Council unanimously approves Fosters-designed department store retrofit at same meeting as council consults on net zero plan

Savile Row Fathom 1

Fathom Architects’ plans for 18-19 Savile Row were rejected despite the proposals being compliant with local planning rules

Westminster council has fired a warning shot to developers eyeing demolition plans after refusing proposals to rebuild a block in Mayfair despite the scheme being deemed compliant with local planning guidance.

The council is currently consulting on plans to become a ‘retrofit-first’ city by significantly strengthening rules on demolition as it looks for ways to cut carbon emissions.

In the first planning committee meeting since the initiative was announced last month, councillors rejected Fathom Architects’ plans for 18-19 Savile Row in a knife edge vote yesterday evening following a debate over whether there were grounds in current planning policy for its refusal.

Meanwhile, Foster & Partners’ deep retrofit of six buildings on New Bond Street, also in Mayfair, was unanimously approved at the same council meeting after the scheme received glowing praise for its sustainability approach and retention of the existing buildings.

Fathom’s proposals for the Saville Row site had been recommended for refusal by planning officers ahead of the meeting on the grounds that it “failed to adhere to circular economy principles”.

Backing this recommendation with “considerable reluctance”, committee chair Ruth Bush said: “We have to send out the strong message that everything proposed in planning terms in major applications must meet the highest possible sustainability criteria that exist currently in policy.”

However, the officers’ recommendation came under considerable scrutiny in the meeting as three out of six of the committees’ members voted to approve the scheme after concluding there was no presumption in current policy requiring developers to avoid demolition.

Councillor Paul Fisher, who voted to approve the scheme, instead said the decision was a “value judgement” and urged the council not to “sacrifice everything to the altar of sustainability”.

“We must give some ground to applicants unless we have clear policies to the contrary that allows them to demolish buildings if they’re completely impractical to their intended use,” he said.

“Having seen the property myself from the inside out, I happen to agree with the applicant that this building is ripe for demolition and indeed to prevent demolition under the plan would in my view invite a successful appeal to the planning inspectorate.”

Councillor Jim Glen, also voting to approve the plans, added that the scheme was “frankly compliant with current policy” and the council had already sent a message about the importance of sustainability by approving the Foster & Partners application earlier in the meeting.

This scheme would see five new storeys built on top of the site, which includes a former Fenwick department store, while around half of the fabric and three quarters of the facades of the existing buildings would be retained.

Fenwick 1

Foster & Partners’ proposals for the Fenwick department store in Mayfair were unanimously approved at the same meeting

Bush described the Fosters application as “uplifting”, adding: “With the work that’s gone into it, the imagination that’s gone into it….it’s lovely, it’s great, we welcome it.”

Fisher also “wholeheartedly” endorsed the proposals, which he said were “exactly the sort of thing we want to be encouraging in the heart of our city”.

Westminster’s proposals to strengthen sustainability policies would include increasing carbon offsetting payments to nine times their current levels and requiring developers to explore re-use options on existing buildings before looking at demolition.

The rules, some of the strongest proposed by any London borough, are part of the council’s plan to make Westminster net zero by 2040, 10 years ahead of the government’s deadline for the whole UK.