British Library extension plan ‘cashing in on Somers Town boom’

Designs for a new block next to Crick Institute are released

Tuesday, 19th April — By Dan Carrier

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How the new building would look

THIS is the first look at proposals for a multimillion-pound extension to the British Library – but the project has already caused uproar over plans to dedicate just one quarter of a new 12-storey block to library uses.

The scheme for land behind the library and next to the Francis Crick Institute is the latest in a stream of major changes to Somers Town in recent years. Nine of the floors will be put up for let with 76,000 square metres of commercial space available.

This is compared to 10,000 square metres  earmarked to link the new library with the current building.

Diana Foster, secretary of the Somers Town Neighbourhood Forum, said: “Let’s be clear – this building is a money spinner, first and foremost.

“The Library have heard how Somers Town is meant to be the new Palo Alto, the new centre for tech firms in the UK, and this is the result. We are struck by how much of this new building has nothing to do with the Library’s cultural aims.”

She added: “It’s a commercial building, with lots of retail and then floor after floor of office space for start-ups.”

The aim to create a building which generated money meant the designs were too high, Ms Foster said, and this would pile further misery onto a community that has faced decades of developments.

She said: “People feel very hemmed in. They say there will be some public space – but let’s be honest, it is a mean and skinny strip of land sandwiched between two giant buildings.”

In objections filed at the Town Hall, one neighbour, Alastair Cliff, said: “Whilst the expansion of the Library would be a positive for the area and London as a whole, the design is poor quality and out of context. The current design is that of a second-rate generic and ugly office block which is completely out of place next to both St Pancras Station and the existing British Library building.”

Another controversial part of the scheme is to demolish the 2007-built British Library Centre for Conservation.

SMBL Developments director Charles Walford, who is working on the scheme, said: “We have undertaken an extensive consultation exercise with the local community ahead of the submission of a planning application to the London Borough of Camden.

“We appreciate that there are a number of comments local people have raised. We have addressed these where we can through changes to the design throughout the process, including setting back the extension from Ossulston Street and creating increased public space including a new community garden fronting onto Ossulston Street.

“We are committed to continuing an open dialogue going forward and we will review any further comments that come through our own engagement as well as the borough’s consultation process and address these where appropriate.”

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