Changes to ‘key entrance’ to Barbican estate approved by City of London

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Alban Gate
Image credit Google

New seating and a larger reception space are among the alterations approved for an 18-storey office block identified as a ‘key entrance’ to the Barbican estate.

City of London members however did query whether accessibility issues had been adequately addressed in the plans for Alban Gate, and whether the Corporation is doing enough to ensure developments are usable by all.

Previous plans to revamp the postmodern office building were withdrawn in 2022, with concerns including the addition of external balconies and the removal of escalators.

The new proposals, filed by site manager Arax Properties, received a far warmer reception, with submissions from both members of the public and stakeholders largely welcoming the scheme.

Alban Gate, built in the 1990s and designed by prominent architect Sir Terry Farrell, is home to a combination of retail and office space. It also has a number of publicly accessible escalators and lifts used to link ground and highwalk level pedestrian routes, providing important access to areas including the Barbican estate.

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Campaigners had last year submitted the building for listing, in a bid to “safeguard against any unsympathetic alterations”. This was however refused by Historic England, and a Certificate of Immunity from Listing was subsequently issued for the site.

Under the new plans, works to Alban Gate will include demolishing one of the retail units at the podium level to extend the office reception and build a new seating area. A new walkway is also proposed, as well as changes to the Alban Highwalk City Walkway. Other planned amendments include more greening and creating a new connection from the ground floor reception to the Wood Street north escalator.

City documents note that all five retail units at the podium level are currently vacant, and that the loss of one of the spaces is justified.

Five public comments were received ahead of yesterday’s (May 9) Planning and Transportation Committee meeting, none of which objected to the scheme. Concerns were raised about particular elements, such as residents being impacted by the additional lighting planned, and how access will be maintained to the podium and highwalks while works are underway.

The revisions made to the withdrawn 2022 plans were however acknowledged, with a submission by two Barbican Association members stating: “We would like to say at the outset that we are pleased with the changes made to this revised application which have paid welcome attention to the feedback received during the consultation process.”

While no City of London committee members directly opposed the scheme during the meeting, the question of accessibility was raised on numerous occasions. Common Councillor Mary Durcan, for example, asked whether all street-level steps could be removed to prevent barriers to using the site’s northern escalator.

Alastair Paterson, Director at architectural firm tp benett, responded saying the scheme is “not changing the current situation” regarding steps, and that a long ramp would be required if such amendments were to be made. Deputy Randall Anderson followed by querying whether instead the escalator could be extended to the ground, to which Mr Paterson confirmed there are no plans to do so.

Deputy Marianne Fredericks later asked whether the City’s planning officers could look into adding a condition to the Section 106 Agreement to ensure the lifts and escalators are maintained. “I just do think we do need to firm up on this,” she told the committee. “It’s an opportunity here, and it’s a key entrance to the Barbican estate and accessibility is key.”

Gwyn Richards, Chief Planning Officer, however said such a condition would be ‘unreasonable’, due to the applicant not requesting changes to the escalators in its submission.

Deputy Henry Pollard, who previously worked in Alban Gate, was among those to praise the scheme. “I think we should get on and agree it,” he said. “I think it’s a fabulous enhancement to what it was. I worked in that building from 1994 to 1998, and it was a great building, and all the retail was very busy and full of bars and restaurants. But unfortunately bars and restaurants aren’t the first thing everyone wants in this day and age. So I think this is a very pragmatic solution.” The scheme was ultimately passed unanimously by the committee.

Alban Gate is often referred to as one of Mr Farrell’s three ‘Grand Projects’, the other two being Embankment Place and Vauxhall Cross.

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