Council set to look again at controversial scheme after complaint from Victorian Society
A campaign group has forced Westminster council to look again at Hopkins Architects’ proposals to gut a grade II-listed building and demolish a neighbouring Edwardian shop as part of redevelopment scheme on the capital’s main shopping street.
Members of the authority’s planning committee last month approved the proposals for the junction of Oxford Street and Rathbone Place, which would see just the facades of a corner building by Charles Holden retained in front of a new 22,050sq structure of up to eight storeys.
The decision came despite concerns from government heritage adviser Historic England, which argued that the significance of the listed building – originally known as Evelyn House but now called Holden House – would be harmed. The organisation also questioned whether the proposals would deliver the public benefits developer Derwent London claimed.
But after the approval, statutory consultee the Victorian Society realised that Westminster had not referred to its letter of objection expressing significant concerns over the proposals in the planning report recommending the scheme for approval, nor had it published the letter on its website.
It warned that the omission potentially exposed the city council to a judicial review into the legality of its decision-making processes, and also questioned the evidence base for some of the authority’s official assessments of the scheme’s benefits and impacts.
“Westminster should have, but has not, considered explicitly whether the regeneration of this high-value area should be delivered at the direct expense of the demonstrably high-quality historic architecture that currently forms its core and which today contributes so positively to its special character and appearance,” it said.
The society said the report had failed to clearly identify the harm to the existing built environment under national planning policies that require “special regard” for heritage assets, and said the authority’s decision appeared to have been formed without relevant national policy tests having been considered.
“In the light of the procedural and policy failures outlined, we would request that Westminster reviews its decision-making on this case before issuing formal decision notices,” it said.
The Victorian Society’s objections detail the various aspects in which the proposals harm both Evelyn House and the wider setting of the Hanway Street Conservation Area, in which the buildings sit, and echoes concern from Historic England about the impact of the scheme’s new-build elements on Evelyn House.
It argues that the two-storey roof extension for the building will be visually prominent and detract from the appearance of the building, and that overall the proposed scheme is too tall and “at odds” with the surrounding townscape.
The society strongly objects to the proposed demolition of 66 Oxford Street, which it said made a positive contribution to the special character of the conservation area and to the setting of Evelyn House and consider that its loss is significant and will cause serious harm to both.
The city council accepts that it failed to refer to the Victorian Society’s objections in its previous report, but is still recommending the scheme for approval. The panel meets at 6.30pm tonight.