Islington Society Response to the Reconsultation on Amended Plans – Your Letter ID 4633751 Addendum – 3 November 2011
The Society notes that in the amended plans there has been some reduction in height of the proposed buildings in three locations we mentioned as particularly problematic in our response to the original application – that is, between Carnegie Street and the Canal, along Charlotte Terrace, and along Copenhagen Street. The result is a 4% reduction in the total number of new dwellings proposed from 950 to 914.
This is welcomed, but in the Society’s view does not go nearly far enough towards reducing the overall density to an acceptable level that will retain humane conditions for the residents of the new estate. So our grounds of objection to the original application remain essentially the same. Our comments on the revised application therefore take the form of an Addendum to our original comments, which are appended below.
The reduction in height of some buildings will improve light, sunlight penetration, and sky view in some open spaces and in some dwellings, but has no significant impact on the loss of open space (in the sense of unbuilt-on ground surface) nor of green space in proportion to resident numbers. The footprint of the proposed buildings is approximately double that of the existing buildings, thus reducing the amount of unbuilt-on space by the amount of that increase – about 7,500 sqm. Such ‘open’ space contributes very significantly to the feeling of light and space at ground level and, even if the actual amount of ‘green’ (i.e. soft-landscaped) space remains nominally the same as at present, the Council’s Local Plan paragraph 5.20 says that in large developments the level of ‘on-site open space…must be proportionate to the… number of intended occupiers/users’. In this case the amount of ‘open’ space per intended occupier will reduced by some 70%, and of ‘green space’ by 60% – assuming the area of green space overall remains the same, as claimed by the applicants. No one walking round the present New Barnsbury Estate would claim there is an ‘excessive’ amount of open or green space, but absolutely there will be much less open space and proportionally much less green space per occupier than at present after the proposed redevelopment. Indeed the proposed scheme in spirit offends against the admirable objectives set out in paragraphs 5.11, 5.17, and 5.18 of the Local Plan in its entirety.
We do not necessarily agree with the yardstick adopted in assessing whether any particular open or green space receives adequate sunlight – that each such space should receive two hours of sunlight per day in mid March over 50% of its area. We believe that that will leave a lot of dark corners which in the present layout do not exist.
The reduction in some heights still leaves one block higher than 30m, the maximum – outside designated areas – set by paragraph DH3(B) of the Local Plan, by some 6 m, or by two storeys. The applicants argue that they want to vary the heights of the three taller blocks between Carnegie Street and the Canal, and we have some sympathy with that argument. But we believe that in that case all three of the Carnegie Street blocks should be reduced in height such that the tallest will conform with the 30m rule. It will still be some 250% taller than the existing buildings on the site. We do not in fact think that the alterations of profile and plan and alignment of these blocks since the original application are necessarily an improvement, nor the elimination of the two-storey mansards elsewhere, apart from in regard to reduction in overall height.
Overall we continue to think that the overall proposed density is much too high, and there should be a reduction at least to 230 persons per acre, which until the recent explosion of densities in some places was regarded as the benchmark maximum – even for the Barbican – and which would still represent an increase of more than 75% over the existing. Even so the ‘green’ and ‘open’ space should be proportionate. As it stands, the application should be refused Consent.
COMMENTARY ON THE ORIGINAL APPLICATION SUBMITTED July 2022 in response to Letter ID 4563222
The Society notes that there are 325 separate documents forming this application, of which 125 are individual drawings. The remaining 200 documents comprise text, tables, diagrams, visualisations and photographs, and are each often well over a hundred pages long.
Key features of the scheme are nevertheless missing because this is a ‘hybrid application’, detailed consent being sought only for 427 of the planned total of 950 new residential units, i.e. well under half of them. As a result, although detailed visualisations and photomontages are provided of key
views in the part of the scheme for which detailed consent is being sought, they are missing for the majority of it except in very sketchy ‘outline’ greyed-out form, of a kind that diminishes the sense of bulk of the proposed buildings, clearly a contentious aspect. For example the views of the Caledonian Road frontage (‘View 7’ in the Townscape/Heritage part of the Environmental Impact Assessment), where the existing four storey buildings would be replaced by nine storey buildings moved some way forward towards the street, for which outline consent only is sought, are represented only by linear outlines without any detail (though some elevation detail is supplied elsewhere and hence is clearly available) and infilled by a pale blue-grey tone scarcely distinguishable from the sky – conveying no sense of their actual massive bulk which will certainly transform the character of that length of Caledonian Road. Equally, no view is provided of the space between those frontage blocks and the similar parallel blocks immediately behind them – a space which is likely to be oppressive because of the height-to-width ratio. This part of the scheme is evidently integral to it as a whole so it is inappropriate to consider the scheme as a whole without these key images. They should be provided in detail.
Where fully detailed images ‘as proposed’ are provided they are not re-assuring, for example Views 3, 4, 5, and 23 showing the three proposed 13-storey towers between Carnegie Street and the Canal. The leap in scale to buildings approximately four times the height of the existing will clearly transform the character both of the Canal and of Carnegie Street (no view provided) and Muriel Street and the view toward the Grade II-listed canal tunnel entrance as seen from the Caledonian Road bridge. The existing 10-storey Muriel Street block to the south of the Canal sets no precedent for this. It is a single slab in generous green space with its narrow end to the Canal and forming no kind of enclosure along it, unlike the proposed new towers which from most angles will form a wall lining the canal and cutting it off from the rest of the New Barnsbury Estate. In addition, the new blocks closely lining Charlotte Terrace will transform its character and the outlook from the blocks of the ‘Old Estate’ opposite, but no comparable views are provided.
Of course, it may be argued that the present New Barnsbury Estate represents an unnaturally low-density use of what is a central city location, and that higher central city densities are appropriate, which will inevitably transform its character. But what are acceptable conditions? The density proposed – about 350 persons per acre – is some 50% higher than what was considered the maximum acceptable residential density until this century. For example, the LCC/GLC limited the density of the Barbican to what was then felt to be the acceptable maximum of 230 ppa. Is Barnsbury the appropriate location for a density some 50% higher than the City of London?
The hyper-density of the kind proposed will of course impact forcibly on daylight and open space provision within the Estate. One would not expect daylighting studies submitted with a planning application to show that in relation to BRE Guidelines conditions will be unacceptable. But in Islington the assessment is always made against standards specially set by the BRE for inner city locations – in other words the BRE considers that a substantially lower standard of daylight is acceptable in the inner city. This begs the key issue at stake. Should lower standards be accepted in the inner city? What would be valuable in this particular case would be a study of the average lighting levels enjoyed by the existing flats on the Estate compared to those in the rebuilt Estate. Given that the amount of open space per dwelling (in the sense of unbuilt-on ground surface, whether hard or soft) – which is the key determinant of the amount of natural light reaching each dwelling – will be reduced to just 20% of what exists, there can be little doubt that a very substantial reduction in natural light levels will result. (The footprint of the buildings will increase from 20% to 40% of the site area, combined with a frequent doubling – or more – of height).
The applicants claim that the amount of green space will not be reduced in absolute terms compared to what exists, and that their proposal is ‘landscape-led’ – a point they attempt to reinforce by re-labelling the two modest existing green spaces retained as ‘parks’. But since the number of dwellings is to be increased by 260%, the amount of green space per dwelling will reduce to little more than a third what it is at present. In fact, the existing green space which it is proposed to call ‘Pulteney Park’ will be significantly reduced in area because the replacement for Messiter House – one of the finest existing buildings on the estate – extends further south. (This is perhaps in an attempt to mitigate the result of Newlon’s previous infilling exercise when they built what is now called Phelps Lodge uncomfortably close to the north side of Messiter House – on formerly pleasant lawn). In addition, the eastern end of ‘Pulteney Park’ will be encroached on by the replacement for Molton House, another pleasant existing building. The proposals involve the removal of 148 existing mature trees in total, including attractive flowering trees on the greensward east of Molton House (to be built on by its replacement).
The critical importance of natural light, greenery and open space for mental health is now widely recognized. There will be substantially less of them for the future inhabitants of this Estate than there is at present.
THE ISLINGTON SOCIETY VIEW
Overall, this Society considers the proposed density to be excessive in terms of resulting conditions for residents of the Estate. It further considers the bulk of the proposed buildings damaging in terms of their impact on surrounding properties, including the ‘Old’ Barnsbury Estate blocks to the east of Charlotte Terrace, the existing buildings on the west side of Caledonian Road, and on Fife Terrace to the south of the Canal. The siting of a wall of thirteen-storey towers closely along the north bank of the Canal will seriously detract from the value of this critical local amenity.
We recommend that the application be refused for these reasons.