Home >> News >> 2009 >> Dec >> Towering ambition lets people down
Towering ambition lets people down
Why would the council want to spend millions kitting out new swanky new offices, asks Jonathan Simpson
In a busy area like King’s Cross most people seem more intent on getting to their destination rather than appreciating local buildings and heritage.
But if you look up you will see the rich architectural heritage of St Pancras Station, the modern British Library and the main Town Hall. Next to Camden’s Town Hall is an office block owned by the council. It is not of historic value, so why should the proposal to demolish it and sell it off to a private developer be so controversial?
Long-standing residents will be aware that the Town Hall extension, on the corner of the Euston Road and Argyle Street, is a purpose-built office block that was developed no more than 30 years ago for the council.
It has a much-loved local library at ground-floor level that is well used by residents of all ages from the area.
Camden’s ruling Tory and Lib Dem coalition have increasingly seemed intent on selling off all of their buildings and land to the highest bidder. They’ve proposed doing this for local green spaces in King’s Cross and now they’ve decided to cash in by selling this building. They have told us that it would cost £15million to update it, but have never broken this down properly.
In the current climate why would any organisation want to spend millions kitting out swanky new offices?
The coalition want to build a new set of offices across the road in the new King’s Cross development, which to many of us seems more about vanity than genuine need.
Is this the council’s idea of sustainability, to demolish rather than repair? Will the proposed new building be demolished in another 30 years? For me this represents the very worst level of consumerism.
They intend to move the library there, forcing residents to cross some of London’s busiest roads to reach it. This will be like losing their library for many elderly and younger people south of Euston Road who will not risk travelling down to a new building.
The Lib Dems have claimed the new Town Hall will have a swimming pool. Anyone who has monitored the progress of the King’s Cross railway lands development will know this has already been agreed. To claim it’s down to their new plans is claptrap!
The new Town Hall building will also have less space for staff with an increasing number of employees being expected to work from home. Residents I speak to find it frustrating enough already that when they phone the Town Hall they struggle to get hold of key members of staff. In the future they will have to wait even longer as staff will have to fight for a desk. It will needlessly split Town Hall functions. If the original Town Hall is to remain, there is an overwhelming logic to keeping ancillary services adjacent to it
It has been well publicised that commercial capital values have dropped by
40 per cent in London, making this the very worst time for them to rush through the sale of a building on a freehold site. To make it viable to the property developer they will have to build big. The council’s prospectus to the property developers actively encouraged bidders to go for a high building. Residents in King’s Cross have been told that a building as high as 26 storeys will replace the existing seven-storey building. It will tower over the residential streets and mansion blocks behind Euston Road and have a major impact on Argyle Primary School, which is immediately behind it.
I am shocked Camden’s council’s education officers have given little detail of the potential impact a demolition could have on Argyle Primary. I am in no doubt that it will be forced to close for a period. At the very least the playground of the school will be forced to close for a long period. It’s appalling that so little consideration has been given to the children’s needs or guarantees about the potential impact of the demolition and construction of a skyscraper.
I have compared the height of the proposed new building to being like moving Centre Point and putting it on Euston Road. It will set a precedent in a conservation area. There are very few tall buildings on the south side of Euston Road and this will give the clear signal to developers that they can aim for high buildings.
Those in the north of the borough can expect picturesque views from Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath to be damaged for ever.
Camden has refused to have an open consultation on the proposed sell off of this building and, as usual, has conducted the majority of its discussion in private. We have only had one public meeting on this and all but one of the residents (incidentally is the chair of Camden Lib Dem party) were strongly opposed. Keeping developers’ expectations, values, and costs confidential does not aid the democratic process, and makes value-for-money assessment impossible.
Once Camden has sold off all their valuable buildings and land it will have raided the family silver and it will be unable to replace it. The right thing to do for this site would be to halt the sale and carry out a detailed planning brief with the community so we can all agree what would be good and bad for this site. This would increase values longer term. We could also set a cap on the height of the building. I hope that Camden pauses for reflection and actively consults residents in a meaningful manner.
• Jonathan Simpson is a Labour councillor for King’s Cross ward