WEBINAR: In conversation with Cllr Thalassites, Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea

Concilio’s Nathan Parsad hosted a webinar with Cllr Johnny Thalassites, Lead Member for Planning and Transport at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) to discuss how the planning system had adapted to operate effectively during the Covid-19 pandemic, emerging policy issues facing the Royal Borough and what the leadership would like to see from the development community moving forward.

Cllr Thalassities announced that next week (w/c 28th September) RBKC would begin consulting on an issues paper that will start the process of developing a new local plan for the borough. He also suggested a number of Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) would be released in the coming months.

In terms of affordable housing, Cllr Thalassites acknowledged that RBKC has, historically, had a poor track record of delivering the necessary numbers. He confirmed that the borough had moved to a pro-growth stance recently and is keen to meet delivery targets. However, Cllr Thalassites expressed concern that the mooted numbers potentially proposed by the Government White Paper would be unrealistic for delivery. He added that, in trying to achieve the high targets set out by central Government, the end result might be fewer affordable homes.

Cllr Thalassites was keen to discsuss the Royal Borough’s ambitions around high-quality design, a key pillar of the Government’s recent White Paper. This is an important consideration in planning policy in RBKC, owing to the fact that around three quarters of the borough is part of a conservation area. A quality review panel has recently been launched by RBKC to ensure that designs meet the ambitions of local people. Cllr Thalassites expressed his support for this method and noted that it is best incorporate as many views as possible from an early stage. He added that a number of residents will be able to bring their own expertise to the quality review panel.

On the subject of community consultation, Cllr Thalassites raised the topic of online community engagement; he said he was happy to see a “renewed emphasis on digital consultation”. This form of consultation works effectively in RBKC because it allows for the many active and key voices to be included in the planning process. However, Cllr Thalassites noted the need to balance the views of the community with the planning arguments in support of development. Where there is a particular need in the borough, the Council will aim to meet this need whilst accommodating local opinions.

Cllr Thalassites spoke about RBKC’s announcement of a climate emergency and how the Council has responded through policy. They have made the borough more cycle-friendly and are promoting electric vehicles as a form of transport. There are new cycle lanes being created in Queensway to open up access to key areas of the borough. In relation to planning, Cllr Thalassites identified the environment as “one of the key planks of development”, along with development and affordable housing.

Other topics that were discussed included:

  • The inclusion of more green spaces in development. The Council aims to maintain this as a priority on bigger sites
  • Creating more car-free development. Cllr Thalassites noted that, whilst developments will include fewer space, providing spaces that are electric vehicle-ready will be hugely important
  • Ensuring that the well-visited parts of RBKC continue to be supported by Council policy. The Council recognises that changes of use may be crucial to this – for instance, buildings key shopping areas may no longer host shops as the retail industry moves online, but councillors are open to providing other community uses on those sites
  • Provision of more 15-20 minute neigbourhoods, where key community facilites, green spaces and public transport are all accessible within a short walk

Click here to view the full Cllr Thalassites webinar, and if you’d like further information on any of the issues discusses please do get in touch.

Imogen Bath