Conservation and development groups have criticised proposals by Heatherwick Studios to convert two Grade II-listed coal drop buildings at King’s Cross
The retail scheme has been recommended for approval by planners at London Borough of Camden ahead of a development control committee later this week.
But, as part of the public consultation about the planning application, heritage groups have written to the council saying that the proposals would damage the historic structures.
Alex Bowring, conservation adviser at the Victorian Society, said of the proposals: ‘It is an innovative response to a desire for more space. [However] the proposals pay no respect to the listed status of the Eastern Coal Drops, disfiguring the roofscape to the degree of substantial harm.’
He also said that the planned ’kissing’ roof connecting the two coal drops was ‘unrelated and of little relevance to the structures they cover’.
Bowring added that because surviving examples of coal drops were so rare, ‘conserving the earliest example of this arrangement, as close to its original appearance as is reasonably possible, should be a priority’.
The proposals, he continued, are a departure from the outline planning permission and accompanying conservation plans.
Backed by developer Argent as part of the King’s Cross Development Partnership (KCDP), the 10,000m² retail scheme aims to ‘secure the long-term future of the historic [structures] built in the 1850s to receive freight arriving from the north of England’.
But the King’s Cross Development Forum has also weighed in against the Heatherwick scheme, saying: ‘The existing buildings do not need to be contorted into a ‘‘flagship” or a “gateway”: they can speak for themselves, without rococo flourishes.’
It added that the proposed roof would darken the space below and clash with nearby historic buildings.
A response from the Islington Society by architect James Dunnett said that the original intention to revive the coal drops as two rows of small retail units and craft workshops will be lost, ‘giving it more the character of an enclosed shopping mall’.
He called on an investigation into alternative options that would not transform the character of the buildings so radically, and which would retain the current sense of open space.
However, Historic England’s advice to the council says that the public benefits of the proposal have the potential to outweigh the ‘less than substantial’ harm to the listed buildings and surrounding conservation area.
Proposed design for Coal Drops Yard by Heatherwick Studio
Source: Forbes Massie