Fringe Benefits?

City of London

In this article for Building Design, Will Palin examines the threat from rising land values to some of London’s most cherished areas

Far from representing exciting models for urban regeneration, the mega developments around the City’s eastern fringes tell a story of missed opportunities and failed place making. 

The Olympics may be over but, for architects and developers with big ideas, east London remains the promised land.

The serious action is to be found where high land values meet under-resourced planning regimes, specifically on the edge of the financial district, where some of the country’s poorest boroughs abut the City of London, the richest. This is what the mayoral plan calls the “City fringe”, an “opportunity area” where major development is to be encouraged and supported.

The City itself has long sought to influence development outside its boundaries and continues to use its satellite landholdings to achieve this. A decade ago, across in Tower Hamlets, the western portion of Spitalfields Market was redeveloped as offices and work is soon to start on a controversial scheme on the site of the adjacent Fruit & Wool Exchange.

Plans to demolish Smithfield General Market (in Farringdon, close to the City-Islington boundary) were thrown out after a public inquiry in 2007 but a new battle now looms following the submission of a scheme by John McAslan to gut the historic covered market and replace it with an office block.

But the biggest (and possibly scariest) monster of them all is the Bishopsgate Goods Yard site in south Shoreditch. The original plans (leaked in a BD exclusive in 2008) were for a series of related tall buildings (some over 70 storeys) by a range of architects including Foster & Partners, KPF and Allies & Morrison. It proved a folie de grandeur, becoming an early, high profile victim of the recession, but now looks set to re-emerge in revised form. One tower from the proposed cluster that did make it off the drawing board (overcoming bitter opposition from locals) is Avant Garde on Bethnal Green Road, by Stock Woolstencroft. Ominously, it has already been nominated for the Carbuncle Cup.

Bishopsgate Goods Yard site, Shoreditch, London

Bishopsgate Goods Yard site, Shoreditch, London

So what to make of these schemes? Do they represent regeneration or exploitation? What kind of places do they create, and what contribution do they make to London’s distinctive and diverse character?

Foster & Partners’ Bishops Square development for Allen & Overy is a good place to begin any appraisal of recent fringe development. Completed in 2005 on the site of the 1930s Spitalfields Market extension, it takes the form of four staggered steel and glass boxes opening out onto a public ‘square’. It is a building which seems strangely unresolved. The junction with the listed 1880s market to the east is clumsy and the public colonnade on the north side (part of which has already been fenced off) is deeply dispiriting.

The most successful element of the scheme is the Brushfield Street elevation (framing the view of Hawksmoor’s Christ Church) where retained shop fronts and stone paving provide the sense of a real place. Elsewhere there is the ubiquitous carpet of easy-clean Foster grey granite and graph paper landscaping. The detailing of the building is poor, from the crude mastic seals at floor level, to the rusting column bases. In essence this a building which feels both alien and impermanent. Its corporate character jars with the rough edges and distinct atmosphere of old Spitalfields and it comes across as a cheap interloper rather than a stylish newcomer.

Conversely, on nearby Folgate Street, the gentle tying-together (in the early 1990s) of a fragmented streetscape with replica 18th-century housing (a concept now so unfashionable) has helped to re-establish and reinforce a sense of place. People are drawn to these intimate environments which explains why, on a summer’s evening, the old pubs on Commercial Street are packed, while Bishops Square seems strangely dead.

The mismatch in resources between the big developers and the fringe boroughs has been highlighted before as a contributing factor to the sub-standard quality of many of the designs that get planning. A few years ago at Sun Street in Hackney consent was given for a scheme that involved erecting a tall tower and “dismantling” a terrace of late 18th-century buildings, all in a conservation area. English Heritage opposed the scheme, but not Hackney who, dazzled by the corporate glamour of the project and a vague notion of its “regeneration” benefits, gave it their support. Having successfully “turned” the site (ie increased its value substantially) UBS simply sat on it with a view to sell to another developer. Meanwhile, a whole block, in a key location, sits empty. Hardly regeneration.

Back in Spitalfields, a recent scheme by Bennetts Associates for the City-owned Fruit & Wool Exchange, was turned down, bravely, by councillors who just didn’t think it was good enough. There were concerns over the office-heavy use in an area which was crying out for more residential units, as well as strong objections to the gutting of the excellent 1930s block and the loss of 17th-century Dorset Street behind. But in the end, local democracy counted for nothing. Following strong lobbying from vested interests, Boris intervened and the council’s decision was overturned. The result is another missed opportunity and another development on a key site which isn’t up to the mark. Meanwhile the local ‘consultation’ process undertaken by the developer (with accompanying CIL deals) has left lasting rifts within the community.

Fruit and Wool Exchange Spitalfields

Years ago, at one of the many public consultations for Foster’s Bishops Square development, I remember noticing the consultant had got the name of a key street on the plan completely wrong. I was reminded of this in 2007 when, at the Smithfield public inquiry, the architect for the proposed office development admitted that he’d never walked the streets around the market. These are small but revealing examples of a disconnect between developer and site which all too often come to typify projects on the City fringes. Indeed, it was a similar lack of contextual understanding which doomed Chipperfield’s scheme for the Geffrye Museum in Hackney.

The arguments for fringe development tend to be dominated by simplistic notions of areas being “deprived” and “run down”. These assumptions always need to be questioned, not least because it is often the owners and developers themselves who are responsible for creating and prolonging the very blight and neglect they use to justify their schemes.

John McAslan&Partners' Smithfield market plans

Internal view

Smithfield General Market has been closed and empty for 30 years, in the ownership of the City corporation (and its partner developers). Similarly, the Goods Yard at Bishopsgate has been decaying in developer ownership since its partial demolition a decade ago. The shops which once operated from arches on Commercial Street were shut and they now decay gently, as buddleia takes hold in the 19th-century brickwork above. Yet with modest investment, and a degree of ingenuity, both Smithfield and Bishopsgate could have been brought to life with low-key, conservation-led schemes as those implemented at Camden Lock in the 1970s and Covent Garden in the 1980s. Instead, with the owners eyeing lucrative future redevelopment schemes, the buildings sit like dead weights in the middle of areas they could and should be enriching.

Smithfield General Market

Smithfield General Market

The latest plans for Bishopsgate Goods Yard have yet to be made public. The site may be dormant, but the pernicious effect of the “opportunity area” status on neighbouring land values is all too obvious. Once the principle of a “cluster” of tall buildings is accepted this cluster becomes very difficult to contain.

There has already been a clutch of skyscraper proposals including schemes by Amanda Levete (now replaced by Robin Partington) for the adjacent Huntingdon Estate, and at nearby Plough Yard by Pringle Brandon Drew. It is these kinds of developments, shaped by short-term agendas and marked by a callous approach to context, which threatens to overwhelm and destroy the very places that give them value.

The outer brick wall of Bishopsgate goods yard, left standing alongside Bethnal Green Road

Source: Geograph.org.uk

The outer brick wall of Bishopsgate goods yard, left standing alongside Bethnal Green Road

The City fringe is a complex tapestry of historic neighbourhoods, with unique pockets of early development, whether residential industrial or commercial. It has been bashed about, particularly during the last century, but its character remains strong — due largely to efforts made over the last 40 years to protect and rejuvenate existing buildings (whether the early 18th-century Huguenot houses in Spitalfields or the 19th-century warehouses in Shoreditch).

It is this fine graining, this texture and atmosphere which makes it appealing as a place to live and work, particularly in those creative industries which thrive in rich, quirky, street-based environments. The area is “cool” and interesting because it is different, and because of the flexibility of the historic building stock and its innate capacity for reinvention. All too often architects and developers seem happy to exploit the legacy of conservation-led regeneration but not so willing to acknowledge or respect it.

Ultimately, this is not just a debate about what kind of places we want our cities to be, but about who controls the process of change. With the relaxation of planning controls the City fringes have become terribly vulnerable. Local authorities appear increasingly powerless to manage the speed and scale of change and concerns over issues such as heritage impact seem to carry less and less weight.

For architects there are many exciting opportunities in the City fringe areas. The trouble is that, although many of the smaller projects and interventions undertaken in the last decade or so are extremely good, the big developments have failed to impress. This is a subtle part of London, a buffer zone where corporate and community values meet, and sometimes conflict. Any development here must be rooted in an understanding of place, and an appreciation of what it has to offer. Only then can it contribute in a meaningful way to the wider life of the city.

Punch drunk: how a museum took on an old pub and ended up on the ropes

In this article for Building Design (published on 9 May) Will Palin looks at lessons to be learned from Hackney’s shock refusal of Chipperfield’s Geffrye Museum extension.

At a dramatic meeting on Wednesday 1 May, members of Hackney Planning Committee refused an application for a new museum extension. This would have been a surprising thing in any circumstances, but seemed all the more extraordinary given that the scheme in question was an £18m project with Sir David Chipperfield as its architect. So how did this starry building project turn so sour?

An important clue to understanding what went wrong can found in the reaction of the museum and its architect to Wednesday’s decision. In a series of angry statements the blame was pinned on ‘naive’ councillors and rabid conservationists. There was no soul-searching, no self-analysis, no sense of mea culpa. The comments reflect something that has coloured this whole case – a sense that the applicant and Chipperfield simply lost touch with the public.

It is understandable, and is to be expected, that there are some architects who will always defend other architects and who will react angrily when any grand projectis scuppered. Some of the comments posted on the BD article were positively brimming with vitriol against the opponents to the Chipperfield’s scheme. Yet, these views were not representative, and outside the architectural sphere reaction was very different. Comments on the hugely popular Spitalfields Life blog, which had followed the story for many months, were jubilant. There was relief at the refusal of a scheme which was perceived to be ugly and damaging, and which had been imposed on a community in a high-handed and arrogant way.

So here is the first lesson – ultimately, any scheme which is justified on public benefit, and is being funded by the Lottery (in this case to the tune of £11m), needs popular support. This scheme simply didn’t have that support. The museum believed that its project was right and good and with that certainty came a sense of entitlement, entitlement both to funding and to support from the council. Massive opposition to the demolition of the Marquis of Lansdowne pub was disregarded and little effort was made to engage the public. There was no public exhibition of the designs until after the application was submitted, and advice from heritage groups such as the Victorian Society, SAVE and the Spitalfields Trust was just ignored. This blinkered approach culminated in Wednesday’s momentous planning meeting where the applicant and architect completely failed to charm, engage or persuade the committee.

The other problem, which even many supporters of the scheme realised, was that Chipperfield’s design just didn’t set the world alight. This was not entirely the fault of the architect who, in working with the 1998 Nigel Coates building, was faced with extending the un-extendable. It meant the visuals for the Chipperfield scheme were still dominated by Coates’s distinctive and self-contained horseshoe-shaped building – with no sense of connection between the two schemes.

However, the biggest flaw in Chipperfield’s design was the weak treatment of the corner site. The plot occupied by the demolished pub was to become part roadway and part new restaurant – the latter looking, regrettably, like a soggy shoebox with a window cut in the side.

Even ignoring the heritage issues, the pub simply worked better as a piece of urban planning, it faced two streets and tied the environs of the site together. Without it the site looked disjointed and the streetscape felt cold. If the design had been stronger – bolder – there is just a chance that the loss of the pub could have been overcome. But the museum’s obsession with putting an entrance at this corner, combined with the architect’s dismal failure to appreciate, or relate to, the urban context gave it no chance. On the renderings, the mocked-up view showing the pub retained simply looked better, richer and happier.

So how was it the museum didn’t see this? Its downfall, once again, was its insularity – its failure to invite a range of views or attempt to understand or connect with public sentiment. In contrast, the local and national opposition rallied itself quickly and effectively on social media. The Save the Marquis campaign was co-ordinated by a group of young, articulate, media-savvy locals – people who shared a love of, and connection with, the locality.

The historical research on the pub (which the museum had failed to carry out) was gathered and published on the Spitalfields Life blog in a series of powerful articles. The results were extraordinary – within a few months there were over 2000 names on the online petition against demolition, together with hundreds of comments expressing disbelief at the proposals. The story was picked up by the press and the body of objectors grew. When the museum refused outright the offer from the Spitalfields Trust to buy and restore the pub, its isolation from the community only increased.

In essence, the Geffrye has been taught a lesson that architects often learn to their cost – that if they do not bother to step outside their world, if they do not explore context, if they fail to listen to ‘ordinary people’, they can lose the trust of the very communities whose environments they want to improve. This nurturing of trust is even more important when, as in the case of Chipperfield at the Geffrye, it is the public who is paying your fees.

Heritage Lottery Fund rules out Geffrye Museum planning appeal

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), who were to the fund the Geffrye Museum’s extension plans with a grant of £11m have ruled out the chance of the museum appealing the decision to refuse the scheme.

An advisory statement made on 30 May by the Head of the HLF London Region, Sue Bowers, makes it clear that there is no future for the current application:

‘The extension to the two year development period to 31 August 2013 was agreed largely due to the delay in the planning process and not to enable further revisions of the design.  We are aware that if the current Geffrye scheme is rejected by the planning committee, the Geffrye Museum would have to withdraw the current application to HLF as they do not have the time and resources to redesign the scheme and would lose the R2 award.  In effect, this would mean that if the Geffrye wished to develop a new proposal, the museum would have to begin the process again and submit a new 1st round application for Board consideration.’

The Marquis is Saved! Hackney Council refuses Geffrye planning application

On 1 May, at a packed meeting in Hackney Town Hall, the members of Hackney Council planning committee refused the Geffrye Museum’s planning application for its new extension and for the demolition of the Marquis of Lansdowne. This marks a great victory for all those who have fought hard to defeat this destructive and insensitive proposal – and a triumph for common sense.

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The Save the Marquis Campaign would like to thank all our friends and supporters. We would also like to salute the elected councillors of Hackney for showing courage and independence in refusing this scheme. It shows they are in tune with the concerns of local people and have fully understood the heritage issues surrounding this case. The casual way the museum has dismissed the pub as of little merit or importance shows that it is out of touch both with its historic context and with public feeling. We hope now that the museum will either draw up new scheme which embraces and rehabilitates the pub or that they will release the building to a preservation trust to restore and reopen.

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Ptolemy Dean article for Country Life

New article in Country Life

New article in Country Life, click on the image to zoom

How-To: OBJECT:::

Objections can still be sent direct to the Borough of Hackney.

You can make your comments either by going online or writing a letter.

Online go here:

http://apps.hackney.gov.uk/servapps/Northgate/PlanningExplorer/generalsearch.aspx 
and search the application number 2013/0053 then click on the application number underlined with dots in the ‘Planning Application Search Results’ box to view the application details. Then, in the ‘Application Progress Summary’ box click ‘add comments here’ and fill out the form.

Or…

Send a written objection quoting application number 2013/0053 to:

Planning Duty Desk, Hackney Service Centre, 1 Hillman Street, E8 1DY

Chipperfield's proposed replacement

Outlines for what grounds you can object by are here on page 3:

http://www.hackney.gov.uk/Assets/Documents/how_to_have_your_say_on_planning_applications.pdf

and finally,

Below is a comment I found on the BDonline article showing CAMRA’s objection letter to the planning dept:

Objection 2013/0053 Conservation Area Consent from Jane Jephcote, Chair of CAMRA’s London Pubs Group, Flat 10, Ravenet Court, Ravenet Street, London SW11 5HE

Demolition of the Marquis of Lansdowne public house

Dear Hackney Planning

On behalf of CAMRA’s London Pubs Group, I should like to object to the demolition of the Marquis of Lansdowne at 32 Cremer Street E2 on the following grounds:

1. As evidence of the area’s previous late Georgian/ early Victorian antecedents, the Marquis of Lansdowne constitutes a heritage asset, in much the same way as the Wenlock Arms does in the Regent’s Canal Conservation Area also in the borough. In the second case consent for demolition was refused on this ground in October 2011, although it is noted that at the time the Wenlock Arms was not in a conservation area.

2. Loss of the building leading to a permanent removal of any possibility that the Marquis might one day be repaired and reopened as a pub. NPPF Para 70 protects against the loss of pubs. P70 has been used by inspectors to defend a pub use even where that use ceased some years before. The planning appeal decision for the Plough Shepreth which established this principle is attached.

3. The ‘redundancy’ of the building is challenged. Historic buildings which are ‘mothballed’ or given low impact ‘meantime’ uses such as the Marquis has under its ownership by the Geffrye Museum can survive long enough for their context to change sufficiently to enable a sustainable repair and reinstatement. The Marquis, which has been in use as offices upstairs in the ancillary living accommodation (and not also on the ground floor in the pub’s trade area) would, with the arrival of Hoxton Station and the nearby Museum itself, find many buyers if it were offered on the open market. As much was admitted by David Dewing, the Museum’s Director to a member of the London Pubs Group at the consultation event in December.

4. The loss of pubs from conservation areas has been identified by planning inspectors in four recent dismissed appeals cases as detrimental to the character of the conservation area. This can be caused either from the loss of the building itself and its associated use, or from the loss of the use through a scheme of conversion affecting the character of the conservation area, and being considered to constitute ‘substantial harm’. The relevant appeal decision on the Cross Keys is attached for your reference. the other cases followed the Cross Keys case both in time and reasoning. Other planning decisions including the Fairfield PH in RB Kingston recorded refusals at delegated level following the Cross Keys case.

5. The dating of the Marquis of Lansdowne has not been firmly established. However, I attach a photograph of the Queens Head E14, a Grade II listed building and its list description which identifies it as late C18th or early C19th, and invite you to note the similarities between them including the recessed arches and 1950s mottled beige tiling. It must be said that the Marquis, even in its delapidated state, is a more elegant building, ’rounding’ its corner and presenting a more considered design for its prominent site than the Queens Head.

6. The loss of the Marquis’ built context, i.e. its flanking terraces, is a shame, but there is consequently an opportunity to create a new and harmonious context for the pub within a new scheme for the Geffrye, ‘fitting new to old, rather than old to new’, or in this case demolishing the entire building completely. Public houses in this ‘orphan’ form survive in a great many urban areas after the slum clearances of the interwar and post war periods as the singular reminders of their role in servicing residential streets. They are to be cherished (as above) and not to be disregarded.

7. I have been shown a photograph of the Marquis taken in 1951 or possibly earlier, showing it after an InterWar timber panelled refit and refronting of some distinction and quality. The present tiled treatment is absolutely typical of Charrington’s post WWII austerity repair programme and a significant number of these survive still. However, while the surface decoration is of little merit, it would appear that the present building is little altered in its roof, window apertures and the disposition of doors and so on.

8. The applicants are defending their application on the grounds that the loss of the present building is justified on the grounds that the new proposed extension is of greater public benefit. This seems a regrettable approach by a museum of the Geffrye’s standing. Furthermore, previous proposals, funded as I understand it by Heritage Lottery Fund grant, showed retention of the Marquis and its incorporation into a considered scheme.

In summary: the Marquis of Lansdowne is a purpose-built public house absolutely of its time and place. It is a survivor from Hoxton’s Georgian history, of which precious little now survives. The context around it has greatly improved during its time in the Geffrye’s ownership and it is easy to see that it could with some care and attention, be refitted and returned to its original use and there is evidence that there would be appropriate owners interested in a purchase. The loss of this pub from the conservation area, both in its built form and use, constitutes ‘substantial harm’ and should be resisted.

Please refuse consent.

Jane Jephcote
Chair, CAMRA London Pubs Group

The London Pubs Group is formed of CAMRA’s London region pubs officers and pub protection officers as well as historic pubs enthusiasts and planning/historic buildings professionals with a particular interest and knowledge of the subject.
Jane Jephcote is co-author with Geoff Brandwood of “London Heritage Pubs” 2008, CAMRA.

Aside

Geffrye Museum is holding ‘Open Evening’ on this Wednesday the 20 March at 6pm to discuss development plans & demolition of pub. Go if you can!

http://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/whatson/events/adults/

Nick Pope's visualisation put into context with the proposed extension

Nick Pope’s visualisation put into context with the proposed extension