The problem with Westminster City Council’s new planning policy

Ben Babington, Director of Jackson-Stops London’s Residential Development division, reacts to Westminster City Council’s proposed new planning policy.

In November news broke that Westminster City Council plan on banning new supersize homes as part of their 2019-40 development plan which aims to deliver more than 10,000 affordable units of housing by 2040. The council claims that banning “Monopoly board-style” investments would help free up more space for affordable homes for Londoners. The proposed plan comes as no surprise with Westminster City Council showing consistent resistance to basement extensions. In theory, the idea of limiting the size of new homes in Westminster is sensible. However, the 150m2 (1,615 sq. ft) limit poses a problem.

Westminster’s typical demographic

In Westminster City Council’s jurisdiction, which covers St James all the way up to Queen’s Park and Abbey Road , the average apartment sells for £1,626,844, whilst semi-detached homes fetch £4,088,077*. Therefore, it is no surprise that Westminster’s typical demographic are the wealthy. Given its zone 1 location, properties in Westminster are always going to be priced at the premium end of the market. Wealthy buyers in this area will simply need more space – especially those who use their property as their principal home.  

The problem

Whilst Westminster City Council’s change in their planning permissions mean well, there is an underlying danger that can not be ignored. By not offering the right housing stock to satisfy demand, the area may start to see an increase in pied-a-terre buyers and buy to let investors who are eager to count on an increasing demand for rental homes in the area. Therefore, the council could very well be making the situation worse. They want to introduce the new planning policies so that ‘real people’ can live in Westminster, but in reality, it could do the opposite!

Additionally, the ban does not apply to family homes which have been converted into flats and are being converted to their original function as a single home. The lack of sizable homes in the area could cause a rise in these buildings being converted back into one single home which would actually reduce the housing stock in the borough of Westminster.

What needs to be done?

It is important that planning policy is used to shape communities and expedite the delivery of new homes that are desperately needed, which is why, over the last 12 to 18 months, the majority of housebuilders in London have been focusing their attention on planning and building developments with homes suitable for first-time buyers, downsizers, and families in the sub £1 million price bracket. However, Westminster City Council must take account of the demands of the market with this potential ban. There is a very good reason why developers have traditionally built a proportion of larger homes in Westminster - it is what the market wants in this location. The door should at the very least be left open for homeowners to combine plots if the demands of their lifestyle require it.

*Figures taken on 28 November 2018 from Rightmove