Peer slams £400m Dolphin Square overhaul

Objections to scheme for historic site, but it’s earmarked to go ahead

Friday, 31st May 2019

Dolphin Square

An artist’s impression of the proposed changes at Dolphin Square

A TORY peer has urged Westminster Council to reject a £400million overhaul of “one of the most important inter-war developments in the whole of London” ahead of a crunch meeting next week.

Lord Cormack, said US investment giant Westbrook Partners’ proposal to demolish and rebuild parts of historic Dolphin Square, Pimlico, would “alter the skyline beyond recognition”.

The one-nation Tory is one of 180 objectors to the massive scheme that will add 230 new “short-term let” flats to the 1,225-home estate. Just 57 flats will be designated as “affordable”, 24.5 per cent of the proposed new homes.

Council policy is that a third of new homes in major developments should be affordable, and leader Nickie Aiken has said her council would no longer “buckle” to developers’ failing to meet the important threshold.

But despite objections from St George’s Square Residents’ Association, Dolphin Square Preservation Society and the Protect Our Pimlico group, the Westbrook’s scheme is recommended for approval.

Objectors include Ludmilla Matthews, a Pimlico resident since 1971. “Dolphin Square has always been kept separate from the kind of rabid capitalism that has seen so much of London turned into ‘luxury accommodation’ with a little bit of affordable housing stuck on as a sweetener”, she said. “I sincerely hope that Westminster Council will not fall into this trap.”

Several objectors criticised the demolition of the Art Deco shopping arcade and changes to the Grade II-listed public gardens, designed by landscape architect Richard Sudell.

Protest groups have warned that the new homes will be used for “short lets” that is “contrary to the needs for affordable, residential housing for key working Londoners”.

One 87-year-old resident urged council chiefs to consider the impact of at least five years of demolition and construction on those who may not “survive the mayhem”.

Another said: “Five years of builders’ dust, muck, noise and visual chaos and street congestion is something which be­longs in a dystopian Hollywood film.”

Dolphin Square has attracted a range of colourful residents over the years including Soviet spy John Vassall; Oswald Mosley, leader of the “blackshirts”; Princess Anne; former prime minister Harold Wilson; and Carry On actors Sid James and Barbara Windsor.

Patrick, Lord Cormack, was promoted by William Hague to deputy leader of the Commons after 27 years on the backbenches. He returned there after a failed bid to become Speaker and it has been said that he was isolated for opposing former prime minister Margaret Thatcher over her controversial poll tax policy.

His objection added: “One of the most valued features of Dolphin Square is the arcade of shops. The 1930s arcade, itself a real feature of the building, would be demolished and there are no clear and firm proposals to rehouse a group of retailers whose services are greatly valued, and indeed much depended upon, by the residents of Dolphin Square.”

He is a member of its preservation society that has told the council it “strongly objects to the excessive plans which would destroy the ethos, character and fabric of Dolphin Square”.

The Blue Dolphin Tenants Association has also objected and Thames Water has said the current infrastructure does not meet the needs of the development.

The Twentieth Century Society strongly objected to the application. “The proposals will irrevocably damage its heritage significance,” it said.

The application, originally submitted last year, includes a new nine-storey replacement of Rodney House, with a double basement, and rows of rooftop extensions and townhouses. It has been amended since it was originally submitted in 2018, and a planning committee decision is due on Wednesday night.

The council’s planning statement said the applicant will own and manage the new affordable homes across the estate in perpetuity, and “the city council will retain 100 per cent nomination rights at first and subsequent lettings”.

Westbrook has not commented but has described its plans as “a vision to secure the future of the site for the next 100 years”.

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