Heritage concerns raised about proposed 19-storey office block by Fleet Street

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Hill house image
Credit Hill house

Heritage concerns have been raised about a proposed 19-storey office block just off Fleet Street, with warnings it would be ‘overbearing’ on nearby Grade-I listed churches.

Westminster City Council and The Twentieth Century Society are among those calling for the City of London to either object to or amend plans to demolish and redevelop Hill House on Little New Street, due to go before members next week. The City’s planning team has recommended the scheme be approved.

Landsec, a property developer and the applicant behind the proposal, said its designs take inspiration from the surrounding conservation area, and that it has ‘ambitious plans’ for Hill House.

The existing seven-storey building is largely office space, though also has Shoe Lane Library at basement level plus a bar and gym. Landsec’s proposal would see the 1970s structure demolished, other than its basement, with a new 19-storey block built in its place.

As well as offices, the new building would deliver amenities such as a restaurant, café/retail space and a gym, plus public realm improvements. The library will also be retained, though will need to be relocated while development is underway.

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In planning documents submitted with the City, Landsec wrote the current structure provides a ‘poor contribution to the public realm’, with the majority of the ground floor being ‘opaque and lacking in active frontage’. It added the provision of office floorspace will greatly increase under its plans, from 15,842 square metres to 44,110sqm.

Of the 49 public comments received, the majority (43) are supportive of the scheme. They all follow much the same format, including the sentence: “I am writing to share my support for the Hill House proposals,” with some backing aspects such as the retention of the library.

However, concerns have been raised about the potential heritage impacts of the plans, namely by Westminster City Council, The Twentieth Century Society, and Heritage England.

In its response, Westminster wrote it objects as it believes the proposed development will be ‘overbearing’ on the Grade-I-listed churches of St Mary Le Strange and St Clement Danes, both located on The Strand.

“This harm is tacitly acknowledged on page 82 of the Design and Access Statement which acknowledges that the redevelopment of the site would result in the loss of the skygap between St Mary-le-Strand church and 120 Fleet Street,” the council wrote. “It goes on to state that took on board that “the design should aim to minimise coalescence with 120 Fleet Street through elevation design and materiality. The height of the proposed scheme should not detract from the appreciation of the churches (St Mary-le-Strand & St Clement Danes) and their respective spires. The southwest elevation should be articulated to avoid appearing broad in these views”.

“Whilst it is appreciated that this harm was acknowledged by the design team, and an attempt was made to mitigate the harm, this attempt was not successful. The approach taken fails to resolve the harm cause [sic] by the loss of the sky gap and the cluttering of the townscape.”

Similar points were aired by Historic England, which stated while it does not object to the redevelopment of the building, it believes the size would have a ‘harmful impact’ on a number of heritage assets. The Twentieth Century Society meanwhile objected to the demolition of the existing building, which it said should be identified as a Non-Designated Heritage Asset.

In a document prepared ahead of next week’s Planning Applications Sub-Committee (April 9), City officers wrote the site sits within one of its proposed ‘cluster’ areas as part of its City Plan 2040, in which tall buildings are permitted. They add the design of the building is considered to be ‘compatible’ with its surroundings, would preserve all strategic views, and maintain local heritage assets.

“Although there is some non-compliance with parts of the tall building and pedestrian movement policies, it is the view of Officers that the proposal complies with the Development Plan when considered as a whole and that material planning considerations weigh in favour of the scheme,” they wrote.

Oliver Hunt, Development Director at Landsec, said: “Landsec has ambitious plans for Hill House which if approved, would deliver state-of-the-art offices, improved new public spaces, and a new rooftop restaurant and cultural events space with stunning views of the capital. Importantly, the plans will also provide the much-loved Shoe Lane Library with a new long-term home, elevated out of the basement to a prominent location at ground floor with greater accessibility and direct access to outside space.”

The City is looking to add 1.2 million additional square metres of office floorspace as part of its draft City Plan 2040, with other major schemes, such as the proposed London Wall West project, also hoped to contribute to this target.

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