Plans to redevelop the land around South Kensington tube station have been recommended for approval by a planning inspector report, although the final decision lies with the Councillors.
The proposal will see the existing shops and flats to the north of the station redeveloped behind the facade to modernise the facilities. The empty space along the south side of the station, which used to be houses in the past will be rebuilt as flats, and the single-story “bullnose” in front of the station will be rebuilt as a three-story building.
Although not explicitly linked, there is a related plan to upgrade the tube station to increase the space around the ticket hall and add in step-free access, and some of the planned property development will include adding in space for lifts and access to the station.
The planning report notes that the changes being proposed to the existing structure of the station – the demolition of the bullnose, and necessary changes to allow for step-free access constitute “less than substantial harm” to the heritage of the station.
For the proposal to go ahead though, the “less than substantial harm” has to be weighted against the public benefits of the overall proposals. The public benefits are the improvements to the tube station, the delivery of 50 new homes, including 17 affordable homes, and the retail space improvements.
However, to deliver that means that the gaps around the southern side of the station need to be filled in with housing, and the bullnose redeveloped, and this has been remarkably contentious.
While the Bullnose redevelopment will have a significant impact, and arguably leaves a rather awkward blank back wall above the station, the housing architecture which is simply replacing what was demolished some decades ago has been designed to be as inoffensive as it could possibly be, and is still being opposed by local residents.
In fact, a review panel called for the bullnose in particular to be a bolder design, but realistically, that was never going to win over the local objections, so they’ve ended up with a fairly modest couple of floors added to the top to bring its height in line with the rest of the area.
The planning application has gone through a number of stages and public consultations and a lot of subtle changes were made to the plans to try and assuage a lot of often fairly minor design quibbles. The latest stage of the long-running planning application received 49 objections and one letter of support.
Notwithstanding local views, the planning inspector’s report said that “while attaching considerable importance and weight to the identified heritage harms, the combined public benefits of the proposals outweigh the less than substantial harm to the identified heritage assets.”
Although a planning inspector report is only advisory as it’s the council members who have the final say, if a report says the development should go ahead, it’s rare for the councillors to disagree. In this case though, so heated is the debate about the issue, that the official view that the development is a benefit to the area is not a guarantee that it will be approved.
The final decision is expected to take place next Thursday evening (18th Nov) at the Planning Committee meeting.