Public garden and café off Oxford Street to be refurbished after approval

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Westminster City councillors have waved through plans to refurbish a public garden and café off Oxford Street which has sat vacant for more than two years. Applicant BH1 Ltd filed proposals to significantly re-landscape the deck area at Brown Hart Gardens and part-demolish the café, to be replaced with a larger build.

Council officers had recommended the scheme be approved, describing the landscaping works as ‘much needed’ in a report. At a Planning Applications Sub-Committee meeting on Tuesday night (April 30), members voted unanimously to approve the two applications behind the revamp.

One resident, however, raised fears about the worsening of disturbances such as noise, requesting councillors ensure the scheme is fair on those living nearby. Brown Hart Gardens, which sits between Balderton Street and Duke Street with Oxford Street to its north, is privately owned despite the garden being open to the public.

Under BH1 Ltd’s plans, the café is to be extended to accommodate more customers dining indoors. Outdoor dining covers, however, will decrease, resulting in a slight overall reduction of seating. The plans include additional greening and re-landscaping of the deck area, plus later operating hours.

At the meeting earlier this week, Nick Brindley, a Senior Planning Partner at consultancy firm Gerald Eve, told councillors the existing café building has ‘never been a success’, and has sat vacant for long periods. This, he said, has detracted from the character of the area and contributed to antisocial behaviour.

Mr Brindley added the applicant had undertaken ‘extensive’ consultation prior to submitting its designs. “The result is a carefully balanced scheme which will enhance the space for everyone, most importantly for local residents,” he said.

Rebecca Storey, a member of the Brown Hart Gardens Committee, also spoke in favour of the plans. She said the site is currently a ‘dead space’, and that operating a café would help resolve ongoing issues such as antisocial activity. She said: “This one is important to get right, and we believe this person is probably the best chance we’ve got to get it right.”

Ms Storey’s views, however, were not shared by all who made representations. Another resident, Aleksander Loesch, said issues such as vagrancy had worsened due to increased footfall as a result of the café, with urination, defecation and indecent exposure to minors among the current concerns.

Mr Loesch, who said he is an essential worker and lives in social housing, added noise is a particular worry regarding the proposed scheme, with the space acting as a ‘natural amphitheatre’.

“We didn’t choose to live there, and we know it’s a privilege to live there,” he said. “It is a great privilege to live there, but at the same time we have the same rights and ability to experience that Fairer Westminster as one would expect in terms of any planning and consultation throughout the country.”

Officers were quizzed by councillors on whether customers would be able to access the gardens late at night, given they are to be shut to the public several hours before the café is to close. They were told this would be managed by café/restaurant staff, though the details would be clarified in an Operational Management Plan (OMP) for the site.

Cllr Shamsed Chowdhury asked whether a condition could be added to ensure there is tall planting around the deck, to prevent people looking into neighbouring flats. Officers said this may have an impact on light, though an ‘informative’ encouraging this action was added to the scheme. Councillors approved the plans unanimously.


Brown Hart Gardens in its current state.

A CGI of the proposed landscaping at Brown Hart Gardens.
Credits: Studio Angeli/WCC.


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