The Fitzrovia Partnership’s draft plan for the public realm in Fitzrovia East was launched at an invitation-only event at 80 Charlotte Street in November, and will be a concern for the thousands of people who live in the neighbourhood.
The 76-page document — Fitzrovia Village: Public Realm and Placemaking Strategy — is presented as a “sustainable vision” for the neighbourhood by the Business Improvement District (BID).
“Delivery of these proposals will make Fitzrovia a more attractive and safer place to walk and cycle. It will also support active and healthy lifestyles and create new spaces for everyone to work in, enjoy and relax,” claims Lee Lyons, the Partnership’s chief operating officer.
However, the main aim of the strategy is to increase commercial activity in the neighbourhood, stimulate a larger evening and night time economy, along with additional outside eating, drinking, and special event areas.
The report is produced by corporate giant Arup, and Placemaking London, and contains nine chapters and an appendix: setting out the context, a vision for the public realm in Fitzrovia East, with priority schemes for Charlotte Street, Chitty Street, Warren Street and Cleveland Street.
One section attempts a “site analysis” of the neighbourhood looking at the variety of commercial activity, where people live, and the provision of public open space.
Surprisingly it contains numerous errors in its analysis due to the Partnership’s hurry to release it without verifying much of the information or taking the time for proofreading.
“Fitzrovia’s land use indicates the area’s duality as a local neighbourhood and as part of the West End. Fitzrovia is a distinctive area with a mix of land uses including offices, retail and food and drink located throughout. Residential areas can be found in the north and west of the site,” it states.
In fact residential properties are present almost throughout the area. What Arup and PL have failed to recognise in their analysis is that homes are often above the ground floor of a building and can frequently make up the majority use of a mixed-use site.
Arup and PL have used a “Plan Illustrating Ground Floor Use”, apparently sourced from the GLA without bothering to check it is actually correct. Much of the ground floor land use presented is completely wrong.
The north side of Bedford Square is marked in red indicating restaurants, shops, pubs and banks on the ground floor — in fact it is virtually all office use.
The lower part of Huntley Street is illustrated as office — in fact it is almost entirely residential.
And the very south of Charlotte Street is marked as mostly residential on the ground floor when it is well-known for being entirely in restaurant use.
An assessment of open space and greenery in the area incorrectly calls Crabtree Fields public park the Whitfield Gardens Play Space, and claims that oaks are among the common species planted as street trees.
Fitzrovia News asked The Fitzrovia Partnership about the errors.
“Rest assured I am aware of some of the errors, certainly typos,” said Lee Lyons of The Fitzrovia Partnership.
“We made the decision to change the entire document presentation in the last few days, and I was unwilling to cancel its first unveil as it was a well-booked meeting.
“As the document is a working document at this stage and therefore digital not print based, we will be making updates and will signpost these online to keep people informed,” he explained.
With regard to the maps and illustrations produced, Lyons responded saying:
“The sourcing of the maps as you have suggested are as indicated on the presentation, and not something we have designed ourselves to suit any stakeholder.
“The document though is a draft to indicate the type of opportunities available to enhance the public realm, reduce surface transport and make the area a better place to walk and cycle.
“Following initial feedback and comments from stakeholders, a full consultation document will be produced,” said Lyons.
It is not the first time that inaccurate maps describing the make up of the neighbourhood have been produced.
The Charlotte Street Association residents’ group has previously pointed out similar errors made by Camden Council officers, who appear to need a constant reminder that people live south of the Euston Road.
Aside from the errors, the document presents a number of ideas for increasing greenery in the neighbourhood and creating places to sit.
In response to a “perception of place survey” — carried out mostly on the employees in Arup — the majority of responses “chose to increase trees and greenery, have better street cleaning, increase [the] number benches and seating areas along the busier streets of Warren Street, Charlotte Street and Tottenham Court Road”.
The report sets out a vision to celebrate the neighbourhood’s “identity and heritage”, empower its “diverse community and stakeholders”, enable a thriving “daytime and evening economy”, and contribute to the “net zero ambitions for London”.
This would attract more people off Tottenham Court Road and into the quieter streets and increase the amount of time people dwell — or perhaps loiter — in the streets.
To this end it sets out four priority projects to transform Charlotte Street, Chitty Street, Warren Street and Cleveland Street with additional greenery, public seating, outside eating and drinking areas, and event spaces.
A diagram by Arup clearly shows who benefits from the proposals: businesses, local authorities, and landowners.
The Fitzrovia Partnership has been in discussion with Camden Council about these public realm proposals since at least December 2020, according to a Freedom of Information response Fitzrovia News obtained in 2021.
The Fitzrovia Partnership was enacted as a Business Improvement District in 2012 in a public-private partnership with Camden Council. Its membership is made of more than 250 businesses in the area who pay a levy on their business rates to fund the BID.
Its projected income — from the levy and other funding — over its current term from 1 August 2022 until 31 July 2027 is over £6m.
It is planning to expand the BID into Fitzrovia West.
The Fitzrovia Village Document, by The Fitzrovia Partnership with Placemaking London and Arup.