Tonight Camden Council’s planning committee will be asked to approve plans to part-demolish and rebuild an attractive building and convert small business premises into luxury flats, contrary to their own planning and heritage policies and against a ruling by a government planning inspector.
Merchant Land Investment Limited is seeking permission to redevelop three buildings at the heart of the Charlotte Street conservation area. Out will go office space suitable for businesses of less than ten employees and in will come yet more luxury flats. At the same time an important heritage asset in good condition will have its distinctive design of sash windows replaced by a poor pastiche.
Camden has plenty of sound planning grounds on which to refuse this application and protect small business premises and Charlotte Street’s heritage assets but the planning officer dealing with the case has — to the astonishment of community groups — mostly ignored these important policies that protect the local economy and its historic buildings.
The Charlotte Street Association has written to Camden Council asking for the application to be refused and questions why the reasons given by a planning inspector to refuse a similar application in 2013 have not been mentioned.
“It is quite astonishing that the report makes no reference to the findings of the inspector in the 2013 appeal. His sole reason for dismissing the appeal related specifically to the loss of these particular premises for business use”, writes Max Neufeld of the Charlotte Street Association.
The planning inspector quite clearly stated the reasons for his decision, saying:
“[T]he proposed change of use of the upper floor offices of Nos. 61 and 63 to residential use has not been justified. For this reason I conclude that the appeal should fail.”
Camden’s planning officers seem to be withholding this vital material from elected councillors. Why is this?
And that’s not all. Only last year the full council adopted the Fitzrovia Area Action Plan (FAAP) which states quite clearly the need to retain very small office premises.
“[A]round three quarters of Fitzrovia-based businesses have 10 or fewer employees (Annual Business Inquiry 2003 – 2008). For such businesses to establish themselves and flourish, the area needs to retain and add to the range of small and medium-sized premises. The Council will particularly seek to maintain a supply of premises that can provide lettings of less than 100 sqm” (FAAP, 2014: page 44).
The FAAP sets this policy in context by stating:
“Conversion of business space for housing has been particularly marked in Fitzrovia. Relatively un-modernised premises are often the most attractive to small business due to their character, low cost and ease of subdivision, but are often the most vulnerable to residential development” (FAAP, 2014: page 44).
Again, planning officers are withholding this from elected councillors.
In architecture and heritage terms the building is particularly attractive and features sash windows that decrease in size the higher up they are. This is a distinctive form of Georgian buildings and is a feature of many Victorian buildings.
Yet the planning application seeks to demolish the upper floor and rebuild it with an additional storey and so removing the graceful feature of decreasing window sizes — just to squeeze in lucrative residential floorspace across the top of the three buildings.
Number 63 Charlotte Street is not a listed building but it is a “positive contributor” to the Charlotte Street Conservation Area.
Camden Council’s Charlotte Street Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan (2008) is crystal clear in its statement on preserving the form and character of buildings like this.
“Development proposals must preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the Charlotte Street Conservation Area” (CSCAAMP, 2008, page 43, para 13.15).
The conservation area statement seeks to protect all heritage assets and in particular the windows.
“The appearance of all buildings of historic interest (listed and unlisted) within the conservation area is harmed by the removal or loss of original architectural features … For example, the loss of original joinery [and] sash windows … can have considerable negative impact on the appearance of a historic building and the area” (CSCAAMP, 2008: page 44, para 13.19, my emphasis).
Again, a discussion of the windows and their significance is completely absent from the planning officers’ report.
Councillors need to have all the relevant material in front of them before making these important decisions. The planning officer should be recommending refusal not approval of this damaging application.
Let’s hope Councillors see this application for what it really is.
61-65 Charlotte Street, London W1T 4PF. 2015/1746/P: Erection of a mansard roof extension at 4th floor level, rear extension at lower ground and ground floor levels, with creation of 6 flats (2 x one bedroom/studio, 2 x two bedroom, 2 x three bedroom) on the upper floors, office accommodation at ground and lower ground floors and shopfront alterations. Development Control Committee, Tuesday, 21st July, 2015 7.00 pm.