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Lab building too ‘ugly’ for spot near St Pancras?

Planning permission approved for research centre in King's Cross

08 March, 2021 — By Richard Osley

How the new centre will look

A NEW research lab will be built opposite King’s Cross station – despite conservationists warning that its height and design will be out of place in the historic railway district.

The future of Belgrove House, currently a storage facility and a branch of McDonald’s, has been treated by opponents as a battle for the character of the neighbourhood in recent weeks.

Critics have said that Camden Council was left with an unpleasant trade-off where officials and then councillors would feel like they risked losing the potential breakthroughs that the laboratories could bring, unless the 10-storey building won planning consent.

Pharmaceutical giants MSK are now waiting to move in at Euston Road. A series of residents association and conservation groups had called for a rethink of the proposals.

But on Thursday, approval for the project was granted at a lively planning meeting during which councillors were at one point asked to stop shouting over each other.

Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper said he placed huge importance on what could be achieved in the new labs but warned it would stand higher than King’s Cross station and was out of keeping with St Pancras – one of the world’s most famous railway buildings.

He added: “For my money St Pancras station should be a World Heritage site and after this meeting I’ll be writing to MHCLG [the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government] and UNESCO to make that case because it is one of the most outstanding pieces of industrial architecture in the world and we should be backing that as Camden Council.”

Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper details some of his design concerns

Later, Cllr Cooper said he was getting “angrier and angrier” as he looked at slides of the new lab building, and compared the designs to brutalist architect Erno Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower or the Balfron Tower. There’s a reason that Goldfinger was the name of a supervillain in James Bond – because only a supervillain like Goldfinger could design a building that ugly,” he said.

Labour councillors Adam Harrison and Danny Beales urged him to stop, with the latter calling him rude.

The new building is not based on a design by Goldfinger.

Lib Dem councillor Flick Rea voted in favour of the approval but shouted “arrogant building” during the debate.

She said: “It’s a wonderful application in all senses of the word – except for the height. “If you read the objections from the Victorian and Georgian societies – some very good points are made about the whole conservation area – I think a lot of those would be ameliorated if it wasn’t such a big building.”

Others on the planning committee were more enthusiastic. Labour councillor Danny Beales said the proposals offered “astounding” opportunities for local employment and work with Camden’s schools, describing the plans as having “crucial public benefits”.

Victoria Hinton, from Camden’s design team, which advises the committee, said: “Part of the character of the King’s Cross conservation area is that it does juxtapose that monumental Victorian engineering and architecture with large new commercial buildings. King’s Cross has always been a dynamic conservation area and is home to some really bold buildings.”

Nine councillors voted in favour of the planning approval, while two voted against: Cllr Cooper and Labour councillor Georgie Robertson.

As part of the consent, developers will build housing – including 33 homes marked “affordable” – at nearby Acorn House in Swinton Street, a former office block.

Fiona Marshall, head of discovery for MSK, told the meeting that commercial terms for Belgrove House been agreed. “We believe this investment strengthens the local area and London as a globally leading research hub,” she added. “Our work in London aims to improve the understanding of biological causes of diseases, such as diseases of ageing.”

Architect Simon Allford said he believed the building would be “world-class architecture” with a “sensitive approach” to the area.

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