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Called in: Hall McKnight's Strand plans face public inquiry

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Communities secretary Greg Clark has called in controversial plans by Hall McKnight to redevelop King’s College London’s Strand campus

The move comes less than a month after Clark served a so-called Article 31 notice freezing a planning approval for the scheme given in April by Westminster City Council (see AJ 15.05.15).

Yesterday (9 June), the new secretary of state said that he would decide the application and listed building application following a public inquiry.

A DCLG spokesman said: ‘After careful consideration the secretary of state has decided to call in the planning applications for the redevelopment of King’s College in The Strand, London, to be decided by him. 

‘A planning inquiry will follow in which all parties will be able to make representations and further consideration can be given to issues around conserving and enhancing the historic environment of this location of national significance.’

In a letter to campaign group SAVE Britain’s Heritage, Clark requested information on whether the applications were consistent with section 12 of the National Planning Policy Framework, which relates to ‘conserving and enhancing the historic environment’, along with any other matters the inspector considers relevant. A date for the public inquiry has yet to be set.

Speaking to AJ, SAVE director Clementine Cecil, said: ‘We are delighted by this decision, which reflects the significance of the buildings, and the strength of public opinion. These proposals need to be fully discussed in a public forum.
‘The fact that heritage is the ground for call-in shows that our heritage laws are working.’

After Clark’s decision to issue the Article 31 notice, Historic England unexpectedly upgraded the level of harm it believed would be caused by the proposals to ‘substantial’.

The heritage body had originally told Westminster Council that the harm to the conservation area was less than substantial.
The college’s plans propose a five-storey extension to its current Strand building and the demolition of a run of historic – but unlisted – buildings on the Strand.

A spokesperson for the college said: ‘We have spent a year consulting around our proposals and working very closely with Historic England and Westminster Council on the application that gained consent, but we do recognise the groundswell of opinion with regard to the Strand façades.

We are committed to finding a sympathetic solution

‘We are committed to finding a solution that is sympathetic to the architectural and cultural importance of the site, while still meeting the needs of our staff and students.’

Comment:

Councillor Robert Davis, deputy of Westminster City Council:
‘As we have previously said, the council made the initial planning decision on the basis of what was put before the committee, including the advice to give consent from Historic England.

The minister must scrutinise Historic England

‘We will obviously cooperate fully with the public inquiry, but we will be encouraging the minister to scrutinise the role that Historic England has to play in future major applications in central London. Councils need sound advice from professional bodies at the very first opportunity.’

Christopher Costelloe, director of the Victorian Society:
‘This is very happy news both for campaigners and the many ordinary Londoners who don’t want to see their historic city eroded. A public inquiry presents a rare opportunity for clarification on how unlisted heritage assets within conservation areas should be protected. Westminster’s decision to allow demolition raised issues about the effectiveness of conservation areas generally.

‘If these buildings could be demolished, which were specially mentioned as making a positive contribution to the conservation area and are surrounded by grade I-listed buildings, such as Somerset House and St Mary le Strand - what couldn’t be demolished in a conservation area?’

 

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