Comic-turned-conservationist Griff Rhys Jones to head collection of heritage groups fighting proposals
A campaign group which successfully opposed the demolition of Liverpool Street in the 1970s has been reformed to fight against new plans to overhaul the railway station.
Sellar and Network Rail recently shared updated proposals for the £1.5bn scheme ahead of a planning submission this April.
But modifications made to the designs by Swiss architect Herzog & de Meuron, which include a 109m-tall office block above the station and adjoining Andaz Hotel, have done nothing to mollify heritage groups.
Today, heritage and conservation groups followed through on their promise to recreate the Liverpool Street Station Campaign (LISCCA), to be chaired by the Victorian Society, which began its crusade by launching a petition urging the developers to abandon the plans.
Victorian Society president Griff Rhys Jones, a TV comic who rose to fame on 1970s sketch show Not the Nine O’Clock News, will serve as the campaign’s president.
Describing Liverpool Street as “my London station,” he said the campaign was “very personal” to him and that his voice was only one within “an extraordinary uniformity of concern”.
He said: “All the major heritage sector bodies are appalled by what is proposed. They have joined together. They all want to try to preserve a superb London landmark. I have seldom seen such uniformity.
“We believe the people of London will be with us too, if they are properly informed. This great station and hotel are not only important listed buildings, they are part of the living story of London, just as much as Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s.
“They should be safe from part demolition and what is intended to be a huge, 16-storey, cantilevered tower, stuck directly above them, blacking out the daylight and virtually burying the original buildings.”
LISCCA’s committee is comprised of Save Britain’s Heritage, The Twentieth Century Society, Historic Buildings & Places, The Georgian Group, The Spitalfields Trust, Civic Voice, London Historians and The Victorian Society.
Sellar, the developer responsible for the Shard, has assured campaigners that the original Victorian elements of the site and a substantial part of the trainshed roofs will not be demolished, while the updated designs for the scheme have pushed back the massing of the over-station development to make it less prominent over the facade of the Andaz, formerly known as the Great Eastern.
But in a statement, LISCCA said the tower plans would set a “terrible precedent” which would mean that “no listed building is safe from harm”.
Speaking to Building at a public consultation on the updated designs last month, Sellar development director Barry Ostle, described claims that Sellar and Network Rail were pulling down Victorian heritage as “fake news”.
“I wouldn’t mind [the criticism] but it is not even Victorian,” he said, accusing the Victorian Society specifically of giving a misleading impression of the plans.
But LISCCA disputes the claim that there will be no harm to the historic station, arguing that the demolition of the newly-listed 1990s trainshed that links the Victorian trainshed with the Victorian hotel would “destroy the impression of a cohesive Victorian space” and place the station concourse in shadow.
Ostle has argued that the public interest case for the station would outweigh any perceived harm to heritage, noting that the last upgrade to the station in the 1990s had been built to support 40 million passengers annually, while the modern station welcomed 135 million in 2019.
The new scheme would nearly double the floorspace of the station, adding a new two-level concourse at a cost of around £450m, as well as creating more than one million sq ft of mixed-use space above the station.
But these changes would involve the demolition of much of the existing station, which was built in the 1980s in Victorian style after the original campaign group’s successful fight against proposals for a more dramatic redevelopment.
Launched in 1974, the original group was led by a variety of famous faces – including poet laureate Sir John Betjeman, who was its president, and comedian Spike Milligan – and Rhys Jones said he hoped that “similar giants” would join their cause 50 years on, adding: “It seems unbelievable to me that we need to renew their fight.”
The scheme looks set for a major battle at planning, with Historic England having come out in opposition to the proposals, promising to make a “strong objection”. In a statement to Building last month, it said: “We remain very concerned about the emerging proposals to redevelop London’s Liverpool Street Station, shared [recently] by Network Rail and Sellar. We would still be looking to make a strong objection if such a scheme were taken forward to a planning application.”
In December, the government’s heritage watchdog upgraded the station’s grade II listing to include some elements of the 20th century rebuild, while upgrading the Andaz hotel’s listing status to grade II*.
If approved in time for Sellar’s timetable, work could start in the second half of next year with the job being completed in 2029.
Others working on the Liverpool Street deal include cost consultant and project manager G&T, engineer WSP and landscape firm Townshend. Mace is providing pre-construction advice.