New Case of Dossing Sweeper Disease

Once thought to be eradicated, a new case of Dossing Sweeper Disease (DSD) has been diagnosed in the Flaxman Terrace area.

Sweepers have been advised to avoid the area around Flaxman Terrace as it emerged that a new case of the highly infectious Dossing Sweeper Disease (DSD) has been diagnosed in the area.

Following a severe outbreak of the disease during the summer of 2019, it was thought that all affected sweepers had made a full recovery.

But symptoms of the disease were recognised by an unnamed individual who has conducted research into the causes and treatment of the disease.

A significant quantity of litter was observed on Flaxman Terrace and the surrounding streets. An eye-witness reported that a new sweeper was seen walking past the litter with an empty sweeper trolley, at around 10am on 28th June.

It is thought that as the sweeper is new to the area, who is reported as ‘young, male, with short hair’, he has no immunity to the disease. It could therefore have been contracted from litter remaining from last summer’s outbreak or earlier.

Another eye-witness reported that the litter currently remains in the area unswept, and an empty sweeper trolley was found abandoned by its sweeper.

The abandoned sweeper trolley

While it is thought that the trolley has been abandoned by the affected individual, it is also possible that a different sweeper fled the scene after recognising signs of the disease.

All sweepers have been advised to avoid the area while the contaminated sweeper trolley is disinfected and the missing sweeper tracked down.

Members of the public have been advised to remain calm as the disease only affects Veolia sweepers working for the London Borough of Camden. They have been asked to report a wandering sweeper with no trolley to the authorities, but to keep a safe distance.

What is Dossing Sweeper Disease?

Dossing Sweeper Disease (DSD) is a highly infectious disease, with confirmed cases only in Veolia sweepers working for the London Borough of Camden. While the origins of the disease remain mysterious, some accounts refer to possible observations of the symptoms from as early as 2012.

The first sign of the disease is a symptom known as litter-blindness. This causes sweepers to gradually develop an inability to accurately detect litter on the streets. In the early stages of the disease sweepers are unable to detect small items of litter, but as the disease progresses sweepers are eventually unable to see litter of any kind or quantity.

Survivors of the disease report spending weeks without seeing a single item of litter.

Recent research done by the Institute of Dossing Sweepers (trade name ‘Veolia’) has suggested that litter-blindness is the cause of reports on Clean Camden being falsely marked as complete. Studies conducted on sweepers affected by the disease reveal that they are on average 45,471 times more likely to mark a Clean Camden report as complete without attending to the work.

Studies also revealed that sufferers of the disease are not only unable to identify litter on the streets but are also unable to identify litter in photos. This has been suggested as the cause of sweepers marking Clean Camden reports as complete without even attending the site reported.

The observation of a new sweeper on Flaxman Terrace walking past swathes of litter all but confirms that he is suffering from the disease. It is likely that despite walking through the area daily, he has been unable to see any litter for a number of weeks, explaining the accumulation.

Sufferers of Dossing Sweeper Disease would be unable to identify the litter in this photograph taken on Flaxman Terrace, say the Institute of Dossing Sweepers

If left untreated symptoms can become more debilitating.

A later stage of the disease results in a number of symptoms collectively termed ‘dossing’. The most prominent of these are a sense of lethargy, loss of sense of direction, and an overwhelming urge to abandon the sweeper trolley and attend public houses. Sweepers in this stage of the disease are often found sitting around picking their noses and playing games on their phones for extended periods of time, which led to the adoption of the term ‘Dossing Sweeper Disease’.

But the Institute of Dossing Sweepers say this term is Victorian and has led to unnecessary stigmatisation of individuals suffering from the disease.

‘We should be sympathetic towards those suffering from symptoms associated with ‘dossing” said a spokesperson from the Institute of Dossing Sweepers, ‘those that try to confront ‘dossing’ sweepers for poor work only make matters worse. Our research has shown that complaining about ‘dossing’ sweepers makes the disease more likely to spread and the symptoms more severe… we should celebrate piles of litter as a poignant reminder of the suffering that sweepers go through when they are overwhelmed by the compulsion to ‘doss’.’

But a number of conspiracy theories relating to the disease have further contributed to the stigmatisation of Dossing Sweepers Disease. A local resident stated: ‘Dossing Sweeping Disease is just a buzzword, it’s not real. If it’s so infectious, then how come only sweepers working for Veolia in Camden get it? And, loads of people say that people who are apparently ‘cured’ still doss around. It’s fake. It’s just lazy sweepers who can’t be arsed and the Institute of Dossing Sweepers is part of the Deep State.’

The Institute of Dossing Sweepers responded: ‘People who question whether Dossing Sweeper Disease exists lack a basic understanding of proven science. It’s understandable that during this uncertain time sweepers are commonly seen not sweeping. Coming into contact with litter can spread the disease, so precautions have been put in place to ensure a maximum quota of litter that sweepers can sweep. While this varies from place to place, we do expect sweepers to undertake a minimum of at least ten minutes sweeping daily.’

For reasons yet unknown, those who suffer from the disease are drawn to seek out other sufferers, who then collectively engage in behaviour associated with ‘dossing’. The Institute of Dossing Sweepers say this is the cause of sweepers congregating during working hours, and is the primary means of spreading the disease.

It is reported by survivors that the urge to engage in ‘dossing’ behaviour can be so strong that they forced to abandon their trolleys and visit public houses if no other sufferers can be found. It is postulated that the disease has evolved to encourage this behaviour so that it can more effectively be spread between different hosts.

The observation of an abandoned sweeper trolley on Flaxman Terrace indicates the sweeper has reached the stage of the disease associated with ‘dossing’, and may be seeking out other sufferers or could be found in a nearby public house.

A Camden officer has been alerted to the situation and has requested that the Institute of Dossing Sweepers escalate the issue and investigate the whereabouts of the affected sweeper.

What Happens Now?

After a severe outbreak of Dossing Sweeper Disease in the summer of 2019, measures were taken to cure the sufferers and ensure that all contaminated material would be incinerated.

A new officer was brought in to oversee the rehabilitation of the sweeping service, and the fleet of sweepers appear to have made a full recovery.

However that officer is currently on leave until the 14th of July, and it is thought that the new sweeper had not been adequately briefed on the dangers of the disease and its means of infection. The disease can survive on items of litter for extended periods of time, so it is likely that the new sweeper came into contact with litter from the summer of 2019 or earlier while undertaking his duties.

Camden officers are working to halt the spread of the disease and cure the affected individual.

A spokesperson for the Institute of Dossing Sweepers said:

We are saddened to learn that a new case of Dossing Sweeper Disease has been diagnosed in the Bloomsbury area.

This has historically been a hotspot of the disease but has a proven record of effective clinical intervention.

During this difficult time we would ask the community to take pity upon the sweeper and not to make any complaints of wrongdoing or take any photos. The symptoms associated with ‘dossing’ can be very distressing for a sweeper and allegations of poor work will only lead to further confusion and possibly escalate the condition.

Our thoughts are with the afflicted individual and we wish him a speedy recovery.

Camden has pledged a full investigation into the events leading up to the fresh outbreak of DSD.

Belgrove House: Lessons Learned

Camden’s planning department are working with the developer to promote the development, and neither give a toss about heritage.

Camden’s Development Management Forum for Belgrove House was held online from 19:00 – 21:00 on 25th June.

The format of the forum differed from the usual in many ways, not least because it was held online. Most significantly of all, it was made impossible to know the questions that other people were asking or their reactions to the ongoing dialogue, making it more difficult to understand the feeling in the room towards the development.

While conventional online Q&A sessions allow for participants to make comments and questions in a shared chat space, Camden set up their online environment so that the questions and comments of others could not be seen. This allowed for Head of Development Management, Bethany Cullen, to choose questions and comments from a pool of those asked by the audience, directing the focus of the session as she saw fit.

Questioners were also unable to follow up their questions if they were not satisfied with the answer, a crucial element of Q&A.

But one thing is clear from the questions asked and answers given: there is significant concern about Belgrove House, its inappropriate scale, and lack of regard to heritage, but neither Camden’s planners nor the developer give a toss about these concerns.

While the hour-long Q&A session was provided for both Belgrove and Acorn House, almost all of the questions pertained exclusively to the Belgrove House development.

Presentations about the site and the proposed development from both Camden and the developer occupied the first hour. Camden’s Principal Planner, Gavin Sexton, described the policies pertaining to the site, but conveniently omitted the crucial policy which had implied the building should respond to the predominantly three to six storeys of the surrounding development.

The most significant piece of news was that the developers had secured a major pharmaceutical tenant for the building, Merck. While the building had previously been largely a speculative office development, with this tenant secured it is now a significant force to be reckoned with, and introduces great weight in favour of the application being approved regardless of harm to heritage.

The developer’s presentation made a brief mention of the enormous wealth of heritage surrounding the site and its ‘highly sensitive setting’, before presenting visuals of the block of glass and steel that has come to be known as the Belgrove House Monstrosity.

The Belgrove House Monstrosity

The justification for the building’s monstrous appearance seems to be that the development seeks to ‘represent the twenty-first century revolution, the tech revolution, just as the train stations represented the nineteenth century revolution, the industrial revolution‘, while the design also harmonises with the area’s history by representing ‘bold, industrial engineering’.

A number of similarly absurd comments were made demonstrating ignorance of the heritage of the site and how to properly relate to it.

Camden and the developer alike were instead particularly concerned with peddling the newfangled Knowledge Quarter, which seems to be something of a new antithesis to conservation areas.

The so-called ‘Knowledge Quarter’ is an area designated by Camden earlier this year, stretching from Covent Garden in the south to Camden Town in the north, and is apparently home to Camden’s ‘growing knowledge economy‘, despite this area being overwhelmingly residential.

King’s Cross Square is apparently the centre of the Knowledge Quarter.

The developer stated that the development has been ‘carefully designed to sit as a sort-of pair with the Standard Hotel‘, making no mention of the Georgian terraces immediately to the east and west, Argyle Square to the south, nor even the Victorian stations to the north.

The building is apparently constructed mainly of brick, while the upper levels comprise ‘floating terraces‘, which ‘provide a unique twenty-first century backdrop, in the sky’.

The floating ‘terraces’ on the upper floors.

The Q&A session kicked off with a number of questions that had been piling up about the building’s inappropriate size and lack of regard to heritage.

Questions were rightly raised from the outset about the appropriateness of demolishing a building which was judged to make a positive contribution to the conservation area, and replacing it with a monolith entirely ignorant of its context.

But the developer justified demolishing the current building by stating that they were ‘looking to reuse as much of the current building as possible… as part of the demolition plan we are looking to reuse some of the brickworkand to crush down the concrete to use it as part of the aggregates’. They added: ‘from a sustainability perspective, taking a building at the end of its economic life at 100 years old, and recycling that… is definitely the way to take it forward‘.

And while further questions were answered with developers banging on about the so-called Knowledge Quarter, one participant stated ‘the Knowledge Quarter is just a buzzword. Nobody local has heard about it’.

In response to any question about heritage the developer continued to insist the current building is somehow out-of-date, stating ‘it’s simply a building from another time’, and referred to the high tech requirements of the Knowledge Quarter which seemed to somehow always trump the requirements of the conservation areas.

I raised the question directly that it is surely absurd to put an expiry date on buildings in a conservation area when the ‘point’ of a conservation area is to conserve those buildings which are particularly old, especially those that are ‘simply from another time’.

But the developer retorted that: ‘the principle of conservation areas is not to stop development, but to carefully manage development… buildings that don’t contribute positively to the conservation area are more likely to be replaced… Camden’s own appraisal assesses the building as making a neutral contribution… that is also our view.’

It later transpired that Camden were aware of the mistake in their appraisal which had been discovered, and now consider the building to contribute positively. The misidentification of the building was described by Principal Planner Gavin Sexton as ‘a couple of inaccuracies… an error made in a document almost twenty years ago, and we’re, erm, correcting it’.

But the developer stated: ‘any positive contribution made by the building can be equally made, or better made, by a replacement building… the current building is simply not making a positive contribution, and there is the potential to make one’.

This contrast in views between the developer and planners on whether Belgrove House makes a positive contribution was significant as the only point which they did not both agree upon.

And while questions were repeatedly asked about the inappropriate height of the building and unsympathetic design given the sensitive historic context, the developer eventually pulled up a picture of the Euston Road highlighting all its post-war tall buildings, stating that ‘the Euston Road is very much about a number of large scale marker buildings… and this [building] is one of those… it completes the setting of the two stations’.

A number of concerns were raised about poor consultation, and I had to ask whether the developers had consulted with the Victorian Society and Georgian Group three times before it was answered. The developer confirmed that they had failed to consult with these key groups, who both have raised concerns about the development after I had to notify them directly myself.

I asked the last question of the Q&A by enquiring whether the large Section 106 payment, likely to be in the millions, could slant the planning process in favour of approval regardless of harm to heritage. Mr Sexton spent some time explaining what Section 106 was, and after taking a while to find his words, stated: ‘generally speaking, there isn’t a great deal of money, as such, that exchanges hands as part of a 106 agreement‘. He went on to say: ‘the harm that would be caused to the conservation area, from the loss of the existing building, would be… is required to be, balanced against public benefits…‘ He added: ‘there’s no chance that that will slant the planning process‘.

It is interesting that Mr Sexton claimed that there isn’t much money exchanged hands as part of a Section 106 agreement, considering that the last major development in the area, the Eastman Dental Hospital development, brought a £3M payment with it. It also openly states on the developer’s website that a financial contribution would be made through Section 106, listing this as one of the associated public benefits.

So we find that the planning department and the developer disagree upon whether Belgrove House makes a positive contribution to the conservation area, and whether money exchanged through Section 106 is a public benefit. But the disagreements end there. It is clear from the DMF that the planners and developers are far too comfortable with each other, both working towards the common goal of having this application approved, and steamrolling all opposition in its path.

And while the developers failed to consult with the Victorian Society and Georgian Group, it was also up to Camden’s planners to notify these groups at an early stage of development proposals, which they failed to do.

The last answer given by Camden’s planners came perilously close to admitting that heritage considerations were no longer relevant. While Mr Sexton refuted my claims about Section 106 money influencing development proposals, he almost stated that the harm caused to heritage by the development would be outweighed by the public benefit that the proposal brings, before changing his words to make the statement into a hypothetical situation.

Such a statement refers to the ultimate test which permits harmful development such as that posed by Belgrove House under Paragraph 196 of the NPPF, where public benefit is considered to outweigh harm to heritage. And while we have been trying to reinforce the gravity of the harm caused to heritage by the development, the planner has had a full eight years to hark on about public benefit to Camden’s planners, and with Merck secured as a tenant this may well be the nail in the coffin for further opposition.

Camden’s planners are not permitted to express such opinions at a Development Management Forum, explaining the sudden change in grammar to imply a hypothetical. The implication is that minds should not yet be made up, with community and interest group views having a role to play in influencing planning decisions. That’s the ‘whole point’ of the DMFs – to get community views out in the open, so that they can influence the development proposals. But it is clear that this was simply not the case at this DMF. The entire Q&A felt like Camden’s planners and the developer working as a team to refute any claims that the development might be inappropriate. Minds are made up, and as usual, the community is wrong.

While appealing to Camden’s planning department is now hopeless, we still have important interest groups on side, and can appeal directly to Camden’s planning committee where the application will inevitably end up, this year or the next. The BCAAC have been known to have success at this stage.

But the situation should raise wider questions about Camden’s planning department. Who is in control? While the planning department of a local authority is supposed to serve an advisory function to the Council’s members, with some literature even stating that planning officers are ‘community champions‘, ‘fighting for the interests of the community‘, it’s not clear who Camden’s planners serve. Themselves? The developers?

This can of worms was opened earlier this year by the controversy surrounding the members briefing panel, leading to some councillors reaching out to provide statements on the affair directly contradicting those of the planning department. It couldn’t be clearer that the planning department functions largely independently of the Council, and is perhaps even more powerful than it. As one councillor aptly put it: ‘some planners think the councillors serve an advisory function to themselves’.

Who does Camden serve?

Online Belgrove Q&A Today at 19:00

An online Q&A with the developers and planners of Belgrove House is being held today, 25th June, from 19:00-21:00.

Developers and planners will appear on video link while other participants can simply type questions as appropriate from the comfort of their armchairs, without appearing on video – or can even choose to simply watch without asking any questions. What could be easier?

Camden have stated that this Q&A is vital for gauging community views on the development.

It may be the last opportunity to voice concern before the application is put in.

We have a number of people attending but ideally we need more.

Please sign up to attend here.

You can read a summary of our position here.

Camden make Significant Error in Belgrove House Assessment

Work to ensure that redevelopment of Belgrove House respects the heritage of the area has taken a new turn as it is discovered that Camden made a significant error in their assessment of the site’s historic interest.

Camden are required to write appraisals for their conservation areas, which are an attempt to document the special historic and architectural interest of the area and the buildings within them. They form the basis for assessing the appropriateness of new development, and whether buildings within the conservation area are likely to be redeveloped or preserved.

Appraisals are a material consideration in planning decisions and are supposed to be an authoritative source of information for the importance of different aspects of a conservation area and the buildings within them, along with their architectural and historic significance. Belgrove House lies within the King’s Cross Conservation Area, and is assessed in the King’s Cross appraisal.

But recent research has shown that the King’s Cross appraisal failed to recognise that Belgrove House is in fact the former King’s Cross Coach Station, built c.1930 to serve commuters using King’s Cross and St Pancras Stations. The appraisal incorrectly asserts that the King’s Cross Coach Station was demolished to make way for the current Belgrove House in 1950, a totally unsubstantiated and incorrect claim. This is despite there being multiple photographs showing Belgrove House from as early as 1932, including in its use as a coach station.

Serious questions should now be asked about Camden’s fitness for purpose in protecting their heritage assets. Only last year another significant error was discovered at application stage in the Bloomsbury Conservation Area Appraisal which led to the demolition of an important Victorian hospital courtyard. Camden had mistakenly believed that the former Royal Free Hospital was Grade II listed and had therefore omitted to include it on the local list or even on the ‘positive contributors’ list. This led to the applicant pretending that the courtyard had little to no historical significance, using this to argue for its demolition which was eventually granted.

The grossly misleading heritage assessment, based on a Camden error.

The error that Camden has made in relation to Belgrove House means that it is also not contained on the list of positive contributors, placing it at a greater risk of demolition.

Given that this is the second time within a year that a significant error in Camden’s appraisals has been identified at application stage, these documents can no longer be taken as an authoritative source of information on which to base decisions. This threatens the security of Camden’s conservation areas and calls into question Camden’s ability to effectively administrate and protect them.

And while the hospital error represents a simple mistake albeit with dire consequences, the assertion that the King’s Cross Coach Station was demolished and replaced with Belgrove House in 1950 is a totally unsubstantiated and incorrect claim, calling into question the accuracy of Camden’s assessment of their heritage assets and the methods of research used in making those assessments.

This new discovery is however good news for the BCAAC and opens the possibility of preserving the former King’s Cross Coach Station and further exploring its historic significance rather than to accept its demolition. Its use as a coach station has clear links to the history and heritage of the area as a transport hub, and the fact that it was built at an earlier date also makes the building more historically significant, linking it to other important 1930s buildings in the area.

King’s Cross Coach Station, now Belgrove House

It appears that the reason the side elevations of Belgrove House are so bleak is not by design but because they were bricked up when the station closed down and was repurposed as a warehouse. Inspection of the above photograph compared to the below supports this claim.

Differences in the brickwork can be observed between the two columns, especially at ground level.

Repurposing the building and removing these walls would preserve the historic links to the area and better reveal the significance of the building, while also providing a more engaging frontage onto Crestfield and Belgrove Streets.

The Development Management Forum will be held online, this Thursday, at 19:00. Details to follow for those who are interested.

King’s Cross Coach Station can be spotted top centre. Photo taken c.1935
Another photo showing King’s Cross Coach Station, bottom centre, c.1937. Camden Town Hall is recently constructed, bottom left.
A new more accurate depiction of the proposed development. It completely dwarves the buildings either side.

BCAAC takes on Belgrove House

The BCAAC are joining forces with local groups to shrink the development at Belgrove House.

Their demand is simple: reduce the height of the development to the recommended three to six storeys.

The predominant scale of development to the south of Euston Road is three to six storeys, and Camden’s planning brief for Belgrove House also implied that development should be of three to six storeys tall.

A summary letter of opposition to the developers was brushed aside, while Camden have reassured the BCAAC that heritage concerns will be ‘front and centre’ during the application process.

Camden have not yet revealed their stance on the proposals, claiming that they have not yet formulated their view. However detailed advice would have been given during the pre-application advice stage, and so we have requested this information under the Freedom of Information Act.

The BCAAC have published an article on their new and improved website offering a detailed assessment of the historic character of the area and why the proposals in their current form can only cause harm to it. The article also assesses the so-called ‘public benefits’ of the proposal, which the developer is trying hard to play up.

Under the NPPF, a development which causes harm to the historic environment must bring with it public benefits which are judged to outweigh that harm.

Much of the work of the PR of a new development is in playing up these public benefits and playing down the harm to heritage to try and get the application across the line.

It is clear that the developer of Belgrove House has adopted a strategy of pretending the heritage of the area is entirely irrelevant, while simultaneously bamboozling the public and Camden’s planners with endless lists of absurd acronyms and technospeak which are supposed to describe the public benefits of the proposal, which are apparently infinite in extent. These public benefits are accompanied by a collection of some of the most absurd graphics which are designed to even further emphasise the enormity of the public benefit being brought to the area.

The development successfully crushes most of King’s Cross with perfect spheres of refined public benefit

One section of the website even described the building as having ‘innovative glass’ which somewhat incredibly could provide views into the building, although it appears that section has now been removed.

Despite facing onto King’s Cross and St Pancras, two heritage assets of high significance, the website does not mention their importance and doesn’t even include a visual of these buildings compared to the development.

To shrink this development, we must effectively cut through the nonsense of these public benefits to isolate what genuinely represents a benefit to the public, and truly put considerations of heritage ‘front and centre’.

A detailed discussion is had on the BCAAC website here.

What are these Public Benefits?

One of the particularly vague and bamboozling public benefits is that of a ‘whole life carbon approach’.

A whole life carbon approach would see the building’s carbon footprint minimised substantially.’

The website goes on to make some calculations which claim that their whole life carbon approach would save 7,250 tonnes of CO2.

It then goes on to proudly claim that this amount of CO2 represents 10% of the annual CO2 usage of the King’s Cross Ward.

But without further investigation into the accuracy of these figures one can conclude such a mathematical comparison is largely meaningless. The figure of 7,250 tonnes represents absolute savings of CO2 for a building, whereas the annual CO2 usage of the King’s Cross Ward represents annual usage for a population.

While the mathematical implications of this may not be clear, to those who are interested the inconsistency relates to a branch of physics called Dimensional Analysis, which summed up briefly states that apples are not bananas.

A more meaningful comparison could be made considering the lifetime CO2 emissions of residents of King’s Cross to match the lifetime emissions of the building, which taking the life expectancy in the UK as 80 years would reduce that figure of 10% to 0.1%.

The assessment also fails to take into account that by far the most sustainable option in terms of carbon emissions is to repurpose or extend the current building. 7,250 tonnes of saved CO2 makes no mention of the amount of CO2 which will be emitted in the first place thanks to demolishing an existing structure and building a new one.

In other words, behind the bamboozling statistics and technospeak is 7,250 tonnes of absolute nonsense.

And if you were wondering, that looks like this:

But if we really start to investigate this graphic further, it reveals itself as a grossly misleading and absurd item of ‘fake news’.

Firstly, the website claims to save 7,250 tonnes of carbon dioxide. But the graphic purports to represent 7,250 tonnes of carbon. As carbon dioxide is formed from carbon and oxygen, 7,250 tonnes of carbon dioxide only represents 1,977 tonnes of carbon.

So, 1,977 tonnes of carbon are saved, not 7,250 tonnes, only 27% of what was claimed.

The density of carbon in its form as graphite is 2,226 kg/m^3.

Therefore 1,977 tonnes of carbon (with 1 tonne being 1000kg) represents a volume of 876m^3.

This represents the volume of a box of about 10 metres square.

In other words, something which could fit inside the current Belgrove House itself.

Perhaps this is somewhat symbolic of the entirety of the developer’s approach: smoke, mirrors, and plain old BS to bamboozle the public and jump up claims to public benefit. If the truth can reduce such an enormous pile of nonsense to nothing, perhaps we can also succeed in reducing the scale of the development itself to something more appropriate and respectful of the area.


BCAAC takes on Belgrove House

Calculations verified by a Master of Chemistry

Monstrosity Proposed on Euston Road

‘Big and ugly’ development proposed at Belgrove House. Despite intending to develop this site for at least seven years, developers have conveniently begun the application process in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

A diabolical development is being proposed opposite King’s Cross St Pancras, and London needs your help to make sure that it never becomes a reality.

The building will sit upon the site of the old Access storage centre, and will back onto Argyle Square in one of the country’s oldest conservation areas.

Despite being situated in one of the most highly sensitive historic settings in London, the development is one of the ugliest and most inappropriate buildings proposed in recent times, rivalling the Town Hall Annexe itself for the title of ugliest building in Camden.

A blot upon this historic landscape

The BCAAC, Camden’s Central London heritage advisory, were consulted with during the site allocation consultation and the initial preconsultation for this development. Despite attempting to impress upon the developer the importance of this highly sensitive historic site and the need for a radically different approach, the developer believes that this building is an ‘exemplar building in terms of architectural and environmental design.’

Contrary to such assertions, the building has been described by a local resident as simply ‘too big and too ugly‘.

Camden’s own policy for the site implied that any development should seek to fit in with the predominantly three to six storeys of the surrounding buildings. However the developer has sought to ‘respond’ to the height of the Grade I listed stations opposite and the Town Hall Annexe to the west, contravening this policy. The developer has confirmed that the building is of a similar height to the Town Hall Annexe along with its rooftop extension, at ten storeys.

Camden have not yet commented on this contravention of their policy.

The proposed height would make the building taller than King’s Cross station.

The development from Midland Road

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this development is that the application process is being pushed through in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

A post unearthed on the BCAAC website shows that the developers had made their intentions clear from as early as 2013.

Yet the developers have conveniently begun the application process while everyone’s backs are turned.

Rather than hold public events where the community and groups could attend to voice their concerns about the development, the developers have used social distancing as an excuse to hold ‘virtual community events’ shared only to a select few residents and groups, protected by password. Those which we have contacted have indicated they will not be attending these events, making them the apotheosis of ‘token consultation’.

It was also implied by a Camden source that the developers resisted revealing their proposals until the last minute.

The redevelopment is proposed as a ‘knowledge quarter life sciences laboratory‘ which will bring ‘significant public benefit’.

The Knowledge Quarter is a recent invention from Camden which seeks to promote scientific buildings within Camden’s ‘growing knowledge economy’, which supposedly stretches from Covent Garden in the south to Camden Town in the north. This area is predominantly residential, with some scientific uses clustered around UCL.

The rear of the building may also provide affordable housing facing onto Argyle Square.

Argyle Square comprises entirely Grade II listed Georgian terraces and a designated open space. The area forms part of the original designation of the Bloomsbury Conservation Area of 1968, less than a year after conservation areas were ‘invented’ in 1967. This makes it one of the oldest conservation areas in the country, a reflection of its significance.

However the development has been judged by the Bloomsbury Conservation Areas Advisory Committee (BCAAC) to ‘fail every test which is usually applied to any building in a conservation area’.

Without significant opposition to this development from the local community it is likely that Camden will approve this development. It is possible that this building may grow to even greater heights.

The approval of a large development carries with it substantial payments in the form of Section 106 agreements and Community Infrastructure Levy funds. Section 106 and CIL act in a similar manner to ‘taxes’ on the size of a building. This is one of the driving forces behind overdevelopment in Camden, and is a vital source of funding for Camden’s infamous public realm projects such as new cycle lanes and the £35M West End Project.

Camden have successfully raised around £60M in such funds over the past ten years in the Bloomsbury area alone. It is estimated that this building would bring with it a payment of around £1M, helping to fund Camden’s newly proposed widespread ’emergency’ cycle lanes throughout the borough, some of which are on Euston Road.

Help us defeat this development

We need your help to oppose this development. You can help us by sending an email to the planning officer and developer dealing with the case voicing your opposition:

TO: gavin.sexton@camden.gov.uk

CC: falalji@precisadvisory.com

BCC: savebloomsbury@outlook.com

We have precomposed an email for you to send if you do not have the time to compose one yourself:

I am writing to express my disapproval of the proposed redevelopment of Belgrove House. This area is one of the most architecturally significant places in London, and deserves better. The proposed building is one of the ugliest buildings proposed in recent times and runs entirely counter to the high quality architecture of the Grade I listed stations opposite and Argyle Square to the rear.

The fact that this building competes for height with King’s Cross and St Pancras is entirely inappropriate. It should remain entirely subservient to the stations to the north with which it cannot hope to compete in architectural quality, and seek to harmonise with the scale of the immediately surrounding buildings.

The construction of this building would leave a blemish upon one of the most important places in London, and hence the country. Far contrary to the privileges bestowed to us by the presence of the Victorian stations to the north and Georgian terraces to the south, this building would serve as an exemplar of the poorest and ugliest form of architecture of the current day. In contrast to the deep appreciation of the surrounding buildings held by all who set eyes upon them, future generations would be ashamed to set eyes upon such an ugly monstrosity at all, just as current generations are ashamed to set eyes upon the Town Hall Annexe to the west.

Development upon this site must seek to add something genuinely valuable and important to the history of London and the streetscape in this area. It must not become yet another blot upon the landscape, yet another ugly monstrosity which will be valued by none and promptly demolished once its novelty has expired. Where is your pride? Do you not wish to build something valuable, rather than something despised?

Please, have some responsibility when contributing to the history of London, a city founded two thousand years ago and which will no doubt be here many thousands of years hence. Please, grasp this opportunity to build something which is looked upon with appreciation, pleasure, and even pride both now and in the future, rather than despised for its ugliness and selfishness. This is how you should contribute to the history of London, with the sense of responsibility and pride that our ancestors had and which is strongly attested by the quality of the surrounding architecture.

Contribute something to this important place, rather than diminish its significance.


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Camden: The Non-Local Authority

FOI response reveals surprising statistics about where Camden employees live.

After the popularity of the post revealing that less than half of Bloomsbury’s councillors live in Bloomsbury, with one living in Morden, I decided to do some further research into just how local our local authority is.

One problem that those in Bloomsbury often face is that schemes are dreamed up for the area by those living miles away, with no real local knowledge or understanding. To add insult to injury, these individuals are very rarely at all interested in the local knowledge held by residents and businesses.

So where do Camden’s employees live? How many of them live in Camden itself, and how many of them live south of Euston Road?

One Statistic to Rule Them All…

A Freedom of Information request led to some rather unusual but revealing statistics.

I first asked how many of Camden’s employees live in Camden itself. The employees considered did not include contractor employees such as those working for Veolia.

Camden employ the number of 4278 employees directly.

But only 655 of them live in Camden.

Just over 15%.

No information was revealed as to where the employees outside of Camden live. But the whereabouts of employees living in Camden was broken down by ward, as per my request.

So how many live south of Euston Road?

Just 1, apparently.

Only one Camden employee lives in Bloomsbury, out of the total of 4278. Just over 0%.

We are seeking clarification on this surprising statistic, although the numbers provided do ‘add up’. This employee lives in the Bloomsbury ward, while no employees at all live in the King’s Cross or Holborn and Covent Garden wards, apparently.

Along with the conspicuous lack of councillors living in the area, perhaps this statistic goes some way to explaining the short-sightedness of all proposals in the area.

Some Consolation

In the request I also asked for the whereabouts of all councillors to ascertain whether any councillors serving wards outside of Bloomsbury live in Bloomsbury.

Thankfully there are a few. The following councillors do live in the area:

NameServesLives
Maryam Eslamdoust (Mayor)KilburnKing’s Cross
Thomas GardinerKilburnKing’s Cross
Ranjit SinghCantelowesHolborn and Covent Garden

Postscript: Bloomsbury’s Gardens Reclaimed

The publication of the article yesterday exploring the possible benefits of restricted access to Bloomsbury’s gardens and streets led to some fierce debate in the realm of Twitter. The arguments and opinions espoused were delivered with such great force and were crafted in such a sophisticated manner that I have felt compelled to respond to these in the name of open and civilised debate.

To begin with, it must be said that the writer was entirely aware of the arguments against restriction, and indeed the article was written in the spirit of exploring an unusual and novel proposition rather than to advocate its implementation. Certainly it is the case that Bloomsbury’s gardens currently have taken on a more delightful character than usual and this must surely be down to the fact that only the local population are using them. Thus the question of how this character could be retained when things return to normal was naturally raised, and restricted access is an obvious way to achieve this.

However as the closing note of the article expressed, restricted access to Bloomsbury’s squares and streets is certainly not something which is going to be pursued by anyone, least of all the writer.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let us examine some of the sophisticated arguments which I have been faced with on the home of informed and rational debate: Twitter.

“No! Social reformers wanted these spaces to be open to the public as “open air living rooms” for those who lived in flats and didn’t have their own gardens. Are you suggesting charging for entry or only letting residents of the squares in? The article is snobbish & parochial.”

Diane Burstein, London Tour Guide

Diane, I would argue that restricting access to Bloomsbury’s gardens to those who live in Bloomsbury would achieve the goal of the unnamed ‘social reformers’. Exactly the point of the article was that the gardens are currently taking on this character of an ‘open air living room’ for those who live in the area (of which almost the entire population live in flats and don’t have their own gardens). The key observation is that the openness to all of the garden squares in usual times means that these spaces no longer take on the character of an ‘open air living room’, as who could call a living room a place stacked full with sunbathing tourists, pigeons, and litter? Indeed, the point was that the openness to all means that there is little room for the small local population to adequately enjoy the spaces.

To clarify, I was suggesting charging for entry to those who do not live locally, which would mean free entry for all those living in Bloomsbury, not just those few residents who live on the squares themselves.

To respond to the particularly forceful refutations towards the end of your tweet, I would ask that you read and understand the article before passing your holy judgement upon it.

“It’s elitist and unwelcome.”

A.J. Stranger, London Cabbie

Responding to the accusation of elitism, the two gardens mentioned are in fact within the King’s Cross Ward, described by Camden as being ‘its most deprived ward’. So far from being elitist, I would argue that it is quite the opposite, and restricting access would bestow a special privilege upon some of the least well-off in society.

Indeed requiring tourists to pay for entry would be quite the opposite of elitism – those individuals who can afford to fly to London from abroad to take a holiday are far more ‘elite’ than those living in the local area.

“What a disgusting attitude. Typical posh NIMBY. What makes a public park more ‘yours’ than rough sleepers? So you must be Bloomsbury born and bred? Lived there all your life have you? Many of the WKC young people you’re so horribly snobbish about actually are FROM Bloomsbury.”

Lifelong Londoner from Hackney

This refutation I found to be particularly well-crafted and difficult to respond to.

I was curious about the meaning of the phrase ‘typical posh NIMBY’ so I was forced to look it up. Unfortunately I am not quite posh enough to have as wide a vocabulary as Lifelong Londoner, but Wikipedia was able to help me out:

“NIMBY, or Nimby, is a characterisation of opposition by residents to a proposed development in their local area. It carries the connotation that such residents are only opposing the development because it is close to them and that they would tolerate or support it if it were built farther away.”

Wikipedia

I must admit Mr Londoner that I fail to see how this applies to the article.

In responding to the valid question raised about the ownership of the squares, it is fairly common for local authorities to encourage communities to ‘take ownership’ of their local area, with schemes in place by our local authority Camden to allow communities to take ownership of their streets, and even to encourage residents to take ownership of whole conservation areas. So the idea of local ownership is not something entirely outrageous and is indeed encouraged.

I would also argue that in a moral if not a legal sense, the gardens do belong more to those local residents than the typical rough-sleeper. It is after all the local residents who pay the taxes for their upkeep, the local residents who perhaps appreciate the gardens the most, and the local residents who volunteer to maintain the gardens. Indeed the fundamental observation in the article was that if the public realm (streets and squares) are maintained at the cost of local residents, then even in a financial sense they belong more so to the community.

My qualms about the presence of rough sleepers and WKC young people is not so much their presence but the fact that their presence is almost always associated with criminality, and it is the criminality which I and any reasonable person is averse to. Aversion to criminality is not snobbery in any sense, simply reasonableness.

However Mr Londoner had more to say on the matter:

“Made me very angry reading this. Basically wants a giant gated community. Ridiculous article. Utopia seems to mean only people like me to here. Piss off to a little village in the countryside if you’re going on like that.”

Lifelong Londoner from Hackney

After much reflection I recognised a fatal flaw in this argument. It simply would not be possible for the writer to ‘piss off to a little village in the countryside’ during the current lockdown, as it would surely not constitute essential travel. However once lockdown has been lifted I will reconsider this interesting proposition.

Bloomsbury’s Gardens Reclaimed

In the midst of a national emergency, Bloomsbury’s gardens reclaim their original Georgian character.

It is well-known by now to all that we should only be leaving our homes for necessities – for essentials, or for our once daily form of outdoor exercise.

This ‘lockdown’ has meant that Bloomsbury is possibly the quietest it has ever been since its original Georgian conception in the early 19th century. For the first time in two hundred years, the people on the streets of Bloomsbury are only those that actually live in Bloomsbury, leading to a new perspective on the use and appreciation of its renowned public spaces.

For once we can visit St George’s Gardens and Brunswick Square in good weather and not be faced with hordes of tourists sprawling over the open spaces, more numerous than the very blades of grass or leaves on the trees. We don’t have to worry about crowds of miscreants, either rough-sleepers begging for change or simply collapsed on the ground with needles sticking out their arms, or crowds of wannabe gangsters from Westminster Kingsway College blasting wannabe gangster music surrounded in a cloud of smoke. For once we don’t see bins overflowing left right and centre, with litter blowing across the spaces and pigeons swarming around some ignoramus chucking food across the ground and wrappers over their shoulder. All this chaos has departed, and in its absence we can see and appreciate Bloomsbury as it was intended two hundred years ago – as a beautiful place, whose open spaces were intended solely for the private and quiet enjoyment of its residents.

So when things return to normal, whenever that may be, surely we should be asking the question: should Bloomsbury be open to all as it was before, or should we consider restricting at least some of its spaces solely for the use of its residents?

Now anyone who has had dealings with Camden’s councillors will know that this idea would come up against immediate resistance, not least because less than half of Bloomsbury’s nine councillors even live in Bloomsbury. Their own personal living arrangements aside, both London-wide policy and Camden policy is dominated by a vague ideology of ‘inclusivity and openness for all’ perhaps most adequately expressed by Sadiq Khan’s particularly vague ‘London is Open’ campaign in the wake of the referendum result.

Apparently inclusivity and openness for all means that all spaces should literally be open to all, with councillors going so far as to insist that even council estate car parks and bin storage sheds should actually be open to the general public. So if a bin shed is a public space which should be kept open to the world’s population in the name of openness and inclusivity, it’s hard to imagine councillors supporting the closure of Bloomsbury’s gardens.

But there are financial benefits to restriction. It’s quite clear that the levels of street cleanliness have improved dramatically on both the streets and in the squares. Once a fairly common sight, overflowing bins simply don’t seem to occur anymore, and litter in the streets is at an all-time low. Even our local dossing street cleaners seem to be able to keep on top of things.

Presumably then, restricting public space to the local population would reduce the costs of street cleaning dramatically.

The fact that the problem of littering seems to have evaporated suggests that the individuals who do deface our streets are not those who live in the area, but those who come to visit from afar and those who commute into Central London to work. From a moral perspective, it seems hardly fair that those living in Central London should have to bear both the unsightliness of litter and the cost of having it cleared up. Indeed, it hardly seems fair that business should benefit from the tourism industry while residents are left to pick up the bill for cleaning up the mess.

From a heritage perspective too, restriction could be argued to be positive. Bloomsbury’s squares were not only initially restricted to residents of Bloomsbury, but were also often restricted solely to the residents of that square. Bloomsbury’s two most well-preserved squares also happen to be exactly those two squares which have retained this system: Mecklenburgh Square, and Bedford Square. To restrict the squares as they once were could then be argued to enhance Bloomsbury’s special character.

But should restriction be only applied to the squares, or perhaps it could go even further? There is little need for example for commuters and tourists to have access to Bloomsbury’s residential backwaters. These roads are however used by commuters as a sort-of pedestrian rat-run, and this use leads to an unfortunate build-up of litter. Litter bins on these backwaters are considered inappropriate by Camden, so commuters simply chuck their litter on the floor. Sweepers who are tasked to visit these backwaters once daily rarely do, perhaps reflecting the impossibility of that task, and Camden’s monitoring officers cannot hope to monitor all these streets adequately. One monitoring officer for Bloomsbury has an estimated 50 miles of streets to monitor.

It makes sense in a way to restrict these routes from commuting pedestrians, just as the GLA and Camden have restricted residential streets from commuting cars. Such a change would mean less littering, less money spent on street cleansing, and more effort applied to keeping the designated pedestrian routes at an acceptable level of cleanliness.

This would lead to problems of course, similar to those encountered when traffic routes are restricted. Which routes would be designated as commuting routes? Residents on those routes might not be happy at the increased business of their streets. But then again, business would be happy at the increased level of footfall outside their shopfronts.

Perhaps an appropriate trade-off would be to entirely pedestrianise these routes so that only pedestrians travel on them but no cars, thereby increasing the footfall but reducing the density and noise. Anyway, it seems that Camden are insistent on removing cars from almost every street in Central London so to cater solely for pedestrians wouldn’t be too radical a change.

From an historical perspective too, this would indicate something of a return to Georgian Bloomsbury. Originally many residential streets were closed and gated and manned by a warden. These gates actually persisted up until fairly recently, when the LCC ordered their removal in the 1920s with the rise of the motor vehicle. The only remnant of these gates and gatehouses, once a common sight throughout Bloomsbury, are those outside the main entrance to UCL, and of course those outside Downing Street. Perhaps with the decline of the motor vehicle in Central London, it makes sense to return to the way that things were.

So if restriction of backwaters and gardens to the resident population were on the whole supported by residents, and even by businesses, it could potentially be a popular policy for councillors running for election or reelection. After all, the only people who would lose out by such a policy would be exactly the set of people without a vote, while it would benefit exactly those with a vote. So what’s to lose except adherence to ideology?

Indeed, Bloomsbury’s public spaces could even be made profitable for the Council, helping to fund their upkeep. Similar to the Oyster Card system, why not offer to ‘outsiders’ the option of purchasing a day pass to visit as many squares as they can? Beyond the profitability of such a scheme, it would help to impress upon visitors the importance of the garden squares, and that they aren’t just open to anyone to mess around in.

This could be an effective system for entry to squares and residential streets. While residents get a ‘Bloomsbury Card’ which lets them into places for free, other visitors would need to top-up their Bloomsbury Card for entry. Backwaters could then become something of a ‘toll-road’ for pedestrians.

Such a system would help to change perspectives on the upkeep of the public realm. Rather than it being a burdensome drain on the ‘public purse’, it could be transformed into a profitable public asset. Just imagine for example the service that we would receive on the London Underground if it were ‘open and inclusive to all’ – i.e. free to anyone to use. It’s absurd to imagine an Underground where nobody has to pay to use it – after all, how would they afford to maintain and run it? But that is exactly the point – the public realm to commuters is not altogether too different from the Underground, after all it provides a means to get from A to B, and in London it costs a significant amount to maintain and run it. So why should the public, and particularly the local residents, need to pay to maintain it when everyone uses it? It’s as absurd as if the London Underground were entirely paid for through the taxes of London residents at huge cost, but at the same time being open to anyone throughout the world. Or if flights over London airspace required a contribution through Council Tax to pay for that section of the flight.

But despite all the sensible arguments, it’s not something that we are likely to ever see happen, there being so many impediments and so little political motivation. After all, ownership of Bloomsbury’s squares is now varied with the University owning four of Bloomsbury’s squares – why would the University ever close off its squares just for residents?

The best that we can do for now is enjoy Georgian Bloomsbury while it lasts, a strange glimpse of a utopian past which has been afforded to us by this unexpected crisis.