By News Reporters
Exemplar, the company leading the redevelopment of the vacant Middlesex Hospital site on Mortimer Street, is facing huge opposition to its proposals for a nine to 11-storey mixed use development.
A large number of objections have been made and Westminster City Council are being pressed to reject the scheme as local residents, businesses, and parents of children at the neighbouring primary school have written criticising the plans.
A report by Camden Council, who have been asked to comment on the plans, is also recommending the application be refused. Camden’s planning committee will make a decision at this Thursday’s meeting.
Westminster City Council’s planning committee are due to make a decision on the plans in early 2012.
The main concern is about the height of the proposed buildings (9 to 11 storeys) which would be sited among Fitzrovia’s narrow streets with a large residential population as well as a primary school. The scheme which has been described by many as “greedy” also falls short on public open space and affordable housing.
The quality and size of the open space at the centre of the developments is too small, it lacks adequate children’s play facilities and will be shadowed by the height of the new buildings. The proportion of affordable housing being proposed falls far short of what should be expected. And a huge underground car park with an entrance opposite a densely populated existing residential block is seen as unnecessary in this central London location because of the availability of public transport including the forthcoming Crossrail station a mere 400 metres away.
More than 100 people contacted the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association with enquires about the development and 130 parents of children at All Souls Primary School have written in to object to the plans. The parents are very concerned that the height of the building will block out daylight.
In their letter to Westminster City Council, they say that the new building would be higher than the former Middlesex Hospital was and that “the playground and most of the classrooms on the Riding House Street side of the school will be almost permanently deprived of sunlight”. The parents cite the council’s own planning brief for the site (see below).
In the 1930s the school signed away their right to light to the Middlesex Hospital and, as this new building is a private concern which does not have the hospital’s charitable function, the agreement should be revoked, say the parents.
Mandy Chang, a parent of a child who goes to the school, says the social and environmental impacts of the development have not been properly considered.
“These children live in an area with limited playgrounds or open space. The school playground is the only outside space that the majority of them play in during the week. To be condemned to play in the shade for a substantial part of the day and for the whole of their primary school lives is a very depressing prospect and will be detrimental to their health and well-being. This building is even higher than the original hospital building and the effect on the quality of life to the children is immeasurable,” said Ms Chang.
The parents concerns are actually backed up by Westminster’s own planning brief for the site published in 2005 which states:
All Souls’ School and properties on Cleveland Street are already overshadowed by the hospital buildings and the redevelopment of the site will be an opportunity to reduce this impact.
On redevelopment the opportunity should be taken to reduce the height of buildings to create a better architectural relationship to the surrounding townscape.
New buildings should generally be no higher than four storeys on the street frontages; a recessive fifth storey may be acceptable.
Buildings of more than six storeys are unlikely to be acceptable.
Max Neufeld, on behalf of the Charlotte Street Association criticised the plans for their height, bulk and inappropriateness in a conservation area with listed buildings opposite.
“We believe that the Council has solid planning grounds for securing some reduction in the height and bulk in the most affected locations, greater open space provision and more affordable housing,” he said.
This could be afforded by the new developer, he wrote, because since the Candy Brothers 2007 plans “there has been a material change in circumstances affecting the viability of the scheme: the owners paid a third less for the site, property values for both office and residential have increased dramatically since 2007, and building costs have fallen.”
The current scheme offers 17.5 per cent of floor area as affordable housing, whereas the 2007 provision was for 30 percent of units (not floor area), he added, and council policy “requires a provision of at least 22 percent rising in 2012 to 30 percent.” Neufeld stressed that Exemplar’s proposals are offering” 25 percent less affordable housing than is required, and at a time when Westminster’s requirement is actually increasing”.
Neufeld argues that the Camden residents living along Cleveland Street will be blighted by the presence of not only the car park entrance but also the service bay. Westminster’s policy to protect the residential amenity of residents, says Neufeld, should also apply to its Camden neighbours. Open space provision on the site is insufficient to cope with the increased amount of commercial and residential uses and “would increase pressure on the small amount of existing open space nearby in an area identified as being deficient in public open space”..
Yoram Blumann, of the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association, criticised the development because of its height and bulk. “More than 70 people attended our drop-in sessions at the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Centre to look at the plans. We also received more than 30 other enquiries by the end of October. And we continue to have people raise concerns.”
Some residents also feel that there should be public toilets and drinking fountains provided on a development of this size.
A Camden Council planning officer’s report also recommends that the development be refused. The report concludes that the plans propose “non-sustainable levels of private car parking in a location which has excellent public transport links” and will “override many aspects of Westminster’s adopted planning brief for the site”.
The report recommends that the planning committee reject the plans because of “the impact of the bulk, height and massing on the local streetscape and Charlotte Street Conservation Area and the associated detrimental impact on the amenity of residents of Cleveland Street who would suffer significant loss of outlook from their homes”.
The planning application was submitted by a consortium led by Exemplar in September to development three, nine to 11 storey mixed use buildings on the site. Roughly half the site would be residential. There would be the creation of new open space, new vehicular and pedestrian accesses, basement car and cycle parking, landscaping, and repair of the existing chapel.
A previous development plan called “Noho Square” by developers Candy & Candy was hated by local people. When the scheme failed in 2009 its neighbours breathed a sigh of relief and Max Neufeld commented “The horrible behemoth scheme has finally seen its end. Like a bad dream its gone”.
While most people believe the nightmare has returned the developers are adamant that their scheme is an improvement and will be good for the neighbourhood.
Mark Younger, of the developers, a consortium of Exemplar, Aviva and the former Kaupthing Bank, told Fitzrovia News “The former Middlesex Hospital site is a fantastic opportunity to create something that will have a positive impact on Fitzrovia. Our proposals are smaller than the previously consented scheme and we have made significant efforts to ensure the architecture reflects the local neighbourhood. The 2005 planning brief set out some broad guidance and the consented scheme, which has been implemented, provides a framework of what is acceptable to Westminster City Council.
“Current policy looks to maximise the provision of affordable housing subject to development viability. With the provision of 54 affordable housing units, the proposal has maximised the amount of affordable housing in the context of viability,” said Mr Younger.
However a resident on Riding House Street dismissed Mr Younger’s comments about the vacant site being a fantastic opportunity. “This is a missed opportunity. He obviously has no understanding of the surrounding architecture if he thinks this giant building is going to look at home here. This is a greedy scheme. No way it reflects the local neighbourhood.”