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King's Cross Railway Lands Group (www.kxrlg.org.uk): news

Argent St George's planning application

Article reproduced from the KXRLG Network magazine, July 2004.

AT THE END of May, developers Argent St George finally submitted their outline planning application to develop the Railway Lands behind King's Cross and St Pancras.

We now have till 24 September to look at the mountain of documents, discuss them with each other, and decide how we want to respond.

King's Cross Railway Lands Group, along with the King's Cross Development Forum and many other local groups, will be giving our response to Camden and Islington Councils.

But before we do, we want to know what you think. Over the next two pages, you can see an outline of this massive application, and on p.4 you'll find details of how to find out more, including two public meetings we are holding. And don't forget, you can make your own objection to either or both councils, taking up as many or as few issues as you want.

  • Do you want two-thirds of the buildingsto be offices?
  • Should there be more family homes?
  • What community facilities do you want?
  • How tall should the tallest buildings be?
  • Should the 'public' space like roads be publicly owned or under private control?

Come to our meetings on 31 July and 4 September and to the other events organised by the King's Cross Development Forum and have your say. It's your neighbourhood, and it's your future.

How the scheme could look: a vertical view of a model ILLUSTRATION: ARGENT ST GEORGE
vertical view of asg model

Consultation began in June on whether Camden and Islington Councils should give permission for a massive development of offices and other buildings on the large area of Railway Lands north of King's Cross and St Pancras Stations. King's Cross Railway Lands Group is spending the summer informing local residents and businesses about the implications of the project. We shall channel public opinion back to the two councils, both directly and through the King's Cross Development Forum. Most of the land is in Camden but a small triangle will be east of York Way in Islington. The effects, however, will reach far and wide across London.

The developers want approval for a 15-20 year programme of development, due to begin in about 2007 after the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and the huge new station at St Pancras have been built.

This article describes some of the key proposals. See the other parts of the Railway Lands Group website for a more detailed summary [ link here ], and the magazine Network for details of how to see the full application and get involved in consultation.

HOW MUCH BUILDING?

With such a long development period, the developers naturally don't know exactly what they will want to build. So most of this is only an outline application, with the details to be applied for later; the proposal has lots of alternatives within it. But they have asked permission for up to 720,000 square metres of floorspace (apart from basements) on a site area of 272,000 square metres (27.2 hectares, or 67.2 acres). That would be nearly three floors of building if it were spread over the whole site. With roughly half the site needed for roads, public spaces, historic buildings, waterways and other things, it probably means buildings of six storeys on average, 12 storeys in some places and up to 19 storeys at the northern end.

A view north, with St Pancras left, King's Cross on the right, the German Gymnasium in the centre and new buildings behind. Image: Argent St George.
oblique view of asg model

FOR WHAT PURPOSE?

The development, if approved, would be heavily dominated by office blocks, taking up to 64% (nearly two thirds) of the floor area. Housing of various kinds would be between 19% and 25% (a fifth and a quarter) and the rest would be made up of a hotel, shopping and catering, sports clubs and community uses.

The 'community' space could be up to 76,000 square metres (10% of the development) but half of that is space in the old Granary building, earmarked in the hope that the London Institute (the federation of art schools based at Central St Martins) will want to move in. So the amount of space planned for local services would be only about 35,000 square metres for things like a library, health centre, sports centre, primary school, art galleries and enhanced facilities for boat users. The probable office content of the scheme has grown remarkably since Camden and Islington councils started work on their planning brief for the area. In Camden's draft last summer they were talking about 300,000 square metres workspace for about 20,000 workers, but then the developers said this was too cramped and 400,000 square metres would be needed for that number of jobs. Camden accepted this and the planning application now asks for up to 486,280 square metres for employment uses.

This is over a million extra square feet. And the developers are now talking about 30,000 workers fitting into this space. Expect some debate on this issue during the summer!

HOUSING

The total housing space proposed (maximum 176,875 square metres) would be between 1800 and 2300 flats, most of them studios and one-bed flats, with no houses. Some proportion of these would be built as 'affordable' and 'key worker' housing but the proportion remains to be negotiated with the councils.

LAYOUT

The area south of the Regent's Canal would mainly contain office buildings (almost half of the offices), with hotels and shopping. This would be a very dense area indeed, with wedge-shaped buildings either side of a central pedestrian 'boulevard' leading north to the canal, with the Great Northern Hotel and the German Gymnasium left intact among them (see illustration). A 12 storey wall of offices would edge Goods Way. North of the canal (to be crossed by three new bridges) the boulevard veers left, to the west of the historic goods yard buildings, and then right to the northern tip of the site where York Way goes under the North London Line bridge. North of the canal, the site is more mixed. Almost all the housing is here, plus two thirds of the shop space and community and leisure uses (in the Granary building and elsewhere). There would also be a multi-storey car park, and space for 1800 cars is planned for the whole site.

CONSERVATION

The Great Northern Hotel, the German Gymnasium and the southern block of Stanley Buildings would be kept, the surviving gas holder would be moved and the others (currently packed away) re-erected. But several buildings in the conservation area would be demolished Stanley Buildings North, Culross House and some unique railway buildings north of the canal. Detailed permissions are sought to modify other buildings.

HOW IT WOULD BE DONE

The development would be done in many phases, starting south of the canal. "Enabling works" would include the major demolitions, highway works and laying out of 'public realm' areas like the square behind the Great Northern Hotel and the 'boulevard' from there to the canal. The first major building phase would include offices south of the canal, some housing near the top of York Way, and the refurbishment of the Coal Drops and Granary. The second phase would continue office and housing development, and the multi-storey car park. But it is unlikely that any work will start before the Northern Ticket Hall has been built.

PUBLIC OR PRIVATE?

It is not clear whether any land or buildings will be given to the community as the basis for a Community Development Trust. Nor is it clear how community interests will be represented in the continuing management and design of this new district over its long life.

Another open issue is the status of the streets and squares: the developers seem to suggest that some or all of them could be private property (like Broadgate or Canary Wharf). The owners would do the maintenance and decide which of us to treat as 'guests' and which as 'trespassers'. This would be unwelcome to the local authorities, which want the public space to be public.

ISSUES FOR CONSULTATION

If this scheme is to be approved, in part or as a whole, with the backing of local communities there will be many demands for changes. There seems to be some weaknesses in it, compared with what the local authorities were after, and even more compared with what the communities want. The coming weeks will show which issues people feel strongly about. And even after that the Mayor of London will have his say. The Mayor was strongly criticised when his London Plan proposed a massive increase in central London office jobs outstripping the capacity of the rail network to bring them in safely and comfortably. But even he proposed only 11,400 extra jobs for King's Cross, and here we have a proposal for nearly three times as many. Perhaps some re-balancing in favour of housing and community space would find favour with Ken.

This article is based on a much more technical and detailed summary of the planning applications by Michael Parkes, planning consultant to the KXRLG, which can be found here.

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