An underground car park just behind Oxford Street’s John Lewis store is to be turned into an underground shopping centre.
Cavendish Square was laid out 300 years ago as a garden, but in the early 1970s, a 3-storey underground car park was built as a ring underneath the gardens and that’s still there today. Although the car park has capacity for 434 parking spaces, it’s rarely even half full. The council took up an option a couple of years ago to buy the car park from its owners and was earning around £3 million a year in parking fees, but has been looking for a more commercial use for the site.
The park itself is protected from development, so underground the plans had to go.
The plan will see the underground car park partially demolished to make way for four floors — three existing, and one new further down for facilities — and then rented out to businesses. A ring around the centre will let some light down into the underground space.
For the underground to be accessed, a couple of entrance pavilions are required, and although the council accepted that the “the addition of new above ground structures is controversial in urban design and conservation terms”, they felt that “any harm caused is outweighed by the benefits of removing the existing structures and in creating a new use for the car park.”
Although described as a shopping centre, the usage hasn’t been formally confirmed, and experience does tend to suggest that unless its a cluster of high-end retail stores then people don’t tend to go seek out underground shopping centres to buy what they can get on Oxford Street. There’s a likelihood that it will be more lifestyle facilities than consumer shops.
In addition the surface park will be revamped into a more modern design, with glass railings and the now seemingly essential cluster of water fountains in a corner.
They also plan to restore the perimeter fence which was removed in the 1960s — although this time replaced with glass instead of iron, so the council can lock the park at night if it wants to — officially due to claims of anti-social behaviour.
The plans also note that there is a potential opportunity to utilise heat extracted from the nearby Victoria Line underground tunnels – thanks to the shafts that were dug down here for the construction of the Victoria line in the 1960s. They plan to discuss that with TfL as construction proceeds.
The application was approved by Westminster Council earlier this week.
Depending the situation following the lockdown being lifted, then construction had been expected to start next year and be completed in 2023.
Eventually, yoga mats will occupy the space once reserved for Honda cars.