Campaigners called out “shame” as a 74-metre high tower block near some of London’s most prestigious buildings won the green light.
They said the tower in the heart of Bloomsbury was unsuitable in a conservation area close to the Grade I-listed St George’s Church, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, and the British Museum.
Developers BC Partners plan to demolish an empty 53m high hotel building, which was used as a Travelodge, and replace it with a 74m high tower.
It will be lower than Centrepoint, which at 117m is the tallest tower in the area.
Camden council’s planning committee approved the scheme after a lengthy meeting, witnessed by residents and campaigners who packed the public gallery. (THURS 16 NOV)
The developers will demolish several buildings on a block bounded by Museum and West Central streets to create space for 1,700 office workers and 44 homes, including 19 affordable flats. They will also restore several nearby town houses.
Campaigners from Save Museum Street, which is a coalition of nearby residents, said the tower would be a “disaster”.
They won the backing of actor Griff Rhys Jones, who is president of the Victorian Society and Civic Voice, which represents amenity societies.
He said the tower would dominate the skyline: “How can this ‘bigging up’ of an already giant edifice be justified in such a sensitive conservation area? I urge the planning committee to send this proposal packing.”
Earlier this summer he helped campaigners launch alternative proposals which included lowering the existing tower and creating a roof top garden to boost tourism.
They also wanted to retrofit existing buildings which they said was a greener option than demolition.
Other heritage groups raised concerns.
Edward Waller, conservation adviser for the Georgian Society, commented that the scheme would be “highly damaging” to the church, world-class museum and nearby Bedford Square.
Waller added: “It would add an incongruous building in the setting of one of the most important conservation areas in the country.”
Westminster City Council had also objected to the tower’s impact on the skyline.
Jim Monahan of Save Museum Street told the planning committee: “The quality of the proposed housing is truly dreadful.”
The architect, who has designed social housing in the area, said the scheme does not follow Greater London Authority housing standards about the impact of towers on daylight.
Of 122 habitable rooms, 101 will not comply to minimum daylight standards, he claimed. Eleven of the 19 affordable homes “will have abysmal daylight in their living rooms.”
The council’s planning team said the sunlight and daylight levels are “acceptable given this dense and highly central urban location”.
“We appeal to your common sense that there must be a better way than constructing a lumpen tower block, ignoring climate emergency policies and building such second-rate housing.”
Holborn and Covent Garden ward councillor Julian Fulbrook said: “This is something that really cannot go ahead.”
He urged the committee to consider the example of the M&S flagship store in Oxford Street. The government blocked demolition in favour of retrofitting the art deco building instead.
Eleanor Wright from the main developer Simten said: “This is an opportunity to transform this largely derelict site in central London into a dynamic site which can be enjoyed for many years to come.”
She said the team had considered the environmental impact but the old hotel, known as Selkirk House, had reached the end of its life.
The scheme will recycle 95 per cent of the building material.
Wright said the six-storey car park of the bottom of the building had sloping floors, which made it difficult to retain the hotel above, but foundations will form part of the new build.
She said: “We are acutely aware the impact the buildings have on carbon. It’s a huge topic.”
The team had also reduced the height of the proposed tower by two storeys after speaking to residents, she said.
Isabel Moreira, from architects DSDHA, said: “The design delivers high-quality residential accommodation.
“We tried to replace poor quality and undersized units with units with space, where people would want to live, with a vibrant mix of uses.”
Councillor Sue Vincent (Holborn and Covent Garden) said she was concerned that so many conservation bodies had reservations.
She was one of two councillors to vote against the scheme. There were also two abstentions.
The scheme now has to go to the Mayor of London for approval.