View of tower block from street.
Selkirk House tower at Museum Street. BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth programme discusses the alternatives to demolition. Photo: Fitzrovia News.

Camden Council proudly declared a climate and ecological emergency in 2019 and its subsequent action plan was supposed to show how it would be put into practice across the borough.

Demolition and construction accounts for a significant contribution to global warming and Camden’s Climate Action Plan 2020-2025 is to ensure that its “environmentally friendly planning policies” cut emissions.

Yet in 2021 its planning committee waved through plans — recommended for approval by planning officers — for two major developments on Tottenham Court Road which involved the total demolition of the existing buildings with a combined 20,000 square metres of concrete commercial and residential accommodation turned to rubble.

Both schemes are designed by architects firms — Piercy and Co for the Network Building, and Stiff + Trevillion at 247 Tottenham Court Road — which signed the pledges of Architects Declare and RetroFirst to refurbish rather than demolish.

Presumably Camden and the architects hoped that no-one would notice their big “fuck you!” to the planet?

But now a campaign group has pushed the issue up the media agenda and has exposed Camden’s dysfunctional planning department along with architects’ and developers’ green-washing.

Plans by developer Labtech to demolish a 1960s hotel and residential tower block just to the south of the British Museum and build a scheme by architects DSDHA has attracted the attention of BBC Radio 4’s Costing The Earth Programme.

In the episode broadcast this week architect Elsie Owusu talks to local architect Jim Monahan of Save Museum Street, and to an expert on low carbon buildings Simon Sturgis of Targeting Zero.

She visits Selkirk House on Museum Street to find out what the alternative to demolition is and asks what has gone wrong in practice with Camden’s declaration of a climate emergency.

Labtech did not respond to the programme. Camden issued a rambling statement about its planning policies.

The programme also features contributions from Simon Alford of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Howard Crawshaw of the Knight Property Group, Peter Fisher of Bennetts Associates, and Smith Mordak of Buro Happold.

BBC Radio 4. Costing the Earth: Rip It Up And Start Again? is available to listen to on BBC Sounds. First broadcast on Tuesday 4 April 2022.