Camden Council has failed West Kentish Town in the development of the St Silas estate playground, south of 3 Malden Road.
It was entirely in Camden’s gift to enable a good quality design that contributes to the public realm and meets environmental standards. This is not what has been built. How did this happen?
Camden Council sold the previous play-space to developer Goldcrest Land under its CIP scheme in 2014. The money raised was meant to pay for improvements in our area. Neighbourhood advocate and architect Tom Young has repeatedly asked councillors Alison Kelly and Meric Apak for information about what this money (£2.4m) was spent on, but no-one seems to know.
Damage has been done to the Malden Road streetscape by this extremely poorly designed and executed building.
This was Camden Council’s responsibility:
- The Council had the opportunity of making a good quality building a requirement of the land sale, but did not.
- The Council had the opportunity of preventing the site being re-sold to another developer- a practice known as ‘flipping’. This is the way that developers squeeze all residual value out of a site so that no money is left for a good quality development, which is what happened here.
- Camden’s planners failed to properly control the development in line with Camden’s planning policies, particularly CS14 ‘Promoting High Quality Places and conserving our heritage’ which call for improvements to the public realm and prevention of harm to the setting of listed buildings and conservation areas.
- There were insufficient measures put in place to ensure the development was good quality and met the legal obligations of the Section 106 agreement.
The planning history is a typical example of failure to uphold the quality implicit in an original planning permission. In this case however, the original permission was granted without proper scrutiny. The planning report (2016) is poorly drafted:
“5.3 The proposal adopts the typical Georgian terrace proportions, of tall window openings set in a London stock brick facade. In deference to the listed public house, the base of the building acts as a pedestal to the upper floors, while a cornice line at parapet level further picks up on the adjoining building.”
This statement is architecturally illiterate: the proposed building does not have the proportions of a Georgian terrace house, with different storey heights reflecting the hierarchy of internal uses. It does not have a pedestal- the proposed first floor is cantilevered out over the ground floor. The proportions, massing and articulation are thoroughly modern. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but this statement is lazy and incorrect. The designer has made an effort to relate the new building to the listed building by carrying through bands of brick and precast concrete cornices.
The report goes on to say:
“5.4 The brick framed frontage features chamfered brick infill panels are proposed to alternate bays to modulate the façade. The ground floor is further recessed in a dark brick, echoing the adjoining listed building, with planted amenity spaces set behind railing and hedge planting adjoining the pavement. The attic storey is set back and clad in a bronze copper cladding, with flat-welted seams.”
This statement describes some of the beneficial aspects of the design, most of which have been lost in the subsequent variations made by the developer, some of which were approved by the planners in the four subsequent applications for approval of details and variations.
“5.6 The proposal is considered to be of an appropriate proportion, composition, scale and orientation optimising the site without harming the adjacent Listed Building. The proposal is considered to be in accordance with policies CS14, DP24 and DP25.”
This statement may have applied to the planning permitted scheme, but in relation to the building as built, it is sadly not the case.
Who is responsible for providing oversight over this remorseless dumbing down of an initially decent design? And what is Camden doing to prevent this happening in future?
The computer-generated images included in the Design and Access statement is the moment when the developer invests most in the design of the building, as getting planning permission is key to their profits. From then on it is cost cutting and seeing how much they can get away with by making variations to the original application. In Camden Council’s case that is quite a lot. There is a lack of care in following up on original applications. After the initial approval is given, it appears that anything goes.
Applications for approval of details and variations:
In 2017 the developer submitted details of the proposed windows, doors and shopfronts and samples/manufacturer details of all facing materials for approval by the Council. This was approved by the planning officer, who stated:
“The building will be finished in a light brick with a darker brick at ground floor level. The upper storey would be finished in bronze metal cladding, with a darker bronze metal used for window frames and balconies. The proposed materials are considered to be a high quality and appropriate for the building. Although the condition required details of gates and ventilation grilles, these do not form part of the final design. The proposed landscaping works are considered suitable for the site and the beech hedge fronting Malden Road would be an improvement on the existing arrangement.”
The drawings show a pre-cast concrete cornice and coping, with a note saying that a sample will be submitted for approval.
In 2019 an application to vary the previous approved details was submitted. Among other things this requested approval for changing the pre-cast concrete cornice and cills with reconstituted stone. The planning officer approved this, failing to note in the decision notice that this also included omitting the cornice from the north elevation. No request for a sample was made, a crucial error which showed the developer how much further they was going to be able to go in delivering a cheap and shoddy building.
Regards the impact on the listed building in the original planning report, it says:
“5.7 A condition has been secured requesting details and sample of the proposed materials, colour and decorative brickwork to ensure the proposal sits comfortably in the setting of the listed building. It is considered subject to detail, the proposal would not harm the setting of the Grade II listed Fiddler’s Elbow Public House. ”
Where was the approval process to ensure that this was the case?
The back of the building is no better.
Neighbouring residents of Shipton House were concerned about the impact of the the new building on their privacy and light. 28 residents signed a petition and made a formal objection. Despite this the application was dealt with under delegated powers, rather than being afforded the scrutiny of the planning committee.
In the report, the following statement is given:
“6.4 The only material change in lighting conditions will be within Shipton House which is perpendicular to the site and where the windows currently receive a proportion of daylight over the Application Site…
6.4 The proposal is unlikely to detrimentally harm outlook or result in unacceptable overshadowing. The residents most likely to be impacted by the proposed development would be residents in one part of a flat in Shipton House.
Again the rear elevation as built has been dumbed down to a significant degree. Were these changes approved by the Council?
So what has this development achieved for West Kentish Town?
- A poor quality building, causing harm to the West Kentish Town Conservation Area and adjacent listed building
- Sub-standard flats lacking external amenity space and accessibility
- Probable non-compliance with other technical requirements
- No financial benefit to local people from the capital receipt from sale of the site
- Blight of amenity space of those living in Shipton House and Leysdown