PRESS RELEASE: SAVE calls on councillors to reject damaging South Ken station plans

17th November 2021

SAVE Britain's Heritage calls on London Council to reject harmful demolition-led proposals which, if approved, would permanently scar the face of historic South Kensington.
Despite fierce opposition, controversial plans by joint developer Native Land and Transport for London (TfL) to build office blocks and flats around South Kensington Underground Station have once again been recommended for approval by Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) planners ahead of a planning committee decision on Thursday (18th November 2021). 
The latest tweaks constitute the third iteration of the scheme by architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, following the surprise withdrawal of the previous version just 24 hours ahead of the last planning committee scheduled for June 2021, where the plans had also been recommended for approval. 
Under the plans, grade II listed South Kensington 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 and Smith’s Charity Conservation Area.

Despite criticism in their report of the scheme’s uniform design, scale, and failure to respond to South Kensington’s historically sensitive context, planners say that plans to provide partial step-free access to the station outweigh the heritage harms of the scheme. However, serious doubts remain over this benefit since TfL's announcement in July 2020 that its planned Station Capacity Upgrade for South Kensington was permanently on hold, which included reviving its disused north-side platform and expanding the existing ticket hall.

New images submitted by SAVE showing the impact of the proposals 

Whilst SAVE acknowledges that the latest amendments represent an improvement on the two previous iterations of the scheme, they are limited to a small number of tweaks to building heights of the blocks proposed around the station and façade design changes which fail to address widespread concern over the scheme’s alien scale and massing in such a historically sensitive setting.
In our response to RBKC planners, we have reiterated our objection to the scale and massing of the proposals, and submitted a special report showing professionally rendered verified views of the scheme prepared by Rendered Image Ltd using a 50mm focal length prime lens which offers the best match for a human eye.

In contrast to the wide-angle lens images presented by the applicant, these images show the scale and impact of the proposals at street level, which will see the low-scale village character of South Kensington Station and views across it terminated by the massing of four large buildings encircling the entire site. View the report and images here

SAVE has objected to all three iterations of the scheme and is set to speak at the committee meeting this Thursday 18th November alongside other objectors, including all six local RBKC ward councillors and MP Felicity Buchan, all of whom have maintained their opposition to the latest plans. See our previous press release on the campaign here.
The plans have also drawn over 2900 public letters of objection, the highest number of responses ever recorded by RBKC against a single planning application.

Officers’ heritage concerns
The officer’s report to the planning committee reiterates concerns previously raised about the scheme’s failure to respond to the scale and character of this historic and varied part of Kensington. The report states that overall, “A generally contemporary architectural language has been proposed, with a largely uniform approach to the design of the four elements of the scheme. Given the variety and sensitivity of the surrounding context and valued heritage assets, this results in a failing to fully respond to the context and character of the local area.”

The report goes on: “The main concern with this element of the proposals is that the combination of the contemporary design and the increased scale results in a building that is at odds with its immediate setting when considered in the round […] On this basis it has to be concluded that it would be a distracting element within the setting of the listed building, which would cause harm to its setting, and thereby to the special interest and significance of that designated heritage asset.”
Heritage context

For over a century, South Kensington has been defined by its low-rise scale and open cutting, allowing views of the magnificent public buildings nearby, including the towers of the Natural History Museum and the V&A, two of London’s most impressive Victorian landmarks.
A report published jointly in August 2020 by SAVE and The Brompton Association - South Kensington Heritage at Risk! - illustrates the stark choice now facing South Ken between a monolithic office development and a low-rise scheme following the development principles set out in a Development Brief drawn up by TfL in 2016 following three years of public consultation.


Notes to editors:

1. For more information contact Ben Oakley, conservation officer at SAVE Britain's Heritage – / 07388 181 181.

2. See here for the verified view report of the scheme by Rendered Image Ltd.

3. SAVE Britain's Heritage is a strong, independent voice in conservation that has been fighting for threatened historic buildings and sustainable reuses since 1975. 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. 

4. See here for our previous press release on South Ken.

5. See here for the joint report by SAVE and The Brompton Association illustrating the harm posed by the scale of the proposals and an alternative approach to development.