Campaigners fighting ‘greedy demolition plans’ for former Museum of London

Bastion House
Credit Jan Marc Petroschka

A Barbican campaign group is fundraising to fight what it calls the City of London’s ‘greedy demolition’ plans to knock down two historic buildings on the edge of the famous estate.

Barbican Quarter Action claims the corporation’s proposals to destroy the former home of the Museum of London and Bastion House and build three office blocks in their place amount to ‘carbon crimes’, and will significantly impact the heritage of the area. Members of the group say they believe the plans are driven by a ‘desire to extract maximum cash from the site’.

A City of London spokesperson said its Whole Life Carbon (WLC) assessment indicated retaining the existing buildings ‘does not achieve the best outcome for this transformative and strategic site’, and it concluded over the long-term there would be less carbon generated by redeveloping the site rather than retrofitting the buildings.

The site, known as London Wall West, is earmarked for redevelopment because the buildings are not being used, according to the corporation’s documents. The former Museum of London building closed its doors to the public in December 2022, the application notes, and will be empty once the museum completes its move to Smithfield in 2026.

Bastion House, meanwhile, is a 17-storey office block built around the same time as the museum, and similarly seen as an important monument to the City’s post-war planning history. However, the submission says it is vacant due to its lease expiring in 2023, and that it ‘no longer meets the needs and expectations of today’s office occupiers’.

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In their place, the City of London, which is both applicant and planning authority, is looking to construct three office blocks between five and 17-storeys tall, and roll out a range of public realm improvements. A new 2,000 seat concert hall, the Centre for Music, was initially promised, though an inability to meet the required costs led to the project being scrapped and replaced with the current proposal. An upgrade of the Barbican Centre is being worked on instead.

The Barbican Quarter Action group, which was formed to fight for ‘environmentally, ethically and socially responsible’ planning in the city, claims the choice of demolition works at London Wall West not only goes against the local authority’s net zero targets and retrofit-first approach, but will also remove two much-loved heritage assets from an area undergoing wider cultural renewal.

A spokesperson for the group told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that when the City unveiled its plans for ‘oversized office towers’ rather than repurposing the site for cultural use: “The strong feeling [is] that when the City is looking to try and diversify its offer to bring footfall back to the city…it seemed kind of an odd choice to look at building more offices right in the middle of a cultural quarter where there was an opportunity to do something very different.”

Instead, the group wishes to see the buildings retrofitted and reused, saying: “Ideally [we want them] for cultural, creative and educational/learning use that compliments and adds to this rich cultural quarter – Bastion House would make a fine hotel as we know – as well as a properly enhanced townscape and public realm.”

The group added that they are not ‘anti-development’, but are simply concerned with the impacts of demolishing the buildings. “We are trying to look at what is really needed right now, in terms of our environment,” the spokesperson said.

The City of London spokesperson said that not only did its WCL assessment suggest redevelopment was the less carbon-intensive option long-term on a per metre squared basis, but there remains a need to deliver office space in the Square Mile.

The spokesperson said: “Demand for high quality and sustainable office space remains high, as estimates based on GLA (Greater London Authority) and ONS (Office for National Statistics) data show that the number of office workers in the City should grow by a further 73,000, up to 2040. This is backed by a report from Arup and Knight Frank, showing a need of approximately 1.2m sqm of extra office space in the city by 2040, to accommodate this job growth and wider changes in the office market.”

‘The City can do better’

It is not just Barbican Action Quarter which has objected to the plans. Heritage campaign group the Twentieth Century Society added the Museum of London building and Bastion House to its ‘Buildings at risk’ register last year, and has also called for them to be ‘retained, refurbished and adapted to suit new users’.

Barbican Action Quarter’s fundraiser, which at the time of writing sits at around £5,400, is to enable the group to pay for legal and technical expertise to ‘reasonably contest and question some of the assumptions and calculations made in the planning application’. A stretch target of £50,000 has been set, in what the group has described as a ‘David and Goliath situation’.

One of the Barbican Quarter Action members told the LDRS: “We really believe the City can do better on behalf of the half a million workers who come in each day, the businesses, all the visitors, as well as people who live here, and it can do better and it needs to do better to think about not just current but future generations.”

On the plans, a City of London spokesperson said: “We actively considered residents’ concerns, as changes were made to our proposal, following public consultation and based on feedback received. Our aim is to create a vibrant and sustainable future for the site, contributing to the City Corporation’s Net Zero strategy. The ‘best consideration’ requirement is aligned with our commitment to environmental sustainability for the benefit of the community and the site.”

The Barbican Quarter Action fundraiser can be found here

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