To list or not to list? Demolish or retain, tall building or mid rise street. If you want a good case to reveal the full complexity of the listing process, the debate over tall buildings, heritage and the distinctiveness of place and its impact on development, it is hard to think of a single better case than the Knightsbridge Barracks.
The third Barracks on the site, completed to the designs of the significant mid 20th century architect Sir Basil Spence, from the start controversial, of undeniable significance architecturally, historically and of great importance as a group of buildings on a severely constrained site, the complex, according to participants at the New London Architecture breakfast meeting , John Allen in particular, was pretty clear, it deserved listing.
If a similar scheme with a tall element were proposed today, John Walker of Westminster City Council Planning, was clear it would not be approved. Indeed he mentioned the removal of the tower as being an improvement to the skyline. Whilst not an advocate of tall buildings around the park, the Barracks unlike the Hilton or Lancaster Gate Hotels is a significant and distinctive landmark and its removal would be a step too far. However it is contrary to policy for development around the listed Park and conservation area no more tall buildings will be developed unless that policy changes, but of course this has no bearing on the question of listing.
But the listing aspect is only one part of a larger issue. The location of the monarch’s personal guard, the Blues and Royals the Household Cavalry within 30 minutes of the Queen is a critical part of the development equation as clearly pointed out by John Walker. To replace the existing Barracks requires a new location somewhere close by, in the most expensive real estate in London. This has been the stumbling block for every potential applicant discussing their proposals with the planners in Westminster.
So what is likely to happen? Perhaps some amendment of the rules and requirements set by the Government in terms of distance and riding time or a continuation of the barracks on site within a listed or unlisted complex? If the complex is listed, how will this affect the potential for change, the appetite of the development industry and the site’s value? John Walker also said the City Council do not want another 1 Hyde Park with very few residents and apartments.
The campaign being run by the 20th Century Society ‘Say neigh to demolition’ has a long way to run and this is just the start.