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‘Skyscrapers are ruining historic landmarks like Bunhill Fields’

PUBLISHED: 07:00 03 May 2017

Niall McDevitt by the Bunhill Fields gravestones of William Blake, right, and Daniel Defoe, left. Picture: Julie Goldsmith

Niall McDevitt by the Bunhill Fields gravestones of William Blake, right, and Daniel Defoe, left. Picture: Julie Goldsmith

Archant

The south of Islington has extraordinary heritage sites. But as more skyscrapers spring up, are these being ruined? The issue was again brought up on Thursday as the town hall approved a 28-storey tower.

A bird's eye view of the Finsbury Tower site, and surrounding heritage assets. Picture: Islington CouncilA bird's eye view of the Finsbury Tower site, and surrounding heritage assets. Picture: Islington Council

“Overall, it is considered that this harm will constitute less than substantial harm to the significance of designated heritage assets, albeit the main harm will be towards the higher end of less than substantial harm.”

Do you have any idea what this means? Us neither.

It was the summary Islington Council planning officers gave to justify recommending a 12-storey office extension to Finsbury Tower in Bunhill Row off Old Street. The main building already stands at 16 storeys.

On Thursday, the town hall planning committee followed the recommendation and granted permission to make it an even bigger skyscraper.

The council said it will bring “real benefits” to the area, including affordable housing in a separate, smaller extension of the building.

But skyscrapers are a touchy subject in this part of Islington. The plans, submitted by Finsbury Tower Estates, received 26 objections.

Islington Council has approved a 12-storey extension to Finsbury Tower in Bunhill Row. Picture: Google Street ViewIslington Council has approved a 12-storey extension to Finsbury Tower in Bunhill Row. Picture: Google Street View

The main focus was the tower overshadowing – literally – historic places next door. They include the Bunhill Fields burial ground, the Honourable Artillery Company grounds, Wesley’s Chapel and the Artillery Arms pub.

Last year, poet Niall McDevitt gathered more than 3,000 signatures in a petition against the extension of Monmouth House, another tower across the way in City Road.

Again, his concern was over Grade I-listed Bunhill Fields, home to the graves of William Blake and Daniel Defoe.

However, then-mayor of London Boris Johnson forced the plans through, meaning it will become 11 storeys high.

And responding to news of Finsbury Tower being approved, Mr McDevitt said: “It’s very worrying. The development of Monmouth House hasn’t started yet, but it will happen. Now we have an extra 12 floors on Finsbury Tower, which is already a very tall building anyway. This is what we warned about in our campaign last year.

“Development space continues to be sold and I think these historic places are being used as a kind of selling point for people in these flats and offices. Bunhill Fields, for example, is one of the most historic green spaces in central London.

A general view of Bunhill Fields burial ground. Picture: Owen Vulliamy/PAA general view of Bunhill Fields burial ground. Picture: Owen Vulliamy/PA

“But it’s almost like it’s being sold off as an asset. And what does Bunhill Fields get out of it? Nothing but shadow.”

Last year, the town hall launched an attack on Mr Johnson for taking Monmouth House out of its hands. And Mr McDevitt said it made Thursday’s Finsbury Tower decision all the more disappointing.

“Islington obviously has to go through the details of each individual planning application,” he said. “But after trying to oppose Monmouth House last year, it’s disappointing they allowed Finsbury Tower to get a whole lot bigger.”

But Karen Sullivan, the council’s service director for planning, responded: “The planning committee considered this decision very carefully and decided that the proposals to extend the building wouldn’t substantially harm the significance of nearby heritage assets.

“The plans will produce a number of real benefits for the area and borough. These include 25 much-needed new homes for social rent – at a time when there is a severe housing shortage across Islington and London – office space for over 2,000 jobs, and improvements to the building and the public spaces around the building.

“The new site will also contain a substantial amount of affordable workspace, which is highly sought after in Islington and often used by start-ups and smaller local companies.

“These benefits were considered to outweigh the harm to the heritage assets.”

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