Developers are trying to push through a huge tower in Bloomsbury visible from all throughout London. But vociferous opposition from amenity societies and ward councillors could prove the death of this scheme.
Fresh out of bamboozling councillors and the community with the Fake Labs of Belgrove House, London Communications Agency are stoking the fire of community anger by ‘consulting’ on an enormous tower proposed in the heart of the West End.
Developers LabTech are proposing a 50% uplift in height for the former Travelodge Building, which is already one of the tallest in the area. Rather than extend or refurbish the existing tower, the developer plans to demolish entirely and rebuild from scratch.
But obtaining concrete information on the details of the development has been astoundingly difficult for every individual and association involved. Local ward councillors have also expressed astonishment at the dismissive attitude of developer LabTech, with a planner only releasing details on the height of the building in the last few days.
The advisory committee for the Bloomsbury and Seven Dials Conservation Areas attended a meeting eighteen months ago with the developer to hear about the proposals. We were briefed on proposals for both the tower and surrounding blocks, which include a number of historic Georgian and Victorian buildings on New Oxford Street and Museum Street.
We were reassured that only small interventions would be made to the existing historic fabric and that work had not yet begun on plans for the tower. We were supportive of street environment changes but expressed concern about the eventual height of the scheme.
But only weeks later we heard from Camden’s top planners that we had been reported as being ‘enthusiastic’ about the scale and design of the new tower, the details of which had not been shared with us.
Camden also declared that they were unhappy with the proposed scale of the tower, the main point of contention for this development.
Over the past eighteen months we have made repeated requests for specific details of the development, including alterations to historic buildings and the contribution made to the street environment. But every email without exception has gone ignored by London Communications Agency (LCA), the same company used for the predictably atrocious Belgrove House ‘consultation’.
Objectionable on all accounts
Significant concerns have been raised by all local associations and some local ward councillors about the varied impacts of this scheme.
Rather than refurbish, re-clad, or extend the current building, the developers intend to demolish the entire structure to rebuild from scratch.
Local ward councillor Julian Fulbrook stated: ‘from the London Plan the primary consideration should be given to refurbishing rather than demolition. In contrast to the excellent proposals for the Central St Martin’s site where the historic building on Southampton Row and also the former Holborn Technical College building on Procter Street are being wholly or mainly preserved, down at One Museum Street [Selkirk House] there seems to be a proposal for massive demolition, with all the resultant carbon and dust issues. Is Camden upholding the London Plan? And if not, why not?’
Further controversy has been raised about the ever depleting commitment to affordable housing. Starting from Camden’s initial requirement for 50% of onsite housing to be affordable, the developer has dropped to the London Plan’s default 35% requirement in recent weeks.
The developer appears to be playing a dangerous game in this regard, considering the overtly political influence that Camden’s planning chief Danny Beales has on the planning committee. But as the Camden New Journal recently revealed Camden are often happy to accept enormous payments in lieu for housing not provided on site.
Ward councillors have described themselves as ‘extremely unhappy’ about the depletion of affordable housing provision.
And while the design of the development is not particularly objectionable by Camden’s often appalling standards, the scale is proving to exceed even the worst nightmares of community groups and amenity societies.
The development will be visible from a number of Grade I listed landmarks including the British Museum and the nearby St George’s Bloomsbury.
The developers have been urged to fly a ‘blimp’ but have so far flatly refused. Amenity societies are now preparing different views for consideration, including from as far afield as Trafalgar Square and Parliament Hill.
What’s the Outlook?
That this development just about falls within the Holborn and Covent Garden Ward is a stroke of luck that could well prove its downfall.
Ward councillors Julian Fulbrook, Sue Vincent, and Awale Olad are all regarded as excellent representative voices for both community concerns and common sense. Julian Fulbrook has been particularly vocal against the scheme.
Cllr Vincent is not permitted to speak about the development due to her membership of the planning committee and associated regulations.
The Labour majority of councillors on the planning committee are known to ‘outsource their thinking’ to ward councillors, so objections raised by Cllr Fulbrook and Cllr Olad could lead to a majority vote against the scheme.
And while cabinet members Danny Beales and Adam Harrison are unlikely to show any sign of a conscience when the scheme comes to committee, they may both decide to vote against this as a party political statement against the poor commitment to affordable housing.
The three conservative and liberal democrat councillors on the committee are also reasonably to vote against, given the extraordinary offence that the development gives to both the community and historic townscape.
It all means that regardless of the intentions of Camden’s planners, the scheme is reasonably likely to be refused.
Failing that, the scheme certainly qualifies for a call-in to the Secretary of State, who has recently called in a number of similarly sized schemes throughout Central London.