A Fitzrovia community group has added its voice to criticism of Westminster Council’s proposals to increase the number of tall and denser buildings allowed to accommodate economic and population growth.

Map of the City of Westminster showing policy areas.
Building Heights in Policy Context. Source: Westminster Council.

The Council before it revises its City Plan wants to hear the public’s views in an eight week consultation on how it should shape the city of the future.

“Delivering the numbers of jobs and homes growth will bring means we have to look at ways of making best use of the sites we have, including building higher and denser — and considering the scope for tall buildings, while protecting the places and spaces that make Westminster special,” says Daniel Astaire, cabinet member for planning and public realm at Westminster City Council.

However, Astaire’s strategy for growth is doomed to failure says a professional architect and town planner.

“Economic growth will not occur if Westminster becomes overcrowded with unnecessarily tall and over-bulky buildings,” says Wendy Shillam of the Fitzrovia West Neighbourhood Forum.

In fact the opposite will occur if Westminster Council goes ahead with its planning strategy.

“Economic growth is often equated to growth in construction or density. Yet in the centre of a capital city there is no evidence to suggest that this is so. In fact cities like Bangkok, that have undergone uncontrolled growth in recent years, have seen a dramatic fall in economic activity as environmental quality has plummeted. What happens is that instead of the city thriving, it starts to die,” says Shillam.

In its public consultation document the council says “there is potential to get more out of sites by having more intense development, building higher than at present — or where appropriate, considering significantly taller buildings. At the other end of the scale there can be careful adaptation or extension of existing buildings. We need to look at all these options — whether individual higher or tall buildings, clusters of them, or increasing densities by adding additional storeys to existing buildings in the right locations.”

But the Fitzrovia West Neighbourhood Forum wants to see a conservation-led approach to city planning.

“Most historic urban centres have a cap to heights. Oxford is one example. Paris is another. Westminster should have its own height cap. This should not be seen as a restriction to growth, but in fact one of the reasons why the historic centre will always be more attractive than the outskirts. Dynamic, highly profitable, discerning businesses wish to locate here,” says Shillam.

The Fitzrovia West group is the latest organisation to take Westminster Council to task on it plans.

Barbara Weiss, from the Skyline Campaign, told the West End Extra: “I think Westminster is being incredibly naive in coming out with this consultation. There might be something that is six or seven storeys that could take an extra two storeys, but it has to be done very carefully as otherwise you could ruin the character of London. If you look at Vauxhall Nine Elms, it is a disaster, and we don’t want the whole of London looking like that.”

Cynthia Poole of the St Marylebone Society told the newspaper: “Significant changes of policy to permit taller buildings within these areas could have a seriously detrimental effect on the historic architecture and character of our city.”

Have your say: Building height: Getting the right kind of growth for Westminster. The survey will close on 21 May 2017. This consultation has now been extended until midnight on Monday 29 May 2017.

Read Fitzrovia West Neighbourhood Forum’s response to the consultation.