Developers make a mockery of Camdenʼs planning process

28th February 2013

Developersʼ contempt for the planning system was on full display in the Town Hall at Thursdayʼs Development Control Committee meeting. One of the applications discussed was St Georgeʼs Court, a post-war neo-classical office block previously occupied by the Ministry of Defence. In order to create ʻmodern officesʼ to attract high rents and classy customers, the applicantʼs agent defended the decision to make external alterations to the façade and ʻnoseʼ of the building. The intention was to bring ʻlightʼ into what the Applicant frequently referred to as ʻthe prisonʼ.

St Georgeʼs Court lies opposite Hawksmoorʼs Church of St Georgeʼs, Bloomsbury. Colonnades on second to fourth floor level of the Bloomsbury Way elevation responded sympathetically to the colonnades of the Grade I listed church. One of the key planning requirements within a Conservation Area is the need to preserve the setting in which a heritage building stands, as much as the building itself. The Bloomsbury CAAC opposed the design of the plans put forward by London & Regional Properties in view of its insensitivity to the heritage of the surrounding streetscape.

Members of the Development Control Committee and BCAAC were utterly shocked to find that the developers had already demolished the colonnades, before planning permission had been granted, thereby completely flouting the system put in place to present such acts of vandalism. The applicant put forward the argument that they had gone ahead with the demolition, in the foregone conclusion that planning permission would be granted.

St Georges Court

Photo of Colonnade to St. Georges Court – demolished without permission

This behavior makes a complete mockery of the planning process. When an application is submitted, representatives of local residents, amenity groups and statutory bodies spend time and effort considering the impact of the development on the surrounding neighbourhood. Evidence for and against is presented to Council Members for considered debate. This is a democratic process in a democratic country. The fact a developer has wantonly vandalised an existing building prior to receiving planning permission is unacceptable. If bankers are being brought under control for manipulating the LIBOR system, then this should apply to developers too.

As planning permission for Georgeʼs Court has now been granted, it is unlikely the colonnades can be reinstated. But they should – as a matter of principle. Otherwise, it gives the green light for any developer to ignore the planning process and do what they wish to achieve their goals.

The Advisory Committeeʼs initial comment is included in the report at Para 4.2 (Page 311). St Georgeʼs Court is a familiar landmark and the architectural treatment is contextual with the area and most notably with St Georgeʼs Church Bloomsbury, which it faces across Bloomsbury Way.

The crude re-ordering of the existing double height stone clad base stories would unbalance the carefully proportioned existing design, which has a traditional tripartite arrangement of BASE MIDDLE TOP. This feature alone enables it to respond to the surrounding traditional townscape.

The existing satisfactory scale relationships between the fenestration of the plinth base and the much smaller windows immediately above would be destroyed by the creation of crude double height openings, entirely inappropriate for this building and the area.

The removal of the stylish colonnades, which echo the portico on the Church, would be vandalism of the most thoughtless kind. These have a useful role in partially screening the recent large and uncharacteristic areas of standard glass walls. The proposal to extend, what is already a bulky building, in a matching design would also unbalance and disfigure the buildingʼs appearance.

Accordingly, BCAAC strongly urges the council to reject these alterations and extensions as

1. being seriously harmful to the architectural integrity of the existing building, which makes a positive contribution to the character and appearance of the conservation area.

2. they would neither preserve or enhance the building, the conservation area or preserve the setting of the church, which is one of the most distinguished historic buildings in Camden.

BCAAC June 12