Controversial proposals to redevelop half of the Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant site with a housing scheme have been given the go-ahead by Mayor of London Boris Johnson after a tense public hearing
The 681-home scheme by Allies and Morrison, Wilkinson Eyre, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Allford Hall Monaghan Morris will cover 35,000m² of the central London site, straddling the borough boundary of Camden and Islington.
In addition to the homes, Royal Mail’s scheme includes 4,260m2 of office space, 2,250m2 of new retail and community space, and public-realm works.
But the proposals, set to be delivered in 10 blocks of up to 15 storeys, prompted fierce opposition from local residents who dubbed them ‘fortress-like’ and commissioned neoclassical architect Francis Terry to create a an alternative scheme with a more traditional feel.
Cheered by scheme opponents, Islington and Camden councils used today’s hearing to call for the scheme to be rejected over its 23.9 per cent affordable-housing allocation and questioned Royal Mail’s viability evidence underpinning the figure.
Mount Pleasant Association chair Judy Dainton said the scheme was a ‘poor and unimaginative’ and a ‘slum for the future’.
Association colleague and Bartlett School of Architecture teaching fellow Edward Denison implored Johnson to defer a decision on Royal Mail’s scheme for six months to allow the group more time to develop the Terry proposals.
But announcing his decision after the three-hour session, Johnson said he was satisfied with the viability data presented by Royal Mail and that that development’s new homes would contribute to solving the capital’s‘housing crisis’.
He added there was ‘no reason’ why Mount Pleasant Association shouldn’t continue developing its propasls, which he earlier described as ‘beautiful’.
‘I have to look at the applications before me today but I’m delighted that [the association] is in pre-application discussions with planning officers,’ he said.
Greater London Authority planning officers had advised Johnson to approve Royal Mail’s plans ahead of the meeting.
They said strategic and local guidance ‘strongly supported’ the redevelopment of the site with a mixed-use scheme, and that its design and appearance was of a ‘high quality’ that would not harm strategic views of nearby Conservation Areas.
Resident-led misgivings over the scheme were fuelled in January this year, when Johnson opted to exercise his mayoral right to take direct control of planning applications lodged with Camden and Islington councils.
The move followed Royal Mail Group’s complaints that the authorities were taking too long to deal with the applications, which were submitted in June 2013.
Royal Mail is not planning to withdraw completely from Mount Pleasant. A £32 million overhaul of its main buildings on the site overseen by Terry Farrell allowed it to earmark 23,600m² of the site in Islington and 11,700m² in Camden for redevelopment.
Construction of the Islington part of the current proposals will require the creation of a £40 million platform to created new build over an area that will remain in Royal Mail use.
Previous story (AJ 03.07.14)
Francis Terry launches rival design for Mount Pleasant housing scheme
Classical architect Francis Terry has challenged Allies and Morrison, Wilkinson Eyre, FCBS and AHMM ‘fortress’ with alternative designs for the Royal Mail site
Campaigners fighting plans for a major London housing scheme designed by Allies and Morrison, Wilkinson Eyre, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Allford Hall Monaghan Morris have brought in the Neo-classical architect Francis Terry to work up an audacious rival proposal.
The redevelopment by Royal Mail of its Mount Pleasant sorting office site in Clerkenwell, one of the largest remaining brownfield sites in central London, proposes 680 homes in 10 buildings designed by the four practices.
Since being unveiled in 2012, the plan has faced fierce opposition from local residents unhappy with its ‘fortress-like’ layout. The scheme is currently being considered by London mayor Boris Johnson, who called in the project in January.
Now Terry has revealed an alternative ‘Mount Pleasant Circus and Fleet Valley Gardens’ design (above) drawn up with built environment lobbyist Create Streets, which is working on behalf of residents’ action group the Mount Pleasant Association.
The architect, who, with his father, runs Quinlan & Francis Terry Architects, famously had a hand in derailing Richard Rogers’ scheme for Chelsea Barracks after sketching an alternative design seized upon by the scheme’s arch-opponent, Prince Charles.
Terry said: ‘I did [intervene in] Chelsea Barracks a while ago so I was interested in trying to do something civic and helpful for the oppressed locals here.’
In February, designer Thomas Heatherwick branded the existing Mount Pleasant plan ‘empty, cynical and vacuous’ and, despite a subsequent climbdown by Heatherwick, Terry said he agreed with this.
He said: ‘I echo Tom’s view. The reason people like London is because of areas like Farringdon; but the current proposal is just like any other city.’
Create Streets, which campaigns for conventional terraced streets and insists it has no style agenda, argues that Terry’s plan is proving highly popular with locals and would deliver 730 homes – 7 per cent more than the existing scheme – and greater value for the taxpayer, given that it has a 30 per cent stake in Royal Mail.
It says research by leading urban planning consultant Space Syntax demonstrates the new proposal would create pedestrian routes 75 per cent more accessible than the Royal Mail plan.
Edward Denison, secretary of the Mount Pleasant Association, said: ‘We have said: “Look at the logical routes people would take going from Hackney to Soho and from Bloomsbury to Clerkenwell – it’s the planning brief for the site which needs to be challenged”.’
The association also complained to the GLA and DCLG this week after claiming that the mayor had unfairly predetermined his planning decision on the Mount Pleasant scheme by publicly calling it ‘a beautiful design’ and ‘a wonderful place to live’.
Royal Mail group property director Martin Gafsen said: ‘Royal Mail’s proposed scheme to redevelop parts of its Mount Pleasant site will create up to 680 new homes, including the maximum reasonable proportion of affordable housing and create publicly accessible open space, new thoroughfares and jobs.’
Allies and Morrison and AHMM declined to comment. The other project architects were unavailable to comment.