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Skye expands as planning applications fall

Will Jennings

A slow-burn masterplan for 250 homes in Portree to ease Skye's housing shortage and five big-city schemes go ahead this week, as planning officers see a significant drop in applications

There may be anecdotal information and conversations around the architectural sector about how the changing economic climate (as well as attempts by the government to mitigate it through ‘levelling up’ or other financial levers) is affecting projects’ progress. But we can also now look at the data.

Since 2020, the Planning Portal has been collating monthly data on planning applications across England and Wales and publishing a monthly Planning Market Insight Report. It shows that applications submitted in both April and May 2022 are down on the same months a year earlier, by 16% and 10% respectively, which reflects a general trend of a 15% fall in the year to date against 2021. Yorkshire, Humber and the North West have a noticeable reduction.

Also of note, in May this year the Planning Portal introduced 12 new prior approval forms. In the first eight days, 91 applications were submitted using the forms, of which 61% were for the change of use from commercial/business/service to residential.

  • Credit: Rural Design
  • Credit: Rural Design
  • Credit: Rural Design
  • Credit: Rural Design

Kiltaraglen masterplan, the Isle of Skye

Total site area: 31ha
Client: Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association
Architect: Rural Design
Landscape architect: Raeburn Farquhar Bowen
Planning authority: The Highland Council
Planning ref: 21/05962/PIP

Not many design and access statements have site photographs quite as beautiful as those in Rural Design’s presentation of this masterplan for Portree. Aerial photographs of the 31ha proposal, elevated above the village of Portree, encompass picturesque peatlands and an iridescent sky punctured by distant mountains. It’s a landscape which is now due to have approximately 250 homes gently settled into it.

The project has received planning in principle, the start of a deliberately slow process which will see the homes—as well as three business units, a shop and supported residential accommodation – spread across two clusters within the site. Houses will be arranged around a square, rural street, and rural court typologies, considering the space between houses not only as landscape but also opportunity for shelter, community, and local identity. Materially, a palette of renewable, recycled, or re-used materials comprising timber and metal cladding will be drawn on, chosen to connect to a rural Scottish vernacular and weather naturally.

In keeping with a delicate and deeply considered approach to such a site and community, the scheme is designed to slowly unfold into place and sit softly in the landscape. The homes will be delivered over a 15-20 year period, a pace of construction which will allow for a natural growth and adoption. Similarly, while the development boundary is quite expansive, the actual area of construction is relatively small, allowing for a dispersed layout and an intent to avoid the look of a suburban spread. Areas of deep peat will remain in situ, incorporated as wild landscape by the landscape architect into a strategy also retaining water courses and stone dykes.

Neil Munroe, associate director at Rural Design, says: ‘The story has been a relatively big deal in Skye as the scheme is a first step in addressing a significant problem on the Islands – local folks and key workers unable to access or afford accommodation due to the success of the place as a tourist destination and the proliferation of Airbnb rentals.’

  • Credit: Tonkin Liu
  • Credit: Tonkin Liu
  • Credit: Tonkin Liu
  • Credit: Tonkin Liu
  • Credit: Tonkin Liu

Grosvenor Square

Total area: 17,951m²
Client: Grosvenor Investments Ltd
Architect: Tonkin Liu 
Horticulturist: Nigel Dunnett
Ecologist: Gary Grant
Planning authority: City of Westminster
Planning ref: 21/08289/FULL

With the reimagining of Eero Saarinen’s only UK building, the former American Embassy in Mayfair, now well under way with the slender Portland stone facade having been precariously retained as a wrapping for a David Chipperfield designed 137 bedroom luxury hotel, attention now turns to the square it addresses.

Grosvenor Square had been deeply affected by Embassy building, having become something of a militarised zone of surveillance and defence, far from the ‘Wilderness Worke’ of three centuries ago, when it was laid out as a geometric garden inspired by Michaelangelo’s Capitoline Hill as a space for strolling and urban escape. The London Plane trees have grown handsomely, but it is not a place which evokes otherness or wilderness, not least because of relentlessly circumnavigating traffic.

Tonkin Liu is seeking to replenish its initial ideals with newly accepted plans for a double-oval approach, in which a central oval grassed mound is wrapped with 25m of planting, wending stone paths, twisted steel fencing and biodiverse hedgerows at the boundary of the site. The broader planting should see a 500% increase in number of plant species with 26 new trees, described by horticulturist Nigel Dunnet as ‘a robust, no-irrigation, future-proofed landscape, where all planting is closely fitted to the ecological and microclimatic conditions of the area’.

Two new green-roofed buildings, an educational building and gardener’s office will sit in proximity to the Eagle Squadron Memorial, retained heritage speaking to the American history of the site which also includes the FDR statue and a 9/11 Memorial, which will now stand among planting which flowers each September.

  • Credit: Squire & Partners
  • Credit: Squire & Partners
  • Credit: Squire & Partners

Wandsworth hotels

Total site area: 3,800 m²
Client: Dominvs Group
Architect: Squire & Partners
Planning authority: Wandsworth Borough Council
Planning ref: 2021/4900

When the American Embassy left Mayfair, it crossed the river into a purpose built, Kieran Timberlake-designed building, central to the Nine Elms and Battersea switch from light industry into phantasmagoric real estate. That new Embassy also has a freshy-consented neighbour this month, with two new hotels offering 837 bedrooms and due to open in 2024. The scheme replaces a previously-consented project for two larger hotels as each of the two buildings – one 11- and the other 15-storeys tall – share a basement but are otherwise separate entities that will be managed by different operators. Targeting BREEAM Excellent levels, the site was once a Victorian pleasure ground, and sits next to the planned Nine Elms linear park.

Tim Gledstone, partner at Squire & Partners, describes the two hotels as a ‘sculptural counterpart to the American Embassy’, with crafted facades referencing rippled light from the nearby Thames, views of which are afforded from a 14th floor bar, restaurant, and terrace.

This scheme replaces a previously consented project, also for two hotels but larger in scale. Dominvs states that the new approach, with a reduced massing and height, is a reaction ‘to a change in local market conditions’.

  • Credit: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
  • Credit: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
  • Credit: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

Three Chamberlain Square, Birmingham

Total area: 17,187m²
Client: Federated Hermes
Architect: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Planning authority: Birmingham City Council
Planning ref: 2021/08105/PA

Four months ago, this column reported on Grant Associates’ successful consent for the Paradise masterplan’s public realm, focusing on the connections and passages between the larger architectural components of the vast Birmingham city centre project. One of those, Feilden Clegg Bradley’s 10-storey Three Chamberlain Square, has now also been approved.

Standing next to the city’s Town Hall, an 1834 Corinthian temple form designed by Joseph Hansom and Edward Welch, there will be formal gestures between the new arrival and its older neighbour. Its roofline will pitch on two sides, picking up on nearby buildings and allowing more space towards the pediment of the Town Hall. A setback two-storey base, formed of a gothic-inspired florid rhythm, will direct address the arches in the pedestal of the Town Hall, while above strong vertical spines will reference the classical columns.

The spandrels and ribs which make up the superstructure of these three design conceits is to be formed of unglazed terracotta, with the base-level columns and soffits constructed of red pigmented precast concrete. Floors two to eight will feature winter gardens, designed to accommodate future working approaches and patterns, with a typical office floor providing an open plan area of around 1,990m² surrounding the central core. The ground floor, facing the busy Chamberlain Square, has active frontage on all four sides with retail units wrapping around each corner.

  • Credit: Henley Halebrown
  • Credit: Henley Halebrown
  • Credit: Henley Halebrown
  • Credit: Henley Halebrown

Edith Summerskill House

Total site area: 1,237m²
Client: HFS Developments, formed of Stanhope and London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham
Architect: Henley Halebrown
Landscape architect: Vogt Associates
Planning authority: Hammersmith & Fulham
Planning ref: 20/01283/FUL

In one of his last acts as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, Michael Gove (or, at least the minister for housing, Stuart Andrew, on his behalf) granted permission on appeal for this 20-storey tower. The building has been on a journey. Having initially received consent in 2017, it was forced into a redesign following a High Court instruction after a local resident – a planning barrister – objected to its height and overshadowing. The amended scheme was then granted full permission in September 2021 before Gove’s predecessor, Robert Jenrick, called in the scheme following further complaints over the building’s height, not least from Greg Hands, the local Conservative MP who tweeted: ‘We need more homes – but not more tower blocks – in Fulham.’

However, now the initial decision has been reaffirmed, the local area is set to benefit from 133 homes – all 100% affordable, of which 80% are social rent. Named after feminist MP Summerskill, who served under Labour PM Clement Attlee, there seems to be the rather frustrating game of party politics wafting around the slow progression of this project, when most people would agree that the housing crisis requires cross-party determination to bring not only this, but far more, excellently designed affordable housing to the country.

The outcome of all these boring and legal delays has meant that residents needing the flats will have lived in temporary accommodation for far longer than planned. The borough has nearly 3,000 households awaiting accommodation, and so delay like this is a matter not just for the courts or spreadsheet-operatives in council offices, but for real lives and families.

However, on the positive side, with permission now signed off the homes will be delivered, in what Simon Henley of architect Henley Halebrown described in the evidence to the appeal as: ‘housing with thoughtful design, carefully chosen materials, and detailing more normally associated with significant public buildings and civic architecture’.

The facades of a repeating arch motif do have a civic symbolism. Formed around the Golden Section, the architect’s appeal referenced not only Rome’s Palazzo della Civiltà but also Bernini in its discussion on the finish of the concrete and use of chiaroscuro within the layered elevations. The rustication-esque brick-plinth only further roots this social project in classical orders, qualities which should soon stand proudly in Greg Hands’s constituency, should he still be holding it after the next election.

  • Credit: Chetwoods

Bloom ultra-urban warehouses

Total site area: 3,400m²
Client: Bloom Developments
Architect: Chetwoods
Planning authority: Lambeth
Planning ref: 21/04767/FUL

Despite the housing crisis and intense pressure on land and its financial value in London, a functioning city needs a broad array of uses, including industrial and storage. There is an ongoing trend of former warehousing or light-industrial uses being turned over to (usually for-profit) housing. In Brixton, however, Chetwoods has designed ultra-urban warehouses, smaller-than-traditional distribution spaces working as ‘micro-hubs’ for local businesses to build supply chains closer to consumers.

Spatially, these are two-storey simple sheds, replacing a cluttered mix of existing storage and light industrial, creating a more logical vehicular path and increasing the overall internal floor area by nearly 65% to just under 3,000m². Spatially, the scheme is broken into two blocks separated by an access courtyard, with the locally-listed public house remaining in the corner of the site – the new design addressing it in massing and height.

Materially, the scheme does not shy away from its industrial function, with projected and perforated brickwork, a polyester powder coated cladding system above, and courtyard-facing elevations formed of a translucent cladding system. New planting and green walls will soften sections of the facades, with rooftop photovoltaics, electric vehicle charging points, and new tree planting facing the polluted Brixton Hill.


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