Report of the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director.
The Committee considered a report of the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director seeking permission for the demolition of an existing building structure and erection of a mixed-use building comprising four basement levels, lower ground, ground and ten upper storeys for (i) hotel use (Class C1) at part basement levels one to four, part lower ground, part ground and part first, and second to tenth floors level; (ii) restaurant/bar use (Class A3 /A4) at part tenth floor level; (iii) office workspace use (Class B1) at part basement levels one to three, part lower ground and part first floor levels; (iv) flexible hotel / café / workspace (Sui Generis) at part ground floor level; (v) a publicly accessible terrace at roof level and (vi) ancillary plant and servicing, hard and soft landscaping and associated enabling works at 61-65 Holborn Viaduct, London, EC1A 2FD.
Officers introduced the report and drew Members’ attention to an addendum that had been tabled setting out additional paragraphs to be inserted under ‘Residential Amenity’ after paragraph 155.
Officers corrected some of the figures in the table at paragraph 145 of the report which sets out the planning obligations that will be secured before the permission is issued. They reported that the ‘Total liability in accordance with the City of London’s policies’, in the ‘Contribution’ column should now read £2,397,654. Officers also clarified that the site is outside the Newgate Conservation Area as stated in the report
Officers noted that the proposed development was visually quite radical and ground-breaking on what was a very constrained site. It was highlighted that, whilst the long-stay carparking spaces to be provided on site were adequate, the number of short-stay spaces that would be possible fell short of requirements. However, the applicants were looking to work alongside the City Corporation to actively identify other appropriate nearby sites where additional short-stay spaces might be accommodated.
Officers went on to refer to the free public terrace that would be provided at roof level and which would have its own dedicated entrance, accessible through a small ‘pocket park’ at ground floor level, bringing with it a new public realm element. Visitors would be able to access the roof terrace using two dedicated lifts and there would also be an element of security for those wishing to visit the terrace. It was proposed that the roof terrace would be open from 8am-10pm every day with the exception of Sundays and Bank Holidays where the space would open at 8am and close at 9pm.
The Committee were shown the proposed visuals of the development with Officers commenting on the radical design of the building, incorporating a ‘living wall’. It was highlighted that the building would substantially exceed the London Plan’s recommendations on greening and that the applicant had reported that, should development go ahead, this would be the greenest building not only in the UK, but in Europe. Officers reported on the many biodiversity and climatic benefits of such a design. They also took the opportunity to reassure Members that there were no particular fire safety issues relating to the living wall, the maintenance of which would be carefully conditioned.
Officers concluded by referring to the importance of the location of the development which would sit at the Gateway to the City Corporation’s new ‘Culture Mile’ and also provide a backdrop to the proposed site of the new Museum of London. They recommended the application for approval.
The Chair reported that one objector had wanted to address the Committee on this application but that he had subsequently written to withdraw his objection following talks with the applicant. He had written to the City Corporation this morning to indicate that he too now supported the proposals and would not be present today. Members were informed that, given this, the applicants were also not proposing to address the Committee but were in attendance and on hand to respond to any technical points that Members might wish to raise.
The Chair invited questions from Members.
A Member questioned whether it was intended that the exterior of the building would resemble the images presented today year-round and over time or whether it was likely that there would be a degree of shedding or wilting as time progressed. He questioned what guarantees were going to be put in place around this. The applicant responded by stating that the maintenance contract for the building would be long-running, over 10-20 years and would also include the replacement of parts of the living wall in this time if required.
The Member came back to question whether there were any existing examples of living walls being used elsewhere and what proof there was to demonstrate that these could be adequately maintained over time. The applicant responded that the concept had been around for 10-15 years now and that a good example of this was at the Reubens at the Palace Hotel, Victoria. They added that the key to successfully maintaining living walls did seem to be having long-term maintenance contracts in place such as that suggested for this development.
Another Member questioned whether Officers could give some thought as to whether the greening of the building might be conditioned more specifically than just maintenance. He also questioned the capacity of the roof terrace, assuming that it would be available for use by both hotel residents as well as the general public. The applicant responded by stating that the capacity of the roof terrace was estimated at 500 which they felt was ample. They added that the penultimate level would also have its own external terrace and that the two would work compatibly with each other. The applicant clarified that hotel occupants would need to exit the building and access the roof terrace area in the same way as the general public, via the dedicated entrance and lifts.
A Member questioned the whole-life carbon footprint of the building and what plans were in place around the degree of re-use of the existing building. The applicant responded by stating that they had undertaken a serious interrogation of the existing structure, including the foundations and had done as much due diligence as possible here. They assured Members that they were meeting standards around carbon footprints but that it was simply not possible to retain the existing building. The Member then questioned whether, once the newly proposed building had reached the end of its life, it was anticipated that that too would need to be demolished. The applicant highlighted that the new building was built around a cantilever design rendering it a more robust and long-term structure.
Another Member spoke to state that he was generally in support of the application but also had some questions around the ongoing monitoring of air quality and the effect that this building would have on this. He questioned whether consideration might be given to reporting back to this Committee on the matter, should the development proceed. The applicant reported that they were working on developing a smart living wall system that would record live data on matters such as air quality. This would be beneficial from both an educational point of view but also in terms of public engagement.
In response to the queries raised around maintenance and greening of the building, Officers clarified that this would be strongly conditioned and highlighted that a very complex document covering matters such as irrigation and fire safety would also be required in writing before any works could commence. This was set out in condition 29 on page 81 of the document pack. Officers added that this would be in place in perpetuity.
A Member highlighted the references to boilers and Combined Heat and Power plants within the report and asked that developers be cognisant of the City Corporation’s new Air Quality Strategy and their view on these matters. The Chair seconded this point and asked that Officers check Corporation policy on standby generators as this seemed to be particularly outdated to him.
A Member noted that the proposals were intending to move the existing building from office use to part office/part hotel use. He took on board the point that an equivalent number of desks were to be provided within the new development but questioned whether Officers were satisfied that no sort of precedent was being set here. Another Member picked up on this point too and questioned whether there was any way that the office space that was to be available could be mandated for use by SME’s so as to ensure that there was no danger of this space being used as ‘overspill’ for the hotel. Officers stated that they were content that this site was sufficiently unique that the proposals did not set any sort of precedent. They added that they would be happy to mandate the use of the office space in the way suggested. Members were reassured that this would also be covered under s106.
A Member questioned the height of the proposed roof terrace barriers and whether these were adequate in terms of health and safety. Officers responded that the barriers were of adequate height and were to be 1.8m tall.
A Member questioned the limited amount of daylight/sunlight that would be experienced by those occupying the lower levels of the building and sought Officers views as to the acceptability of this. Officers responded by highlighting that the applicants had submitted a lot of research to demonstrate that similar issues were encountered in buildings elsewhere. They added that these spaces were generally intended as incubation spaces for start up businesses who would be offered either a reduced charge or three months of free occupancy in recognition of the lack of natural light here.
A Member questioned how noise from the bar would be managed. Officers stated that this would be managed by Environmental Health and that there would be no use of the external terrace area adjacent to the bar during unsociable hours. In design terms, things such as double entrance doors and the like would be used to minimise any noise nuisance.
The Chair thanked Officers and the applicant for their responses to questions and asked that Members now move to debate the application.
A Member who was also serving as Chairman of the City Corporation’s Open Spaces Committee applauded what he viewed as a very exciting development. He recognised that there were very few examples of this type of build in the UK but many elsewhere in the world. He added that this would be a very positive transformation of a building in a key location for the City, close to the Cultural Mile.
Another Member spoke in support of the application highlighting that there was a green wall in place at London Wall, albeit on a smaller scale, that was well maintained. He added that the City’s air pollution risk was being examined in more detail by the Audit and Risk Management Committee this afternoon and that it was important to consider how future buildings and innovative design in the City might assist in managing this risk downwards in the future.
The Committee proceeded to vote on the application with votes cast as follows:
· IN FAVOUR – 18 votes
· OPPOSED – 0 votes
· There were no abstentions
N.B. – There were five Members who either arrived too late to participate in the vote or left the meeting before the vote took place.
The application was unanimously approved and the applicants congratulated on an exciting and efficient application.
RESOLVED – That planning permission be granted for the above proposal in accordance with the details set out in the attached schedule subject to:
Planning obligations and other agreements being entered into under section 106 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 and Section 278 of the Highways Act 1980 in respect of those matters set out in the report, the decision notice not to be issued until the Section 106 obligations have been executed.
That Officers be instructed to negotiate and execute obligations in respect of those matters set out in ‘Planning Obligations’ under Section 106 and any necessary agreements under Section 278 of the Highways Act 1980.