The UCL proposals for the development of the site for the Eastman Dental Hospital and the former Royal Free Hospital have been recommended for approval by Camden, in the latest of a series of shocking planning decisions in line with their Community Investment Program. The tragedy of the approval is that it almost seals the fate of the historic mid-Victorian courtyard of the former Royal Free Hospital which would be demolished and built over.
The BCAAC gave a deputation hoping to persuade councillors to press the applicants to resubmit a scheme without the demolition, an option identified by the applicant during scheme development and preferred by Historic England who also objected, alongside BCAAC, to the current proposals. Historic England stated in their response: ‘The proposed development would erode the authenticity of the hospital complex by demolishing all elements behind, and erecting a large and visually prominent building that disregards the historic courtyard arrangement and scale of its buildings.‘
Rather predictably the BCAAC deputation didn’t get much of a look-in as minds were already made up and the public benefit was seen to outweigh any amount of harm, even if that harm had been rather disingenuously underplayed. Historic England had significantly assigned the level of harm to the conservation areas to be ‘substantial’ and ‘significant’, which would require the local authority to refuse consent unless it could be demonstrated that the demolition was absolutely necessary to achieve substantial public benefit. This was a point glossed over by the department and committee, which are both ever more ignorant of heritage matters.
This is even more significant as the destruction of the courtyard is not strictly necessary and UCLH could have developed a different option which involved preserving the courtyard instead. There were some questions about this from the councillors but of course the scheme is very complex and they were not in any position to query the absolute need for the demolition (this dubious ‘necessity’ having already been swallowed by their officers). Councillor Flick Rae was quite correct in slamming the applicant for insufficient and unheeding consultation.
It is more likely that it was considered cheaper and easier to demolish the courtyard and, furthermore, that the applicants didn’t want to keep it as the image it projected wasn’t sufficiently new, shiny and ‘state of the art’ which is what they aspire to. That being said the building they’ve got is stunningly pedestrian and looks like an office block in Croydon.
It is also a great pity that the Victorians failed to object. It is an example of how we might have been much more effective if we had all worked together rather than keeping to our own individual bubbles.
The proposed changes, increasing volume by such a large amount, will now be referred to the Mayor of London for consideration of whether the application accords with the London Plan. We are working on a letter to send to the Mayor to highlight multiple policies which the applicants have not paid regard to, and upon which the Mayor in the past has directed the local authority to refuse the application. This ‘Stage 2’ referral will begin in January 2020.
Click here to see the objection and deputation given to the planning committee.