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DCLG places Strand plans on hold

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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.

Previous story (AJ 13.05.2015)

Pressure mounts for King’s College Strand plans to face call-in

Westminster City Council’s opposition Labour bloc has added its weight to demands for a public inquiry into Hall McKnight’s controversial scheme for King’s College London

The proposals for new academic facilities off The Strand were approved by Westminster’s planning committee last month but have been bitterly opposed by campaign group SAVE Britain’s Heritage.

The scheme, which includes a five-storey extension to the college’s current building and the redevelopment of its Quadrangle, would see a run of historic – but unlisted – buildings on the Strand flattened and replaced by a 4,400m2  ‘New Academic Building’.

Earlier this week, SAVE revealed that it had asked ministers to exersise their planning powers and call in the plans for closer scrutiny at a planning inquiry before finalising any decision.

The campaign group also attacked English Heritage for failing to oppose the scheme on the grounds that the loss of the buildings would cause ‘less than substantial harm’.

Now Westminster’s Labour councillors have added their voice to the concerns and are calling on new communities secretary Greg Clark to intervene.

The party cited new comments from Nigel Barker, London planning and conservation director at English Heritage’s successor body Historic England, who said this week: ‘These buildings contribute to the character of the conservation area and our carefully considered view is that their loss would cause harm.’

Westminster councillor and planning committee member David Boothroyd, who voted against the King’s College scheme, said a Barker’s words represented a change of stance.

‘The current proposals would not only mean a loss of this lovely terrace of historic buildings, but would be a repeat of the mistakes made in the 1970s when King’s College was allowed to build a Brutalist development which was totally unsympathetic with The Strand and nearby Somerset House,’ he said.

‘The new secretary of state should call in this proposal given the significant change in Historic England’s comments and the huge national interest.’

An Historic England spokeswoman said the organisation had not changed its stance on the project.

She said Barker’s comments had reflected a clarification of the impact of the scheme on the area, but that the loss of the buildings had to be weighed against the needs of King’s College and the public benefit of the redevelopment.


Previous story (AJ 11.05.2015)

SAVE calls for Strand plans to face planning inquiry

Conservation group SAVE Britian’s Heritage has asked the government to call in Hall McKnight’s controversial proposals to redevelop Kings College’s campus off The Strand in central London

Last month Westminster City Council approved the college’s proposals to demolish several historic, but unlisted, buildings to make way for the new £50million scheme.

Conservation body English Heritage – now Historic England (HE) - did not object to the proposals on the grounds that demolishing the existing buildings would cause ‘less than significant harm’.

However since the planning application was approved, a petition calling on the college to abandon the scheme has passed the 7,000-signature mark.

Now SAVE has published a letter dated 25 April to then-communities secretary Eric Pickles at the Department for Communities and Local Government, asking him to exercise his power to call-in the proposals, subjecting them to a planning inquiry.

In it, SAVE director Clementine Cecil argues that the proposed new buildings are of ‘extremely low quality’ and ‘bland in contrast to the existing buildings’, and would affect the background to the Grade-I listed Somerset house.

‘As part of one of London’s most historic thoroughfares, the buildings are of national significance,’ she said.

‘The conclusions drawn by HE could have negative repercussions on a national scale if not challenged.

‘We consider that there is sufficient national public interest in this matter, and elements of controversy that warrant a public inquiry where these important issues can be discussed, considered and challenged.’

Following his appointment this week, an ultimate decision on calling in the proposals will rest with new communities secretary Greg Clark.

Previous story (AJ 29.04.2015)

SAVE launches petition against Hall McKnight’s Strand plans

Campaign group SAVE Britain’s Heritage has launched a petition calling on King’s College London to shelve the controversial redevelopment of its campus off The Strand.

The college last week received planning permission from Westminster City Council to demolish historical buildings and create new facilities which it says are needed to maintain its position as a world-leading education institution.

More than 2,200 people have already put their name to the petition on website 38degrees.co.uk, pleading for a rethink of the proposals, designed by practice Hall McKnight.

A statement by the group said: ‘This case has triggered national interest and struck a nerve with all who love London.

‘SAVE has been overwhelmed by messages of support for our position, and anger and disappointment at the decision to grant planning permission. This petition aims to demonstrate this strength of feeling.’

The conservation group submitted strong objections to the planning application, along with the Victorian Society, The Ancient Monument Society, LAMAS, the Courtauld Institute and the Somerset House Trust, as well as many individuals.

The buildings scheduled for demolition are recognised by council planning policy as ‘unlisted buildings of merit’ in the Strand Conservation Area.
But a planning report submitted to the planning committee which approved the scheme, said: ‘While the proposals do cause some harm in terms of the loss of the unlisted buildings of merit and the impact of the “tower” on views from Fountain Court, it is considered that this harm is less than substantial to the heritage assets affected.

But SAVE said it strongly disagreed with the assessment, and criticised English Heritage for its support for the proposals partly because the buildings have been internally altered.

‘Conservation areas are not designated primarily for their interiors and works to interiors do not require permission,’ it said.

After gaining planning permission last week, Hall McKnight insisted the practice had carried out a ‘careful study of a remarkably complex environment’ before submitting the plans.

Both the practice and Kings College refused to comment.

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  • Good news, surely, for anyone hoping that enlightenment - and common sense - will prevail.

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