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Monday, March 06, 2006
Kings Cross update
The Evening Standard reports (not available online) that the Kings Cross Railway Lands Group is threatnning legal action to force a delay on granting out line planning permission for Argent's development at Kings Cross. They want Prescott to intervene and force a planning inquiry, at what would be huge cost to the taxpayer. The inquiry into Renzo Piano's Shard apparently cost around £10m.

I'm obviously a little biased, having worked on a lot of the public realm in the new development, but the KXRLG demands can't really be met realistically, and perhaps shouldn't be. This is a site with the ultimate in good public transport access, which enables high-density, intense and truly urban development to take place in a largely car-free way - yet the group demands that buildings should be no more than seven storeys high. It's not as though the Argent scheme even includes any truly tall buildings - the maximum being 17 floors, less than half the height of the Gherkin, at 40 floors.

Argent has also carried out pretty extensive consultation and almost all the concerns of the local resident groups have been met or exceeded in the provision of new social infrastructure and high quality public and leisure spaces within the development. The Rail Lands Group has also been active participants in the process, but they have no claim to be representative of all the local residents. I am always sad when a confrontational situation emerges between local groups and developers, especially a developer as committed and engaged as Argent. But it is important that elected members aren't overly swayed by deputations from somewhat unrepresentative, hostile groups, and think strategically.

To hold a planning inquiry would delay development of the site further, keeping it as the black hole in the urban fabric that it is now, severing the communities of Camden and Islington, and fail to capitalise on the new Eurostar terminal, the crucial role of the site for the Olympics, the immense energy and potential that could be realised constructively and collaboratively in the immediate future. The site should start being repaired and sewn back into the city right now - become used and enjoyed, with temporary programmes preparing the way for the permanent programmes of social and leisure activity on the site. Do we really need to waste public money on an inquiry that will, even if it ends up changing details of the scheme, will not fundamentally alter the fact that large-scale commercial development will happen on the site on the long run? I think not.

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