehold of the site and, according to documents obtained by Fitzrovia News under the Freedom of Information Act, would offer a 125 year lease to Soho Data Holdings Ltd if the planning application to redevelop the site is successful.

The development site is a mere eight metres from the Holcroft Court housing estate which is also owned by Westminster council and whose residents are fiercely against the plans.

The Holcroft Court Residents Association (HCRA) say that Dukelease has submitted a flawed daylight and sunlight assessment and that the 10-storey tower block and petrol filling station is not suitable at this location.

The Freedom of Information request reveals that Westminster City Council entered into a financial arrangement with Soho Data Holdings Ltd, but much of the document was redacted.

HCRA vice chair Andrew Slee says the council is not declaring its interest in the planning application. “It is clear from the extent of the redactions in the copy that we have managed to obtain that there are a significant number of commercial agreements that have not been disclosed. The extent of the redactions gives the impression that Westminster Council have a lot to hide. One thing that is very clear from this is that Westminster Council will gain significant financial benefit by approving this application,” he says.

Slee has written to the council asking for any planning decision to be postponed until the council has disclosed the information.

Westminster council in its FOI response says that parts of the report are exempt from disclosing. “This is because the project is still in progress and as a result the exact payment figure due to the Council is still unconfirmed and subject to the outcome of the planning process. Consequently the disclosure of any correspondence at this time would be likely to prejudice this negotiation, thereby affecting the amount received by the council into the Housing Revenue Account,” says the council.

The residents association has collected a petition with 258 signatures opposing the plans and created a video to illustrate their concerns about the development.

A development of this size should include a mix of housing and include up to 35 percent affordable homes which would be mostly socially-rented flats. Dukelease are only including 15 flats for “intermediate rent” and no social-rented housing.

According to the planning committee report the applicant is required to submit a payment-in-lieu to cover the shortfall in the affordable housing on the site.

A policy-compliant affordable housing payment would be £15,785,000 but applicants Dukelease originally offered only £3,347,000 as a payment in lieu.

A viability study undertaken by Gerald Eve for Westminster City Council has concluded that a full policy compliant payment towards affordable housing would not be viable. Gerald Eve says the maximum amount that could be asked for is £4,629,000 (less than a third of what policy requires). Unsurprisingly Dukelease have agreed to make this payment.

Councillor Robert Davis who will be chairing the planning committee has been described as “autocratic” and having a habit of rubber stamping controversial planning applications. Holcroft Court residents fear that Davis will push his Conservative colleagues on the committee to approve this application.

Update — 20 April 2015: Westminster Council has told us that this application has now been withdrawn from the planning committee agenda.

87-89 Cleveland Street — Westminster City Council Planning Applications Committee (1) Tuesday 21st April, 2015 6.30pm.

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