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King's Cross in stasis as EH 'model'gets thumbs down

A controversial urban regeneration scheme held up by English Heritage as an example of 'building on the character' of its historic environment last week has come under attack from a campaign group for failing to do precisely that.

The King's Cross Railway Lands Group last week slammed Rolfe Judd-designed mixed-use proposals for P&O Developments - intended to rejuvenate a series of long-blighted blocks lining King's Cross Station - as lacking sufficient residential elements to lift security by fostering a '24-hour community'.

Amid anxieties that the area is suffering through a lack of an overall vision, the group also criticised the design, and claimed that the scheme contradicted both the London Borough of Islington's Unitary Development Plan and the planning brief for the area, agreed with the locals.

Group chairman Andrew Bosi said the scheme - which has already been condemned by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment in July this year - featured a 'cheap, modern' hotel which at six storeys tall unacceptably 'dwarfed' the listed station, and that reworked rooflines spoilt the roofscape.

CABE said that the hotel's initial form was not 'adequate' as a piece of architecture, and its long elevation in particular was 'not a good piece of urban design'.

Bosi said a scheme commissioned by Railtrack and designed by engineer Alan Baxter and Associates to 'open up' the station to the adjacent York Way would have better benefits in deterring crime.

And Baxter told the AJ his firm had provided an analysis of the 'appalling banality' of the initial Rolfe Judd proposals for EH and then suggested to Railtrack that it might possibly reconfigure the station, moving a section of the Regent's canal.

But Baxter criticised the apparent lack of any overall body effectively looking at the regeneration of the King's Cross area as a whole, which was 'locked' by uncertainties over issues like the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

Proposals for three of the four blocks, which include a 6,503m 2office headquarters, 350-bed hotel for Scottish and Newcastle and retail, are currently with Islington council - the other goes to Camden. They will go to committee at the former in February. Bosi expects the planners to recommend refusal.

EHlast week chose the former St Pancras Ironworks in the heart of the area to launch its report into the historic environment, Power into Place.

EH's conservation and regeneration advisor Martin O'Rourke said the proposals were an improved version of the initial plan but were still the subject of 'ongoing negotiation', particularly regarding the hotel design.O'Rourke said an earlier scheme had proposed too much demolition and the plans represented a good example of the struggles involved in striking balances. 'We're not an organisation which simply looks at grand houses and doesn't get its hands dirty, ' he said. 'Power of Place is essentially about urban regeneration.'

Among 18 recommendations, the report urges government to finally extend VAT at 5 per cent for all building work in a bid to speed up renewal.

And EH chief Sir Neil Cossons hit out at the system by which planning applications are made in this country, branding them 'opaque' and inaccessible to the public. 'The way planning applications are made public isn't a particularly user-friendly process, ' he said. 'I stroll down to my local telegraph pole to read about plans and am directed to view plans at the council, many of which are taken out of context.

Access to the planning process needs to be made more sensitive and more human.'

Classical architect Robert Adam said the document was little more than 'good intentions, housekeeping and political correctness. 'It totally fails to respond to the disastrous effect that too much control is having on the heritage it was created to protect', he said.

'We are creating a stock of redundant or sterile places, meticulously preserved but lacking that raw and risky edge of change.'

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