Proposals by Piercy & Company would see art deco building replaced by six-storey block
Local politicians have weighed in on a row over controversial proposals to demolish a building in South Kensington and replace it with one double the size.
Conservative MP for Kensington Felicity Buchan asked charity The Wellcome Trust to consider a “more sustainable solution” for the Piercy & Company-designed plans to expand its office block at 63-81 Pelham Street.
The organisation lodged a planning application in February to flatten the existing four-storey Art Deco block and build a six-storey one with an added plant level in its place, doubling the floorspace of the current 1925 building’s 5,450sq m to 10,650sq m.
The application has already received over 400 objections and drawn the ire of campaign group Save Our South Kensington, which said the proposals threaten to create an “urban canyon” on the narrow street.
Buchan, who was elected in 2019, said she was said she was concerned by the proposal’s size, height and density.
“Pelham Street is a narrow street which already struggles to deal with the current level of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.”
She added that she wanted the Trust to “explore whether there is a more sustainable solution than the demolition and rebuild which they propose”.
And London Assembly member for West Central Tony Devenish declared that his position on the proposals was “no, no and no”. He said: “Pelham Street needs refurbishment not a wholesale knock down simply because the Trust wants to make millions more profit on increasing the height and density to New York City levels.”
Calling the scheme “undemocratic”, he said that a green light risked a “domino effect” with other planning applications in the neighbourhood which could turn South Kensington into “Manhattan”.
The designs would also move service bays at the rear of the existing building onto the street, which campaigners warned would result in rubbish collection and deliveries being “wheeled along public pavements to waiting lorries and vans, obstructing pedestrians”.
Stirling Prize judge and Royal Academy of Arts professor of architectural history Charles Saumarez Smith said the existing building is “not without interest”.
But he added: “One might expect the Wellcome Trust to want to restore and reinstate the original building. But, oh no! They plan to demolish it and put up a pretty hideous and non-descript replacement”.
A spokesperson for The Wellcome Trust said: ”Regrettably, the unsympathetic 1950s alterations have significantly diminished the architectural merit of the building and time has not been kind to the original structure, meaning it is beyond the point at which restoration would be practical. There would also be significant problems of accessibility to overcome.
”The better solution is to replace this dilapidated building with an elegant new one of high architectural quality that is fit for modern office use, supports the local economy and enhances the public realm. We plan on widening the pavement to further enhance the public realm. In addition, the development is car free, and any deliveries will be made during designated off peak hours.
”We’ve been listening to feedback from our neighbours in the area about the plans over the last year, we’ve acted on lots of their very constructive suggestions, and we’ll continue to work with them as we bring the plans forward.”
A decision on the application is due in the middle of next month.
The site is close to South Kensington Tube station, where redevelopment proposals by Roger Stirk Harbour & Partners have sparked similar levels of controversy.
The designs would see a four-storey office built over the grade II-listed station’s horseshoe shaped bullnose building and a 50-home residential block built nearby.