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South Kensington Station: Setbacks in Around Station Development
News  |  Mon - March 9, 2020 16:25
Bullnose Tower proposed by Native Land/TfL
Bullnose Tower proposed by Native Land/TfL
Local groups are shortly expecting a planning application from Native Land and TfL for what is called the Around Station Development at South Kensington Station. If this application is approved by RBKC then South Kensington will become another Fulham Broadway, with massive new development all around it. The low scale and open aspect of South Kensington Station will be obliterated.

How has this happened?

After TfL’s failure to bulldoze through the Stanhope/Terry Farrell scheme with a 12 storey tower on the Bullnose in the early 2000s, and a second failed attempt to advance a similarly inappropriate large scale development by architects McAslan and Partners in around 2006, TfL finally sought to work with local amenity and residents’ groups to find out what local people actually thought was appropriate.

A Consultative Working Group (CWG) was established by TfL and for two years lengthy meetings took place at which TfL listened and their architects and other professional advisors understood what is special about South Kensington and in consultation with the CWG and RBKC planners drew up a scheme in keeping with the character of the Conservation Area. At the end of this consultation process, a detailed Development Brief was published in December 2016. This Brief was supported by local groups and by RBKC and it formed the basis of TfL’s search for a development partner.  In 2018 TfL announced its development partner would be developers Native Land, working with architects Rogers Stirk Harbour.

It is crucial to understand that during these two years of consultation, TfL made it clear that improvements to the working of the tube station and expanding its capacity was a separate scheme devised by architects working directly for TfL.  Permission was sought and granted by RBKC for these improvements which include enlargement of the Booking Hall, provision for step free access and the opening up of the northern platform to provide greatly enhanced capacity. It was made abundantly clear then, and it remains the case now, that the improvements to the functionality of the tube station are not dependent financially on the Around Station Development. The former is to be funded directly by TfL. The Around Station Development is purely a speculative commercial development. Don’t believe Native Land’s hype about public benefit!

After Native Land’s appointment out went the principles of the Development Brief. This Brief had proposed a conservation-led approach that would have seen historic shop fronts restored and accurately reinstated, the terrace in Thurloe Street retained and refurbished, small shop units retained in the arcade and around the bullnose and the low scale and open aspect of the centre of South Kensington protected. Modest new development was proposed for Pelham Street.

Instead, the scheme now coming forward proposes a 4 storey assertive modern tower on the Bullnose (the lovely views of the towers of the Natural History Museum from Onslow Square will be lost), a chasm of development along Pelham Street and a large block across Thurloe Bridge with a blank wall facing onto Grade II* Pelham Place. The architecture around the whole site is in the same style, “developers’ modern”, of a type that could be in any city in Europe for example. The design owes nothing to the locality and is wholly out of keeping with the varied late Georgian and Victorian character of the neighbourhood. It’s basically “anywhere” architecture.

A large retail basement is proposed for the redeveloped Thurloe Street block and it is proposed to service the Bullnose and Pelham Street developments via a new lorry pull-in (roughly where the flower stall is) and a large refuse store is proposed in the middle of Pelham Street. A small exhibition was held at the end of February over a couple of days at Imperial College so that Native Land and TfL could showcase their plans prior to the submission of a full planning application. Glossy images showing an artist’s impression of the development combined with all kinds of assertions about the supposed public benefit of this commercial development were designed to persuade visitors this scheme is appropriate. It is not. It needs to be seen for what it is:  a plan to bring Fulham Broadway scale development into the heart of South Kensington and into the heart of the Conservation Area.

After the station was listed in 2005 RBKC indicated it would like to see a conservation-led development respecting the listed buildings and the station’s setting in the Conservation Area which comprises many listed buildings. The 2016 Brief outlined the principles such a scheme should follow in terms of scale and protection of character.

RBKC has sound policies aimed at protecting both Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas in the Borough. What RBKC needs to do when the planning application comes in is to apply its own conservation policies.  And everyone needs to understand that the hype around Native Land’s “public benefits” is an illusion and utterly misleading.  

Sophie Andrae works in the field of historic buildings conservation and has served as a Council Member of the National Trust.  Email to hear about the joint proposed response of local Resident Associations to the latest Native Land/TfL plans.