Every now and again, in our work for the Association, the Planning Sub-committee receives a demoralising blow which leads to a fair amount of soul-searching and contemplation among those of us who put in the effort to comment on the many applications we receive, meet with developers, liaise with the Council etc.
As it happens, one such event occurred recently when five of us attended a meeting to discuss revised plans for the Marble Arch Tower by developer Almacantar, and designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects. This is the tall building at Marble Arch on the corner of the Edgware Road and containing the cinema in the base.
We were eager to see the new proposals because when the original scheme had been submitted a few months ago we had objected strongly as follows:
- The process of consultation has been deficient; the Marylebone Association consultation was instigated in November 2013 when the design was complete and the submission was weeks away. Contact should have made at the beginning of the design process in 2011
- We believe that there are significant design problems with the building's compositional mass; the tower is too short and stumpy in relation to the podium blocks.
- The plan form and the creation of a new pedestrian street are both agreeable in principle however the architecture is overly polite and uninspiring; it is not suitable for what is a landmark site.
- The shape and sculpting of the tower is not conducive to good internal layouts nor adequate balconies and the horizontal banding emphasises its lack of elegance.
- The dull architectural vocabulary is becoming too commonplace in Westminster, it lacks aesthetic quality and fails to reach the exemplary design benchmark that we seek especially for a landmark site of this importance. We would like to have seen a more elegant and special building created for this pre-eminent site.
- We wish to query the necessity of 55 car parking spaces for the development given its excellent transport connections.
- We would request that the residential amenity space including swimming pool is increased in size and is made available for local residents to use through a booking system.
- The public art element is essential to the scheme and we suggest a community based public art panel is set up to commission the required works.
To our great frustration, the original scheme was subsequently approved by Westminster without any attention given to the concerns highlighted above.
So, second time around, when we arrived at Almacantar's offices to discuss the new scheme, we knew already that they were intending to submit a fresh application with a slightly different mix of uses, and one with a bit of extra height. However, we were all obviously very keen to see how they had addressed our serious concerns from their previous application.
To our great distress, they made no attempt whatsoever to address any of our concerns. Moreover, it is certain that their revised scheme will be approved by City of Westminster who have been consulted on the new scheme, and are said to be happy with it.