• Developers urged to “get involved” in neighbourhood forums

Developers have been ordered to ‘get involved’ in Westminster’s 15 Neighbourhood Forum by deputy leader and cabinet member for the built environment Robert Davis because when the council starts receiving substantial CIL receipts, in about 18 months’ time, some 15% of this will be given to the forums.
The local plans being produced by the forums ‘demand your attention’, said Davis at a Westminster Property Association (WPA) meeting this week and developers should ‘contribute to the debate’ and that the local plans being prepared would ‘benefit from your input’.
He said that Westminster had taken care when helping the 15 forums to establish themselves to ensure a balance between business and residents’ interests, but warned that in the longer term ‘a more strategic mindset is needed’ and ‘the time is now’ for developers to get involved because draft local plans were now being drawn up. And if developers did not do so in time, he warned, ‘my door will be closed’.
Developers should also be aware that the ‘Neighbourhood Portion’ of CIL receipts – 15% of the total – would begin to be distributed shortly, now that Westminster’s CIL rates had been established and substantial sums would begin to be received and apportioned in ‘about 18 months’ time. 70-80% of CIL receipts will be spent on strategic investment in infrastructure to support development, with about 5% on administration.
Cllr Davis also revealed that it had been agreed where members of a Neighbourhood Forum could not agree, or where a dispute arose between residents and a Business Improvement District (BID), the issues arising would be resolved by ‘the arbiter of last resort’ – the Cabinet Member with responsibility for planning – which at the moment is Cllr Davis.
Hugh Bullock, chairman of Gerald Eve and planning advisor to the WPA, warned developers that completed local plans will ‘be part of the [borough’s] development plan’ and that it was ‘very easy for developers not to get involved until you have scheme’, by which time he said, ‘it would be too late’. But he added that it was ‘early days’ in terms of how the Forums were working.
Meanwhile Grosvenor has become heavily involved in the Mayfair and Belgravia Neighbourhood Forum where it has substantial interests. Will Bax, director – placemaking, said the forum was ‘the closest’ in terms of publishing its plan. ‘We felt conversations we were having with local people weren’t particularly balanced in terms of the pressures on homes, transport and businesses’, so Grosvenor had tried to establish ‘a safer place’ for a conversation, in which growth ‘did not ride roughshod over local people. He said that a ‘somewhat poetic’ set of objectives had been agreed by residents and a local plan was now in its second draft.

LPA Perspective (by Lee Mallett): Developers really need to heed Robert Davis’ plea for them to get involved in the development of Neighbourhood Forums’ emerging local plans in Westminster, or the die will be cast – perhaps for a very long time indeed. Which future government would dare to roll back an agreed locally produced plan?
The property and planning industry has always found it very hard to ‘sell’ its ideas to local residents effectively. As Davis pointed out, people fear the unknown, and they fear most the transformation of their neighbourhoods by large-scale new development – despite the desperate need for more new homes, and indeed workspace.
One way in for developers is the dearth of resources that Forums have. No money to make a professional plan, and nor does the Council have this resource. It is time for the development industry to engage in Glasnost, especially if it wants future growth in Westminster.
The other key issue, raised by the LSE’s Tony Travers, is how will CIL income, and the proposed future retention of business rates, be distributed across the borough given the greater levels of development in certain areas? Will CIL spend be specifically targeted at those areas where there is greater development, asked Travers?
A new policy is being developed to be agreed by Cabinet shortly, said Robert Davis. The spending of CIL will obviously be a key factor in determining future opportunities for the development industry. Watch this space.
Jon Gooding of Dolphin Living asked a final pertinent question – where are the forums that need more developer input? Head of planning policy at Westminster, Barry Smith, will be letting the WPA know. So watch that space too.

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