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‘Inappropriate dormers’: Hawkins\Brown’s King’s Cross warehouse revamp blocked


Hawkins\Brown’s £60 million revamp of a former mill complex in London’s King’s Cross has been blocked by a planning inspector over heritage concerns 

The practice’s 14,710m² Regent’s Wharf scheme for five adjoining warehouses alongside Regent’s Canal was rejected by Islington Council’s planning committee in 2017, but went to appeal.

In rejecting the scheme, the local authority had raised concerns that the project, which involved extending locally listed warehouses on All Saints Street and replacing existing 1980s offices, would harm the conservation area.

Going against planning officer’s advice, councillors decided that the ’visually prominent’ new roof and ‘inappropriate dormers’ would impact on the 1890s buildings and the local conservation area. 

This was despite London Mayor Sadiq Khan telling the local authority he backed the ‘well-designed’ scheme and the principle of intensifying office uses on the site.

Developer Regent’s Wharf Unit Trust later appealed the decision, but the challenge has now been thrown out following a public inquiry.

In his decision, planning inspector David Nicholson said the ‘rather bold’ design of the replacement dormers would detract from the building’s historical significance. 

Islington had also complained the project would block light to neighbouring properties but the inspector gave less weight to these concerns.

The inspector acknowledged that the scheme would provide a ’substantial increase’ in office floorspace, but ruled that the harm to the site’s heritage outweighed the ’significant design skill’ that had gone into the scheme.


Readers' comments (7)

  • What a shame. It looks a great scheme to my eye. I'd also support a continuous glazed screen 'dormer' contained and framed by the taller elements either side. It could also be fantastic. A sort of arrangement similar to the old Hen Run at Glasgow School of Art....hey ho

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  • Thank goodness for Islington Council's planning committee's seemingly better understanding of the principles of good planning than that exhibited by the planning officer or the Mayor of London.
    And thank goodness for a diplomatic but sensible planning inspector.
    The developers and architects will just have to get their heads around the idea that, in the context of listed buildings and conservation areas, they can't just over-stuff a site to maximise the economics of re-use, under the Mayor's 'principle of intensifying the office uses of the site'.
    Has this decision shown the way to questioning future unprincipled exploiting of this principle? - there seems to be scant regard for local conservation areas in some parts of London - or listed buildings, for that matter, if the temporary re-housing of Parliament is anything to go by.

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  • Quite frankly this is an outrageous decision, showing yet again the intellectual bankruptcy of the deeper parts of the planning system. I worked on the 1980's refurb of these buildings, including the additional new blocks, with David Bickle, who became one of the 3 main original partners of Hawkins Brown slightly afterwards. He had exceptional design skill, touched by magic. The scheme was pioneering in an area not safe to walk in at night, full of pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers. Kings Cross has come a long way since then and its time to consolidate and intensify use and open the ground floor to back of pavement mixed use instead of the defensive frontage we created. Not least is one benefit that intensification provides more money to invest in good regeneration. This building is locally listed, a reason to protect its general contribution to the depth of history and diversity of the local setting. I don't think that can be argued with. But not a reason to preserve it in aspic and prevent well considered intensification and adaption to contain the increasingly diverse content of buildings in the area. Those dormers are a sensitive contemporary intervention that I and many others would judge to be excellent. Unusually the full frontal cgi is a disastrous representation and cannot have helped it. I detect the overly anti-change small mindedness of those unable to grasp design and commercial concepts as they evolve through time, instead regressing into a historic comfort zone at all costs. A good job the planning system wasn't around when London was 4 huts on a bridge. We'd still be building in mud and thatch with a maximum height of 3m and wearing loin cloths.

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  • Thank goodness we have been saved the trauma of these carbuncles on the face of a much loved and elegant friend...

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  • The notion that replacing the dormers with continuous infill of the roof - between the 'taller elements' either side - would be akin to CRM's 'hen run' on the Glasgow School of Art is too simplistic.
    Those 'taller elements' are the warehouse's hoist tower to the left and a different, higher building to the right, and infill would be even clumsier than the dormers, as it would 'dumb down' the character of buildings' roofscape variations as well as the architectural composition of the warehouse.
    And no matter how slickly detailed and carefully proportioned the dormers, they can hardly be called sensitive design when - by spacing them to match the wall bays - the left most dormer collides with the side of the hoist tower.
    Surely, although this spacing looks right on the design elevation, in reality the set back dormers wouldn't read as being so closely related to the rhythm of the wall bays below.

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  • Good analysis Robert, you have effectively demonstrated the crass and bombastic nature of this insensitive proposed urban and heritage intervention for the complete tosh that it is.

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  • It seems that if you are a bank in the city of London, or the UK Parliament you are allowed to "over stuff" as much as you want, but not here. Density means walkability, and near a major transport hub that means taking cars off the road and improving everyone's health. It shouldn't be sniffed at by those that bought land when it was cheap. Also, Im all in favour of the new elements of this building shouting about what they are as long as they aren't damaging the locally listed parts

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