The Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood Forum (MPNF) has announced an open call for teams to remasterplan the contentious Royal Mail site in Clerkenwell, north London
The competition seeks ‘creative and innovative’ proposals for a series of blocks on a rectangular portion of the complex overlooking Gough Street. The project is the second phase of a community-led masterplan for the 4.7ha site – drawn up by Neoclassical architect Francis Terry.
Backed by social enterprise Create Streets, the masterplan is part of MPNF’s bid to purchase development land surrounding the historic sorting office, which is currently being marketed by site owner Royal Mail.
In 2014, then London mayor Boris Johnson controversially approved proposals by Wilkinson Eyre, Allies & Morrison, AHMM and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, despite opposition from local residents and Camden and Islington councils over scale and affordable housing.
Edward Denison, MPNF member and director of the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture’s masters in architecture and historic urban environments, said: ‘The MPNF has always championed the widest possible public and professional engagement in the future of this important site.
‘We are therefore delighted to now be in a position to concentrate on the second phase of our scheme and welcome submissions from across the architectural profession that imaginatively interpret the site’s context, creatively challenge the masterplanning principles, and value the importance of community engagement.’
The Mount Pleasant complex was constructed on the site of the former Coldbath Fields Prison in 1889, and hosts London’s principal mail centre, which was at one time the largest sorting office in the world. The disused London Post Office Railway formerly connected the facility to other post offices and railways in the capital.
The 2014 scheme, commissioned by Royal Mail, proposed developing underused land surrounding the mail centre with 681 apartments in a number of 15-storey towers. It was rejected by both Camden and Islington councils, whose borders it straddles, largely because of the low proportion of affordable housing. But the scheme was called in by Johnson who then approved it.
At the time, James Murray, Islington Council’s then executive member for housing and now deputy mayor of London for housing and residential development, said: ‘A vital opportunity to build hundreds of genuinely affordable homes for local people has been bulldozed by Boris.’ He described the decision as ‘wrong for London’.
In October last year, the MPNF and Terry, working alongside Create Streets, Calfordseaden, Urban Engineering Studio, Maddox Associates and Alexandra Steed Urban, submitted rival plans for the scheme under the Community Right to Build rules.
These featured 125 homes, up to half of which could be affordable, plus 1,200m² of commercial space. If these are approved, Create Streets intends to submit more plans for the rest of the 4.7ha site.
According to The Guardian, the MPNF hopes to provide 40 more affordable homes than Royal Mail’s favoured scheme. In 2015, the association won £150,000 from the mayor’s Community Right to Build fund to lodge its own planning application for the site.
Before being elected as London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan praised the MPNF scheme, saying: ‘This is a great example of how big developments should work – working with local communities to design real neighbourhoods that work for the existing community.’
Terry is not the only architect to have drawn up alternative proposals for the plot. In 2015 Peter Barber came up with a speculative, high-density, low-rise social housing scheme, the model for which won him the £10,000 Turkishceramics Grand Award for Architecture at the Royal Academy summer show. Farrells also produced an earlier regeneration scheme in collaboration with FAT which was supported by both local authorities and the MPNF.
The latest contest seeks sketch proposals for three blocks which respond to the alternative masterplan’s design statement and are ‘sensitive to the surrounding area and streetscape’. Submissions may cover all three buildings or just one.
The judging panel will include local residents and the winner or winners will work with the MPNF in its bid to purchase the site.
The deadline for applications is 6pm, 26 May.
How to apply
Visit the competition website for more information