Agenda item

Thavies Inn House, 3-4 Holborn Circus, London EC1N 2HA

Report of the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director


The Committee considered a report of the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director in respect of Thavies Inn House, 3-4 Holborn Circus, London EC1N 2HA – specifically, the demolition of the existing building at 1-6 Holborn Circus (known as Thavies Inn House) and the erection of a ten storey Class E building for office use with Class E retail use at part ground floor level with works to include reinstatement and new pedestrian routes through the site; hard and soft landscaping works including removal and replacement trees within the public highway, and creation of pocket park in Thavies Inn; widening of the footway on St Andrew Street; and other works incidental to the proposed development.


The Town Clerk advised that an addendum containing late representations, and the officer’s presentation, had been circulated to Members in advance, before outlining the Committee’s usual procedure for the consideration of planning applications.


The Chief Planning Officer and Development Director then introduced the application to Members and presented the officer’s report, informing the Committee about the details of the scheme and its wider implications and outlining the reasons for the officer’s recommendation. The officer’s recommendation was that the Committee resolve to grant planning permission, in accordance with the details set out in the attached schedule.


Ned Williams, on behalf of Evans Randall Investors, addressed the Committee in support of the recommendations. The Committee heard that the site at Thavies Inn presented an opportunity for regeneration and expansion at the crossroads between the West End and the City of London. Whilst the site had constraints it also had opportunities, and the scheme would look to reuse elements of the current building. However, retention of one or both of the existing London Plane trees had ultimately not been possible while still delivering enough quality, sustainability and flexibility of space, due to the disjointed and inflexible nature of the existing structure, and the physical dimensions of the current building. The application was supported by extensive analysis on these matters, including a full financial viability assessment of the proposed scheme.


The Committee was told that the application also proposed a significant package of public benefits, including 23 replacement trees and extensive greening on the building, new pedestrian connections through the site, the overprovision of cycle spaces in lieu of existing car parking, expanded pavement and public realm to St Andrew St, and the creation of the south facing, public park within Thavies Inn itself. The development could attract occupiers from SMEs to global institutions, and the ambition was clear, to provide an occupier-focussed and environmentally sensitive office development alongside designed, deliberate and thoughtful public spaces.


Yasmin Al-ani Spence, on behalf of Wilkinson Eyre, then addressed the Committee in support of the application, commenting that the site presented a unique opportunity to deliver a leading building in an individual context and a generous revision to the public realm. The proposal sought to create a positive, sustainable, and healthy workplace, and a building that engaged with its urban setting while honouring the history of Holborn Circus and embracing the City of London tradition of pocket parks and alleyways. Due to structural, environmental and user constraints, it was not possible to adapt the buildings to work together as one functional space. The proposed scheme provided efficient floorplates with cores to either side, generous views over London, and natural ventilation on all floors, with greening to provide shading as well as to enhance local biodiversity and climate resilience.


The Committee heard that high-quality materials had been carefully considered to merge the new and the old and for their sustainable credentials, including limestone at the plinth and connection to adjacent buildings. The route through the site path was more prominent, leading to a pocket park providing generous greening, biophilia and seating, with a second alleyway also introduced. 60 bike spaces were provided in the courtyard, while a further 25 are spread around the proposal for short-stay parking, with long-stay bike parking and shower facilities situated within the building. An enlarged pavement onto St. Andrew Street allowed for 4 substantial trees, replacing the existing trees to create a prominent public realm facing the church. The proposal responded well to an important, prominent but constrained site, and the scale, detailing and integration of the public amenity, compliment the history of the location and would deliver a flexible building that is suitable for the future.


Matthew Mapp, on behalf of Sweco UK, then addressed the Committee in support of the application. The application accords with GLA and City sustainability and energy policies and aspirations in the strongest possible terms, with aspiration to prioritise reuse in the first instance before progressing redevelopment. The existing development was appraised through third-party surveys and expert consultant input. A combination of issues led to a single retention option that, while it may initially save embodied carbon, had a significantly constrained operational performance, with a maximum additional life of 30 years before wholesale demolition was required, and was less carbon efficient in intensity terms in comparison compared to the redevelopment target. Studies at pre-application stage showed how carbon-heavy elements of the proposed development supported longevity and future flexibility and adaptability, suggesting a life of over 100 years for the structure.


The Committee heard that the applicant’s approach to prioritising longevity was also underlined in embodied carbon targets. The applicant had led with a whole life target rather than focusing just on upfront embodied carbon, as this allowed decisions based on whole life performance, and key strategies would be implemented to reduce embodied emissions. The approach focussed on operational energy performance as the primary driver rather than emissions, with a focus on fabric-first design, including openable vents in facades to facilitate future mixed-mode ventilation in combination with a heating & cooling system that actively addresses both operational energy and embodied carbon. In terms of certification, the applicant was targeting a minimum of BREEAM Excellent with an aspiration to achieve ‘Outstanding’.


The Chairman then invited questions from Members to those speaking in support of the application. In response to questions, the Committee was advised that the first priority would be to assess existing materials for reuse on site, reuse elsewhere or recycling, in that order, and that the roof would be an important part of several features of the scheme. The EPC rating of the current site was C, but this did not mean the existing building was energy efficient.


The Chairman then invited the Committee to ask questions of officers and debate the application. In response to points raised by the Chairman regarding the provision of trees as part of the scheme, the Director of Open Spaces outlined the specifications of the existing London Plane trees, adding that there had been significant discussion on the matter, and whilst it was preferable to retain the existing trees, it was understood that this was not always possible. The proposed replacement trees were smaller in canopy size but this could be improved upon at a later stage, with further work on agreeing a size and species to continue.


A Member noted the stated intentions for the reuse of materials and asked how the Committee could monitor and hold the applicant to account on this, before asking for clarification on the graphical information on whole life carbon emissions. The Executive Director of Environment outlined the whole life carbon assessments to be undertaken during the process and their intended impact, and advised that a condition could be attached to facilitate monitoring of the reuse and recycling of materials. In response to a question from a Member, the Executive Director of Environment confirmed that total carbon emissions for the lifetime of the building were given per square metre.


A Member commented that the application reports needed to be written in a more accessible way, with plainer language and less jargon, particularly in the summary and main body of the report. The Member added that a total carbon emissions figure for the development should be given, with a comparison to the existing building, rather than just per square metre. The Member queried whether the car parking space was privately owned by the City Corporation and sought confirmation on this, as more could be done with this space if this were the case. The Executive Director of Environment confirmed that the car parking area was currently owned by the City Corporation.


The Deputy Chair noted that the public realm interacted with the servicing area and queried the extent to which the management plan could guarantee the quality of the public realm. The Executive Director of Environment advised that servicing was currently uncontrolled, but saw around 16 deliveries per day. The development would be capped at 14, with offsite consolidation and a maximum of 8 between 7am and 7pm. The Executive Director of Environment advised that this would be controlled through the delivery and servicing plan and that issues could be managed.


A Member sought clarification on the tree provision under the scheme, and suggested that a condition be added to facilitate enforcement on CO2 targets. The Director of Open Spaces advised that the proposed tree pit would not constrain tree size, but would provide assurance that the trees would reach a minimum height, which they may grow beyond. However, the full extent of the possible provision would not be clear until the tree pits had been installed. The Director of Open Spaces advised that the applicant had indicated they were open to having trees with large canopies and encouraging biodiversity, and that officers would be pushing to ensure this was the case.


The Committee was then advised that the materials would be assessed during the detailed design phase, and a detailed whole life carbon assessment would be undertaken before implementation. Further improvements to the sustainability credentials of the scheme would be made during this process and it was expected that the GLA targets would be exceeded, which was the key measurement. The Committee was then advised that condition 4 could be used to negotiate improvements if the detailed design did not cover the required information on achieving CO2 targets.


A Member asked why 184 square metres of highway was being handed over as part of the application. The Member commented that loading bays may exacerbate servicing issues and asked how this would be addressed, and that the waste storage was positioned in a way that risked it not being collected, before asking for clarification on how many occupants there would be in the new building and why a condition related to Hostile Vehicle Mitigation (HVM) had not been included. The Chief Planning Officer and Development Director clarified the site boundaries as outlined in the officer presentation. The cycle hub was not currently adopted highway, and would become adopted highway for public use. The occupant numbers would increase from 300 to a capacity of 750. The Executive Director of Environment added that some servicing activity took place in relation to other buildings, and this could not be controlled as part of the application. However, the indicative design was subject to further detailed design and officers would make sure there were suitable areas to accommodate other servicing activity safely. The Committee was advised that a HVM condition had been omitted in error and this could be added, although condition 40 asked for details of security measures.


A Member commented that the existing trees were on highway land which was being voluntarily developed, and queried the justification for removing the trees, as there was some inconsistency in the officer’s report. The Member added that they were troubled by the idea of removing the trees for the sake of development but could understand if it were on the basis of townscape considerations. The Chief Planning Officer and Development Director responded that the viability assessment was a material consideration, which had been independently verified. Whilst the recommendation given was on the basis of balancing the existing trees against their replacements as part of the scheme, the viability argument was also presented to the Committee. The Chief Planning Officer and Development Director advised that officers would have recommended approval without the viability assessment, on the basis of the public realm, landscaping and tree-planting package.


A Member sought assurance that the approval would contain enough teeth to ensure the best possible replacements for the existing trees, and that should the replacement trees die, they could also be replaced. The Director of Open Spaces responded that the proposed tree pit would be larger than that provided for the existing trees near to the site and would be set up so that trees could establish. The trees would also be on City Corporation land so would be in the care of the City Corporation. The Chief Planning Officer and Development Director added that condition 25 provided controls and required replacements for the trees if they were damaged or died.


In response to a question from a Member, the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director confirmed that a materials audit would be required as part of the conditions. In response to an earlier query, the Executive Director of Environment confirmed that a refurbishment option would use around 6000 tonnes fewer total carbon emissions over the lifetime of the building compared to the scheme proposed. However, the refurbishment option would use more operational energy. The existing building would require significant investment over the same period of time, and therefore leaving it as it is was not considered to be an option. A Member commented that approving the scheme as opposed to the refurbishment option would therefore generate more total carbon emissions over the lifetime of the building.


A Member commented that they had concerns over the scheme, particularly around servicing and the use of space around the pocket parks. The Member suggested that deliveries be minimised, and that effort be made to maximise and protect the public benefit of the space. The Chief Planning Officer and Development Director advised that the delivery and servicing management plan could be used to restrict movements as agreed in the S106 agreement, which would also be used to secure the restrictions on movements during the peak periods.


Arising from the discussion, the Chairman moved the Committee to a vote. The Committee then proceeded to vote on the recommendations as amended, with 16 Members voting for the recommendation, 3 Members voting against the amended recommendation, and 2 Members abstaining. The recommendations were therefore agreed.


As a point of order, a Member requested the Chairman demarcate more clearly the points in considering the application at which Members were invited to ask questions of officers and to make general points as part of the debate going forward, for clarity.

RESOLVED – That the Planning & Transportation Committee agree:


  1. That planning permission be granted for the above proposal in accordance with the details set out in the attached schedule;


  1. 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 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; and


  1. That Officers be instructed to negotiate the S106 agreement.

Supporting documents: