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Page of Consents: Improvement and environment dominate planning decisions

Words:
Will Jennings

There’s an element of controversy in this round of planning approvals, with a waste incinerator decision defying environmentalists, questions of funding priorities and consents requiring several reworkings, but sustainability lies at the heart of most of the players’ viewpoints

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IBM BUILDING, LONDON

Total area: 27,000m2 existing, 9,522m2 additional

Client: Stanhope as development manager, for Wolfe Commercial Properties

Architect: AHMM, with VOGT Landscape Architects 

Planning authority: Lambeth Council

Planning ref: 21/01142/FUL 

Over recent years London’s Southbank has been undergoing a massive shift in scale. While the Garden Bridge withered away, other schemes are at various stages of development: Southbank Place now wraps the Shell Building; Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands’ Doon Street Tower is still waiting to go on site; Make just revealed the latest plans for ITV’s former HQ; and AHMM recently got the planning green light for Elizabeth House at Waterloo Station.

AHMM has now followed up that success with a second permission – granted for its reconfiguration of Denys Lasdun’s IBM building, next door to his better-known and iconic National Theatre. Their scheme retains 80% of the existing building with an ‘infill and extend’ strategy, stretching floorplans to the east and adding a new storey that will follow the existing stepping back strata language. It has been 16 months since the architects first submitted plans, opposed by heritage groups, and the scheme has twice been refined, reduced, withdrawn and resubmitted, to reach this eventual granting.

The IBM building has always sat as a corporate fortress by the river, a brick moat of planting wrapping around, and with knowing response and reference to the porosity of the theatre next door. AHMM is seeking to soften the relationship between the building and both the surrounding public realm and its celebrated theatre neighbour with a scheme developed alongside VOGT Landscape Architects. An existing vehicle ramp along the length of Cottesloe Avenue, the ‘canyon’ between the IBM Building and theatre, will be reduced to provide level access into a new lobby, opening out onto new planting and public seating.

The private roof terraces and balconies at all levels, comprising some 4,400m2, are to be brought back into life with planting, taking their unique micro-climates into consideration. Shade-tolerant species will be planted at lower levels with more resilient plants as the strata rises.

As is common for developments along what is one of the most high-profile and high-value parts of the city, developer Wolfe Commercial Properties will not be including an affordable commercial rent offer within the scheme, instead paying Lambeth Council just over a million pounds as exemption.


 

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LLANISHEN RESERVOIR VISITOR CENTRE, CARDIFF

Total area: 1067.4m2

Client: Dwr Cymru / Welsh Water 

Architect: Fielden Clegg Bradley Studios , landscape by Little Thunder Studio 

Planning authority: Cyngor Caerdydd / Cardiff Council

Planning ref: 20/02175/MJR 

Between a wood, golf club, railway line and various streets of suburban houses 5km to the north of Cardiff city centre, are the duel reservoirs of Lisvane and Llanishen, soon to offer not only water to the city but also recreation, natural connectedness and dining.

The reservoir will become a hub of sailing, canoeing, zorbing and other water-based pursuits, while the landscapes around will be improved with nature trails, bird watching facilities and interpretation. Supporting all these activities will be a Fielden Clegg Bradley Studios designed visitor hub, offering water sports equipment storage, changing areas and community meeting rooms at ground level, and this will sit alongside a separate function room. Depending on market demand, the building can also accommodate an extra floor, with structural and servicing strategy future-proofing an extension. Bridging between the first floor and raised bank of the reservoir offers pedestrians direct access from their walk to the restaurant.

Externally, the timber framed building is wrapped in three main materials: the main massing of untreated vertical larch rainscreen; a stained planed timber cladding to recessed and window units; and a dark zinc or anodised aluminium standing seam roof topping it all off. Within two years the materials will have weathered down to darker hues as the building recedes into the natural setting.

A site of such ecological importance – with various Site of Special Scientific Interest and of Site of Importance for Nature Conservation protections – requires serious study of the nature within which any building is being sited. This scheme came on the back of fungi, grassland, waterfowl, glow worm, crayfish and other ecological assessments, and other than the roads to the 114 parking spaces, the landscape strategy is based on permeable surfaces across the whole site for sustainable drainage into the Nant Fawr stream that runs across it.


 

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THE EAST MIDLANDS ENERGY RE-GENERATION INCINERATOR, RATCLIFFE-ON-SOAR

Total site area: 40,000m2

Client: Uniper UK 

Architect: Garry Stewart Design Associates 

Planning authority: Nottinghamshire County Council

Planning ref: ES/4154 

Extinction Rebellion was staging a protest outside the council offices, while inside permission was being granted by nine votes to three in favour of a new waste incinerator for the site of a soon-to-be-decommissioned coal power station. Using steam turbines to generate 49.9MW of energy through the combustion of 472,000 tonnes per annum of household and non-hazardous commercial waste, this £330million incinerator is set to provide energy for 90,000 East Midlands homes, mostly classed as ‘renewable’.

The United Kingdom Without Incineration Network opposed the application, stating that if the UK sticks to its 2050 CO2 net zero targets, then the kinds of plastics to be combusted in the incinerator will be far reduced, resulting in the burning of card and paper which could and should be recycled.

Opposition group Stop Ratcliffe Incinerator, a protest group with 2,000 signatures of support behind it, requested a call-in, arguing that by incinerating waste more greenhouse gasses will be released than if it was to be sent to landfill. It added that the project would lock the region into an incineration first approach, rather than maximising recycling towards a circular economy.

While most of the debate relates to the ethical and industrial process of the plant, contemporary industrial architecture is worth considering, and Garry Stewart Design Associates has experience with a range of energy recovery facilities across the country. Its design for Ratcliffe set out to ‘create a positive and confident state of the art architectural design which celebrates its presence within the wider Power Station’.

The main trapezoidal volume is clad in vertically formed aluminium, with glazed windows offering a vantage of the processes inside, and to a deliberately compact volume avoiding sculptural flourishes (as with some of its previous designs) in order to keep height to a minimum. The architect also decided against wrapping the twin stacks within an elaborate single enclosure, instead leaving them as slender columns in their industrial form, reducing the visual impact of what will be the only element of the building seen from much of the surrounding area.

However, there may be more hurdles ahead as the scheme is now set to go to the government’s National Planning Casework Unit for review, which will make the final decision on behalf of the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.


 

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LINCOLN MARKET & CITY SQUARE

Total application site, including City Square:  3,436m2

Client: City of Lincoln Council 

Architect: John Roberts Architects, landscape scheme by re-form 

Planning authority: City of Lincoln Council

Planning ref: 2021/0256/FUL 

Sums to the turn of £5.9 million of the government’s Towns Fund, intended to ‘level up our regions’, is being used to refurbish and re-imagine Lincoln’s grade II neoclassical market building and adjoining City Square. With a further £2.6 million match funding from other sources, including the council itself, the project now has the funding and planning permissions in place to revitalise a central element of the city’s civic realm.

The market itself has seen a decline in patronage as online and big store shopping has increased, to the point where it is around 70% occupied. The scheme seeks to restore the space as a hub of social activity, both with the buying of groceries (a butcher and fishmonger are included in the plans) as well as building in a more modern ‘food court’ offering meals and drinks to be eaten at tables dotted around the market and outside in the modernised city square.

Spatially, John Roberts Architects’ approach is to open up the main market hall at ground level, bringing all the traders into one space, and inserting a mezzanine of an extra 135m2 for eating and retail, while a new wedge-shaped two-storey extension replaces what was once a narrow ‘butcher’s corridor’. Outside, re-form’s redefinition of the City Square brings new energy to a riverside setting which can host regular markets, events and spill-out from the market hall.

As the government continues to distribute money to towns and high streets through various funding schemes, it is projects such as this – which seek to become a new central civic focal point for a place – that take the headlines. But what if towns often need smaller and more diffused investment to maintain or provide more basic functions – will there be funding for less glamourous urban upkeep?

Toilets are a big talking point in Lincoln, the council recently announced the closure of public WCs in two city centre locations, while a third would only be use “for special events” and a fourth only accessible to RADAR key holders. In doing so, the authority will save £82,000 a year, and while the new market building refurbishment does contain eleven unisex toilets, locals may wonder how it can find funding for largescale projects such as the market hall, but not enough for basic services elsewhere.

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