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Historic England changes tack on King's College Strand plans

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Historic England has revised its stance on Hall McKnight’s plans to redevelop King’s College London’s Strand campus - deciding the controversial scheme will result in ‘substantial harm’

The move represents a significant new step in the opposition to the college’s already approved proposals (AJ 22.04.15) which includes a five-storey extension to its current Strand building and the demolition of a run of historic – but unlisted – buildings on the Strand.

All but the façade of a further grade II-listed Strand building next to grade I-listed Somerset House would also be demolished under the plans.

Last week, new communities secretary Greg Clark placed Westminster City Council’s planning permission on hold while he assessed whether the case demanded a planning inquiry.

In a statement today (21 May) Historic England admitted it had ‘reviewed [its] advice in light of the intervention of the secretary of state’ and was upgrading the level of harm the scheme would cause to the area from that expressed by predecessor body English Heritage when it advised Westminster on the planning application.

The statement said: ‘We previously described the harm to the conservation area as less than substantial. We have considered this description of the harm and further tested it against the Planning Practice Guidance issued by government.

We now believe it should properly be described as substantial

‘We now believe that it should properly be described as substantial. In our view, this group of buildings is integral to the character and appearance of the conservation area. They also make a positive contribution to the setting of Somerset House and St Mary-le-Strand.’

Campaign group SAVE Britain’s Heritage - which had berated English Heritage’s earlier stance - welcomed the move, adding that change of position ‘renders null and void’ the original support letter that ‘would have been key to the decision that was made by Westminster City Council’.

It added that Historic England’s decison redoubled the case for Clark to exercise his powers to call in the scheme.

A statement from King’s College said  it was ‘sensitive’ to the ‘architecturally significant environment’ in which it operated but appreciated the extent of concern over the buildings proposed for demolition.

‘A major part of the Strand redevelopment relates to improving facilities which are not visible from the Strand and about which few concerns have been raised,’ it said.

‘However we recognise the groundswell of opinion with regard to the Strand façades, in particular from Historic England, who were consulted at an early stage and throughout the process.

‘We are in discussions with Westminster City Council about the best way forward to take on board concerns and ensure a successful project.’

Further comments

John Walker, director of planning, Westminster City Council

After working very closely with Historic England on this project, due to the fact they are the professional body that oversees heritage issues such as this, we are surprised to learn about this sudden change of heart.

We are concerned about the implications for future schemes in London, as local authorities give a huge amount of thought to applications when they receive advice from Historic England – as is the case with Westminster and the King’s College application.

If we are going to initially receive unreliable advice and then changes of mind so late in the day, the role and value of Historic England has to be questioned. We have asked Historic England to explain their actions and spell out who decided to overrule their previous written advice. We are still waiting for a response.

Christopher Costelloe, director of the Victorian Society

King’s should re-think the scheme to retain its historic buildings. Recognising the benefits they bring will benefit both King’s itself and London as a whole.

Previous story (AJ 15.05.2015)

DCLG places Strand plans on hold

Controversial proposals by Hall McKnight to redevelop King’s College London’s Strand campus have been put on hold while ministers probe the scheme, it has emerged

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) yesterday issued a so-called Article 31 notice freezing the planning approval given last month by Westminster City Council.

It represents one of the first such moves authorised by new communities secretary Greg Clark who replaced Eric Pickles in the role earlier this week.

The notice effectively gives an extension to the statutory three-week window following a planning approval during which time ministers can decide whether schemes should be subjected to a planning inquiry that informs an ultimate government-level decision.

Last year, John McAslan’s proposals to redevelop part of Smithfield Market were rejected at public inquiry followig a call-in, even though local planning authority, the City of London Corporation, had approved the scheme.

King’s College London’s project includes a five-storey extension to its current Strand building, the redevelopment of its Quadrangle building, and the demolition of a run of historic – but unlisted – buildings on The Strand, which would be replaced by a 4,400m2  ‘New Academic Building’. All but the frontage of another listed building would be demolised to make way for the new structure.

Campaign group SAVE Britain’s Heritage opposed the scheme throughout the process because of the loss of the buildings and the resulting impact on remaining historic structures, inclduiding the nearby Somerset House, which is grade I-listed.

After Westminster City Council approved the plans, SAVE wrote to then-communities secretary Eric Pickles asking him to exercise his powers and call-in the decision.

SAVE director Clementine Cecil said the Article 31 development was ‘very good news’ and indicated that its concerns were being listened to.

Westminster City Council confirmed receipt of the notice.

 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • So... 'King's College said it was 'sensitive' to the 'architecturally significant environment' in which it operated'.
    They could've fooled me.

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  • Chris Rogers

    Incredibly embarrassing for HE/EH, just as they start under their new name/role. Sad. And how can they justify revising their advice after the SoS intervenes when they are supposed to be the ones advising the SoS in the first place?

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