By Angela Lovely

A security guard walks on patrol in the grounds of the former hospital
Weeds grow in the crater at the centre of the former Middlesex Hospital site as a security guard checks the perimeter fence.

Plans for a 83,000 square metre mixed-use development on the former site of the Middlesex Hospital are to be unveiled at the end of June at a public exhibition to be held on the site. This is the largest vacant site in Fitzrovia and has been empty for several years.

The consortium who own the site (Aviva Investors, Exemplar Properties and the former Kaupthing Bank) have appointed architects Lifeshutz Davidson Sandilands and Sheppard Robson to draw up outline proposals for the development.

Exemplar Properties have announced that they are in the “early stages of preparing a planning application for the redevelopment of the former Middlesex Hospital site to submit to Westminster City Council later in the summer”.

The proposed development, say Exemplar, will consist of “private and affordable housing, offices, retail, space for education and healthcare facilities, publicly accessible open space, and the preservation of the chapel for community use”.

Mark Younger, Development Partner of Exemplar, said: “The former Middlesex Hospital site is one of the most important developments in central London. We are extremely excited now to be able to present our initial concepts to the local community and to listen to their views. These will be taken on board in preparing our planning application as part of our collaborative and inclusive approach to property development. We hope as many people as possible are able to attend.”

Local people will be looking very closely at the proposals and are hoping for a development that will be more in keeping with Fitzrovia than the previous hated “Noho” scheme put forward by Candy & Candy and, despite local objections, given planning permission by Westminster City Council.

However, planning permission still exists for what was called “The horrible behemoth”. The Candy brothers had tried to create an architectural monster on the site and gave it an appropriately ugly name as if to add to their contempt for Fitzrovia’s built environment and its people. Their plans however fell through during the financial crisis.

More contempt was thrown at Fitzrovia when a second owner first promised after long negotiations to allow temporary allotments on the vacant site, then cancelled the arrangement when they decided to sell the site.

The current developers will try to bury the past, tread carefully considering recent history, and no doubt try to stage-manage the presentation and discussion of the plans with the aid of a skilled public relations team. But at the forefront of their minds will be the still valid planning permission that Westminster gave to the Candys and if they frame their scheme within that they will have an easy ride with council officers and planning committee members.

Westminster’s planning officers have produced a planning brief that must be a material consideration when the council consider any planning application. This brief does stress the needs of the local community and conservation considerations. Indeed the brief in many ways is quite highly regarded by local people. Westminster’s planning department is respected locally as are their conservation officers. But the planning permission given for the previous scheme was a great disappointment.

On paper, the planning brief and policies look reasonable and balance both commercial and local considerations. In practice those looking at the plans know that they are often not worth the paper they are printed on and that the Town and Country Planning Act is very much a developers’ charter.

Fitzrovia is currently under siege from developers (as our article Fitzrovia for Sale illustrates) and there are several major schemes in the pipeline ready to discharge themselves on top of the neighbourhood.

The development site lies in Westminster’s West End ward which is already full of craters from Crossrail. Councillors Roberts, Tombolis and Glanz will no doubt want to avoid tripping and falling into this hole, or be pushed into it.

From Monday 27 June to Saturday 2 July there will be an exhibition of outline plans. The site will be open from the Mortimer Street entrance, Monday to Friday 3pm to 7pm, and on Saturday 10am to 1pm. Members of the project team will be available to answer questions.

Those unable to attend the event can view the Middlesex section of the Exemplar website where the proposals will also be hosted.

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