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Reading rejects controversial Robert Adam towers


Councillors in Reading have refused permission for a Robert Adam-designed housing development made up of three classically inspired tower blocks.

ADAM Architecture’s 352-home Swan Heights scheme was designed for Lochailort Investments and earmarked for a 0.45ha site on the edge of the town centre.

Adam had argued that the development, which featured towers of up to 28 storeys topped with dome-like penthouses, was an homage to the earliest US tower blocks.

However Reading Council’s planning officers had slated the scheme as ‘alien’ and ‘confusing’ and recommended its refusal on 11 detailed grounds.

At a meeting last night, members of the borough’s planning committee agreed with the recommendations - which covered scale, massing, impact on proposed transport infrastructure, and their effect on the town’s heritage sites - and kicked out the scheme.

Detailed reasons for refusal included a failure to comply with all criteria from the council’s Tall Buildings Policy; a failure to acknowledge a protected route for the borough’s Mass Rapid Transport scheme; poor HGV access for the development; the impact of the development’s scale on its surrounding area and the borough’s heritage assets; and the design team’s lack of engagement with planning officers in the application process.

Hugo Haig, managing director of Lochailort, said the decision was disappointing and suggested that as the proposed site - a former car dealership - was brownfield land, Reading’s decision may be successfully challenged.

‘We still maintain that our scheme is probably one of the most architecturally accomplished in the UK and is ideally suited for its location and environment,’ he said.  

‘Our scheme is probably one of the most architecturally accomplished in the UK’

‘We will review the reasons for refusal and then make our decision. Given the backdrop of central government’s cross-party desire to see more houses built on brownfield sites, particularly in town centres, near sustainable transport, I would have thought that we may well have a more positive outcome at appeal.’

Adam told AJ the refusal was expected and supported Haig’s instinct that a challenge could succeed.

‘The practical issue is one of height, which is quite normal with tall buildings – people always want them to be shorter,’ he said.

‘In our view, the height of the building fits in with Reading’s policy, and other tall buildings have been approved nearby.

‘The officers’ report was quite extraordinary, and seemed to be based on very personal opinions.’

The likely outcome is an appeal

Adam added that claims in the report that daylight data and wind impact data were missing from the application were incorrect.

‘The likely outcome is an appeal,’ he said.


Previous Story (AJ 23.04.2015)

Planning officers savage Robert Adam’s Reading towers

A trio of classically-inspired residential towers proposed for a site in Reading have been recommended for refusal by borough planners

ADAM Architecture’s 352-home Swan Heights scheme features three towers rising from a four-storey podium, with the tallest strructure reaching 28 storeys.

Adam has previously argued that the design, which features a domed penthouse at the top of each of the towers, was an attempt to re-engage with the 19th Century history of US skyscrapers.

But papers to a Reading Borough Council planning committee meeting next week firmly oppose the development, recommending the scheme for refusal on a litany of grounds.

A report to the April 29 meeting said the proposals would deliver ‘an alien and confusing structure’ that was ‘out of context with this part of the town centre’.

Officers added that height and massing of the development, earmarked for a 0.45ha edge-of-town-centre plot on the site of a former car dealership was likely to mislead people into believing it was the centre of Reading.

They said the scheme failed to achieve every aspect of a core planning policy requiring developments to ‘respond positively to their local context and create or reinforce local character and distinctiveness, including protecting and enhancing the historic environment of the borough and providing value to the public realm’.

In total, Reading Council planning officers gave 11 detailed grounds for refusing the scheme, which also included its impact on a proposed mass-transit system, a lack of affordable housing, the ability of heavy goods vehicles to access the development, and its impact on historic buildings in the town.

Last week Hugo Haig, managing director of development backer Lochailort Investments, said the scale of the towers was in line with several others being considered by Reading.


Previous Story (AJ 20.04.2015)

Adam defends contentious Classical tower proposals in Reading

Robert Adam has defended his plans for a trio of towers in Reading which he hopes will revive a tradition of Classically designed skycrapers.

The architect also claims objections by English Heritage (now known as Historic England) to the application lodged by his practice ADAM Architecture have now been dealt with.

Under the plans, three residential buildings of up to 28 storeys in height will be built by developer Lochailort Investments, along with space for some 300 cycles and 118 cars.

The 350-home scheme, which will be considered by Reading Council on 29 April, was initially criticised by Historic England. The heritage organisation’s historic buildings and areas adviser Richard Peats told the local authority that the towers would ‘inevitably profoundly change’ the townscape and have an ‘impact on the setting of a variety of heritage assets’.

The setting of Kings Meadow Baths, an Edwardian lido with a grade II listing, would be ‘dramatically changed’, his submission continues. He added: ‘The scale of the proposal is such that a wide range of heritage assets are [also] likely to be affected.’

However Adam told AJ that Historic England had since confirmed they would not take their letter’s concern further.

He added: ‘Tall buildings started off as classical building in 19th century America and this continued up to the 1950s.

‘This is an attempt to re-connect with this history of skyscrapers.’

Another objection lodged with Reading planning officers came from South Oxfordshire District Council, a neighbouring local authority.

Tom Wyatt, a development manager at the authority said the planning document’s ‘visual analysis’ appeared to not have considered ‘views far outside the town’.

‘We consider that this [the analysis] should be widened further,’ it continues.

Only then could the authority decide whether Reading’s town centre would ‘suddenly’ become visible in its rural regions.

‘[These] included parts of the Chilterns area of [outstanding natural beauty],’ it adds.

Hugo Haig, managing director of project backer Lochailort Investments, said the scale of the towers was in line with several others being considered by Reading.

The council had already approved plans for a 32-storey tower and had in place a tall buildings policy that encouraged the development of skyscrapers.

This policy outlines the council’s ‘vision’ to become a ‘city and capital of the Thames Valley’.

‘Part of this vision includes the development of high-quality tall buildings within the city’s central area,’ it adds.

Haig said the towers aimed to be a landmark building. He added: ‘That is why we wanted a renowned architect and he has done a wonderful job in creating a beautiful design.’

ADAM Architecture’s blueprints have been largely welcomed by Reading Civil Society.

Richard Bennett, its chair, said the society would prefer the towers to be shorter but welcomed their architectural features and the neoclassical design.

‘We support the design features of the building but would prefer to see the overall height of the scheme reduced somewhat to take more account of human scale and to avoid some of the inevitable overshadowing,’ its submission says.






Readers' comments (2)

  • More like a homage to Neo classical communist China.... How could the People's Republic of Reading resist such an architectural treat!

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  • Our collective memory includes neo-classicism, gothic fantasy and heroic iconoclastic modernism. As we stumble forward, all our planners seem to require is stripped-down utilitarianism, functional zoning and ever more suburbanisation, along with a sanitised 'heritage' confined to museums and theme-parks. Reading could surely do with something more robust. Good luck to Robert Adam and his distinctive and intelligent towers!

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