Victorian Society leads pack as hundreds voice fears over modern addition to historic street

Proposals to build a modern extension to a Victorian school in one of south London’s most historic streets have met with a tsunami of objections.

Last month Building reported on a Tony Fretton Architects-designed scheme to add a new canteen and inner courtyard onto the Roupell Street base of the Education First language school, which is housed in the grade II-listed former St Andrew’s and St John’s Primary School.

While the scheme would require the demolition of a listed wall and railings, it would also be a new intervention on a street famed for its 1830s “butterfly” roofed artisan houses, around 70 of which are listed at grade II.

As of this week, more than 450 objections to the proposals had been received by local planning authority Lambeth Council, compared with only a handful in support of the scheme.

Most opponents expressed anger over the impact of the Tony Fretton plans on Roupell Street’s existing appearance, which is protected by the Waterloo and Roupell Street Conservation Areas. Some also referenced the loss of views of the school that construction of the canteen would entail.

Among those objecting was the Victorian Society, which reserved particular criticism for the design of the proposals, rather than the principle of a new building fronting the street as the canteen site had previously housed an infants’ hall damaged by wartime bombing.

“Our concerns stem chiefly from the architectural expression of the proposed structure, which is envisaged as a two-storey glazed and zinc-clad structure behind a grid-like veneer of brick,” it said.

“We understand the rationale behind this approach, with the resultant roofline to some extent referencing both the former hall and the roofline of the nineteenth-century buildings elsewhere on Roupell Street.

“However, the CGIs suggest the result would lack the clarity of form of the previous hall, and that it would appear overly  – even wilfully assertive, and therefore detract from the tightly defined character of two conservation areas.”

The society concluded that the scheme’s “large and prominent expanses of zinc cladding and glazing would be incongruous” and that the street required “something more responsive to the prevailing characteristics of the conservation area”.

Neighbourhood organisation the Association of Waterloo Groups said the proposals failed to meet fundamental protection goals for the quality of the borough’s built environment, as set out in the 2015 Lambeth Plan.

It added that the design of the proposals was “completely out of keeping with the surrounding residential houses” with a motif that “disregards the context of the site”.

The umbrella body also said that the scheme was clearly designed to drive business at the school, and would therefore increase traffic to the site.

The current scheme is the second time EF language school has sought to add new facilities to the site. Earlier proposals were withdrawn in 2015 after resident opposition.

According to documents lodged with Lambeth, the Tony Fretton extension presents “an opportunity to restore the historic streetscape of Roupell Street, characterised by its masonry facades and repeated gable end frontages”.

The supporting papers say the extension would “add to a sense of completeness of the street scene, a role previously established by the former infants hall, simultaneously offering transparency through to the courtyard that would be lost if the hall were to be a mere replica of the original building”.

Among the five consultation responses that supported the scheme, one – unnamed commenter said the proposals were “a perfectly intelligently designed addition to a quite lovely but perfectly ordinary street, remarkable simply for its preservation in such a central area of London”.

The writer said they did not believe the original occupants of the street’s houses would have objected to the proposals, but said: “Speculators and new owners worried about a return on their investment, however, are probably a different matter.”

Lambeth Council has yet to publish a consultation response on the scheme’s appearance from government heritage adviser Historic England. The authority has also yet to set a determination date for the application.