Historic England has criticised Renzo Piano’s reworked plans for a 14-storey office block in Paddington, his replacement for the abandoned 72-storey ‘Paddington Pole’ tower proposal
Last year the government’s heritage watchdog slammed Piano’s original plans for a 254m-tall skyscraper on the site next to Paddington Station, saying it had ’very serious concerns’ about the scheme’s impact on the historic environment (AJ 10.12.15).
Now, in a new letter to Westminster City Council, Historic England has raised separate concerns about the revised design, fearing the redrawn proposal would also have a ‘major harmful impact’ on the Bayswater Conservation Area.
Historic England wrote: ‘In our view the proposals continue to have a major harmful impact on the Bayswater Conservation Area because of their height, massing and design, all of which is very different from the prevailing historic and architectural character of the area.’
Although welcoming the reduction in height, Michael Dunn, principal inspector of historic buildings and areas at Historic England, said that the organisation was unable to support the planning application and objected to the proposed demolition of the Edwardian former Royal Mail sorting office (see full letter below).
The £775 million cube-like building and new public realm for developer Sellar Property Group – acting on behalf of Great Western Developments, which acquired the land – was submitted for planning in September, nine months after the earlier skyscraper plans were ditched following a wave of criticism.
Explaining Historic England’s stance, Dunn wrote: ’The loss of the former Royal Mail sorting office – a recognised building of merit – will have a detrimental impact on the character and appearance of the conservation area by removing an important and architecturally rich early 20th-century building that lies at the heart of a larger group of historic buildings adjacent to Paddington Station.’
Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, added: ‘We acknowledge that the new proposal for Paddington will have a less far-reaching impact on the historic environment than the former plans for a very tall building.
’However, the proposed glass and steel cube building would be fundamentally at odds with the historic character and appearance of this part of the Bayswater Conservation Area and Paddington, and would erase the sense of consistency of late Victorian and early 20th century buildings that make this area of London special.’
Renzo Piano Building Workshop’s revised Paddington plans for the Sellar Group, submitted September 2016
But in a letter responding to Historic England, Nick Bridges, partner at the scheme’s heritage architect, Ettwein Bridges, objected to the heritage body’s claims on behalf of Great Western Developments.
Bridges wrote that, while acknowledging Historic England’s view that the proposals will cause harm, ’the fundamental point is that they have concluded that it would not cause substantial harm’.
He added that Paddington station had ’limited aesthetic relationships due to its introspective character’, and that it would be ’enhanced, not diminished or harmed’ by the planned public piazza.
Bridges also claimed that the project would deliver ’substantial public benefits’, citing supporting comments from Transport for London and Network Rail.
The new 54m x 54m x 54m perfect cube provides 33,445m² of offices, shops and restaurants above 0.5ha of newly created public realm, including a major square and pedestrian links to public transport.
Renzo Piano Building Workshop is working on the scheme with William Matthews – who worked on The Shard while employed by Piano – and BDP.
Westminster City Council is expected to deliver its decision on the proposals in December.
Caroline Sellar, commercial director of Sellar Paddington Limited
’The transformation of Paddington is long overdue and the Paddington Quarter scheme will provide a wide range of public benefits for those living, working and visiting the area in addition to an annual boost to the local economy of approximately £350million.
’Paddington Station is one of London’s busiest and serves as a gateway to the west of England, yet with passenger numbers expected to rise 60% to 60 million by 2030, substantial infrastructure improvements are needed if the current crowding and congestion experienced by commuters is tackled.
’Our £65million investment will, we believe, make it easier for millions of people who use Paddington Station to appreciate Brunel’s entrance to the station, giving Paddington the front door it rightfully deserves. It will also dramatically improve the experience for those people in the station – even before the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Line places even more pressure on the existing infrastructure. This is an investment which is years overdue, yet one no one else has been willing to provide for Paddington’s residents, businesses and visitors.’
Renzo Piano, revised Paddington plans for the Sellar Group, July 2016