Westminster councillors push for radical planning overhaul to improve transparency after Robert Davis scandal

St John's Wood Square barracks

St John's Wood Square barracks - Credit: Archant

Westminster’s Labour opposition is proposing changes to the planning system it claims could stop landmark buildings – such as the St John’s Wood barracks – from lying empty and give local people more of a chance to stand up to developers.

The plans are in response to a review of the planning system initiated by the Tory-run council after former cabinet member Robert Davis was forced to resign over allegations he had accepted hospitality from developers in half the cases he decided on in 2016.

However, the proposals have not been universally welcomed, with the St John’s Wood society arguing instead for investment in the existing planning system.

Maida Vale councillor Geoff Barraclough – Labour’s planning spokesperson – told the Wood&Vale: “We want to make things more transparent and help balance the system. For too long Westminster Conservatives have treated residents as an afterthought in a planning process geared towards the needs of major developers.”

He added: “We would point to the St John’s Wood barracks, which remain empty. That’s a site that could have been a useful building or providing amenities to the community, but it’s just sat there.”

The proposals would mean banning committee members from accepting any hospitality from developers, consolidating the council’s planning policy into a single document, and introducing penalties for developers who seek retrospective planning consent.

A council spokesperson said: “Changes to make the planning system more open and transparent have been under review for 18 months, including the introduction in February 2017 of a new protocol for meetings between councillors and developers. A further formal process is under way, supported by an independent team from the planning advisory service.”

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The St John’s Wood Society’s planning spokesperson, Christine Cowdray, was not in favour of plans for an overhaul. She said Labour’s plans were “naive”, adding: “Resources would be better spent retaining and supporting the highly experienced and knowledgeable officers in the council’s planning department who are overstretched.”