Labour Westminster Councillors have joined SAVE to urge the new DCLG Secretary of State, Greg Clark MP, to call in plans by King’s College London to completely demolish a group of four buildings in the Strand Conservation Area and retain the façade of a fifth Grade II listed building. They would be replaced by a new building which has been given planning permission by Westminster City Council.
The entire group of threatened buildings are in the Strand Conservation Area, while one of them is listed Grade II. The ones condemned for demolition are singled out in the Conservation Area Audit as Unlisted Buildings of Merit, which contribute to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area. The campaign to save these buildings is also supported by 8,000 people who have signed the SAVE petition and demonstrate the extent of the national interest in this proposal.
Labour Councillors say that a change in the original view of Historic England’s is a strong reason for the Secretary of State to call-in the demolition proposals.
In a statement on May 11th Historic England say:
“We recognise that some people place great value on these buildings. We have treated these buildings with great respect in arriving at our advice. Our advice is that losing these buildings causes harm to the Conservation Area and that harm can only be justified if it is absolutely necessary to deliver the wider public benefits that the University has identified.”
However, in their original letter Historic England say:
“Whilst the loss of the unlisted buildings is regrettable their demolition, allied to the physical changes they have already undergone, does not strike at the heart of the significance of the Conservation Area, why it was designated. Their loss would therefore be considered “less than substantial harm” and when weighted against the public benefits. I consider that these benefits outweigh the harm.”
Crucially, in their original letter, Historic England came to the conclusion that the benefits outweigh the harm and that the harm is not substantial. Now they are saying that there is harm.
Councillor David Boothroyd, the only Labour councillor on the four-person Westminster Planning committee and who asked for his vote against the proposals to be recorded formally, said;
“The new Secretary of State should call-in this proposal given the significant change in Historic England’s comments and the huge national interest. The current proposals would not only mean a loss of this lovely terrace of historic buildings, but would be a repeat of the mistakes made in the 1970s when King’s College was allowed to build a Brutalist development which was totally unsympathetic with The Strand and nearby Somerset House.”
SAVE Britain’s Heritage objected to the application along with the following: the Ancient Monuments Society, the Victorian Society, the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, the Council for British Archaeology, the Somerset House Trust, the Courtauld Institute, and over 64 others. The Somerset House Trust and Courtauld Institute’s objections centre on the proposed new tower extension to the Kings Strand building and the impact it will have on the setting of Somerset House.