In the latest planning disaster to strike at our heritage, Westminster City Council, or to be more precise, 4 individuals appointed to make decisions on behalf of Westminster City Council, have voted 3:1 to allow Kings College, Westminster London to demolish a historic row of buildings in one of the city’s most famous streets, the Strand.
The four buildings approved for demolition have elements dating back to the 17th century and are close to the Grade 1 listed Somerset House. This comes despite the objections of, amongst others, The Victorian Society, concerned not just about the loss of the individual buildings but the arguably more important loss of the last vestiges of the Strand’s historic distinctive street pattern of narrow plots (http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/kings-college-london-plans-to-demolish-strand-buildings ).
Newly formed Historic England has not objected to the demolition, taking the view that the benefits from redevelopment outweigh the harm to the historic environment, however Clem Cecil, director of Save, believes that this represents a misinterpretation of the NPPF ( http://www.bdonline.co.uk/Journals/2015/04/20/d/x/r/Save-letter-to-Westminster-Council.docx )
RESCUE says: There is so much to object to here.
It is deeply worrying that planning in such a sensitive and historic area can be decided upon by just four people (the chair of whom, according to the Victorian Society Twitter feed accepted that the loss would cause harm, but supported it anyway). This is a result of the combination of deregulation of the system and promoting “cabinet-style” governance which creates small ruling elites which lack proper accountability or scrutiny. Apparently, the public aren’t even allowed to speak at Westminster City Council Planning Meetings – is this because they might have a different opinion to that of the Committee?It is deeply depressing that our academic institutions continue to demolish our historic buildings with apparently scant regard for any ethos of preservation of the best of our past for the future; remember the Grade II listed Jessops Hospital demolished by Sheffield University in 2014?It is depressing that within a month of Historic England coming into being, we should get this decision to consent to the demolition of yet more valued historic buildings. Let us earnestly hope that Rescue’s scepticism regarding the dynamism, authority, and remit of this new body, expressed in our statement of the first April ( https://rescue-archaeology.org.uk/2015/03/31/a-new-era-for-englands-heritage-a-statement-by-rescue-the-br-itish-archaeological-trust/ ) will not prove to be wholly justified.
We must hope that the Secretary of State, to whom the plans have now been referred, will reverse a decision that does no credit to either Historic England or Westminster City Council.