By News Reporters
In November 2009 Derwent London plc announced plans to redevelop some of their properties in Fitzrovia. They received a lot of positive media coverage and Fitzrovia News ran a critical article in our December issue (115) on pages 6 and 7.
In February of this year Simon Silver, a director and head of regeneration at Derwent London, contacted Fitzrovia News saying: “I read with interest your article ‘Plan to turn little oasis into retail precinct’. I do not believe the article properly represented our company’s ambitions within Fitzrovia and would very much like the opportunity of meeting with you to explain our ideas as well as the aims of the Fitzrovia Partnership.”
Fitzrovia News took up this offer and met with Simon Silver at Derwent London’s exhibition area in Whitfield Street. We first asked him why he felt that his company had been misrepresented.
Simon Silver: “Let’s start with Whitfield Gardens. You said that we have plans to develop on Whitfield Gardens. That’s not correct. We have no plans to develop on Whitfield Gardens. We don’t own it. But we would like to contribute to improving it.”
Fitzrovia News: “Well, you stated in your brochure that you ‘wanted to make something better out of that slightly sad looking space’ and we’ve had information from Camden Council who own the site that you do have a scheme for the gardens and that there are certain conditions you’ve wanted attached to this scheme. The Friends of Open Spaces Fitzrovia group (which was set up by Camden as a forum for local people and the Council to liaise) wanted Whitfield Gardens to have railings installed around it and for it to be locked at night to protect the open space and to prevent nuisance, crime and vandalism. We’ve been told that any design and financial contribution from Derwent London is contingent upon the Gardens remaining without railings.
Simon Silver: “That’s not correct. We have no such plans. But we are offering to work with local people and Camden Council to try to improve the Gardens.”
Fitzrovia News: “OK, could we talk about the Saatchi & Saatchi building on Whitfield Street and Charlotte Street?”
Simon Silver: “You said we want to demolish the building. That’s not true. We don’t want to demolish the Saatchi building. We don’t want to make huge changes. We want to refurbish and regenerate. We want it brushed up and cleaned up. But we do want to increase the floor space. If we don’t increase the floor space, it won’t be financially viable. The cores of a 25-year-old building are not suited to modern offices, so we have to do a lot of work on the building and that’s expensive. However, Camden Council have encouraged us to look at some more public realm space in the development. That we are open to. And we will be able to provide housing near the site.
“We don’t want to create more cafes on this development. We are not a retail developer. We do office refurbishments. Ninety percent of our work is refurbishment. Take a look at Totfield House, Whitfield Street. That’s typically what we do: improve a building. Increasing footfall is not what we want to do. It won’t profit us to introduce retail. In fact we are better off not doing retail.”
Fitzrovia News: “What about the swapping of future housing from Asta House in the middle of Whitfield Street to a site at Whitfield Place that was part of a previous 106 agreement. The social housing that is now proposed for the ground floor and first floor of Suffolk house will be very close to the football pitch and the housing will be of very poor quality. Because this is social housing, tenants won’t really have a choice about whether to move there or not and could be disturbed by evening use to the football pitch and the noise of the ball being kicked against the railings only a few metres from their window. Housing at Asta House would have enhanced Whitfield Street and it would also have provided some surveillance for the children’s playground at the Fitzrovia Nursery.”
Simon Silver: “I don’t agree that the social housing on the ground and first floor at Suffolk House will be poor quality. But if you say there is likely to be conflict with the football pitch then that is something that we can address. Perhaps we can be flexible. Maybe we can move the social housing to the upper floors and have commercial use in the lower floors.”
Fitzrovia News: “Could we talk about the Fitzrovia Partnership? Nick Groves has left Derwent London and the Fitzrovia Partnership and you have taken his place on the board of the Fitzrovia Partnership.”
Simon Silver: “Yes, that is correct. Nick has moved on and I’ve taken his place. Derwent London initiated the Fitzrovia Partnership and has given financial support to get it up and running until we can enlarge the membership.”
Fitzrovia News: “The Fitzrovia Partnership have produced a leaflet and a map of Fitzrovia. On the map entitled Eat Your Way Through Fitzrovia there are many streets coloured in yellow which seems to represent a promotion of eating establishments. Streets where there are no cafes or restaurants are also included. It looks like you are trying to promote these streets as eating destinations when at present they are offices or residential or a mix of the two. In the leaflet, The Fitzrovia Partnership Update, it describes a desire to ‘attract a greater footfall’ in the area. It looks like you are trying to build a campaign to promote a change of use from ground floor office to ground floor cafes and restaurants. This seems to contradict what you said about Derwent London not wanting to increase footfall.”
Simon Silver: “No it doesn’t contradict what I’ve said. The Fitzrovia Partnership is separate from Derwent London. You’ve given the impression in your article that it is the same and that there is something sinister going on. There isn’t. You’ve also suggested that it costs £10,000 to become a member. It doesn’t. It costs only £200 to become a member. It costs £10,000 to become a board member. In fact we gave Make Architects a position on the board for free because they are paying in kind by helping with our plans. A representative from Camden Council sits on the board as an observer. The Fitzrovia Partnership is here to promote cleaner streets, improve security and streetscape where possible with trees and planting.”
Fitzrovia News: “Let’s talk about the trees and in particular the electric cables and fairy lights that were nailed to the trees with steel staples in Whitfield Gardens and in Charlotte Street. Don’t you regret defacing the trees? One resident said it is ‘vandalism to staple electric lights in the trees’.”
Simon Silver: “No, we don’t regret doing this because we did it in good faith. Camden Council installed the lights, not us. But I’m sorry about the outcome of the tree lighting.”
Fitzrovia News: “Will you take residents views into consideration in your plans and involve the community?”
Simon Silver: “Yes, we will communicate with and listen to local people. We have opened this exhibition area to do exactly that. I do understand that some people will be suspicious but I feel that once we get to know each other and you’ve seen the work that we have already done in refurbishing this building in Tottenham Street and Whitfield Street you will agree that what we are doing is improving and bringing the best out of Fitzrovia. And I look forward to continuing the dialogue between ourselves.”
Background to this interview here.