Actor and heritage campaigner Griff Rhys Jones is backing a campaign calling for the refurbishment of an empty 53-metre-high hotel building near the British Museum instead of replacing it with a 74m tower.
Mr Rhys Jones said the proposal by developers BC Partners was “pushing the envelope” and was too tall.
Developers submitted a planning application to knock down the 17-storey high Selkirk House, which was used as a Travelodge hotel, the car park below and demolish several buildings on a block bounded by Museum and West Central streets to create space for 1,700 office workers and 40 homes.
The proposed tower block would be 20m taller than the existing Selkirk House.
Mr Rhys Jones is president of the Victorian Society and Civic Voice, which represents amenity societies, and said the plans “will really dominate this conservation area in this important part of London.”
He said the design drawn up by the Save Museum Street Coalition “represents the future”.
The campaign has also succeeded in getting nearby buildings Grade II-listed, but Historic England rejected their request to list a historic stable block on West Central Street, which could be demolished.
BC Partners bought the buildings from Labtech in 2022 and have submitted a revised planning application.
Mr Rhys Jones said that retrofitting, rather than demolishing an existing building, “is something that is important to our heritage, our thinking, our piece of mind.”
He said Camden Council “needs to listen to the green arguments about embodied carbon and the idea that London needs a further 24,000 sqm of office space.
“The myth is that this creates jobs.”
Instead, he said it could see businesses leave other office blocks and could create a knock-on effect seeing the vacated buildings redeveloped.
Alice Brown from Climate Emergency Camden said it was necessary to “retain existing buildings” rather than build new in the urgent race to reduce carbon emissions.
The developers said their plans will be “built for longevity, adaptability and sustainability.”
They said they would refurbish buildings where possible but Selkirk House and some of the buildings on West Central Street “were found to be not suitable for repurposing, but it is our intention to reuse existing elements where possible.”
They have also amended plans, keeping the listed buildings and lowering the proposed height of the redevelopment of Ten Museum Street, near the tower block.
Developers said they have also consulted residents and changes include reducing the proposed height of the new tower block by 6m to 74m, instead of 79m.
Campaign group the Save Museum Street Coalition said their alternative plan is better for the environment to retrofit the existing buildings.
Their ideas include lowering the existing tower by 3m and creating a roof top garden which could “get the most fantastic views and generate tourism,” said Jim Monahan who presented the alternative design.
He said it is “mind-boggling” that the proposed 74m tower could be visible from the entrance of the Grade I-listed British Museum.
He proposed using the top two floors as flats and transforming the car park into rehearsal studios.
The campaign’s design also includes linking up with the “secret” post office railway which runs directly under the building with the current Mail Rail tourist attraction at the Postal Museum.
Kathy Doyle, from the campaign, said the developers’ scheme is “appalling” and that the group needs to get 250 objections to plans which have been submitted to Camden Council.