Specifier Review
Wellcome Trust Plans Oversized Non-Descript Office Block in South Kensington

TfL & Native Lands to Amend their Development Plans for South Kensington

The planning application from Transport for London (TfL) and its development partner Native Land (NL), for the ‘Around Station Development’ at South Kensington, was due to be heard by the Kensington & Chelsea Planning Committee on Thursday June 3rd. The meeting was cancelled to give time to enable the development proposals to be amended.

There was a massive groundswell of public opinion against the proposals with at last count 2,342 objections to the application and amendments by local residents and the many small business around the South Kensington tube station. It is believed that this is a record number of objections to a Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea development proposal and that this encouraged the applicants to think again. All of the local elected officials were against the development too.

Around Station Development
South Kensington Station with the Protected View of the Natural History Museum

A spokesperson for the Save our South Kensington (SOS) Working Group says “People understood the harm that would be done to the heritage of this historic and beloved part of London and believed that South Kensington deserved better. Residents are not against development, but want to see an appropriate and well-considered proposal.”

It is believed that the plans will be resubmitted in the autumn with amendments.

For more information visit: www.SaveOurSouthKensington.com

BACKGROUND

Local businesses and residents argue that the proposed development is too intensive and is on too large a scale. This is RBKC’s oldest conservation area, and the new buildings would overshadow the original 1868 Grade 2 listed tube station and the other Grade 2 and Grade 2* listed buildings in the area. The new buildings will also block the protected views of the national museums. At present the station and the buildings in the neighbourhood are of a relatively low scale, giving the area a light-filled village-like atmosphere, with stunning views of the museums which are beloved by London’s visitors and residents alike.

The construction of these new, tall, bland buildings, residents argue, will give the area a more impersonal and anonymous feel, and the buildings are out of keeping with the neighbourhood and are of a style that completely ignores the local heritage. Also by constructing such tall buildings on Pelham Street an urban canyon will be formed causing pollution levels on this narrow street to increase by 10%.

Local businesses and residents know the station needs renovating to reduce overcrowding in the ticket hall and to provide step-free access to the Circle and District Lines, but point out that delivering step-free access is independent of this proposed commercial development. They argue that the cost to provide step free access could be met without the area needing to be subjected to over development on this scale from which TfL and the majority partner for this development, Qatari-backed Native Land, are set to profit.

Unique independent businesses along Thurloe Street will be adversely affected by the development. Café Daquise, which has been on Thurloe Street since 1947 and has had many notable diners including Christine Keeler, and The Medici Gallery, which won the award for Best Independent Card Retailer in Central London, are being made homeless during the two and a half year construction period and may struggle to pay the rents once the construction has been completed. Apart from the façade, the buildings on Thurloe Street are being destroyed and the new ones which are being built are being designed so that they can link together at both ground floor and basement levels to create larger units, perhaps heralding the arrival of more chain stores in the area in the future.

In 2016 TfL, local businesses and residents agreed a Development Brief with RBKC which they had spent several years drafting and which reflected the area’s unique setting. Local businesses and residents are angry that this Development Brief which they spent so much time and energy working on has been largely ignored.

Residents argue that as people emerge from the tube station on the way to well-known, iconic buildings which include the Victoria & Albert, the Natural History and the Science Museums; the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Palace and the Albert Memorial; Imperial College, the Royal Colleges of Art and Music, and the Royal Geographical Society; they should be welcomed by well-designed and thought-through buildings which are not overly tall.

The ‘Save Our South Kensington’ Campaign is an initiative of local residents, businesses and resident associations including TOLA (Thurloe Owners and Leaseholders Association), ONA (Onslow Neighbourhood Association) and Pelham Residents’ Association (PR).

South Kensington tube station is one of the busiest stations on the TfL network with over 34 million residents, workers and visitors using it each year to gain access to some of London’s most loved and visited buildings. It is the gateway to the three great museums of Albertopolis (the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum); to the grand promenade leading to Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Palace and the Albert Memorial; to religious centres including the Brompton Oratory, the Mormon church and the Ismaili Centre; and to institutions including Imperial College, the Royal Colleges of Art and Music, and the Royal Geographical Society.

Development Plans

Local businesses and residents are not against development and in 2016 agreed to the smaller development set out in the TFL 2016 Development Brief, which reflected the area’s unique setting and has now been largely discarded by TfL.

Around Station Development
Existing view of the bullnose and station entrance with the Natural History Museum in the background
TfL & Native Lands to Amend their Development Plans for South Kensington
The proposed new, tall bullnose building on the left, the back of the new taller buildings on Thurloe Street behind the station entrance and to the right the higher buildings on Pelham Street

The Bullnose, which gets its name from the unique shape curving around the tube station, is currently a low building with just a ground floor and a mezzanine above. Residents agreed with TfL in the 2016 Development Brief that this building would include a ground floor plus one storey above and are dismayed that this building is going to be demolished and replaced with a looming, 20 metre plus, building. It will be visible from every vantage point in South Ken, destroying the station’s open and airy atmosphere, and blocking the protected views of the national museums.

TfL & Native Lands to Amend their Development Plans for South Kensington
The station entrance as seen from the northeast side of Onslow Square with the Natural History Museum in the background and the view which will be blocked by the new buildings

Pelham Street

TfL & Native Lands to Amend their Development Plans for South Kensington
Cottages along the south side of Pelham Street
TfL & Native Lands to Amend their Development Plans for South Kensington
The proposed new 4 and 5 storey tall buildings on the north side of Pelham Street creating an urban canyon (TfL/Native Land Image)

Pelham Street has had no buildings on its north side since the 1970’s when they were ground floor plus one storey high. In the 2016 Development Brief residents and TfL agreed the buildings would be ground floor plus 2 storeys high with the second storey set back from the road. Residents are dismayed that the proposed buildings will be between 4 and 5 storeys high and will overshadow the existing cottages, turning Pelham Street into an urban canyon. The creation of this canyon will trap pollution on this narrow street causing levels to rise by 10% on a street that already exceeds World Health Organisation, EU and UK NO2 targets.

Thurloe Bridge

TfL & Native Lands to Amend their Development Plans for South Kensington
Thurloe Bridge shown as now on the left and with the proposed new building on the right which will block light from entering Thurloe Square
TfL & Native Lands to Amend their Development Plans for South Kensington
The new buildings planned for Thurloe Bridge adjoining the existing buildings in Thurloe Square (TfL/Native Land Image)

Thurloe Bridge has had no building on it since the tube was built in 1868. In the 2016 Development Brief, TfL agreed with residents to not develop this land, but the new scheme includes a 5 storey apartment block which is completely out of keeping with, the existing buildings in Thurloe Square. It also dwarfs the neighbouring cottages and low buildings on Pelham Place and Pelham Street, blocking protected views to the Museum of Natural History.

Thurloe Street

TfL & Native Lands to Amend their Development Plans for South Kensington

Thurloe Street has remained substantially unchanged since it was constructed in the 1890s with a row of shops on the ground floor and 3 storeys of apartments above them. In the 2016 Development Brief TfL proposed no changes to these buildings but now residents are alarmed to see that it proposes to destroy the whole block behind the façade and replace it with a modern building with an extra storey on the roof and the potential for joined basements below. Residents are worried that this will facilitate the future introduction of large chain shops which would replace the smaller independent existing retailers such as the Medici Gallery.