DSDHA’s plans to demolish tower set to be approved amid backlash warning

Officers at the north London local authority have recommended its planning committee approves proposals to replace the 17-storey former Travelodge near the British Museum in Holborn.

DSDHA’s plans for the One Museum Street project involve creating a mixed-use development with office, residential and flexible space, including a 19-storey tower.

The plans have been the subject of a campaign opposing it on environmental and heritage-impact grounds.

But an officers’ report that will be considered by the planning committee this Thursday (16 November) says: ‘The only parts of Selkirk House that could, in principle, be retained (floors 4-13) comprise just 25 per cent of the overall structure (by weight).’

It would be ‘difficult and costly’ to retain just this part of the building, they add.

‘Officers have considered whether retention of the buildings should be required, but accept that to do so would require substantial works to bring the building up to modern hotel standards, or to convert to residential, particularly in terms of meeting fire safety standards,’ the report says.

It adds that the DSDHA proposals allow ‘the most efficient use of land’.

Counter-proposals were unveiled in August and backed by more than two dozen groups. They involve retrofitting the entire building instead and providing new office space, homes, and a rooftop garden and tourist information point.

Those were developed by MBH Architects led by Jim Monahan, a long-term opponent of the DSDHA project.

He told the AJ: ‘If they do give it consent, Camden’s credentials with regard to its so-called climate emergency policies are in complete shreds. It would be completely ridiculous if they try to claim that henceforth.

‘It’s caused a lot of problems in the local area. They’re going to get a hell of a whiplash in the local area if they do approve it. There will be people leaving the Labour party and the like.’

He claimed that there had been a groundswell of opposition in the area after a number of unpopular developments in the past few years.

Monahan added that he believes officers’ report ‘legally, leaves itself very much open to criticism,’ but declined to be drawn further on any potential legal steps.

Elsewhere in the report, officers say DSDHA’s proposal is positive in terms of its urban design, with a new ‘open, publicly accessible, mixed-use ground plane with active ground floor frontages, newly shaped public spaces and a new route connecting West Central Street and High Holborn’.

The proposed buildings on West Central Street and Vine Lane tie the proposals into its context repairing existing urban blocks, creating a cohesive and coherent townscape, they add, praising the ‘high-quality architecture demonstrated through its composition and detailing’.

As the development includes a building of more than 30m high, Camden will not have the final decision on the scheme, with the Mayor of London able to overrule it.

Camden Council said it was unable to comment ahead of the planning committee meeting.

The AJ approached DSDHA for comment and received this response from development manager Simten

‘This restored neighbourhood delivers affordable new homes and replaces an empty, redundant hotel and car park with sustainable new employment space. We are also creating a green oasis on Museum Street and Vine Lane, a place where people can get away from the hustle and bustle of the West End.

‘Camden’s officers have welcomed these public benefits and are content with the justification for the new development. Our proposals are designed to be sympathetic to the Bloomsbury conservation area, including preserving and enhancing heritage buildings. We are contributing to the character of the neighbourhood by restoring the historic façades and interiors of five listed buildings, returning three of them to their original form of townhouses above shops.’

The spokesperson added that the development team would be retaining a quarter of the existing Selkirk House by keeping its basement levels, and added that it is ‘fundamental to sustainability that we provide high-quality flexible adaptable development that will have a long and useful life’.