Overdevelopment in South Camden

BRAG has objected to the Planning Application for the demolition and redevelopment of Belgrove House, which will be decided by Camden's Planning Committee on 25 February 2020

Victorian elegance versus height and bulk of the proposed office block

"The incongruity of design, materials used, the scale and height completely dwarf a UK cultural icon - Kings Cross/St Pancras - a national treasure and the first sight for many of our international visitors. By diminishing the stations’ visual dominance, there will be a high level of harm to these important 19th century station buildings." [BRAG]

Do Residents Matter?

 

Policy C1 of the Local Plan states that the Council will improve and promote strong, vibrant and healthy communities through ensuring a high-quality environment with local services to support health, social and cultural welling and reduce inequalities.

 

The Officer’s Report for the Belgrove House application includes a section on Health and Well-being.

There is a reference to the high rates of begging and street drinking/substance abuse in the neighbourhood, and “officers consider that a contribution to improving the futures of homeless people in the south of the borough would be a meaningful and locally focussed positive outcome.” Yes indeed, and of course we would support a proposed financial contribution by the developer to the Single Homeless Project. 

 

But there’s no mention of the large number of permanent residents who occupy properties nearby, paying taxes to Camden, who contribute to the creation of a strong, vibrant and healthy local community. Doesn’t our health and wellbeing matter too?

 

The Applicant’s Health Impact Assessment contains a matrix assessing the proposal in 11 key areas which contribute towards the overall health of occupiers and visitors of the development.  But what about the overall health of residents who live nearby? 

 

Looking at this matrix, it seems so easy to shrug off the impact on local people through a few words that will, in theory, offer “mitigation”, ie the implementation of a construction management plan to reduce adverse health risks from demolition and construction activities. 

 

Why no Cumulative Impact Assessment?

 

In 2019 there was a consultation relating to the development of Cumulative Impact Assessment. As the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association Newsletter pointed out at the time: “It’s a little late in the day but Camden’s planners have finally woken up to the fact that a pestilence of planning applications and property development south of the Euston Road is having a negative impact on everyone’s lives.”

 

For years Fitzrovia residents have been enduring the impact of closed carriageways, blocked pavements queues of lorries full of rubble or concrete all day long.  Now it’s Bloomsbury’s turn, with the recent approval of a vast demolition and development project at 247 Tottenham Court Road that will impact negatively on the streets to the east. Soon HGVs will be thundering through Bedford Square.  Gray’s Inn Road is already a target for large scale development (the former Eastman Dental Hospital is due to be demolished and developed - work has already started), no 330 (the former Throat, Nose and Ear hospital) could be next.  A few years ago the Garden Halls were totally rebuilt (to a much greater scale) in Cartwright Gardens; then Camden Town Hall’s Annexe turned into the Standard Hotel (with 2 extra storeys).  There’s the LSHTM currently undergoing transformation in Tavistock Place. And now it’s Belgrove House and Acorn House – only a few hundred yards from the developments in Gray’s Inn Road.  This is serious overdevelopment of one corner of London – where people LIVE.

 

At the time of the 2019 consultation, Cllr Danny Beales wrote to community groups to reassure them that “Camden considers protecting residents from the impacts of construction activity a priority…. Officers across several disciplines in the Council have developed a list of enhanced requirements they believe are necessary to mitigate these impacts.”  This initiative seems to have fallen by the wayside, and there is no reference to any Cumulative Impact Assessment within the Officer’s Report to the Planning Committee regarding Belgrove House and Acorn House. Yet, cumulative impact will indeed be the result.

 

Valuing and Respecting Conservation Areas

 

As well as trying to defend residential amenity, BRAG Committee members are also concerned about heritage, since much of our local neighbourhood is designated a Conservation Area. We value our historic environment and wish it to be preserved and enhanced.

 

How can the AHMM (the architects) design claim that the Belgrove House design enhances and preserves the Conservation Areas of both Kings Cross and Bloomsbury? The 10 storey glass, steel and concrete office block (albeit with a biophilic façade) will sit in a prominent position opposite Kings Cross Station (Grade 1 listed). Its bulk is surely not in harmony with the Victorian elegance of St Pancras station clock tower (Grade 1), the charming and compact 3 storey Georgian terraces of Argyle Square (Grade 2) or the adjacent lower rise buildings on the south side of Euston Road. The recently restored Lighthouse building (Grade 2) is only a short distance away.

 

We object to the proposed redevelopment of Belgrove House, due to its massive scale and unsuitability within a heritage setting. The incongruity of design, materials used, the scale and height completely dwarf a UK cultural icon - Kings Cross/St Pancras - a national treasure and the first sight for many of our international visitors. We don’t deny that the south side of Euston Road needs attention, but the “setting” of heritage assets is as important as the structures themselves. By diminishing the stations’ visual dominance, there will be a high level of harm to these important 19th century station buildings.

 

Climate Emergency

 

Camden declared a Climate Emergency in 2020 and apparently committed to make the borough zero carbon by 2030.  But this seems totally inconsistent in view of the sheer number of massive developments that are waiting at the starting line.

 

How can demolition be so easily approved? What about the CO2 emissions from demolition of the building and transportation of waste?  The larger the building, the greater the impact.

 

And then there’s the issue of air quality. We know that motor vehicles are being purged from central London (though few residents own cars and taxis are in theory a means of public transport), but the pollutants emitted from construction vehicles are known to be far more hazardous. The larger the building, the greater the impact.  It’s the SCALE of the proposed development which is so vexing.

 

Weighing harm and public benefits

 

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. How such benefits are weighted is opaque - and presumably subjective. Does “public” = “community?”

 

Acorn House (Gray’s Inn Road) was purchased by the developers to satisfy the provision of affordable housing in relation to the Belgrove House site – a clever move. Camden will also benefit from the redesign of the entrance to the Kings Cross Underground on the south side of Euston Road. Having Merck as an instant tenant must seem too good to be true. These are all obvious benefits for Camden Council. The Belgrove scheme will also give rise to financial contributions by the developer through a Section 106 Agreement.

 

Much has been said about Belgrove House’s redevelopment value in providing office, research and laboratory floorspace, especially stressing the building’s key role within the Knowledge Quarter - this being how this area of London is now marketed.  But isn’t is the proposed development simply another office block - albeit of a scale that will be suitable for a laboratory? Of course, this will attract support from key local businesses.

 

The immediate neighbourhood is, however, not simply a focus for the Knowledge Quarter institutions and businesses, people live here too.  The streets south of the Euston Road are primarily residential.  They comprise Edwardian mansion blocks, historic terraces, 20th century council estate housing, 21st century infill development. These provide homes for a large number of Camden’s population.

 

We know places can’t remain in aspic and change is inevitable, but we are beginning to think that as residents, we are simply a nuisance, and certainly our voices are drowned out by the foghorn of Council support for large-scale commercial development in South Camden. 

A computer generated image of the proposed development at night. 

Camden has declared a Climate Emergency, yet the proposed new building (demolition & rebuild) will add to the carbon footprint of the neighbourhood. The 10 storey office block, with a large number of windows, will inevitably increase light pollution. Why the inconsistency?