Westminster looks to ‘place’ over pedestrianisation

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Westminster is concentrating on ‘place’ rather than pedestrianisation.

That’s according to the London borough’s director of Place Shaping and West End Partnership Deirdra Armsby as she talked through the new City Plan and strategy for the Oxford Street District at NLA.

‘We have replaced the ‘P’ word with the Place ‘P’ word’, said Armsby. ‘But the place we create is always for the other ‘P’ word: people’.

The local authority is seeking views from residents and other stakeholders in the consultation period for its Oxford Street district strategy ending on 16 December.

Julia Dorkey, director of Policy Performance & Communications at Westminster City Council said that the City Plan 2019-2040 forms its new ‘blueprint for our new approach to planning’, striking a balance between growth and conservation. The Plan aims to deliver a ‘city for all’ – with people, homes and the environment at its heart and is the ‘biggest shift for a decade’ in the way it is less prescriptive and offers a more positive approach to planning’. 

It includes a higher, more ambitious but ‘deliverable’ housing target – 1495 homes being the annual goal – than in the draft London Plan, with allowances for more building height, and affordable housing targets up to 35% from 30%.

It also identifies Paddington and Victoria as areas for tall buildings, includes a new ‘neighbourly development policy’, and sets targets for employment workspace in a borough which recognises previous policies have been ineffective in that it is still losing offices.

On Oxford Street, said Armsby, the authority aims to create a ‘connected place’, working with the grain of what it has already, and where offices are the biggest employer, not retail. Armsby said that it aims to improve the street’s setting after dark, when it is underused and ‘not actually all that pleasant’, while similarly paying more attention to side streets, especially those currently being used as ‘bus parks in the centre of London’. The plan separates the area into seven zones, with 12 good urban design principles, and has goals of improving things like wayfinding, greening, culture, and lighting. Finally, the plan looked at precedents from around the world, including Zurich station for its ‘destination retail’ and the Laneways of Melbourne, whilst keeping materials appropriate to their central London context.  ‘This is about connecting our improvements with things that already exist’, said Armsby. ‘This is not about us layering on a quick fix’.

Questions included from transport writer and one-time mayoral candidate Christian Wolmar, who argued that pedestrianisation was the ‘only answer’, to which Armsby said she disagreed, saying a comprehensive run at an alternative way forward was the approach Westtminster was ‘convinced’ would work. Other points raised included the notion that Westminster is looking at the feasibility of reducing traffic speeds to 15 mph on Oxford Street, and that bus routing was a concern but in the hands of TfL and likely to only emerge following the delayed opening of the Elizabeth Line. Finally, Armsby said that Westminster was still considering the best way forward over the proposed Pimlico to Nine Elms bridge, saying how such structures land was a ‘big issue’.

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ

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London’s local authorities play a key role in the ongoing development of our neighbourhoods, and are under greater strain than ever before – contending with huge growth targets, greater demand and fewer resources. Working with the capital’s 33 local authorities, this programme gives a platform for understanding how the central, inner and outer regions of London are accommodating growth, and provides a forum for promoting the future plans of areas undergoing change.