Permission refused on appeal for hotel and private members’ club in Mayfair

16 Aug 2022

Planning and Environment

An appeal against the refusal of planning permission by Westminster City Council for the conversion of the former MI5 headquarters at Leconfield House to a hotel and private members’ club has been dismissed by a planning inspector. Jack Parker represented the City Council.

The Council initially resolved to grant planning permission for the scheme. However, before the S106 Agreement had been agreed and the permission issued, a report by the Examiner of the Council’s new City Plan was published, finding the Plan to be sound. The planning application was returned to the Council’s planning committee and planning permission was refused by reference to two policies in the new Plan, one restricting the extent of basement development in the Central Activities Zone to a single storey, the other resisting the loss of office accommodation to hotel use.

In the appeal, the Council argued successfully that an exception to the one-storey limitation on basement development should not be made as the site was not “highly accessible” and the construction of the additional basement levels would have a material adverse impact on the living conditions of neighbouring occupiers. The Inspector dismissed the Appellant’s argument that the basement construction would be acceptable merely because it could be carried out in accordance with the Code of Construction Practice.

In respect of the loss of office accommodation, Policy 13 of the City Plan (and Policy E1 of the London Plan) require 12 months’ vacancy and marketing of office space to be carried out to demonstrate that the space is no longer fit for office purposes. The Council argued successfully that the limited marketing of the building that had been carried out by the Appellant amounted to more than a mere ‘technical’ breach of policy, as the Appellant had argued. Further, although the building was not ‘best in class’, there was nothing which made it inherently unsuitable for office use.

The Inspector also dismissed the Appellant’s argument that the Council was applying Policy 13 “retrospectively” by requiring the scheme to comply with Policy 13 at the date of adoption of the Plan, given that the required marketing would need to have been carried out when the policy was not yet in force. The Inspector found that the Appellant would have had an appreciation of emerging policies for an extensive period before their adoption and that, at the point of adoption, the policies should carry full weight. To suggest otherwise would lead to ambiguity and uncertainty.

For a copy of the appeal decision, please click here.

Jack Parker represented Westminster City Council, instructed by Kirsten Chohan