Report of the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director.
The Committee considered a report of the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director concerning 14-21 Holborn Viaduct, 32-33 & 34-35 Farringdon Street London EC1A 2AT – specifically demolition of existing buildings at 14-21 Holborn Viaduct, 34-35 and 32-33A Farringdon Street, and construction of a new building arranged over 2 basement levels, ground and 10 upper floors to Holborn Viaduct and 12 upper floors to Farringdon Street to provide a new Commercial, Business and Service (Class E) building; new publicly accessible lift to provide step-free access between Holborn Viaduct and Farringdon Street, hard and soft landscaping works and other works incidental to the development.
The Town Clerk introduced the item and also referenced the Officer slide pack and two late addendums published and circulated.
Officers presented the application highlighting that the site comprised three existing buildings which fronted onto both Holborn Viaduct and Farringdon Street. One of these – Kimberley House – was described as an unremarkable 12 storey 1970s office building with some retail at ground floor level with 32-35 Farringdon Street comprising a pair of six storey office buildings dating from the 1920s which, whilst of some character, were considered to be of low historic and architectural significance. Members were informed that the site did not sit within a Conservation Area and that none of the buildings concerned were listed. However, the adjoining gatehouse and Holborn Viaduct itself are both Grade II listed. It was highlighted that Turnagain Lane and Newcastle Close were both areas of public highway, albeit used for servicing buildings only and not providing through routes. Officers reiterated that planning permission was sought for the demolition of the existing buildings and erection of a single new office building consisting of a ground floor and ten upper storeys on Holborn Viaduct and 12 upper storeys on Farringdon Street. Turnagain Lane would, under these proposals, be stopped up with Newcastle Close retained to provide servicing access to the proposed development and the adjoining site of One Fleet Place to the rear of the development site. Two new areas of public realm would be created adjacent to the two main entrances on Holborn Viaduct and on Farringdon Street and a new lift access would be provided within the site adjacent to the gatehouse to provide an accessible public route between Farringdon Street and Holborn Viaduct.
Members were shown a proposed ground floor plan on the Farringdon Street frontage depicting the new area of public realm to be created here in front of the proposed new entrance. Access to the public lift was also shown which would take users up to Holborn Viaduct. Next, the proposed ground floor plan on Holborn Viaduct was shared showing a second new area of public realm and the area where the public lift would exit – in full visibility of pedestrians using Holborn Viaduct. Officers shared some upper floor plans which provided a sense of the proposed setbacks which would have no impact upon strategic views. Members were shown graphics of the proposed front elevation from Farringdon Street with Officers commenting that the scheme proposed an uplift of 19,000 square meters of office floorspace which would result in a building of 36,000 square meters, commercial floorspace which was welcomed and in accordance with existing and emerging policy and, as stated in the report, it was intended that the building would be occupied by a single tenant as a headquarters building. Officers went on to state that the building design would incorporate nine digital screens on both the Holborn Viaduct and Farringdon Street facades which would incorporate artwork as part of the cultural offer. Given the proximity of the site to the proposed new Museum of London site, the applicant had also undertaken to digitise the artifact collection of the Museum which would take the form of digital public art across the site and would provide vibrant and engaging active frontages .It was noted that the digital screens would be significant in scale. The proposed elevation from Holborn Viaduct again depicted the new digital screens as well as the cut-out area of new public realm and associated greening adjacent to the gatehouse.
In terms of representations received, it was noted that a number of historic amenities societies including the 20th Century Society had objected to the demolition of the Farringdon Street buildings due to their contribution to the townscape as non-designated heritage assets. It was reported that Historic England had made no comment on the application and that letters of support had been received from the Fleet Street Quarter, the Museum of London and the Central District Alliance Addendum reports also contained late representations received – one from a City resident, the grounds of which were addressed within the report and also from the London Borough of Islington who had expressed concerns as to the height and bulk of the development. Officers stated that, as set out within the report, the height, bulk and massing of the proposals were considered acceptable. A second addendum circulated contained a response to the first addendum report from the same City resident but did not raise any substantive new issues.
In terms of the design of the proposed scheme, Members were shown an existing image taken from Holborn Viaduct depicting Kimberley House which was described as unremarkable and as providing a poor setting for the existing gatehouse. Its demolition was therefore considered acceptable. It was recognised that the Farringdon Street buildings were of some character and were therefore considered to be non-designated heritage assets, albeit with a low level of architectural and historic significance. It was highlighted that the applicant had explored the reuse options which demonstrated that the existing buildings were unsuitable for being transformed into an attractive and sustainable development for a 60 plus year period. It was reported that the sustainability credentials, combined with the modest historic and architectural significance of the buildings were therefore considered to warrant their redevelopment with a high-quality replacement scheme. Members were shown a CGI of the proposed development from this same viewpoint. It was stated that the proposed development would respond in both scale and context to both the historic gatehouse and the surrounding large commercial developments. The stone based fronting on Farringdon Street would provide a successful townscape datum height with the gatehouse and the façade would be richly articulated with new and reclaimed Portland stone from the existing buildings. The curved façade had been designed to accommodate the canopy of the existing mature plane trees and create a new area of public realm on Farringdon Street. Above the base, a curved, linear façade of glass and metal fins would wrap continuously around both Farringdon Street and Holborn Viaduct frontages and these fins would be perforated to allow for passive ventilation as well as to provide solar shading and wind mitigation. It was reported that the upper pavilion section would be set back and include extensive vertical greening, maintaining the vertical rhythm across the development and also reinforcing the classical hierarchy of the proposed development itself.
Officers talked the Committee through some before and after CGIs to provide a better overall sense of the proposed scheme and the quality of the architecture being proposed. Members were shown images from Farringdon Street looking south, depicting Kimberley House behind the gatehouse. From here, the shoulder height of the proposed development was shown as correlating to Bath House on the opposite side of Holborn Viaduct. Images from Holborn Viaduct looking back towards the site depicted the proposed development with a very subtle and refined façade to provide a very neutral and appropriate backdrop to the gatehouse building. From Farringdon Street looking north with the application site on the right hand side, one could see the two existing plane trees which were to be retained. From here the curved linear façade would curve away so that it would be invisible in this view, making Bath House visible in the background. From Holborn Viaduct with City Thameslink on the left hand side and Kimberley House just beyond, the scale of the proposed development with its setbacks and pavilion at the top which was very much recessed and diminished was fully visible. A closer image from Holborn Viaduct showed the digital screens and the impact that they would have on the vibrant street frontage as well as the green wall which would be adjacent to the listed gatehouse.
Members were shown an aerial view of the proposed development depicting how the overall scale had been developed in this part of the City, sitting with Goldman Sachs opposite Farringdon Street and Bath House on the opposite side of Holborn Viaduct as well as New Street Square and the taller buildings in this location.
With regard to the proposed stopping up of Turnagain Lane, Officers remarked that this was an historic street and was the remnant of a street pattern which had been altered with the construction of Holborn Viaduct and the Fleet Valley improvements. It was noted that the existing, dead-end road was of low quality in terms of visual amenity, accessibility and permeability, used principally for service vehicles and contributing little to the City’s public realm. By contrast, the new area of public realm would incorporate artistic, cultural and educational digital art displays which would enliven the space and provide a greater understanding of historical development of the area and its historic street pattern. The new route through the site and public lift bridging the level change between Holborn Viaduct and Farringdon Street with step free access would be a significant benefit offered by the development, as would the removal of the existing service vehicle crossover point. As such, the loss of Turnagain Lane public realm was considered to be compensated for and justified by the gain of a new attractive and inclusive accessible route through the site and the merits of the proposed development itself. Whilst there would be a net loss in public highway of 122 square meters, there would in fact be an overall net gain in public realm of 10 square meters. Members were shown further images depicting the quality and generosity of the space proposed in front of the entrance on Farringdon Street with the existing trees alongside additional planting to create a place to dwell. It was noted that there were also very generous street greening proposals (up to 29 planters) along Farringdon Street towards Ludgate Circus.
Officers went on to explain that, in applying the planning balance to the proposals, the identified harm to the designated and non-designated heritage assets were fully detailed within the report and had been given great weight in this case but it was considered that the overall, less than substantial harm, was outweighed by the wider public benefits. The principal benefits were set out within the report but included the new public lift providing an accessible route between Farringdon Street and Holborn Viaduct, the cultural offer of the extensive public art displays and digitisation of the Museum of London collection, the proposed public realm improvements and extent of street greening, enhancements to the listed gatehouse including lighting and CCTV to enhance the vertical pedestrian route and finally a local Community Outreach Programme secured through a Section 106 agreement and would include engaging with local schools for access to career insight sessions, education and employability workshops. It would also include hosting sustainable education programmes for local schools, including access to the roof terraces and biodiversity training as well as hosting green skills training for SMEs in association with organisations such as Heart of the City.
In terms of sustainability, Members were informed that the proposal demonstrated that whole life cycle carbon emissions were significantly reduced, exceeding industry benchmarks including the GLA’s aspirational benchmark. It was reported that the existing buildings on site had been assessed and found to be unsuitable to be transformed into an attractive and sustainable development for a 60 plus year period. However, significant operational carbon savings could be achieved over the lifetime of the proposed building and circular economy principles had therefore been positively applied to achieve an exemplary long-term, low-carbon, flexible and adaptable development. The scheme would achieve BREEAM ‘outstanding’, with the building design also addressing climate change resilience by reducing solar gain, incorporating natural ventilation, water saving measures and various opportunities for urban greening and biodiversity whilst passive energy saving measures and low energy technologies would be employed to significantly reduce operational carbon emissions beyond London Plan requirements. In conclusion it was therefore considered that the proposal would deliver a scheme of high quality architectural design, creating a sustainable 21st century workplace with extensive public realm improvements and a cultural offer that would provide vibrant and engaging active frontages and a strong connection to the wider cultural context of this part of the Square Mile. Officers consequently recommended that planning permission be granted subject to the conditions of the Section 106 agreement as set out within the papers.
The Town Clerk confirmed that there were no objectors registered to address the meeting and went on to introduce the applicant team who would be speaking – Mr Philip Sutton, Head of Development at Royal London Asset Management, Mr Lee Polisano,founder and president of PLP Architecture, Mr Vince Ugarow, Design Dircetor at environmental engineering consultants Hilson Moran and Ms Sherry Dobbin, partner at Future City.
Mr Sutton began by explaining that Royal London was the UK’s largest mutual insurance company with a property portfolio currently valued at circa £10 billion, including a large estate in central London. He went on to state that Royal London believed that the site in question had the potential to make a much greater contribution to the City’s position as a global business centre, whilst also becoming a highly sustainable development with a wide-ranging set of public benefits. He stated that the proposals responded to proven demand and that Royal London had agreed terms and were in advanced discussions with Hogan Lovells for a pre-let. As noted in Hogan Lovell’s letter of support, they viewed this development as key to their future in the City. Mr Sutton explained that all refurbishment and redevelopment options had been considered with a focus on delivering the broadest possible set of sustainability benefits – BREEAM ‘outstanding’, implementation of circular economy principles and an urban greening factor of 0.44 (well in excess of the policy requirements). Mr Sutton enthused that this project provided the ability to transform the public realm through a new step-free connection between Farringdon Street and Holborn Viaduct, with new public spaces, public art, culture, community outreach and landscaping providing long lasting benefits for this area. He underlined that Royal London had a track record of responsible property development, with market-leading sustainability standards. He added that they were committed to ensuring the long-term future of their development was highly sustainable and was the reason why they had appointed a best-in-class, internationally renowned team with a proven track record in London to design and deliver this project.
Mr Polisano spoke of how this project marked a gateway to the cultural mile through high-quality architecture and active frontages and would serve as a platform for cultural engagement and community learning. He added that the development would deliver world-class, sustainable, adaptable and healthy new workplace environments. He reported that a holistic approach had been taken to sustainability and reducing carbon emissions with circular economy principles embedded in the design decisions. He explained that, in this instance, the qualitative benefits and future adaptability of the new build far outweighed the refurbishment alternatives and that, at the heart of these proposals, was human comfort and well-being which were considered paramount for creating sustainable environments that enhanced people’s health, foster creativity and spark innovation. He reiterated that the project would deliver a BREEAM ‘outstanding’ rating and would be a WELL platinum building where tenants would have access to adaptable modern workplace environments, openable windows for natural ventilation, biodiverse green terraces promoting outdoor working and high-quality facilities for fitness, cycling and active commuting. He added that the high-quality architecture was a response to the special context and was shaped to enhance the setting of the listed gatehouse. Portland stone would de reused from the existing buildings to form a new masonry base on Farringdon Street and weave the gatehouse back into the streetscape. Both the massing and the façade articulation had been informed by passive design principles with the façade depth and details minimising solar gain, maximising daylight and providing natural ventilation. The proposals had been designed for long-term adaptability and disassembly by adapting a layered design and installation approach to the building’s components which would allow individual elements to be adapted and replaced in response to changing climate and future occupational requirements. He stressed that the design delivered transformable public realm improvements well beyond the application’s boundaries. Two new high-quality public spaces were to be delivered on Holborn Viaduct and Farringdon Street, connected by a new public lift that would significantly enhance accessibility across this nine meter height difference. The existing mature planes trees that sat at the heart of the scheme would inform the introduction of meaningful and accessible urban greening that would substantially exceed the City’s and the GLA’s requirements. Mr Positano stated that consenting this scheme would allow for the realisation of this exemplar for a high-quality, sustainable development befitting of the City of London.
Mr Ugarow reported that the whole team, including the clients and the prospective tenants, had worked closely together to design a building that maximised the contribution to sustainability. He stated that an extensive whole-life carbon assessment had been undertaken considering a number of alternative refurbishment and extension possibilities alongside the option to redevelop this site. He underlined that the comparative results confirmed that all options, including the proposed redevelopment scheme before the Committee today, would meet the London Plan’s embodied carbon benchmark of 900 kilograms of carbon per square meter. He highlighted that, crucially, they had worked incredibly hard to ensure that the predicted whole-life carbo emissions for the proposed development were very similar to the assessed alternative refurbish and extend options. He stressed that this was the case even when ignoring the structural constraints of the existing buildings which could only support one or two additional floors. Taking into account the additional qualitative benefits that this proposal could provide, it had been concluded by both City Corporation Officers and the GLA that it represented the most appropriate approach to redevelopment in terms of sustainability, future adaptability and accessibility. Mr Ugarow stated that pertinent features of the proposal that warranted mentioning at this stage was the fact that the scheme would minimise waste generation during the dismantling and construction process by prioritising reuse of materials and components and recycling programmes. He explained that the applicant was targeting 95% of strip out demolition, construction and fit out waste to be diverted from landfill. He reported that key circular economy strategies included reuse of foundations, repurposing of existing stone façade elements, minimising finishes and reuse of internal materials such as raised floor tiles, specifying responsibly sourced materials which consider the lowest carbon options including low environmental impact concrete and developing a material passport system to intelligently inform how materials and components can be reused and recycled in the future. In conclusion, Mr Ugarow reiterated that what would be delivered was a BREAAM ‘outstanding’ building with exemplar sustainability credentials that would optimise the development of the site and realise the wider environmental, economic, social and cultural benefits in comparison to any alternatives.
Finally, Ms Dobbin reported that Future City had examined the cultural sustainability for this area through a collaborative and a research based approach to place making and public art commissioning. She explained that a cultural plan focused on a public art strategy that defined location as a creative and identifiable beacon for the Cultural Mile, to engage and captivate audiences and to maximise the exposure of the culture found locally and within Smithfield, the new home for the Museum of London. It would do so via the high visibility contemporary public art and the investment for the needed roles. The intention was for the development to become a gallery without walls with the permanent installation of the large digital murals spanning the nine high quality screens on both Holborn Viaduct and Farringdon Street ground floors. It would also fund a new, needed, four-year post for a Digital Archivist to accelerate the digitisation of the Museum of London collection. This content would then be used by an artist to create the art for the digital mural and leave an open online resource for all age learning. There would be funding for artist in residence who would build upon the legacy of Smithfield public realm artists in residence to help secure the cultural objectives for the long-term. There would be commissioning for the local wayfinding and street furniture that would reference the heritage of the river fleet, Turnagain Lane and the building of Holborn Viaduct. The further Cultural Management Plan would secure the benefits of the work and detail the governance, including how the public could access the new auditorium and the process for commissioning and maintaining the art to ensure long-term success. Ms Dobbin explained that the plan established the site as the Culture Mile gateway with the digital art mural, the street furniture commissions and a new online permanent exhibition bringing the Museum of London’s artifacts to a much wider audience. A new digital archivist and artists in residence would sustainably celebrate the culture and commerce of the City of London for all.
The Chair thanked the speakers for their contributions and invited any questions that Members might now have of the applicant team.
A Member raised concerns as to the proposed nine digital screens and questioned whether the maintenance and brightness of these would be conditioned. He also questioned what would happen should the screens need to be removed at some point in the building’s 60 plus year life and queried the building finish underneath these. Finally, he questioned whether the displays would be passive or animated and expressed concern around the potential for them to distract drivers and be overbearing. Ms Dobbin responded to state that the digital murals would be displayed in accordance with highway conditions and that stipulations within the Section 106 agreement specified and demonstrated a commitment to the ongoing maintenance of the screens. The way that the screens were to be positioned would see them sat slightly underneath the overhang of the building to avoid them being overbearing. The digital technology to be employed would allow the content of the screens to be changed regularly and the City Arts initiative as well as other cultural institutions would feed into this to ensure the quality of what was displayed. Essentially, it was intended to be a digital display to bring the Museum of London to the wider public. If there was ever a strong desire to move away from the screen display, Ms Dobbin assured the Committee that this could easily be transformed into something like a mosaic and not adversely affect the aesthetics of the building as a whole.
Another Member focused on the proposals for Turnagain Lane and questioned whether the developer might be willing to install a plaque on the new building to record that this was where the Lane was once situated. Ms Dobbin responded to state that this was part of what the applicant wanted to do with the commissions for the street furniture and the public realm here and provide a deeper sense of the history of this site that the public could engage with.
Another Member posed a question on Newcastle Close and asked whether any ventilation was proposed here to mitigate against air pollution now that the space was to be enclosed. Mr Tim Hall of DP9 reported that there was no ventilation proposed but that the oversail here was just over 7 metres high with open air at both ends.
The Chair asked that the Committee now move to debate the application and to ask any outstanding questions that they might have of Officers.
A Member remarked that Officers had described the proposed building as subtle within their presentation – something which he strongly disagreed with, describing the massing of the building as massive and something that would dwarf the nearby Goldman Sachs building and be at least two storeys higher than buildings on the opposite side of Holborn Viaduct. He questioned why it was felt that this was appropriate. Secondly he questioned the proposed overhang on Holborn Viaduct and why this was being permitted when the effect of this would be to bring forward, beyond the Thameslink Station building to the east, and to completely obscure the view of the listed gatehouse from Holborn Viaduct. Finally, he questioned whether the proposed art screens were desirable on Farringdon Street. The Member clarified that he was of the view that the site was in desperate need of redevelopment but questioned why Officers were not taking a more robust approach with developers to prevent them from taking these extra inches in terms of overhang and the like and rendering their proposals too overbearing. The Chief Planning Officer reported that this application had been the subject of very long and detailed discussions on the height and massing and that it had been reduced and nuanced down as a result of these. Officers were now therefore comfortable that the bulk and height and massing of this scheme was appropriate to its townscape context. Members were informed that this was also the result of a very rigorous views assessment throughout. Officers were keen to ensure that the scheme did not over dominate the gatehouse and highlighted that a fairly neutral canvass was therefore proposed to sit behind this. Officers felt that the design proposed was appropriate and restrained in this regard. In terms of the screens, it was reported that the Section 106 agreement was a very robust tool to be able to control the light levels and content and it was felt by Officers that this would be a very dynamic element and a gateway to the Culture Mile as one approached the Museum of London allowing all of the artefacts held here and currently hidden from public view to be widely celebrated.
Another Member echoed these points and questioned whether the Chief Planning Officer was concerned that the west end of the City was being over bulked by this and other previously approved applications in the same area.
A Member stated that he was generally favourably disposed to this application but added that he had some concern as to the loss of retail proposed here given that retail had already been lost along Farringdon Street. He questioned why Officers felt that this was a good idea. Officers highlighted that details on the loss of retail were set out within the report and had been discussed at the pre-application stage where Officers worked with the developer to try and ensure that the frontage was as active as possible and that there was as much permeability as possible through to the new public access lift. Public outreach and engagement was also an important part of the negotiations and ensuring that the auditorium and roof were opened to local schools and also SMEs. Whilst it was therefore recognised that the loss of retail was a compromise in terms of policy, the numerous other benefits that had been negotiated had led to the conclusion that this was acceptable on balance.
Another Member questioned sustainability and when the building would ‘break even’ in terms of carbon emissions. She went on to question whether, when applications were presented to the Committee in future, Officers could always use the same metrics around this so that they could be more easily compared and understood by Members. With regard to the wider point around how sustainability information was presented, Officers undertook to reflect on this and work on a consistent approach. Members were reminded that a Sustainability SPD was currently being developed at present and that this could appropriately address this point for developers and Officers/Members alike. Officers went on to state that details on the whole-life cycle carbon of the building were detailed within the report (paragraph 331) .
Another Member requested that the Sustainability SPD also address the change in utilisation of the land as well as the recycling of materials/recycling plans. Officers agreed that this information around the circular economy should feature and was routinely requested from applicants at the early design stage before being secured by condition.
A Member stated that he welcomed the emphasis on culture and was of the view that this particular location created a wonderful opportunity to create a western gate into what he hoped would develop into a major cultural quarter for London. He went on to seek assurances from Officers that the commitment that the applicant had made in terms of managing and financing this cultural offer were firmly secured by condition. Officers assured the Committee that the Section 106 agreement would be very detailed in terms of the provision, maintenance and ongoing obligations.
Another Member referred to the abandoned arches under Farringdon Street, recognising that Officers had spent a lot of time exploring how these might be accessed through this building but had concluded that this was not possible. He was keen, however, that this issue should not be forgotten given the amount of space here that was currently vacant. Officers reiterated that this had been extensively discussed throughout the process and that, whilst it could not be processed as part of this scheme, they undertook to liaise with the City Surveyor to look at the use of the vaults separately.
Another Member commented on the loss of retail which she viewed as a more serious issue given that city workers using the Thameslink station would have relied upon this.
A Member spoke to express concerns at the height, mass and bulking of the building, describing it as ‘greedy’ given that it would not only overhang Holborn Viaduct by 2.4 meters but would also oversail Newcastle Close which was bound to increase air pollution levels here. The Member also expressed disappointment at the stopping up of Turnagain Lane and the fact that this area had not been more creatively reimagined. This would also give 332 square meters of airspace to the developer which would equal a rental of just under £3 million per annum (based on an average City of London rent) – a considerable extra benefit in exchange for one public lift, some digital screens, an archivist post funded for four years, and some greening further along Farringdon Street. The Member was of the view that this was not a good deal for the City Corporation and underlined that she would therefore be voting against this application.
Having fully debated the application, the Committee proceeded to vote on the recommendations before them.
Votes were cast as follows: IN FAVOUR – 17 Votes
OPPOSED – 3 Votes
There were no abstentions.
(1) That planning permission be granted for the above proposal in accordance with the details set out in the attached schedule subject to:
(a) Planning obligations and other agreements being entered into under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and Section 278 of the Highway 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.
(2) 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 Highway Act 1980.
(3) The Mayor of London be given 14 days to decide whether or not to direct the City Corporation to refuse planning permission (under Article 5(1)(a) of the Town and Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order 2008).
(4) That the Committee agree in principle that the land affected by the proposal which is currently public highway and land over which the public have right of access (comprising the entire area of Turnagain Lane) may be stopped up to enable the development to proceed and, upon receipt of the formal application, officers be instructed to proceed with arrangements for advertising and making of a Stopping-up Order for the various areas under the delegation arrangements approved by the Court of Common Council.