After months of marketing Belgrove House as a life-sciences laboratory, submitted plans show no laboratory facilities will be built after all. But have Camden’s councillors already been conned by the ‘Fake Lab’?
Belgrove House has been recommended for approval by Camden’s planning officers, and will be heard by the planning committee on Thursday 25th February. But in a strange twist of affairs, it has been discovered that this ‘world class research facility’ will not contain any laboratories after all.
From the very start, the offensive scale and design of Belgrove House has been justified by the lives that will apparently be saved by the vaccine research that will take place between its monstrous walls. Protests that the enormous scale of this building will overshadow King’s Cross and St Pancras Stations have been largely dismissed. Merck had apparently been secured as a tenant, confirming this building as Camden’s new hub of life sciences research.
But now that the planning application has been submitted, and the details of this veritable carbuncle can finally be scrutinised, no laboratory facilities are to be found whatsoever.
In fact, Belgrove House is just a ten storey office block. Floors 1-3 ‘can be used as labs’ in the future, but at the point of construction, no laboratories will be included at all. And whether or not those floors ever see vaccine research, the five upper storeys that have proven so controversial will only ever be used as offices.
It has come as a shock to councillors, who had been sold Belgrove House as a major research facility. It seems that the community, press, and council have almost all been brainwashed by the developer’s endless droning on the public benefit of life sciences research. Nobody actually bothered to check whether their claims were true.
What Does the Application Actually Say?
The 240 page officer report on this application, written by Camden’s planners, gives a comprehensive assessment of Belgrove House and what it actually includes.
Paragraph 9.37 gives the all-important run down on what lab-enabled really means, and how this development will meet the needs of the world-leading vaccine researchers of the future.
“Floors 1-3… [have] increased floor-to-ceiling heights… ventilation units… [and are] serviced by a dedicated lab lift. This enables use of levels 1-3 as labs… but they may also be repurposed as offices (or indeed in the future could be used for a wide variety of employment uses.”
So these floors are ‘lab-enabled’ because they have tall ceilings, ventilation units, and a dedicated lift. Truly it is difficult to imagine any modern building which wouldn’t include these features as standard. If these can be used to describe a building as a research centre, I may as well start describing my kitchen as a laboratory.
The possibility of refusal is now reasonably strong. It is difficult for anyone to refuse a laboratory, especially into research of vaccine development in the current day and age. But an office block? For the same reason that vaccines can’t be turned down, there is little need of large office blocks in 2020s Bloomsbury.
It seems that the entire pandemic has skilfully been used as a ploy to both lock out community involvement and market a useless bulk as something necessary to both London and the world.
The argument for demolition of the current Belgrove House and erection of an enormous monolith now holds very little weight. The entire premise of comprehensive redevelopment was that the current building was too small for life sciences research, not stable enough for the tightly controlled atmospheric conditions necessary for vaccine development. But even if the part laboratory use goes ahead, there are only three storeys ever to be used for this work, about the same size as the current building. The huge uplift in scale has no justification whatsoever, in public benefit terms.
But will councillors have their heads turned by this, or as usual, will they just wave it along the line? Planners have no doubt already begun scurrying to put together some opaque, bureaucratic ‘refutation’ of our ‘claims’. It will come down to whether councillors have the confidence to go against the recommendation of their planners, who for too long have controlled the outcome of these applications.
As we approach the endgame of the Belgrove House saga, there will surely be many more twists and turns to come. Even if Camden can muster the strength to refuse the application, the developers will appeal and appeal and appeal again until the Secretary of State makes a decision himself. On our side, we will appeal to the Secretary of State too.
Whatever happens, this will no doubt be a watershed moment for conservation in Camden.