There are a number of significant threats to the Bloomsbury Conservation Areas which have already destroyed heritage, and continue to threaten it. There are also a number of less severe threats which continue to destroy our heritage in a gradual process of decay.
Of the 10 threats listed, 5 arise directly from Camden policy, 2 from Central Government projects, and 3 from Camden’s inaction. All arise from some sort of financial incentive.
There are a number of major threats affecting the Bloomsbury Conservation Areas. These threats are at the forefront of our minds as committee members.
Camden Council, and the Section 106
Begun: c.2010 | Status: Ongoing | CAs affected: All | Damage Type: Irreversible
Development can be a great source of income for local authorities. Camden appear to employ a policy of maximising income through development by various means, which in practice means that destruction and damage to our heritage is often permitted in return for payment. Sale of public property, and funds raised from developments within the Bloomsbury Conservation Areas has earned more than £190M over the past decade for Camden Council.
Section 106 was introduced in 1990 as a way for local authorities to ensure that development does not adversely affect local communities. If a proposed development harms the local community in some manner, Section 106 allows local authorities to demand a payment from developers in return for an application being accepted, so that the money can be used to address this harm. An example given by the Government is that if a new housing block increases the local population by 20%, a local authority could demand funds in return for accepting the application, which would then be spent on increasing a local gym’s capacity by 20%.
Camden appear to employ a policy of simply maximising this Section 106 payment, regardless of the amount of harm that a development causes to heritage or communities, and then they keep these payments in a savings account, not spending it on offsetting harm caused to local communities. As a larger development brings with it a larger Section 106 payment, what this means in practice is that Camden often encourage stupendous overdevelopment of a site in return for funds. This means that in the face of large development, ourselves, the community, and even Historic England are often ignored. This policy, named in a dystopian fashion the ‘Community Investment Program’, has already destroyed immense amounts of heritage, and Camden have plans to substantially increase this program in the coming decade. More can be learned of this program on Save Bloomsbury’s website here.
The Community Investment Program is the most significant threat that our heritage has faced in recent times.
Begun: c.2010 | Status: Ongoing | CAs affected: Bloomsbury | Damage Type: Irreversible
UCL are keen to expand their premises, and Bloomsbury is a sensible place for them to do so. We have already seen heritage destroyed for UCL’s developments. One of the problems is that for research institutes and the like, they can quite easily wave the public benefit card, which Camden all too greedily swallow in excitement for the Section 106 that will come attached to any large development.
We saw the entire eastern range of Cartwright Gardens demolished in 2013 to make way for a large student halls development, substantially harming the setting of Cartwright Gardens, Bloomsbury’s only Georgian crescent. This was vigorously opposed by the community and heritage groups, to no avail.
The former Royal Free Hospital quadrangle was recommended for demolition by Camden in 2019 to make way for a vast research institute. This was vigorously opposed by ourselves and Historic England, along with the community, to no avail. We are yet to see the associated legalised bribe justifying this destruction.
It is worth stating that UCL’s ambitions to expand would not be classed as a significant threat if it were not for the Community Investment Program. The CIP incentivises institutions like UCL to go above and beyond what they even require, in return for funds.
Begun: 2012 | Status: Improving | CAs affected: Bloomsbury | Damage Type: Irreversible
The redevelopment of Euston Station in line with HS2 poses a great threat to Euston Square, a Georgian square within our conservation areas. Its future is currently uncertain, especially after we uncovered plans to wipe out the square by building on top of it. Plans have not yet been published for the development.
We have been active in the drafting of the Euston Area Planning Brief which has seen greater protection placed on Euston Square and its future. With the recent legal success of one of our members against HS2 Ltd and the recent report condemning the plans that HS2 have for Euston, we have seen an improvement in the prospects of the square.
Begun: 2007 | Status: Ongoing | CAs affected: Denmark Street | Damage Type: Irreversible
The redevelopment of Tottenham Court Road station in line with Crossrail has already caused destruction to buildings and heritage in the Denmark Street Conservation Area.
There are a number of threats which would pose a great threat to most conservation areas, but in the face of the Community Investment Program, they pale in comparison. These are classed as moderate threats.
Student Flats, AirBnb, and other short-lets
Begun: c. 2010 | Status: Improving | CAs affected: All | Damage Type: Reversible
The special character of Central London varies from place to place, but historically it would have been a mixture of industrial, residential, commercial, and institutional. With the boom in the tourist industry, with millions of tourists visiting our conservation areas every year, coupled with the sky-high rents in Central London, a greater number of residential properties are being bought and converted into short-lets and student flats. Whilst students reside in a property for at least a number of months, AirBnb and competitors causes great harm to our communities by converting residential properties illegally into holiday properties. This is a harmful change to the character of our conservation areas.
We have heard encouraging news that Camden intend to pursue greater enforcement against short-lets.
Begun: c.2010 | Status: Improving | CAs affected: All | Damage Type: Reversible
Illegal alterations frequently occur in the conservation areas, and we and the community are the only ones tasked with picking up on them and reporting them to Camden. Whilst many alterations do not cause significant harm – such as shopfronts being modified to carry LED lights, etc – some can be significant, such as the replacement of windows and doors with cheap PVC equivalents. While each individual alteration does not pose a great threat, the accumulation of many alterations over time can cause irreparable damage to the appearance of a conservation area. Coupled with the frequency with which properties now change hands, this threat is classed as moderate.
As a result of a potential greater cohesion between the community, ourselves, and Camden’s enforcement team, we see believe that we can improve the situation throughout our conservation areas.
There are a number of minor threats which we consider to be irritating but do not pose any real harm to our heritage.
Begun: 2019 | Status: Improving | CAs affected: All | Damage Type: Reversible
Dockless bicycles clutter the street environment and therefore cause harm to the setting of the conservation areas. Whilst Camden claim to be unable to do anything, the real answer is that they lack sufficient motivation to get on top of this problem. By-laws are in the making to further control them. After reaching a peak in 2019, levels appear to be dropping off.
Camden are currently working with London Councils to draft a bylaw to control these bicycles. We have submitted our recommendation that they be totally banned from Central London.
Abandoned Highways Equipment
Begun: c. 2010 | Status: Worsening | CAs affected: All | Damage Type: Reversible
Highways contractors often leave behind their equipment after finishing their work, and it can take years to get them removed. Their presence causes harm to the setting of our conservation areas. The highways team expect the public to report on these, but they do not remove them but simply ‘ask’ the contractors to pick them up. The highways team are expected to pay a fine if they are removed. A Camden officer has quite rightly described this as ‘the tail wagging the dog’.
Out-of-Control Street Vendors
Begun: c. 2010 | Status: Ongoing | CAs affected: Bloomsbury | Damage Type: Reversible
Newspaper vending stalls have gradually been taken over by those attempting to run a full tech repair businesses and/or tourist shop within them. These individuals go on to make extensions to their premises without permission and plaster inappropriate advertisements and LED signs to the exterior, whilst cluttering the street with tables, A-boards, and even astro-turf. Camden currently claim to be unable to do anything about this.
Conversion of Telephone Boxes
Begun: c. 2010 | Status: Improving | CAs affected: Bloomsbury | Damage Type: Reversible
Camden are approving the reuse of telephone boxes, an internationally significant example of British design, to be used as mini tourist, coffee, and tech repair shops. This absolutely absurd policy then allows vendors to set up whole stalls outside their boxes, which similar to the street vendors mentioned above, go on to clutter the area to a ridiculous extent. This impacts negatively on heritage assets and their setting.
We have heard encouraging news that the situation is likely to improve due to new approaches from Camden.