Press Release: Public inquiry opens into controversial South Kensington station plans

SAVE to give evidence against damaging proposals

17th January 2023

A high-profile public inquiry opens this week into plans to redevelop South Kensington Underground Station that would permanently scar the listed station and historic district.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage is one of a number of local and national organisations that will be giving evidence against the damaging proposals during the two-week hearing.

The inquiry, which opens at 10am tomorrow, is being held in the main council chamber at Kensington Town Hall, Hornton St, London W8 7NX. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

The inquiry was triggered by an appeal by joint developer Native Land and Transport for London (TfL) after Kensington & Chelsea council (RBKC) rejected their proposal to build office blocks and flats around the grade II-listed South Kensington Underground station – gateway to the world-famous museums – in November 2021.

The controversial scheme is the latest in a very long history of attempts to redevelop the site, and the third iteration of the scheme designed by architects Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners.

Under the plans, the station and the railway cutting it sits within would be developed and overwhelmed by four incongruous office and residential blocks, all within the protected Thurloe & Smith’s Charity Conservation Area.

The proposals were recommended for approval by RBKC planners in November 2021 but, after presentations from experts on both sides and intense scrutiny, councillors on the RBKC major development planning committee threw them out in a major victory for SAVE Britain’s Heritage and its allies.

The councillors concluded that the sheer number of harmful aspects of the development were not outweighed by the purported benefits. Among the many concerns raised, it was the harm posed to the station and the conservation area that proved decisive, both key arguments made by SAVE from the off.

In their grounds for refusal, councillors singled out several elements of the proposals for particular criticism, including the demolition of the listed station bullnose and the five-storey replacement building proposed in its place, and the design and massing of the scheme as a whole, which was felt to be uncharacteristic of South Kensington with its rich and varied historic fabric.

Benedict Oakley, conservation officer for SAVE Britain’s Heritage, says: “SAVE has consistently argued that redevelopment in historic settings like South Ken must respond to its context and the conservation area setting. The decision by councillors in November 2021 to refuse this scheme recognised the wholesale failure of the current proposals to achieve this. As our 2020 report sought to illustrate, South Ken deserves a sensitive scheme that delivers both a step-free accessible station AND respects this world-famous historic setting.”

The plans have from the start courted widespread criticism from local residents, including four residents’ associations, all six ward councillors and local MP Felicity Buchan. The planning application also attracted more than 2,900 letters of objection from members of the public, the highest number of responses ever recorded against a single planning application in RBKC.

By contrast, a detailed report published jointly in August 2020 by SAVE and The Brompton Association – South Kensington Heritage at Risk! – sought to illustrate a positive alternative for development at the station. Images in the report show how a low-rise, heritage-led scheme might look, following the development principles set out in a development brief drawn up by TfL and the local community in 2016. CLICK HERE to view the report.

Notes to editors:

1. For more information contact Ben Oakley, conservation officer at SAVE Britain's Heritage – / 020 7253 3500

2. SEE HERE for our press release following the planning committee refusal in November 2021

3. SEE HERE for our previous press release from June 2021

4. SEE HERE for the joint report published in August 2020 by SAVE and The Brompton Association illustrating the harm posed by the scale of the proposals and an alternative heritage-led approach to development

5. SAVE Britain’s Heritage is an independent voice in conservation that fights for threatened historic buildings and sustainable reuses. We stand apart from other organisations by bringing together architects, engineers, planners and investors to offer viable alternative proposals. Where necessary, and with expert advice, we take legal action to prevent major and needless losses.

6. SEE HERE for our statement to the inquiry from January 2023.