Climate change is ‘most powerful’ case against tower block demolition

LabTech decline to comment on latest criticisms

Tuesday, 19th April — By Dan Carrier

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The revised plans for Selkirk House

A DEVELOPER’S new plans for a tower block development in Bloomsbury will devastate a historic street, civic groups have claimed, as they questioned whether demolition of an old hotel makes sense.

LabTech, which also hold an extensive property portfolio in Camden Town where it was behind a wholesale redevelopment of canalside market sites, had applied for permission to bulldoze Selkirk House – a former Travelodge in Museum Street – and replace it with a new 22-storey building. In there would go a mix of offices and housing, with only the facades of a Victorian terrace protected in the proposals.

After facing a backlash over the scale of the work, the company has now revised the scheme and dropped it to 20 floors.

But the amendments have still not been enough to satisfy objectors living nearby, who call it a “grotesquely avaricious over-development”.

Those are the words of the Save Museum Street group, which is made up of 15 influential resident bodies and civic groups and believes the revisions have only scratched the surface of the problems with the first application.

The new designs show the building will be slightly reduced in size, but increased in width.

Describing the updated proposals as a “wasted opportunity”, Jim Monahan, from the Covent Garden Area Trust, said: “The project requires a fundamental rethink, not a revised scheme that prioritises profits.”

The current view

He called for the site’s owners to scrap the plans to demolish the building altogether, and said there needed to be designs that are sustainable, sensitive to the area and with a proper social housing element.

“They say two storeys have been lopped off the top but it is still a 20 metre increase [from what is there now]. It remains horribly visible alongside historic build­ings and Conser­vation Areas and an enormous increase in bulk.”

He added that he believed LabTech were driven by an urge to squeeze as much profit out of the site as possible, without properly considering the impact on the streets around it.

The level of affordable housing proposed also remains a flashpoint. Mr Monahan said: “The new designs show there’s more housing – but social housing is only up from six units to a paltry nine so-called ‘affordable shared ownership’ units.

“They aren’t affordable – they will only be available to people earning more than £65,000 a year.

“Added to this, the new plan has increased to a stonking 28 homes, of which 22 so-called flats will be ‘service apartments’, which is a fancy word for hotel-like accommodation – where all the profit lies.”

The groups say the environmental impact should be the key point – and that this must lead Camden to refuse to give consent for the works. Mr Monahan said: “The claim this is a sustainable project is simply incorrect. There is no improvement as the demolition of a sound and substantial building, is still planned.

“The most powerful argument against LabTech’s proposals is climate change.”

He added: “The most sustainable building is the one that already exists. LabTech’s redevelopment of Selkirk House will cause massive carbon emissions with no regard to the Climate Emergency.

“Wholesale demolition of Selkirk House and the buildings in the Conservation Area in West Central Street brazenly squanders all the embodied carbon in those buildings and will cause additional major emissions.”

Despite repeated requests, LabTech declined to comment.

If permission is passed, the demolition could take place next January and the project finished in 2025.

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