By Peter Whyatt
A planning application submitted by Derwent London to redevelop the Saatchi office block at Charlotte Street, bounded by Chitty Street, Whitfield Street and Howland Street was rejected by Camden Council because the proposals failed to comply with the council’s planning policies.
Camden’s development control committee voted by eight votes to three to reject the scheme at a highly charged meeting at Camden Town Hall on 19 May.
The proposed redevelopment, included plans to increase the office floorspace from 25,000 square metres to 40,000 square metres by knocking down Fitzrovia’s “secret” pub The Pregnant Man (named after the 1970s Saatchi & Saatchi advert) and in-filling the internal open space which is presently partly used as a car park.
The scheme would have introduced retail and restaurant premises, and would add several floors to create a nine storey building at the heart of Fitzrovia and in the Charlotte Street conservation area. The plans also included residential use and a small pocket park on Chitty Street.
Camden’s planning officers recommended that permission be granted.
Objectors to the proposals, however, said the plans were an overdevelopment, lacking in public open space and failed to provide adequate market and affordable housing.
At the development control meeting a deputation from the Charlotte Street Association (CSA) explained their grounds for objection.
Penny Abraham, a ward councillor for eight years, relied on her knowledge of the area to argue for the community’s need for public open space and affordable housing. She recalled that discussions in 2009 had identified the site as having significant potential to make a contribution to meeting these needs.
The shortcomings of the scheme and its almost total failure to meet the planning policy actually worsened an already identified lack of community facilities. Councillor Adam Harrison also spoke against the plans.
Derwent responded by urging the Council to approve the scheme and as a sweetener offered an additional off-site affordable dwelling, and that viability did not allow them to offer more.
On the issue of viability the Council’s consultant told the committee that Derwent’s return on capital would not make enough money from the scheme to offer more public open space or affordable housing.
The CSA argued that Derwent’s plea of poverty cannot justify a scheme which almost totally failed to meet Camden’s policy and local needs. To allow financial considerations to justify a scheme so totally at variance with the objectives of the policy constituted bad planning.
The CSA argued that the site is not derelict, the buildings are fully occupied and in the circumstances it was better to leave well alone rather than prejudice the future by approving a damaging scheme.
Neighbours and local residents groups wrote in to object to the proposals. Holborn and St Pancras MP Frank Dobson also objected, describing the planned nine storey building as a “grotesque overdevelopment”.
The residents of Chitty Street were furious at the idea of being overlooked by five extra stories of office space.
Councillor Flick Rea criticised the pocket park being proposed: “The open space is not enough for the office workers let alone the surrounding residential community.”
Councillor Matthew Sanders, said Derwent “have failed to meet any of our policies”.
In response officers argued that community benefit was also restricted because of the Mayor’s a £1.4m Crossrail levy.
In the end, councillors agreed with the objectors and voted to refuse the application.
Derwent London may appeal the decision.
We asked Derwent London to give us a statement. A spokesperson said they were reviewing their position on 80 Charlotte Street but declined to comment further at this time.