The Partnership Profile – meet Simon Birkett, Chair of the Knightsbridge Neighbourhood Forum

Interview by Mark Ferguson

What does the Knightsbridge Neighbourhood Forum do and who does it help?

Simon: We are designated by Westminster City Council as the neighbourhood forum for the Knightsbridge Neighbourhood Area. Broadly speaking, our area extends from Albert Gate in the east to Queen’s Gate in the west and from Brompton Road to South Carriage Drive.

We produced the first neighbourhood plan in the City of Westminster which was made on 12th December, 2018, after a referendum voted 93% in favour. This means that the Knightsbridge Neighbourhood Plan ranks alongside the London Plan and Westminster City Plan in the development plan until 2037.

The Plan aims to make Knightsbridge the best residential and cultural place in London in which to live, work, study and visit.  This aim reflects the fact that most businesses in the wider Knightsbridge area are south of Brompton Road, just outside our formal area.

Our key challenges include trying to predict the future in a fast-changing and complex world, and influence planning and development outcomes positively in the short, medium and long-term.  In doing so, we like to seek win-wins for residents, cultural institutions and businesses.

For example, the development plan is constantly changing at Westminster, London and national levels. Westminster has just announced a partial review of its City Plan, which we will want to analyse with a view to strengthening the local development plan.

Environmental issues, including the air we breathe, climate change and nature are particularly important issues to local people. We also take an interest in resilience issues including urban greening and the robustness of utilities. Everyone wants Knightsbridge to be clean and safe and residents want it to be quiet in local streets at night.

Last but not least, a key motivation for producing a neighbourhood plan was to trigger an increase in the neighbourhood portion of the Community Infrastructure Levy from 15% capped to 25% uncapped.  This is the proportion of funds collected by the Council from new residential development to be spent within the Knightsbridge Neighbourhood Area.  Our first project was the successful restoration of the hole-in-the wall in 2020.


How is the BID making a difference to the Knightsbridge Neighbourhood Forum?

Simon: The Forum strongly supported the creation of the BID as someone to champion the Knightsbridge International Centre.  Until then it was easy to forget that Knightsbridge was one of two International Centres in the whole of London, alongside the West End.

We are also very keen to see joined-up action across Brompton Road for the benefit of Knightsbridge as a whole. For far too long, Brompton Road and Knightsbridge have fallen somewhere between Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Transport for London.  The complexity of working across boroughs, with a red-route down the middle, had made it hard to get things done.

We are also pleased to see the BID seeking win-wins for cultural institutions, residents and businesses.  There will, of course, be instances where businesses, residents and cultural institutions don’t see eye-to-eye, but a shared vision and collective desire to work together should lead to better outcomes for the area over the longer-term.

At last, we have a powerful business alliance to champion the Knightsbridge International Centre and get things done. With its strong team and business and other links to Sloane Street and King’s Road, the sky’s the limit!


Part of the BID’s vision is to provide high-end luxury for local residents and workers. What does this mean to you?

Simon: It means is that the BID is committed to Knightsbridge remaining a premium destination. It’s also tremendous that it is seeking to achieve positive outcomes for the whole local community.

One of the challenges for the BID and Knightsbridge will be to maintain this focus on high-end luxury retail when changes to national planning rules, such as the new Class E, threaten to dilute it.  These and other new rules could encourage shops to become restaurants and offices to become residential accommodation. The role of commercial property owners is crucial.

The loss of these facilities could undermine the status of the International Centre and leave us with three or four world famous stores surrounded by dozens of cafes and sandwich bars.

Fortunately, the Knightsbridge Neighbourhood Plan encourages high-end luxury retail in the International Centre and therefore supports the BID’s aim.


What do you think makes Knightsbridge so special?

Simon: Quite simply, Knightsbridge is the best place in which to live, work, study and visit.

It has fabulous shops and hotels. It has world-leading cultural institutions, which include the Royal Albert Hall, Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum to name but a few. It is also a quiet residential area with easy access to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

It offers the best of all these things in a fantastic location!


What’s your favourite pastime in Knightsbridge?

Simon: Walking around the local streets and just seeing what’s going on. It really is a very special place.

I think the thing that most people probably don’t know is that Knightsbridge is a quiet area when you get off the main roads. If you have time after a shopping trip or restaurant meal, spend time visiting the Museums, the Royal Albert Hall or Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. They are amazing!

Those of us who are lucky enough to live or work in Knightsbridge appreciate that we’ve got the best of everything literally on our doorsteps.