thanks to historian tom ridge for putting all the details together
A Worthy Memorial
The former London Chest Hospital has been the centerpiece of the Crown’s Victoria Park Estate; and since the 1970’s, it has been the principal named building in the Victoria Park Conservation Area. The now doubly-protected building is to lose its very substantial south wing and it should at least have all its remaining parts properly repaired and adapted as a worthy memorial to the specialist hospital which served the people of North and East London for 160 years. All of the former Brompton Hospital, West London’s Grade II-listed specialist chest hospital, was converted to residential use without its roofs and towers being rebuilt. East London’s Grade II-listed specialist chest hospital, which was the only other hospital of this type built in England, should at least have its main 1855 building converted to residential use without its roof and tower being rebuilt.
The demolition of the repaired original 17th century country house-style roof (with gentle slopes and several flat tops), and the demolition of the original albeit shortened ventilation tower would result in the unacceptable loss of two external key elements of the 1855 main building, which is the most important part of the Grade II-listed former hospital building.
The supersized new roof is only needed to provide about 12 more flats and with its steep slopes containing two tiers of dormer windows and one long flattish top it would be a grand city-type roof in conflicted juxtaposition with the 17th century country house-style façade; the new higher ventilation tower is only needed so that it can be seen above the taller new roof and, with its three added conjectural features, would also be taller than the existing ventilation tower.
The fake heritage roof and fake heritage ventilation tower would be fundamentally dishonest and totally misleading; and would also be seriously detrimental to the significance of the 17th century country house style façade (the 1855 main buildings; third and only surviving key element) and its positive contribution to the character and appearance of the Victoria Park Conservation Area.
The demolitions and replacements would cause substantial harm to the Grade 2 listed 1855 main building (and its Grade 2 listed 1892 sanitation tower) and harm the Victoria Park Conservation Area; and the substantial harm would not be outweighed by the proposed public and heritage benefits, which are being provided solely to outweigh the “less than substantial harm” caused by the demolition of the Grade 2 listed south wing.
Tower Hamlets Strategic Development Committee should therefore please refuse consent (under NPPF Para 133) or defer its decision to allow the applicant to revise the application to include the retention and proper repair of the repaired original roof and the surviving lower part of the original ventilation tower and its 1934 dome.
The structural engineer’s report states that the roof is “in sound condition”; and, although there have been repairs and replacements “over the life of the building”, it only needs localised repair. The new supersized roof (over the narrow 1855 main building and proposed back addition) is, therefore, only needed to provide a total of 18 flats on two attic floors. Whereas the repaired original roof with localize repairs could provide six flats on one attic floor.
Clearly, the Heritage Statement’s claims that “the roof suffered bomb damage and has been largely renovated…” (3.22) and the roof “retains very little of its original fabric” (5.13) are both gross exaggerations. Furthermore, the fact that some of its timbers are not original does not diminish its significance but illustrates its history as a WW2-damaged roof, which was sufficiently substantial for most of its timber roof trusses to survive.
The roof is not fully described in the list entry description (no.1433870) but this does not mean that it is the least significant part of the Grade 2 listed 1855 main building. The first reason for designation (listing) in the LED is “architectural interest: built to a dignified design in late C17 style”; and as the shallow roof with gentle slopes and a flat top is a characteristic feature of the 17th century country house style, the repaired original roof is a key element and very significant part of the Grade 2 listed 1855 main building.
In the applicant’s design and access statement section 05 it is claimed that the replacement roof “will not harm the listed building, and will enhance its appearance as a composition”. No real evidence is provided in support of the replacement roof’s design, nor the extent to which it “relates to the overall architectural composition”: as required by Historic England in its letter of 5th May 2016 (Heritage Statement pages 70-74). This letter also referred to a replacement roof in “the same style” as the existing roof and the need for a “taller, more steeply pitched roof to complement the architecture of the building”. Clearly, the applicant’s proposed replacement roof is not in the same style as the existing roof and would not complement the architecture of the building.
The ventilation tower is also a key element because it is the largest and the most visible surviving part of the Chest Hospital’s very sophisticated warming and ventilating system. This was designed to create the warm, dry microclimate thought necessary at the time for the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis.
The London Chest Hospital and the Brompton Hospital in west London were the only two specialist chest hospitals in England with warming and ventilation systems designed to create a warm, dry microclimate. The first part of the Brompton was built in the 1840s but its first and second warming and ventilation systems were very unsatisfactory, and the second system was replaced by a more satisfactory system in 1876. The unique and highly satisfactory system at the London Chest Hospital remained in use from 1855 to 1918 when hot water radiators were installed.
The structural engineer’s report states that although the ventilation tower has got cracks in the brickwork, it is “not currently in a structurally unstable state”. The cracks could and should be repaired by specialists and the structure reinforced with an inserted steel frame. Retention and repair would be in line with Historic England’s reference to remnants of the original ventilating system illustrating the hospital’s “former role in treating consumption in mid-Victorian London” (letter, 5th May 2016 Heritage Statement pages 70-74).
Furthermore, this letter does not encourage the “reintroduction of the original tower”, as stated on page 32 in the Planning Statement. It encourages “the reinstatement of the missing parts of the central tower above the principal range”. According to the applicant’s design and access statement (section 05), Historic England has agreed to the “reinstatement of the original spire”. As the spire was one of three features removed from the upper part of the original ventilation tower in 1934, it can be assumed that all three are to be reinstated, as also implied by the Heritage benefit “restoration and enhancement of… original ventilation tower” (page 33 Planning Statement). However, an annotation to a fabric removal drawing clearly states “Tower to be removed and replaced with a tower design to match the original tower spire design”. This is backed up by a statement in section 05 of the design and access statement indicating that the new ventilation tower would be “formed on a steel frame with new and reused masonry where appropriate”.
An attempt to justify the demolition of the surviving lower part of the original ventilation tower (and the dome added in 1934) is made at 3.22 in the Heritage Statement, which refers to the “loss of the original ventilation tower”. Clearly, the lower part of the original tower survives and, as part of the history of the Grade 2 listed Hospital building, it is still a key element of special architectural and historic interest. The proposed replica of the original ventilation tower, at a high level, would be a fake and highly visible part of the Chest Hospital’s unique warming and ventilation system; and would not be a genuine illustration of the Hospital’s “former role in treating consumption in mid-Victorian London”. (Historic England letter 5th May 2016; Heritage Statement pages 70-74.)
In the developer’s June 2016 public exhibition and website, various demolitions and alterations to the 1892 sanitation tower were presented as “heritage enhancements” supported by Historic England. In fact, Historic England’s 5th May 2016 letter comments on the aesthetic value of the “octagonal north tower”. Fortunately, Crest Nicholson’s planning application indicates that the 1892 sanitation tower will remain more or less intact, and still attached to the northern end of the 1855 main building. It will be “enhanced for residential accommodation and small roof terrace”. The small single-storey, post-mortem room (next to the east of back side of the tower and referred to incorrectly as the chapel) “may house a small amenity space”.
The Financial Viability Assessment (redacted version) concludes that it “is not viable to provide a policy compliant amount of onsite affordable housing, nor is it viable to retain the south wing”. The assessment also states that the 20.1% affordable housing (by habitable room) and the planning obligation pack of £1,501,136 are at the “maximum reasonable level in order to achieve a potentially viable scheme”.
The affordable housing and some or all of the items making up the planning oblicaton pack are in the list of public and heritage benefits which “greatly outweigh the less than substantial harm resulting from the loss of the south wing”(section 6.53 Planning Statement). National Planning Policy Framework paras. 131 and 134 allow developers to argue that only so much of a nationally- listed building can be converted for the development scheme to be financially viable ie “a potentially viable scheme”. This usually means that all their costs have to be met and that there is sufficient profit for them to remain in business during down-turns in the building industry. In the case of the 1855 main building, the proposed five-storey back addition to the narrow three-story main building more than doubles the number of flats; the sale of which would probably meet all the developer’s costs and provide “sufficient profit”. But most if not all of the 18 flats in the new supersized roof would probably be for pure profit.
The FVA fails to explain that it is not viable to provide six flats in the repaired original roof. Tower Hamlets Strategic Development Committee, therefore, has a clear duty to refuse consent for the demolition and replacement of the existing roof and the associated demolition and replacement of the existing ventilation tower, both of which make positive contributions to the significance of the Grade 2-listed 1855 main building and the Victoria Park Conservation Area.