New communities secretary halts work while he mulls public inquiry

The new communities secretary has dramatically stepped in to stop architect Hall McKnight’s contested plans for King’s College London.

In one of his first acts since his appointment last week, Greg Clark issued a “holding direction” halting work while he considers whether or not to call a public inquiry.

This puts the entire campus improvement planning application on hold.

The project became engulfed in a maelstrom of protest because it included the demolition of four unlisted historic buildings on the Strand.

Nearly 8,500 people have signed a petition launched by Save Britain’s Heritage and the story, has now been picked up by the mainstream media including the Times and BBC.

Clementine Cecil, director of Save, said the outcry proved it was a case of national significance and welcomed the minister’s decision to intervene.

“As we said in our original letter of objection, the proposals run counter to the heritage law and planning policy of this country,” she said.

“It is now essential that we keep the pressure up and demonstrate to the secretary of state the extent of concern over the future of these buildings.”

The scheme won planning from Westminster council last month after Historic England’s principal inspector, Timothy Jones, concluded that “public benefits arising from this scheme outweigh the loss of significance”.

In a statement Historic England said the buildings had been “substantially altered inside and out with even the Victorian frontages of the listed building having suffered”.

KCL refused to comment on the article 31 holding direction. In a previous statement it said the university had consulted widely before submitting its final application.

It also pointed out that planning consent was granted in 1992 and 1998 for the demolition of the buildings.

“We are extremely proud of our heritage and are sensitive to the architecturally significant environment in which we operate at the heart of London,” it added. “A thriving centre of excellence in education and research on the Strand brings considerable value and public benefit to London, which is recognised in the support from Westminster City Council and Historic England for the application.”

A DCLG spokesman confirmed: “The department has received representations asking for this application to be called-in. We have issued an article 31 holding direction on this planning application while we assess whether or not to do so, so we can give the matter proper consideration.”