Campaigners reveal scheme to rival DSDHA’s ‘dismal’ Selkirk House demolition

Sturgis and Jones spoke at a Save Museum Street campaign event yesterday (7 August) where MBH Architects unveiled counter-plans to the proposed demolition of Selkirk House, a mothballed 17-storey former Travelodge hotel near the British Museum in London.

The 22-page document, signed by more than two dozen groups, imagines retrofitting the entire building to provide new office space, homes, and a rooftop garden and tourist information point.

The scheme by MBH Architects – led by Jim Monahan, a long-term opponent of the DSDHA project – also envisages new shops, a new courtyard, recladding and a reduction of the current height by 3m.

Sturgis argued that Selkirk House could be easily ‘repaired or improved’ for far less money than DSDHA and developer Simtech’s scheme and at twice the speed, claiming it could be done in two-and-a-half years compared with around four-and-a-half years for the current proposals.

He also challenged the DSDHA plans’ compliance with RIBA, local authority and national climate targets to meet net zero by 2050.

He said: ‘This particular scheme for this site is way outside of that [net zero by 2050 goal] and, interestingly enough, I think it’s even worse than anything that was proposed in Oxford Street by Pilbrow & Partners for Marks & Spencer.

‘It fails in terms of Greater London Authority targets; it fails in terms of RIBA targets; so it is a sort of a dismal effort to provide something positive for London,’ added Sturgis.

The comments were a nod to housing and communities secretary Michael Gove’s refusal of plans drawn up by Pilbrow for Marks & Spencer’s flagship Oxford Street store on heritage and environmental grounds. Sturgis gave evidence in that planning inquiry.

The new build Marks & Spencer would have released about 40,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. DSDHA’s rebuilt Selkirk House would release about 65,000 tonnes in comparison, according to estimates drawn up by the Save Museum Street campaign and MBH Architects.

Jones, who heads both the Victorian and Civic societies, praised Gove’s decision but called for legislation and political action in order to save Selkirk House and other similar buildings threatened by demolition.

Overview of DSDHA's Selkirk House proposals in Bloomsbury


Overview of DSDHA’s Selkirk House original submitted proposals in Bloomsbury, seen from the north west

‘It’s also important that the government starts to look at why developers constantly come forward in order to demolish and rebuild,’ Jones said.

‘That’s to do with legislation [and] if we don’t change the VAT status of new builds compared to retrofit we will always be faced with demolition.’

Responding to the counter-proposals, a spokesperson for Simtech said that it had carried out ‘in-depth analysis’ of a range of potential redevelopment and refurbishment options and had concluded that ‘over a whole-life basis the gap in carbon emissions between the [retrofit and new build] options narrows considerably’. (Full statement below).

DSDHA’s plans caused controversary when they were first submitted in June 2021, mainly as a result of a 21-storey tower design. That was reduced to 19 storeys in early 2022.

A revised planning application was then submitted in June to show a scaling back of changes to 10-12 Museum Street and 35-37 New Oxford Street as part of the 0.53ha scheme following a listing by Historic England. It did not include changes to the height of the tower element of the scheme.

Simon Sturgis, architect and founder of consultancy Targeting Zero, argued in a report in March that there was ‘no serious regard for climatic or carbon impacts’ in the proposals.

Sturgis, an expert witness in the recent Marks & Spencer Oxford Street planning inquiry, said there was ample evidence for local authority Camden Council to reject the application, based on national, London-wide and local planning policies prioritising retrofit.

No date has been set for Camden Council to decide on DSDHA’s plans.


We believe that our proposals for One Museum St represent a thoughtful, considered and balanced approach to bringing this long vacant site back into active and sustainable use for the long-term. The proposals have been developed over the last four years and will deliver a significant uplift on the site to provide new high-quality, healthy workspace for around 1,700 people, alongside new homes (including 18 affordable) shops, cafes and restaurants set in new and enhanced public realm.

The application scheme retains and reuses the basement of the existing building, and the new buildings are designed to meet high environmental performance standards including targeting BREEAM Outstanding and Nabers 5*.

We have undertaken an in-depth analysis of a range of potential redevelopment and refurbishment options for the existing Selkirk House building that the alternative scheme proposes to retain. The “Retention and Redevelopment options review” report, submitted with the planning application, compares the ability of these different options to deliver sustainable development across a range of factors including a comparison of whole life carbon performance.

Over a whole life basis the gap in carbon emissions between the options narrows considerably

A thorough assessment of the existing building identified substantial structural, safety and design challenges. These factors severely constrain ability to bring the building back into use without significant, complex and carbon intensive interventions; even accounting for these, the quality and longevity of the space produced in a retained scheme was found to be severely compromised.

Our report also demonstrates that while there is an embodied carbon penalty associated with redevelopments compared to refurbishment, when taken over a whole life basis the gap in carbon emissions between the options narrows considerably. After thorough assessment, we believe that our proposals to redevelop Selkirk House to deliver flexible, adaptable and high performing workspace offers the best opportunity to secure the future of this important and derelict central London site.