Westminster Council defers planning decision on redevelopment of Soho gay bar The Yard (Updated: Application rejected)

Westminster Council has today (Tuesday 27 January 2015) deferred making a decision on a planning application for the construction of three residential flats above The Yard bar on Rupert Street, pending a site visit of the bar.

If eventually approved, the redevelopment will involve the creation of a two storey roof extension over the rear courtyard building to construct the flats. As such, The Yard Bar’s external courtyard will become enclosed.

All of the background documentation for the planning application is available on the Westminster Council website (Search Rupert Street).

The precise wording in the application is:

Erection of two storey roof extension to the rear courtyard building to provide 2 x studio flats and 1 x 2 bedroom flat, creation of terraces at second floor level. Installation of a roof over the courtyard are associated with the bar at ground and first floor levels and enclosure of the first floor balcony within the demise of the bar. Use of the first floor fire escape from the bar as access to the proposed flats at second and third floor levels.

The planning application has been vociferously opposed by The Yard, for fear that it will result in the sale of the site and the bar replaced with a restaurant.

This comes against a background of considerable uncertainty over for the future of Soho, following closure of venues such as Madame JoJos and Manbar.

Public figures such as Stephen Fry have written to the Government urging action to be taken to protect Soho.

Demand by restaurants for new venues in Soho is very high, as evidenced by the number of new casual dining establishments that keep opening.

When the branch of Leon on Old Comption Street closed in 2013 we were told that the incoming tenant, Muriel’s Kitchen, gave Leon an offer too good to refuse to take on the site. So good, that it would enable Leon to open four new restaurants elsewhere in the capital.

Westminster has designated some areas, such as Savile Row and Jermyn Street and Albemarle and Cork Streets as “Special Policy Areas”. This means any planning applications that involve the loss of traditional shops for which the streets are known will be refused unless there are exceptional circumstances. (Source: Financial Times) There seems to be no such policy in place for Soho.

Westminster Council has also expressed concern about the loss of office space due to residential conversions and is to impose conditions on conversion of offices to residential use (Source: Financial Times). But again, there appears to be no such policy in place in respect of nightlife in the West end.

As for The Yard, it’s important to emphasise that for now it is business as usual and the bar is very much open for business.

Update: A decision is expected from Westminster Council in the week beginning 9 March. In the interim, The Yard has commissioned a study on the architectural and historical interest of its site by an independent architect Paul Velleut.

Update 10 March: Westminster Council has rejected the planning application

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