St Giles Court Redevelopment

Backdated from previous BA website

Bloomsbury Association initial response. Click title for details……



Application for planning permission: 2005/0259/P

The Bloomsbury Association are cautiously supportive of this application and wish to make the following comments.

1. At first sight, one might have expected something better than this from Renzo Pianos¹ office. It is appropriately deferential to the heroic icon of Centre Point and, if that was the intention, it is to be applauded. However, if the intention was to put forward a non-confrontational scheme that would ensure a smooth passage through the planning process with a local authority renowned for its petty political dogmas, then this is a huge loss to London. This site is in dire need of good quality development to catalyse the regeneration of what is rapidly becoming an urban wasteland populated by an ever-growing number of drug-dependant street dwellers that, without intervention, could easily provide imagery appropriate for the stage set of Blade Runner II. And, let¹s face it, development of this quality is not going to happen unless it is uncompromisingly commercial.

2. We like the proposal to re-establish the street edge, to form a covered court as the central focus of the development and to surround it with restaurant uses that animate the street frontage. However, our greatest concern is with how this space will be managed and secured for public realm issues will be the key to its success or failure.

3. Sadly, for those of us who live there, the wider area has become London’s, if not the country’s foremost street market in Class A drugs as a result of a less than aggressive approach to drug related street crime by Camden Borough Police and Council policies which have encouraged a concentration of facilities for street drug users to be located in the area including hostels, needle exchanges and rough sleeper units. Drug related crime and fears for personal security are now very real problems for the residential and business communities and for visitors to the area that only the local electorate can challenge. While the immediate vicinity of St Giles Court is relatively free of drug related crime at the moment after recent serious efforts by the Police, this does not mean that the problem will not worsen.

4. The covered court must be considered with this hostile and violent environment in mind. To surround it with restaurants is not enough to ensure that it is secure. Charlotte Street is full of restaurants but this does not deter the drug users who throng it nightly and whose aggressive behaviour is only one step short of mugging. And what will happen after the restaurants close? There are streets and spaces close to St Giles Court that are regularly taken over by gangs of crack dealers in the early hours to an extent that some have become no-go areas even for security guards with dogs. It is our view that, in order to ensure community safety the security of the new development must be integrated with a planned approach to securing the whole of the St Giles area. This proposal must not be allowed to simply result in the displacement of drug related crime to other adjacent streets. With this in mind, we welcome the serious approach to security that has been taken by the applicants and the inclusion of a Community Security Office in the development similar to that already established on Moor Street. We hope that the authorities will reciprocate with a similarly grown-up approach to community safety.

5. Whilst accepting that there will be insufficient footfall to generate any significant retail use, we question whether the proposed restaurant destination is viable and, if not, what is plan B? Are there other active uses that could be introduced at street level should the restaurant use fail. We would not wish to see the intensification of A3 use evolve into the sort of problems that Soho has experienced through the manipulation of the A Use Class to establish bars and clubs. The proposed A3 use should therefore be qualified in relation to the objectives driving changes to the Use Classes Order proposed by the Planning Minister. Pubs and bars (Use Class A4), takeaways (Use Class A5) and night-clubs should be specifically excluded from the proposal, if necessary by legal agreement.

6. We are encouraged by the scale of the development and the decision not to compete with Centre Point but have reservations about the massing at the south-east corner of the site. The previous proposal exhibited in February 2004 accentuated height in this location, which we feel was a better solution. We are satisfied with the massing studied in the computer generated street level views but feel that the visual impact on St Giles Churchyard is unfortunate.

7. The buildings’ roofscape, which will be seen from Centre Point, is important and should be treated as its fifth elevation. Amongst the illustrative material shown at the 2004 exhibition were studies and models that explored the possibility of an occupied roof. It is unfortunate that these ideas have not been taken further, including the possibility of roof-top residential space.

8. We like the use of ceramic cladding and the way the tiles are designed to cut the light to give differing tones over the elevations of the upper floors of the buildings but we are concerned by the overall lack of variety in their architectural expression. At best it is clean and competent but not inspiring. There is a dreary monotony in the regular hole-in-wall expression of the facades that variation in colour alone is insufficient to relieve. The unfortunate characteristic of the present St Giles Court is that is an inappropriately large, commercial behemoth wedged surreally into an earlier street pattern. While the fragmented massing of the current proposal goes some way to resolving this, to maintain a consistent (and dull) architectural identity for the whole development, irrespective of use, context or orientation, defeats the objective.

9. The arcaded ground storey that wraps around the whole development will need to be well monitored and managed if it is not to be used by rough sleepers. Arguably, this architectural feature is designing crime into the proposal as opposed to conventional wisdom that seeks to design it out.

10. The proposal to anchor the southern triangle of Princes Circus to dry land and to allow ground floor uses of the building to spill out into it is excellent, providing it can be well secured and maintained. Consideration should be given to including both northern and southern triangles in the proposal through a back-to-back planning obligation that also extends to their future maintenance and security.

11. The success of the proposal in urban design terms relies very much on the way that it is able to break down the barrier between Bloomsbury and Covent Garden. A degree of permeability has already been provided in the current proposal. We suggest that more emphasis should be given to establishing Bucknall Street as a link from St Giles Circus via Princes Circus to the British Museum, including exploring the possibility of opening through the rear extension of Centre Point podium. We are reassured that, should this come about, provision has been made for adjacent restaurants to be entered directly from Bucknall Street.

12. We welcome the relocation of the access to the basement car park from Dyott Street to Bucknall Street and the replacement of the ramp with lifts. We are concerned by the access to the loading bay proposed at the northern end of Dyott Street as it will encourage on-street parking at this point.

13. We would expect off-street provision to be made for deliveries and refuse storage and collection for the proposed restaurants. There is an opportunity here to better manage refuse collection and to remove the need for retailers to place bags of rubbish onto the pavements. We would not like to see the public domain degraded by banks of recycling bins that are so beloved by the Council.

The Bloomsbury Association
Feb 2005

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