Islington Society Response
We note 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 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 and the setting of the Regents Canal West Conservation Area.
We recommend that the application be refused for these reasons.