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Denham refuses to call in Commonwealth Institute plans

The Secretary of State John Denham has said he does not intend to launch a public inquiry into OMA’s plans for the former Commonwealth Institute

The contentious scheme to redevelop the 1962 Grade-II* listed West London landmark, which includes 62 flats and a new home for the Design Museum, was narrowly approved in September and objectors had hoped Denham would ‘call-in’ the proposals for further scrutiny.

However, Denham said he saw no reason to ‘interfere’ with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s decisions to grant planning and conservation area consents.

In a letter written to the council (see attached) Denham said ‘… [I have] concluded on balance that, while the proposal has been controversial, [my] intervention would not be justified as there is not sufficient conflict in this case with national planning policies… or any other sufficient reason to warrant calling in the application for his own determination.’

The Communities Secretary said English Heritage had yet to refer the listed building consent application to him.

It is unclear whether campaigners against the scheme will launch judicial review proceedings against the local authority.

Previous story (AJ 18.09.09)

Commonwealth Institute proposals scrape through planning

OMA’s revised plans for the former Commonwealth Institute building have narrowly won approval – but only after the chair of the committee cast the decisive vote

Terence Buxton, the head of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea panel, gave the final thumbs up for the redevelopment of the 1962 Grade-II* listed west London landmark which includes 62 flats and a new home of the Design Museum.

The votes had been tied at five apiece until Buxton decided to agree with the recommendations of the authority’s planning officers and approve the scheme by Rem Koolhaas’ practice.   

However the decision was made before English Heritage (EH) had chance to submit its formal comments on the re-worked proposals – plans which were only revealed last month.

If EH come out against the proposals - as suggested in previous correspondence (letter 21 August) - it could lead to the unprecedented situation where the organisation instructs the borough to refuse the listed building application, post-approval.

Alternatively EH, which will hold a meeting of its English Heritage London Advisory Committee later today and is to discuss the matter with is commissioners next week, might ask the Government Office ‘to call it in’.

Conservation architect Anthony Walker, the spokesman for the Edwardes Square, Scarsdaleand Abingdon Conservation Area, hopes the scheme will go to a public inquiry.

 He said: ‘The proposals need further thought and I would welcome an inquiry to look at the development objectively.

‘This inquiry should look at the right balance of development on the site – the [proposed] amount of residential buildings proposed is not in the UDP and is a step too far.’

He added: ‘Nobody is saying they don’t like Rem’s architecture. It is just not appropriate here.’

Meanwhile the director of the Design Museum, Deyan Sudjic, said: ‘We are thrilled with the outcome which now opens the way for the Design Museum to realise its vision of becoming a world leading creative centre for design and architecture.’

The former Commonwealth Institute building, which was designed by RMJM, has been largely unused and neglected since 2001.

The use of the building by the Design Museum will be part financed by the developers, with a £20 million contribution towards the cost of restoration, and the donation towards a long-term lease at a peppercorn rent.

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