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Historic England says AHMM temporary Commons plan would cause ‘substantial harm’

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Historic England is not convinced that the ‘substantial harm’ Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM)’s temporary House of Commons scheme would cause is justified, it has said

The proposal, to adapt Grade II*-listed Richmond House, creating a temporary chamber and offices for MPs, is the first step of a wider overhaul of the parliamentary estate being overseen by BDP.

Under plans submitted to Westminster Council in November, Whitfield Partners’ 1980s building would be virtually gutted with only key frontages, such as those on to Richmond Terrace and its Whitehall façade, retained.

The ‘decant’ chamber would be used for around eight years while the restoration of the Palace of Westminster takes place.

But Historic England has raised ‘concerns’ about the ‘almost complete demolition’ of the Postmodern building, telling Westminster Council that the former headquarters for the Department of Health, combined with the restored 1819 Richmond Terrace, was of ‘remarkable interest’.

In a letter to the local authority dated 31 January, Historic England’s principal inspector of historic buildings David Brock said the ‘proposal would cause substantial harm’.

Brock noted the arguments put forward by the team for the controversial project and the substantial benefit of continuing parliamentary business around Whitehall.

However, he said: ‘The case for this volume of accommodation on this site has not yet been clearly and convincingly justified.

‘Seen in the wider context of the Northern Estate, the proposal for Richmond House is still the most harmful single proposal out of the range of possible changes to achieve a decant establishment,’ he added.

Brock told the council to ask for ‘further evidence [from parliamentary authorities] to support their contention that this is the only place for the decant chamber and the option for delivering this is the only one, and that the substantial harm that would be caused is necessary.

‘The evidence for the extent, and therefore the location, of the reprovided volume in the proposed Richmond House design should be challenged in the hope of extracting further information on the requirements and the briefs, including (but not confined to) the decant schedule.’

Brock added that if more evidence was not provided, Historic England would have to make a formal recommendation based solely on its current assessment of the application. 

A Historic England spokesperson for the heritage watchdog added: ‘The impact of work as drastic as this would cause substantial harm to the building’s significance. Planning policy requires the harm to be clearly and convincingly justified, but not all the information which would demonstrate the case has been put forward. We need to see this supporting material in order to reach a comprehensive view.’

Last May Mark Hines Architects put forward an alternative plan, backed by campaign group SAVE Britain’s Heritage, to erect a temporary chamber in the courtyard of Richmond House and put committee rooms and offices for 215 MPs in the existing Richmond House.

Responding to Historic England’s statement, a spokesperson for SAVE Britain’s Heritage said it welcomed the organisation’s ’clear statement that the proposed demolition of Richmond House constitutes substantial harm’.

They added: ’Substantial harm to a grade II* listed building is only allowed in wholly exceptional cases. It can only be acceptable if there are no alternative solutions. In this case carefully measured and costed alternative sites for a temporary Commons Chamber have been put forward by SAVE, by architect Mark Hines and by Foster & Partners.

’Other sites were also considered by the Parliamentary authorities but the full assessments have never been made public. A clear statement like this from Historic England would in most cases lead inevitably to a call-in and public inquiry and in the interests of proper public accountability and balanced judgement the Minister should announce an inquiry forthwith.’

A Parliamentary spokesperson said: ‘The approach to the redevelopment plans for Richmond House has been thoroughly tested. It represents the best overall heritage solution for the Northern Estate site and the only viable solution for the House of Commons. 

‘We have been engaging closely with Historic England for over two years on the evolution of this scheme and will continue to work with them and Westminster City Council to supply the further evidence requested in their letter,’ he added. 

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