PRESS RELEASE: Fragile beauty of London village under attack from Big Boots developer

2nd September 2020

Architects given wrong brief

London, it has often been said, is a city of villages, and now one of London’s best-known villages is the subject of a fierce planning battle between locals and development company Native Land and TfL, who are jointly proposing a scheme which will in one blow destroy its village character.

Plans submitted to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea would see the single-story historic arcade, which is the station’s most famous feature, engulfed by a new six-storey office building.

At present the low-rise buildings around the underground station allow views of the magnificent public buildings nearby, notably the towers of the Natural History Museum and the V&A two of London’s most impressive Victorian landmarks. The very name “South Ken” rather than South Kensington speaks of the affection the area is held in – by generations of students, museums goers, travellers and London visitors and residents.

A new report published jointly by The Brompton Association and SAVE Britain’s Heritage South Kensington Heritage at Risk! illustrates the stark choice now facing South Ken. The choice is between a monolithic office and retail led development and a low-rise scheme following the development principles set out in a Development Brief drawn up by TfL in 2016 following two years of public consultation. This 2016 Brief, known as the Around Station Development Brief, respects the character and scale of the Conservation Area of which South Kensington Station is the heart, and was supported by the Royal Borough.

Concept drawings in our new report by the architect Craig Hamilton show how the area could look if developed according to the principles set out in the 2016 TfL Brief, to create a renewed and harmonious townscape.

In contrast, the scheme now submitted by Native Land proposes a completely new brief in defiance of the 2016 principles TfL worked with the community to draw up.

Local campaigners are now doubly angry that one of the main benefits claimed for the development – improvements to the capacity of the station to ease overcrowding and provide step free access to the District and Circle Lines - will not now take place as they were being funded not by the developer but by TfL which can no longer afford them. The announcement on 29th July 2020 that these important station improvements, known as the Station Capacity Upgrade, would not now go ahead was made a month after Native Land and TfL submitted their planning application in June.

Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage says: “South Kensington has a special character thanks to its Victorian station arcade and the seven streets and roads and three underground lines that converge here. Like Seven Dials in Covent Garden, its street plan and architecture speaks of the unique geography of London that has evolved over centuries giving the Capital its extraordinarily rich and varied character.”

Sophie Andreae, Chairman of the local civic society the Brompton Association says: “The Native Land scheme will turn South Ken into another Fulham Broadway. Over scaled new buildings will destroy its special character and now that TfL has dropped its Station Capacity Upgrade plans the station will remain overcrowded and without step free access from the tube lines. Continued claims that the Native Land scheme will deliver step free access are misleading.”

The Native Land scheme contravenes not only TfL’s 2016 Development Brief but also numerous points of national and local planning policy. These include policies in place to protect the character of the Conservation Area and South Ken's historic environment, as well as policies aimed at ensuring key views across the area to remain unimpeded.

Native Land’s scheme would see the current curtilage listed Bullnose demolished, the Victorian terraces of 20-34 Thurloe Street facaded with historic shop fronts replaced with generic modern versions and iconic views across the station of the Natural History Museum towers from Onslow Square blocked by the new office block proposed on the Bullnose.  

SAVE's joint report with The Brompton Association can be accessed here.


Note to editors

  1. For more information and images contact Ben Oakley, conservation officer at SAVE Britain's Heritage: / 07388 181 181 or Sophie Andreae, Chairman of The Brompton Association:
  2. See here for further details on SAVE's campaign work across the UK.
  3. SAVE Britain’s Heritage has been campaigning for historic buildings since its formation in 1975 by a group of architectural historians, writers, journalists and planners. It is a strong, independent voice in conservation, free to respond rapidly to emergencies and to speak out loud for the historic built environment.