June 2020 Newsletter
Recent months have been a difficult time for many people, and we hope you are all well, safe and coping with the trials and tribulations of 2020.
We are grateful to everyone who has been looking after their neighbours and providing practical assistance to those in self-isolation. Local groups have been working hard to support the community, especially the Holborn Community Association. As lockdown lessens, check out their website for information on activities etc. The Marchmont Association has been doing their best to keep track of shops that have been open for business during the lockdown, publishing details on the MA website.
South Bloomsbury TRA alerted us to an App that was launched from researchers at Kings College to help slow the spread of COVID19 and identify at risk cases sooner by self-reporting your symptoms daily, even if you feel well. There are now nearly 4,000,000 people taking part. If you’re interested you can still download the app https://covid.joinzoe.com/
BRAG tries to keep the local community informed about what's going on south of the Euston Road. So, here is some information which might be useful.
Major roads likely to be closed to motor vehicles - TfL's Streetspace project
BRAG was founded in 2016 to promote the principle that Residents Matter. We are therefore concerned how TfL’s proposed road closures and extended congestion charge hours will impact on the many people who actually live within the south Camden area that is being targeted for change.
We have put together a Fact Sheet on the proposals as we understand them from the TfL press release and article in The Guardian (15.5.20). An official told the Guardian that the changes will be coming into force by the end of June. However, TfL informs us that plans are still being finalised. There is no specific date announced on the TfL website, and no specific map, so everything seems very unclear. This map above was published alongside the Guardian article.
We wonder how many people actually know about these proposals, and have tried to compile details in terms of how it will affect east Bloomsbury.
We note that emergency services and people with mobility issues will still have access, but deliveries on some streets may be restricted to outside of congestion charge hours. This will particularly affect residents who live in neighbourhood shopping streets.
Here is a link to the press release published by the Mayor's office on 15th May.
Extension of Congestion charge
A few weeks ago there was some information about this proposed change on the TfL website. A very low key “consultation” was offered, that closed on the 4 June.
Information was posted on the Nextdoor website on 2 June, which stated: “Have your say about the proposals made to increase Congestion Charge on Londoners. The changes include: - Increasing in days to Monday to Sunday (presently Monday to Friday) - Increasing the daily charge to £15 (presently £11.50) and removing the £1 Auto Pay and Fleet discounts - Extending the charging hours to 07:00-22:00 (presently 07:00-18:00) - Closing the Residents' Discount to new applicants.This is still in the consideration phase pending public opinion. Closing date to voice your opinion is 04/06/20.”
We, along with others, voiced our opinion and objected to the changes but we now learn it is going full steam ahead.
At the time of the "consultation" the TfL website stated that the change of hours is a temporary measure, and if it is made permanent will be subject to a proper consultation.
Few residents in south Camden have cars and cycling is gaining in popularity, an activity BRAG supports - as long as speed is kept under control, pavements remain a space for pedestrians and red lights are respected.
But many of us have friends and family who live outside the congestion zone area. If these friends are elderly or infirm and unable to cycle or use public transport, they will have to pay £15 to visit us at evenings and weekends. We know that TfL needs to raise money, but this proposal seems like a new tax on friendship for people who live in central London and will impact on those who are already suffering from the isolation imposed by Covid-19 restrictions.
The extension of CC hours is also a crippling blow to businesses which are trying to get back on their feet post-Covid.
Other road closures
Duke’s Road, together with Upper Woburn Place
We have recently read that access to these two roads will be closed to westbound traffic on Euston Road.
This information is buried in the legal notices on page 30 of the Camden New Journal, published on
18 June 2020.
We note the absence of any consultation process regarding these changes.
Dane Street - Red Lion Street
This scheme will restrict through traffic on Dane Street and Red Lion Street via the introduction of ‘droppable’ bollards (which can be dropped temporarily by emergency services and refuse vehicles). We understand this is intended to reduce the number of motor vehicles using both Red Lion Street and Dane Street, as a short cut from Theobalds Road (A401) and to the A40 (Procter Street and High Holborn).
Information on these changes was sent by Camden to certain local groups and businesses. The letter stated that work will take place between 24th June to 3rd July, from 8am and 6pm.
For information: https://www.camden.gov.uk/making-travel-safer-in-camden
For those who live nearby and don't know about the proposals, the letter can be accessed here.
To share comments on these changes write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Commonplace Map consultation
You can also make suggestions for locations you think need changes by contributing to https://camdensafetravel.commonplace.is/. But we do wonder how many people actually know about this initiative and thus whether changes will be introduced despite too few people being engaged in the process.
The Commonplace Map project will close at midnight on 28 June.
Planning and Development
For many local residents, especially those who live in the vicinity of the office block development to the rear of Britannia Street, there has been no reprieve at all from construction noise during the past three months. The noise from road works in many local streets has also continued, despite the lockdown.
The absence of tourists and students, and the closure of shops and the hospitality & entertainment industry has nevertheless had a marked effect on certain areas. Some residents have benefitted from much quieter streets and little traffic. During the early days of lockdown there were fewer black cabs and Uber cars circulating round the streets. The reduction in traffic has undoubtedly encouraged people to walk and cycle, an obvious benefit for health and wellbeing.
Planning applications have continued to be submitted to Camden, and the Planning Committee meets monthly, albeit using digital technology to communicate. Deputations can still be made, but by Zoom. Details are on the Camden website. https://www.camden.gov.uk/planning-committee-deputations
BRAG offers support to other local groups in their objection to planning applications. Recent interventions included an objection by the Marchmont Association to inappropriate signage in Leigh Street – consequently refused; a proposal for two storey infill in the light well space between Ormonde Mansions and the neighbouring hotel (supporting Ormonde Mansions RA) - also refused. BRAG was a signatory to the Bloomsbury Association's letter to the Members Briefing Panel, urging that an application for material changes to the Underground Hotel (112 Great Russell Street) should be decided by the Planning Committee, not by officers under delegated powers. This application has potential importance as a precedent for circumventing proper process when making changes to an approved development, and for Camden’s view of ‘non-materiality’ in a planning context. We support the Bloomsbury Association's assertion that the application must be thoroughly scrutinised, and Members and objectors should have the opportunity to speak.
BRAG is represented on a number of Community Liaison Groups for developments such as the office block being built to the rear of Britannia Street, the refurbishment of Camden Town Hall, the redevelopment of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the former Eastman Dental Hospital. We are close contact with the Friends of Argyle Square and the Bloomsbury Conservation Area Advisory Committee. We also support the Red Lion TRA in Holborn as they seek to ensure that refurbishment projects taking place in the vicinity of Eagle Street and the Red Lion Estate fully respect the nearby residential community.
Belgrove House: Post Office and 'Access Building' - former Kings Cross Coach Station
One proposed development may be of interest to readers. This focuses on Belgrove House - known to many locals as the Access Building - or described by Camden as the Kings Cross Post Office redevelopment. The building lies directly opposite Kings Cross station and the clock tower of St Pancras station, both Grade I listed buildings.
The Kings Cross Conservation Area Appraisal states that Belgrove House was constructed in the 1950s, on the site of former King's Cross Coach Station. However, recent research finds that this IS the coach station, built around 1930 to serve commuters using King's Cross and St Pancras Stations. This makes it more historically significant than previously thought, with clear links to the history of the area as a transport hub.
As seen from this photograph, gleaned from https://www.flickr.com/photos/warsaw1948/albums/72157626070269684, it looks as though the entrances along Belgrove and Crestfield Streets were simply bricked up when the coach station closed.
The developers obviously see this site as primarily part of Euston Road. But many local residents recognise it forms the south side of what is now King’s Cross Square and, just as important locally, the north side of Argyle Square, a Bloomsbury garden square with listed Georgian terraces on the other three sides. The setting of neither Square would benefit from such a large-scaled building.
We read that the “type of tenant” the developer hopes to attract “will be a world leader in the discovery, development and delivery of life saving vaccines.” But the massive Crick Institute is located close by, so this aim seems marginally opportunistic in these Covid-19 days.
One wonders what John Betjeman would think of it all…
BCAAC and the Friends of Argyle Square are objecting strongly to the plans, as put forward by the owners Precis, who also propose to demolish Acorn House, on the corner of Swinton Street and Gray's Inn Road. Although in separate locations, the two buildings are being seen as a single development proposal. The cumulative impact of these two demolition sites, added to the former Eastman Dental Hospital on Grays Inn Road does not bode well for local residents.
Details about the proposals are on a website https://belgroveacorn.co.uk/. Some people may have received a flyer about the proposals.
If you have any comments, please write to email@example.com
You can also send in feedback via a survey https://belgroveacorn.co.uk/have-your-say/
In addition, the Council is holding an online Development Management Forum, and we have been asked to share the information.
When: Thursday 25 June
Time: 7pm to 9pm
Place: Register to attend online at https://camdenplanning.councilsuk.live/
More information: https://www.camden.gov.uk/belgrove-house-dm-forum.
If you do not have access to the internet please contact Camden's Engagement Officer, Dawn Allott on 020 7974 1797 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you wish to attend the meeting, it is essential to register beforehand.
The former Eastman Dental Hospital
There is considerable economic uncertainty for local education institutions such as UCL, SOAS and the University of London. The proposed demolition and redevelopment (by UCL) of the former Eastman Dental Hospital in Gray's Inn Road has paused, until at least the autumn. The building is virtually mothballed. We understand the construction management plan that must be approved by Camden Council and is critical to any work being done has not yet been completed. In the meantime, only works to the adjacent Calthorpe Community Garden and the site clean-up prior to demolition will take place. The actual demolition work is on hold until further notice. A Community Liaison Group has been set up for this development.
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM)
The redevelopment of this site in Tavistock Place has been beset with problems, including the bankruptcy of their most recent contractor. Residents are kept informed about what’s happening by a Community Liaison Group. A two week ‘look ahead’ is available. For information on details or to be put on their mailing list, please contact Vicky Ratcliffe, who is employed as the School’s engagement officer.
Bloomsbury Conservation Area Advisory Committee (BCAAC)
BCAAC's website has recently been upgraded, and it now includes a useful interactive map.
The Advisory Committee deals with applications and planning breaches for seven conservation areas in the heart of historic London, namely Bloomsbury, Charlotte Street, Denmark Street, Fitzroy Square, Hanway Street, Kingsway and Seven Dials.
It specifically includes a section on how the Advisory Committee can support local residents in heritage-based objections to applications in their neighbourhood.
Residents’ quality of life
We have seen a drop-in crime within south Camden, and the absence of tourists denies table surfers their prey. But the lack of visitors and students is of huge concern to local shops, hotels and restaurants where such custom is critical. The Covid-19 induced closure of galleries, museums and theatres has removed vital tourist attractions that provide employment for many people. We hope they will be open soon and that the vibrancy of central London will return.
Residents of south Camden benefit from some of the finest restaurants in the capital and quirky, creative innovative outlets that bring colour to our daily lives. It would be a disaster to see those threatened. Our local shops and businesses contribute to the sense of community. They have been hard hit by the pandemic, and we worry that their economic future is in jeopardy.
BRAG supports improvements to the public realm, along with cycling and walking initiatives.
Public transport is important and vehicle access is essential for services and security, not least of all for those residents who are mobility challenged. We believe that everyone who lives in three wards of South Camden should be able to move around safely by foot, bicycle, bus, tube and - if necessary, by a motor vehicle.
South Camden residents need much better air quality. TfL’s proposed road changes may - or may not - deliver this; evidence from the 2017 Public Inquiry proved that closing roads to motor vehicles can simply reduce pollution in one street but increase it in another - due to the displacement of traffic.
And residents still need to be able to live an ordinary life. Why should their sleep be disturbed because lorries have to deliver to shops and businesses during the night? (with the Congestion Charge extended to 10pm.)
BRAG supports the creation of a sustainable community but this requires decisions to be made that do not ignore the needs of residents.
As summer arrives, and the lockdown lessens, we hope to know more about how the virus will affect our day to day lives. In the meantime we all have to be careful to protect ourselves and others.
With best wishes
Co-Chair, BRAG (Bloomsbury Residents' Action Group)
BRAG is run and managed by a committee of 12 residents who live within the three southern wards of Kings Cross, Bloomsbury and Holborn & Covent Garden.