Controversial plans by King’s College London to bulldoze a row of historic buildings and replace them with what has been described as a “brutalist” campus building have been halted by the government.
In his first week in office as communities and local government secretary, Greg Clark issued a holding direction that temporarily suspends permission for King’s to proceed with its multi-million pound campus redevelopment.
The instruction by Mr Clark, the former universities minister, will allow his department time to consider whether they should “call in” the plan and hold a public inquiry.
The proposed demolition of the four Georgian and Victorian properties has already been granted planning permission by Westminster City Council, despite protests from conservation groups which say the new building would make London’s famous thoroughfare the Strand “blander”.
Under the King’s plans, only the facades of two other buildings, which are Grade II-listed, would be left to make way for a new academic building.
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman told The Times: “The department has received representations asking for this application to be called-in.
“We have issued an Article 31 holding direction on this planning application while we assess whether or not to do so, so we can give the matter proper consideration.”
More than 6,000 people have so far signed a petition calling for King’s to shelve its development plans, while the Victorian Society and Save Britain’s Heritage have also opposed it.
In an Evening Standard column, Simon Jenkins also hit out at the plans, calling King’s existing Strand campus “the capital’s ugliest seat of learning” and saying it should “restore some version of the old Strand street line and frontage”.
King’s has said it is aware of objections and had been “mindful of the issues they raise throughout the development of the project”.
“We are extremely proud of our heritage and are sensitive to the architecturally significant environment in which we operate at the heart of London,” a college spokeswoman told Times Higher Education when objections were raised by the Victorian Society.
The college said its plan had support from English Heritage for the application and that the redeveloped site will become “a welcoming, flexible and connected hub for our staff and students, the public and our partners across the arts, science, public policy and legal arenas for generations to come”.
The plans are part of moves to create space for an extra 2,600 students at the campus, which will include a revamped glass frontage for the current 1970s building.
In addition, King’s is to take over Bush House, the former BBC World Service headquarters, from September 2016 and several buildings in the Aldwych Quarter from 2025, it was announced in March.
In a statement today, King’s added: “Ahead of submitting our planning application we held numerous meetings and follow up discussions with neighbouring cultural organisations, local businesses, politicians and heritage organisations, as well as hosting a public exhibition. We took all the feedback we received on our draft plans into consideration before submitting our final application.
“We also noted that planning consent had been granted on two previous occasions in 1992 and 1998 for the demolition of the unlisted properties at 154/158 the Strand and demolition and reconstruction behind the façade of the Listed properties at 152/153 The Strand.”