There's a curious triangular building at the top of Cleveland Street. If you've ever noticed it, it's probably because there's a Banksy stuck on the thick end.
It was built in the late 60s by the firm of Fredrick MacManus & Partners as part of a joint development with Holcroft Court.
(Holcroft Court is shown above, on the right, it's the rectangle with trees in it. The triangular section to the right of it is the bit we're talking about now.)
Here's a picture taken from the BT Tower:
The development was described by Architectural Digest in 1967:
"The building reflects an awareness of its context in its scale and in the way the accommodation has been organized to make a place particular to the dwellings around it."
And more recently, by Iqbal Aalam:
"I consider it as an important and successful urban renewal scheme of its time, which was very cleverly slotted in existing 18th century pattern of streets and with out any ‘gimmicks’, got on with the job of providing high density practical housing with ‘Rossi-like’ dignity."
And, tangetially, in an LRB review by Owen Hatherly:
"a glassy, Mediterranean block of flats and shops in Clipstone Street in Fitzrovia"
I suspect that if the building owners had looked after it a bit better it would be a recognised sixties classic by now. The shops in it are a slightly odd mix; the friendliest stationers in the world, a printers, a courier firm, a bookie and TV production companies that make those channels you see high up on the EPG. This side of the street is Westminster, the other side is Camden. For some reason the Camden side always seems more flourishing and lively.
And until recently there was a petrol station in this large petrol station shaped hole. It was very beloved of taxi drivers, there aren't many places left in Central London to refuel. Holcroft Court is that building behind there, with all the windows.
Look round and you'll detect hints of the optimism of its construction. The second-floor has, or had, 'workshops' - perhaps an attempt to hang on to the area's manufacturing or ragtrade heritage.
And if you peek through those trees you'll see the Tower Tavern. Combine that with Tower Stationery and the Tower Salon round the corner and you'll suspect there was once an attempt to create a 'Tower Quarter'.
Now, however, this triangular block has been bought and is going to be developed by Dukelease. And, as Fitzrovia News reports, locals, particularly the residents of Holcroft Court, are a bit concerned about the plans. They feel that the construction of a ten-storey building where there was previously only a two-storey one might alter the amount of light getting to their homes. They are apparently not reassured by some orange arrows on the plans saying 'sunlight penetration'.
I don't have any fancy visualisation tools to show what that might look like but this is a view that shows the height of both buildings:
And if you make the old building into a simple blocky shape it looks like this:
And if you grow that from two stories to ten it looks, roughly, like this:
They're also worried that moving the petrol station from the large petrol station-shaped hole on the wide bit of Clipstone Street into the narrow right-opposite-the-flats bit of Cleveland Mews that might create quite a lot of extra noise and diesel pollution right next to where people sleep and live.
Fortunately the good people of Dukelease aren't just going to plough ahead with this stuff, they're keen to make sure local people can express their views on the plans, so, their PR company Four Communications held an exhibition showing some plans and asked people to fill in a questionnaire.
I didn't fill it in myself because there's no indication what level of data protection you'd be afforded. I'm sure that just dropped off the questionnaire.
What's odd though is that just answering these questions doesn't seem to give you any room to express views on what would seem to be the major issues of the development - how big it is and where the petrol station goes.
You're asked to agree/disagree with five statements:
Q1: The existing site is unattractive and detracts from the streetscape.
My answer would be - It's a rather splendid and thoughtful design that integrates with the streetscape really well, it's only unattractive because it's been so badly looked after. So I guess I'd put Strongly Disagree.
Q2: The proposed design is a great improvement.
Pretty straightforward this one. No it's not. Strongly Disagree.
Q3: A mixture of uses is appropriate for this site.
Straightforward again. A mixture of uses is appropriate, that's what currently exists. Strongly Agree.
Q4: The provision of more homes, including onsite affordable housing, is welcome.
Well, more housing is clearly a good idea, and more affordable housing is welcome, so, Strongly Agree. But, it doesn't feel like we're getting at the important issue - how much housing, what proportion of affordable housing, and how high it should be stacked.
Q5: The petrol station and associated retail are important amenities and should be brought back to use on this site.
Well, again, this is a bit odd. I'd Strongly Agree with bringing those things back, so I'd say that, but that's not the major issue - where are they going to be? That's the important thing.
It's almost as if Four Communications could report on the findings of the questionnaire and not reveal any concerns about the development.
Strangely it seems, they've done something similar in the past. They held a consultation about the development of a Sainsbury's in Hackney which was accused of being biased and unfair. They had to do the whole thing again. The Hackney Citizen pointed out that:
"Four Communications has until recently also boasted on its website that it “helped UKCMRI [UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation] gain planning consent from LB [London Borough of] Camden for the biggest medical research centre in the UK despite widespread and co-ordinated local opposition”.
"What’s the point of having a consultation when the company holding it makes no secret of its joy at having defied the widely-held views of local residents?"
Ah well. I'm sure they'll sort it out. It's going to be interesting watching the whole process unfold though. This area has changed so much in the last few years it'd be a shame if the remaining quirky and interesting bits get blotted out.