Councillors have approved a new building at Leicester Cathedral by van Heyningen & Haward Architects despite concerns raised by heritage bodies over its design
Leicester City Council’s planning and development control committee granted planning consent to the north London practice’s Heritage Learning Centre scheme last week.
The two-storey building, including a double basement, is designed to help the Grade II* -listed cathedral cope with increased visitor numbers since it became the final resting place of King Richard III. It will replace a single-storey 1930s extension designed by Pick Everard - then Pick Everard Keay and Gimson Architects - and known as the Old Song School.
Historic England, while not formally objecting to the proposals, raised ‘concerns’ over ‘alien’ green/blue terracotta cladding, and warned that the practice had ‘missed an exciting and rare opportunity to make a positive contribution to local character and distinctiveness’.
The city’s Conservation Advisory Panel (CAP), consisting of local historians and heritage experts, also expressed anxiety over ‘disconnection of the distinct elements’ and noted that some panel members believed the new roof was ’too crude’.
But planning officers said van Heyningen and Haward Architects, which worked on the original masterplan to revamp the landmark church and its new £2.5 million burial chamber in 2015, had used glazing, terracotta fins and differential stonework finishes to good effect to break up the form of the proposed building.
‘These work cohesively,’ said the report to committee. ‘I note the CAP’s point regarding the disconnection of the distinct elements … however I do not consider this concern is significant enough to warrant refusing the application when the wider benefits of the scheme are taken into account.’
Recommending approval, the officer report added: ‘The Old Song School does not meet the expanding needs of the church and I consider it does not make a significant positive contribution to the setting of the Grade II* -listed Cathedral Church of St Martin, other listed buildings nearby and the Greyfriars Conservation Area.
‘The proposed Heritage Learning Centre will complement the church and surrounding buildings with a building that is architecturally distinct and visually interesting. The Heritage Learning Centre will be subservient to the scale of the church and stylistically distinct. It therefore will not detract from the landmark nature of the church.’
As part of the Church of England, the cathedral does not require listed building consent, but instead needs approval from the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England, which has been attained.
A £3.3 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2017 released funds for appointment of the design team to RIBA Stage 3 and to prepare a bid for further lottery cash for the main project. This critical second funding application is expected to be determined shortly.
Van Heyningen & Haward partner James McCosh said: ‘The project has not been without its challenges given the sensitivity of the historic cathedral and its setting and the very limited site available. We look forward to continuing the dialogue with stakeholders and delivering a fantastic project – and transforming the positive impact of the cathedral for years to come.’
Dean of Leicester, David Monteith added: ‘The Heritage Learning Centre will allow us to protect the historic setting of the cathedral, while engaging with many more communities through exciting interpretation and learning facilities. It will also help us to cater for the increasing numbers of visitors the city has welcomed since the reburial of King Richard III.’
King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in In August 1485 and buried by the Grey Friars, a Franciscan Holy order, in their friary church. He was discovered underneath a Leicester car park in 2012 and reinterred in the city’s cathedral in March 2015.
His formal burial was cited by some as instrumental in Leicester City Football Club’s unlikely march to Premier League success the following season.
Leicester Cathedral’s Richard III Project ‘With Dignity and Honour’ by van Heyningen and Haward Architects
Source: Thom Chesshyre