Changing our approach: The Cundy Street Quarter


Craig McWilliam, Chief Executive of Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, sets out the case for rebuilding trust and a better public debate about large-scale development.

The public doesn’t trust the planning system. Nor does it trust private developers. This is the stark conclusion of the research we recently published. When it comes to large-scale development, just 2% of the public trust private developers to act honestly, and 7% trust local authorities to act in the best interests of their area.

We know this lack of trust defines an often confrontational debate about development, regeneration and building new homes. We see it in stand-offs between communities, councils and private developers. It deepens when civic and industry leaders fail to explain both the costs and the benefits of development, or fail to have an honest discussion about the difficult choices and trade-offs we all face if we’re to meet the UK’s need for more homes. It deepens when false hopes emerge, expectations are set that can’t be met, promises are broken.

At Grosvenor, we accept our responsibility in rebuilding trust. We have been part of the problem, and with others, we want to be part of the solution. We want to change our approach to meet this challenge by bringing greater transparency, understanding, public scrutiny and involvement to our development proposals.

So we’ve begun. We shared widely this year our decision to redevelop the Cundy Street flats and Walden House in South Belgravia, close to Victoria Station. Some are understandably upset at our decision to demolish these buildings even if they appreciate that doing so gives us the chance to create a better place with more homes for more people. We won’t deny those feelings as we open ourselves up.

We will have an open and transparent discussion with as many people as possible to better weigh the benefits and the costs of our proposals.

We are building a picture of what the widest possible range of locals and visitors want. We have had over 500 face to face conversations in the public consultation we are running. In addition, we’re offering residents, workers and visitors the chance to post their comments and poll their opinions through a new user-friendly app. What mix of homes should we build? Where should we spend to improve public spaces? Should locals decide how the tax on this development is spent? What kind of local amenities would you like to see?

And we are sharing our ambitions. We want to tackle the local housing shortage by roughly doubling the number of dwellings on this site with new market, senior living and affordable homes. We think this mix could nurture a community that spans generations. But our proposals don’t just hinge on new homes. To successfully build a more inclusive neighbourhood we’ll also need better and more inviting streets, public and community spaces, local shops and facilities. And of course we’ll need greener spaces and buildings that are more environmentally friendly.

So far, we have collected over 1,500 points of view influencing our plans, from the types of home on offer, the use of public space, the community facilities we should prioritise, the greening of public and private spaces and the location and type of new shops.

We will go further – to be more transparent and build a broader understanding. First, we will make it easier for the public to weigh the value and costs created by development. We will set out later this year in plain English the anticipated social and environmental benefit our proposals will create, alongside the expected risks and returns to us.

And second, we will open up this often opaque planning process to an independent journalist, so that a wider audience can understand how it works. That journalist already has unfettered access to the people who shape the process on the ground. He is publishing his own opinions and sharing the perspectives of others, having started here and here.

This all points to our efforts to be more open and transparent, and to better explain the choices and trade-offs in large-scale development. Why? Because we believe in our plans for the Cundy Street Quarter and the benefits they could bring to Westminster’s communities today and in the future. Because we want to open our proposals to public scrutiny so that they be formed by more people and a more diverse range of voices than tends to be the case. And because trust in the planning system can be restored to see more homes built for the growing number of those locked out of the housing market.

Craig McWilliam
Chief Executive
Grosvenor Britain & Ireland

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