As the summary of Michael Hebbert’s book-‘London :more by fortune than design’ states, “Plague, Fire, Imperial collapse, theBlitz, London rises triumphant, still one of the brokers of the global economyand still one of the most liveable cities in the world”.
Post the World War II,most of London was destroyed, a third of the city of the city had to berebuilt. In spite of this, London, a city made up of 32 local authoritydistricts, or boroughs, and 33 when the central City of London is included,manages to rise up and survive. What is the force and reason behind thissurvival? Is it the planning schemes put forward by the governing authorities?Is it the response of residents of the city or ‘Londoners’ to the said planningschemes? Is it the various conservation measures taken up by heritage councils?As it is laborious to explore answers to this question relating to the whole ofLondon, through this paper, I would like to focus on one district of centralLondon, namely, Fitzrovia, which lies partly on the city of Westminster andpartly in the London Borough of Camden. Fitzroviais named after the Fitzroy Tavern, a public house situated on the corner ofCharlotte Street and Windmill Street, situated inside the district.
The publichouse was named after Charles Fitzroy (later Baron Southampton), who first establishedthe northern part of the area in the 18th century. Fitzroy acquired the Manorof Tottenhall and developed Fitzroy Square, to which he gave his name. Thesquare is the most notable of the actual architectural characteristics of thedistrict, having partly been designed by Robert Adam. Thedistrict was first expanded by Charles Fitzroy, lord of the manor of Tottenhallfrom 1757. The eastern and southern edges of Fitzroy Square were designed byRobert Adam in 1794 and endure their original form. In its initial days Fitzroviawas built for the upper classes, and was principally an area of wealthytradesmen and craft workshops, with Edwardian mansion blocks constructed by theQuakers to permit theatre employees to be close to work. Though it was developedfor the people belonging to the upper classes, the residents soon travelled south-westwards to Belgravia and Mayfair, compellinga partition of the aristocratic houses into workshops, studios and rooms tolet.
A post-war dearth of commercial space incentral London encouraged the rezoning of Fitzrovia as a light industrial areaand some admirable Georgian assets – including Constable’s house, were demolishedand substituted by office blocks, several of which have since been reconstructed.It can therefore be clearly seen thatFitzrovia, in the past, was never planned by a governing authority, but by theresidents and the community itself, according to their needs andspecifications, and quickly and efficiently adapted to the different ethnic andcultural groups which were making it their home over a period of time. OnlyPost war, did Fitzrovia come to be governed by the boroughs, namely Camden andWestminster, and atpresent, Fitzrovia is an area where an established residential community existsalong with a mix of Central London activities including commercial, universityand health uses. Looking back atthe questions put forward at the beginning of this essay, an amalgamation ofthese questions can result in one very important question of ‘What planningmodel has produced the diverse urban qualities of Fitzrovia?’, the answers towhich, will be clear through the course of the discussion in this essay. There have beenmany recent developments in Fitzrovia, the most notable being the project of ‘Fitzroy Place’, which is a new privatedevelopment by a private housebuildingcompany, Taylor Wimpey, and situated in Central London alongside London’s significantneighbourhoods like Mayfair, Marylebone, Soho and offering a luxury living.Fitzroy Place is an office, residential and retail estate in Fitzrovia.
With 289 homes, and 220,000 sq ft of office space, FitzroyPlace houses a series of shops and restaurants, offices and community spaces, developedaround a publicly accessible central square. Another new expansion in the area, which is currently in progress isthe Area Action Plan proposed by The Camden council, due to the concern of theimpact of sustained development burden on Fitzrovia, which is now being additionallyfuelled by neighbouring expansion areas. The expansion areas are basedaround revitalization of Euston mainline station (outside thePlan area to the north east) and Tottenham Court Road tube station(a new Crossrail interchange, outside the Plan area tothe south west).
The objective of this Area Action Plan,as stated by the council, is to help to shape the future of the Fitzrovia by:• developinga vision for the area shared by the Council, key communitygroups and key landowners;• ensuring thatgrowth takes place in a way that balances the need for residential, institutional andcommercial uses and minimises harm to whilst supporting the residential community and its facilities and futureneeds and protecting and enhancing its amenity and quality of life;• coordinatingdevelopment proposals across a number of significant sites; and• ensuring thatgrowth delivers the maximum benefits to the area.The mix of land uses, the smallscale and fine grain of most growth, the listed buildings, preservation areasand the history of Fitzrovia make Fitzrovia an inimitable place which is extremelyvalued by residents and visitors. This Plan, set out by the council, recognizesthe things that provide Fitzrovia its distinctive character and strives to guaranteethat they are preserved. It also intendsto make sure that expansion proposals involve advantages to Fitzrovia, predominantlyin terms of public open space and other public spaces, housing and public communityfacilities.
It also strives to provide adequate growth of a representativelevel and pursue the most efficient and effective use of land, while preservingwhat makes Fitzrovia appealingas a place to live, work and visit. Also, as part of the plan, when a development is ineptat meeting the public open space requirements of its inhabitants by direct establishmenton or near the site, the Council will contemplate the use of monetary aids,both private and public, to improve prevailing open spaces in processes that increasetheir capacity wherever practical. If there are no prospects to improve prevailingopen space in a site rationally connected to the development, the usage of monetarycontributions to generate functioning spaces within the street environment willbe contemplated.
To inspire direct allocation and combining of open space in asingle location, the Council will contemplate officially recognizing publicopen space credits wherever a developer directly provides public open spacein Fitzrovia in an approach of any policy obligation resulting from adevelopment. Fitzrovia is considered to be critically lacking in public openspace and approach to nature conservation interest. There has been a stablegrowth in the groups of residents and employees in Fitzrovia over the past few years.
Yet, no inclusion to green public open space has been provided in the areasince Crabtree Fields were developed in 1985. Therefore, The Plan’s objectivesalso comprise recognizing prospects to develop new publicly accessible open andgreen spaces. Fitzrovia and its neighbourBloomsbury have a long history of medical and educational uses going back to 200years, with the well knows University of London and University College London(UCL) being based in Bloomsbury in the immediate east of Fitzrovia. The principalUniversity College Hospital building (part of the UCLH NHS Foundation Trust) issituated along the north-eastern side of Fitzrovia on Euston Road. Collectively,these form part of a campus of educational, medical and research facilitieswhich is present partially in the Plan area.
Considering the large grain andscale around the University College Hospital, and the London Plan’s acknowledgementof a larger area with a powerful academic character, these areas are regardedthe most suitable locations for medical/ healthcare uses and educational/research uses. Along this line, the Plan also focuses on increasing the densityof student housing. Due to the exorbitant cost of local housing in the openmarket, the large number of students living in Fitzrovia inhabit exclusivehousing designed and built for inhabitation by students. Exclusive studentaccommodation is provided in Fitzrovia by UCL, LSE and the Indian YMCA, withits focus in Maple Street between Fitzroy Street and Whitfield Street. These prevailingsites have worked for some years without evidence of any major disturbance tolonger-term residents. Most of Fitzrovia is closely developed with a fine grid pattern strengthenedand made distinct by buildings built to the street. Buildings are largelybetween 4 and 7 storeys in height, and with the prominent exemptions of the BTTower, Central Cross, and UCH, the number of tall buildings in the area is veryless. The built form generates a perception of enclosure and human scale that bestowsgreatly to Fitzrovia’s character and appeal.
The Plan’s urban design principlesfocus on preserving and enhancing Fitzrovia’s prevailing built form, which alsohave a lot of historic background. Many the area’s Georgian terraced townhousessubsist as do the Georgian squares of Fitzroy Square and Bedford Square whichare extremely well preserved. Most of Fitzrovia is covered by conservation areadescriptions also including many listed buildings. The historic environment preparesa setting for development in most streets in Fitzrovia, also setting up thestage for the involvement of heritage societies in the development of the planfor Fitzrovia.Also, according to the plan, thedevelopment of community facilities throughout Fitzrovia will be assisted providedthe proposal is at a suitable scale and characteristically in context with thearea in which it is situated. The council development guidelines describecommunity facilities to comprise a extensive range of activities such aschildcare, education and training, healthcare, meeting spaces, places ofworship and public conveniences.
These will commonly be facilities that provideservices directly to the inhabitants, and accordingto the Camden Council, the draft of the Area Action Plan has been directedby a lot of aspects involving community groups, landowners and localcouncillors since their support is critical to thesuccess of this Plan. Community groups whichinclude the Charlotte Street Association, the Fitzrovia NeighbourhoodAssociation, the Bloomsbury Association and the Fitzrovia Trust, as well as manyresidents, have made an enormous contribution to the preparation of the Plan. The council also states that it will maintain theinvolvement with the community to make sure that the residents continue to beactively be a part in the development of their area. The above statements, arisingfrom facts as part of a proposed plan, lead to the conclusion that there is agood balance of planning between the elected council, resident community groupsand heritage societies, but also give rise to the question of whether all the 3involved entities named above are needed to direct private investment, as wellas public investment to actually put the proposed plan to execution. As seenpreviously, one of the recent developments in Fitzrovia, the Fitzroy place,built by a private developer, had no involvement of any sort by the residentcommunities as well as the heritage council, but has still become a success interms of the functions it was built for. On the other hand, although the Area Action Plan looks good on paper,some of the developments planned by the council have been met with oppositionsfrom the residents of Fitzrovia, with letters of objection sent to the Councilto make a point, one of the proposals being to revitalize thesite which had previously housed the Strand Union Workhouse on ClevelandStreet. The site was last usedas the Middlesex Hospital Annex in 2006 and it has subsequently prevailed asmajorly as a vacant land with property guardians utilising the buildings as transitoryspace. It is currently under the proprietorship of University College London HospitalsCharity which has presented plans for a housing and commercialdevelopment.
The land is one of the final pieces in the series of older hospitalsites in Fitzrovia which have been evacuated, sold or improved as part of UCLH’s strategy to restart itsvast medical estate. It is also one of the few enduring sites recognized for housing inthe Fitzrovia Area Action Plan, and is the focus of an agreement to providesocial rented homes, in addition to the much-needed social housing. The currentproposal is to renovate the Grade II listed workhouse building and topartly demolish and renovate the rest of the site to offer homes and commercialfloor space most likely in a newly built tower block at the rear end of thesite. UCLH Charity has stated in the planning application that “staff wholeave key posts as nurses, healthcare assistants, doctors and scientists consistentlycite housing costs as one of the three most significant factors in encouragingtheir leaving”.
This ironic statement has been delivered from the same hospital charity,which has in the recent years, traded off considerable number of its rented staffaccommodations and forced its own workers to endure eviction sincetheir houses were bought by private property developers and convertedto high-rise apartments. Most of the objections that resulted in reply to the planningapplication raise concern regarding the lack of social housing on the site, a conditionaggravated by the fact that the UCLH Charity requires 40 percent of the sitefor office space. The request falls well short of the number of homes expected; and aneighbourhood daily in Fitzrovia has stated that theCamden Council is no longer going to request the outstanding areaallocated to social rented housing associated with an earlier planneddevelopment at Grafton Way. Although the plans pave way for a pedestrianwalkway linking Charlotte Street to Cleveland Street, the structure falls shortin delivering public open space to deliver amenities for residents andlocal workers, as had been previously promised. The large number of commercial spacesplanned — with possibly 400 employees — will aggravate the deficiency of publicopen space in Fitzrovia. UCLH Charity admits that the public open space projected falls short ofwhat is required.
Another proposal in Fitzrovia, which has been met with opposition fromthe resident community and heritage societies alike is the conversion of a previous family home of artist anddesigner couple Adrian and Corinne Heath, which had been planned to beconverted into a series of flats. Adrian Heath (1920-1992) hadbeen a major figure in the development of abstractart in England during the forties and a key proponent ofConstructivism. Corinne Heath (died 2009) was a theatre designer. Their home from 1957 at 28Charlotte Street was at the center of an artistic community inFitzrovia.
At one-time, modernist artist Birgit Skiöld ran the extremelysuccessful Print Workshop in the basement of the same building.The requestaccording to the proposed Plan is to alter the existing house and artiststudios to present self-contained flats, together with the enlargement of a prevailingbasement, extensions in the first and second floors, and modifications to the rearwall and roof. The building, although not listed, is classified asa positive contributor to the Charlotte Street conservation area. Objectorsto the proposal say the conversion will demolish ‘key features of Georgianarchitecture’ and also the artists’ studio built purposefully for Adrian Heathin the 20th century at the back of the house. A localcampaign group, the Charlotte Street Association argue that revamping will inturn affect the upper floors behind a preserved facade and destroy theproportions of the building by changing the floor and ceiling heights.Their concerns are also backed by the Bloomsbury Conservation Area AdvisoryCommittee. The Twentieth Century Society has also opposed the loss of the purpose-builtartists’ studio which they claim was designed by architect CharlotteBaden-Powell.Although a final decision has yet to betaken on the above-mentioned oppositions, the statements clearly depict thatthe planning committees cater to commercially productive proposals, although itmeans breaching regulations against current community spaces and historicfeatures of the buildings, which principally preserve the heritage of theplace, and which were effective the way they were.
Thediscussion leads to the topic of the question posed earlier that although thereis a good balance of planning in Fitzrovia, would the involvement of 3different entities result in a positive outcome, or would it result in amessy entangled web of the same. As a consequence of the ever-changing needs of the inhabitants of anyarea in a city, the role of public and private investors in urban areadevelopment processes is changing as well. On one hand private investors are functioningfrequently and additionally into the characteristic governmental province inurban planning, due to the improved number of private enterprises andinvestments. Therefore, the role of the private sector develops into being moredynamic.
On the other hand, local governments often limit themselves from the decision-makingand urban design processes regarding development, concentrating on framing conditionsfor plans and sanctioning them through public law procedures. Here, the role ofelected bodies becomes more responsive. Therefore, although the role of electedbodies is very important to bring in investment from both public and privatesectors, as seen from a discussion above, oppositions will be raised against adevelopment if proper community or ‘public’ engagement is not focused on.
Communityengagement in urban design and planning brings advantages to all the factorsinvolved; communities get what they want, they develop the sense of ownershipover the ensuing proposals and therefore are more persuaded to involve in theirimplementation, and developers / investors and elected bodies in-charge of theproject get a result that is acceptable to the inhabitant community. The general goal of engagement should be to attain an explicitdecision-making process with contribution from the actual stakeholders, thecommunity and their support of the decisions that are taken. Thereby, it can beinferred that there is no one ‘correct/right’ answer to the questions of ‘What planning model has produced the diverse urbanqualities of Fitzrovia’, and ‘Whether all the 3 involved entities in the planningof Fitzrovia, namely the elected council, the community and the heritagesocieties are needed to direct private investment, as well as public investmentto actually put the proposed plan to execution’. Rather, lessons can be learntfrom the planning process in Fitzrovia that a successful implementation of anydevelopment plan is dependant on the context and agreement of all thestakeholders or entities affected by the development.