Heritage harm outweighed by public benefits says company that co-designed Kingston Leisure Centre
Is the conclusion on the heritage harm that will be done by the new Kingston leisure centre worth the paper it is written on?
Did you know that Alan Baxter, the engineering and design consultancy that carried out the heritage assessment of the plan for a new leisure centre to replace The Kingfisher also "collaborated with Faulkner Brown architects" on the design of the scheme? No surprise, then, that they concluded that harm caused by the proposed design would be outweighed by the public benefits that the new centre will bring
But how can the same company that helped design a building then go on to make an objective assessment of whether that building will harm the heritage assets amongst which it will sit?
You get a feeling early in the heritage assessment, that the document was only ever going to reach one conclusion, when the section on "Heritage Context" somehow neglects to mention that it is in an area that was designated as a Conservation Area in 1984
Later, Alex Baxter goes on to state that The Kingfisher Leisure Centre is a "detracting feature" to the character and appearance of The Fairfield/ Knights Park Conservation Area.
This statement is flatly contradicted by the Conservation Areas Designation Documents which deemed The Kingfisher Leisure Centre to complement the heritage assets amongst which it sits:
Of course, tastes change over 40 years, but the aesthetic judgement of an engineering firm should not over-ride a properly taken decision of the council, no matter how old
But the problems don’t end there
The current Kingfisher respects its setting and, as a low rise building sited in a hollow, it sympathetically leaves the historic link between The Fairfield and The Cattle Market open to view, with The Old London Road clearly visible through the open site
By contrast, the new leisure centre, six massive storeys high and consuming 1200 square metres more open space than the building it will replace, will obscure and dominate the historic open setting of The Conservation Area. The open outlook from Wheatfield Way, Fairfield North and Lady Booth Road towards The Conservation Area, from Fairfield East towards the Grade II listed Library and Museum and from Fairfield West towards The Cattle Market, The Conservation Area and Grade II listed buildings will all be compromised
And this is not just my opinion
Views presented in the heritage assessment itself show that the new leisure centre will completely block the views listed above as well as the open view over The Cattle Market to The Old London Road from Fairfield South, and that it will even act as a visual block in the view further afield from The Lovekyn Chapel
And this is despite the fact that all but one of the mock-ups presented in the HTVIA are from view-points on the main roads that bound the area
There is not one illustration from the roads that form the heart of The Conservation Area like Mill Street, Avenue Road, Grange Road, Knights Park, Littlefield Close, Mill Place, Mill Street, Minerva Road, Orchard Road, or Palmer Crescent
Historic England guidance states that severing the last link between a heritage asset and its historical setting will compromise the significance of the asset. This guidance was ignored in the heritage assessment and by officers recommending that Members approve the scheme.
The authors of the heritage assessment, whilst not referring to any advice from Historic England, even go so far as to make an unsubstantiated statement that
"the proposals would go some way in helping to remove the Conservation Area from the Heritage At Risk register".
Who said so?
This is only something that can be decided - and would need substantiating in reference to the basis on which the Conservation Area was originally designated - by Historic England
We urgently need to find out if Jenny Wigley QC believes that any of the issues we have identified give rise to sufficient legal grounds to the council's decision to approve this planning application.
We must do it now.
Please donate whatever you can afford so that we can ask for Jenny Wigley QC to start her work on Monday