Before the current changeover at Number 10, there was another turning point in Westminster when, at the London local elections in May, Labour seized control of Westminster City Council for the first time since its creation in 1964.
Opening the latest in hgh’s series of breakfasts, Paul Dimoldenberg, newly-appointed Councillor at Westminster and Cabinet Member for City Management and Air Quality began with the line “I shouldn’t be here at all – I planned to retire”, expressing surprise at the outcome and at the intense interest in Labour’s manifesto from local voters leading up to the election.
Dimoldenberg then discussed the main priorities for the new Leadership and highlighted changes most likely to take place.
1. Affordable Housing
The first priority is housing provision, specifically affordable homes. “We hope this sends a signal” said Dimoldenberg, referring to a proposed amendment to policy to increase the amount of affordable rent tenure from 40% to 60%. He also hinted at a renewed ‘mixed use’ policy to seek contributions towards affordable housing for major commercial developments, where there is a net uplift in floorspace.
2. Employment Opportunities
From local procurement, training and apprenticeships to the delivery of affordable workspace, measures that promote and encourage employment opportunities for local residents, particularly in more deprived areas of the borough, were flagged by Dimoldenberg: “We want more people who live in our borough to work and build careers here, on their doorstep”.
3. Sustainability and Energy
Greater scrutiny of the need to retain and re-use existing buildings, with development proposals that seek to demolish existing buildings unnecessarily to be heavily scrutinised. By way of an example, the Council was supportive of the Secretary of State’s recent decision to call-in the Oxford Street M&S proposals involving the demolition of the existing building.
“We need to get Oxford Street done”
4. Public Realm improvements
Oxford Street is a key priority, although this is unlikely to include pedestrianisation. New developments and landowners will be expected to contribute further to public realm enhancements across the borough, whilst promoting a more sustainable mix of uses (commercial, residential and leisure).
5. Increased engagement and consultation
An increased focus on engagement with the local community, with development proposals expected to demonstrate how they have positively responded to community needs. As Dimoldenberg commented: “we take the view that we don’t know everything…and realise there are many people that are not being heard”.
Naturally, these plans are still taking shape. However, this discussion gave an indication of the new Council Leaderships’ intentions, to address some of the entrenched problems faced by those who live, work and operate within the borough. As London itself aims to re-establish its world status, Westminster also needs to emerge as a brighter, greener and more accessible part of the city.
Image: Jure Tufekcic on Unsplash