Leading figures in transport, politics and architecture have slammed Transport for London (TfL), saying it is looking to sell its iconic Grade I-listed headquarters building ‘at the worst possible time’
Former TfL deputy chair Daniel Moylan, one-time London Underground design chief Mike Ashworth, London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon and conservation specialist Richard Griffiths have all condemned the plan to offer a long leasehold on 55 Broadway.
TfL’s finance committee this month voted to dispose of the organisation’s interest in the building, which straddles St James’s Park Tube station, in a bid to save costs and bring in a substantial capital sum for the cash-strapped public body.
While TfL has long intended to sell the building – and secured planning permission for a residential conversion by architect TateHindle in 2015 - the sale had been put on hold due to the downturn in the market for high-end property in the capital, and the transport body still has staff based within it.
Designed by Charles Holden specifically for the body which became London Underground, the iconic 1920s building has been described as the city’s first skyscraper.
Former deputy chair of TfL Daniel Moylan said selling 55 Broadway would be ‘a tragedy’. Moylan, who is also co-chair of Urban Design London, accused TfL of selling a ‘Grade I-listed building of astonishing significance’ at the worst possible time, given the economic and political climate.
‘It’s the jewel in the crown of TfL’s design heritage,’ he said. ‘The idea of selling 55 Broadway, which comes with residential planning permission, into this market where there is no demand for such a residential development means it would be a panicky fire sale.’
A report commissioned by Moylan in 2012 during Boris Johnson’s mayoralty concluded that the building could be modernised to provide ‘good refurbished offices’ for the government body.
Moylan added this week: ‘It is designated as a railway station, so TfL pays no rent or business rates. For a cost of £25 million, it could have a superb office building, yet it is giving up this extremely low-cost yet valuable property in order to pay rents and business rates elsewhere.
’This is a decision of idiocy and can only be explained by the financial crisis which Sadiq Khan has plunged the organisation into.’
This is a decision of idiocy and can only be explained by the financial crisis which Sadiq Khan has plunged the organisation into
Architect Richard Griffiths, who has acted as a consultant to English Heritage and knows 55 Broadway well, called it ’the finest building of the 1920s in Britain, if not Europe’.
‘The building represents the heritage of London Underground in a more tangible way than any of the individual Tube stations,’ he added.
London’s famous transport chief Frank Pick worked at the building when commissioning the iconic advertising posters and other elements that gave the Tube network its identity, Griffiths pointed out.
‘TfL could have carried on using 55 Broadway as its HQ in a way that would have said something significant about the organisation facing the future from a position of strength from the past,’ he said.
‘One fears that the sale is saying that commercial value rules supreme, above qualitative factors such as service to the public. If the body is prepared to chuck away the heritage of 55 Broadway then you suspect that is the case.’
Meanwhile former design and heritage manager at London Underground Mike Ashworth described the decision to sell the asset as ‘an enormously sad step’.
‘It is a shame if TfL becomes another anonymous organisation when it’s had such a flagship building,’ he said. ‘We underestimate the importance of architecture in terms of civic pride.’
Ashworth said he had spent many years arguing that station design had an impact on the perception and behaviour of passengers.
‘The same goes for head offices and those designing the stations,’ he said. ‘The danger is that selling 55 Broadway shows a paucity of aspiration. It is evidence of a stepping back; a psychological, intangible step. It smacks of selling off the family silver.’
It smacks of selling off the family silver
Ashworth said TfL could have more efficiently tackled its financial crisis with other disposals or rationalisation initiatives.
‘I am astonished that TfL has not moved quicker on other projects. This feels like a panic sale.’
Caroline Pidgeon, chair of the London Assembly’s transport committee, said: ’I fear this new policy is a direct consequence of TfL’s dire financial state.
’Short-term considerations are now being given priority over a long-standing policy of maximising the wider benefits of this unique building, including delivering much-needed housing in central London.’
TfL revealed in March that its operating deficit had been slashed from £968 million to £500 million in 2018/19. The body aims to break even on the cost of day-to-day operations by 2022/23.
TateHindle won planning permission in June 2015 to create 77 apartments plus 1,308m² of office space within the Portland stone-clad tower. While this scheme has not fully started on site, TfL has begun a programme of internal separation works that allow it to ’retain the extant residential planning consent, maintaining optimum value or flexibility when we go to market’.
A TateHindle spokesperson said earlier this month: ’With regards to the future of the approved scheme, we understand that TfL is open to all options, which could include commercial or residential use. It would be down to a potential purchaser to express their interest in taking the approved scheme forward.’
TfL insisted that the disposal of 55 Broadway was ’not a decision that has been made suddenly or without consideration’.
A spokesperson said the sale ’forms a key component of our long-term estate strategy [which] over a number of years… has been successful in reducing TfL’s accommodation footprint across London, delivering savings totalling £110 million by 2022’.
They added: ’TfL expects to receive interest from a large number of parties, who may seek to bring forward commercial office, hotel or residential schemes at this unique location. Across its portfolio, TfL is committed to delivering at least 10,000 homes with an average of 50 per cent affordable housing across its portfolio.’
TfL director of commercial development Graeme Craig said earlier this month: ’As part of our wider estate management strategy we are seeking to reduce our office accommodation costs, especially in central London. We have specifically examined the options for the office buildings complex at 55 Broadway, including 100 Petty France and Wing-over-Station, and seek to dispose of these by offering a long single leasehold to the open market to deliver best value for money.
’Our investment strategy will see us undertaking a small number of similar targeted disposals, while we concentrate our property development activity on programmes such as build-to-rent across Greater London, which will enable us to generate ongoing revenue and provide the high levels of affordable housing that the capital desperately needs.’