Subject: Planning Reference 2012/3923 (49-50 Eagle Wharf Road. Demolition of Holborn Studios)

CC: Jennette Arnold AM
CC: Nicky Gavron AM
CC: Meg Hillier MP
CC: Emily Thornberry MP

Attention: Jillian Holford (Case Officer)

Dear Jillian,

I am writing to comment on some of the planning statements for the demolition of Holborn Studios. This follows on from my e-mail of 18th March 2013 ( I have had no training in planning, law or heritage, but I have a good understanding of the values of the active members of the local and canal communities; so please treat my comments as a reflection of other people's views rather than the views of myself alone. I have numbered my comments in case other people want to refer to them later and a copy of this e-mail can be found at


1. The canal is special because it is a traffic-free open space and most parts of it are open to the public. It is similar to a park, in that people visit it to enhance their health and well-being, to see open sky and they do not want it to be overdeveloped. People need and appreciate the slow pace of life on the canal; they visit it for its tranquillity and are not necessarily looking for "vibrancy".

2. The canal is very different from the streets in that people notice the surrounding buildings much more when they walk along the canal. This means that developments that seem acceptable on busy streets are much less acceptable along the canal.

3. The canal is very different from the River Thames in Central London because it is much narrower. A ten-storey building next to the river does not have too much impact on the river's role as an open space, whereas the growing number of tall buildings along the canal are turning it into a canyon.

4. People are attracted to the canal because there is diversity of architecture. Tall and low buildings. Old and new buildings. The current pace of development along the canal, especially along the Hackney stretches, is eradicating that diversity. The buildings are becoming homogenous.

5. The Canal and River Trust is promoting the waterways network as a national treasure on the basis that it allows the public to connect with history. Features like industrial chimneys are important for helping to make that connection, otherwise people get the impression that London has always been built around office blocks and empty homes for overseas investors. Most members of the public, unlike the applicant's heritage adviser, are not going to scrutinise the ad-hoc evolution of an industrial site or to dismiss it as irrelevant if the original features have been lost. The mere sight of a chimney is sufficient to help them to make a connection.

6. There are a lot of underprivileged residents in Hackney who cannot readily jump on a train or bus to visit the Midlands to see examples of canal heritage buildings. And why should they? At present they still have examples on their own doorstep; but for how much longer?

7. People today are dismayed by the mistakes made by planning teams in the 1960s and 1970s (e.g. gyratories, insensitive demolition) and we are often assured that those types of mistakes will not be repeated. I am not assured. I can imagine our descendents asking why our generation allowed the canal to lose so much of its identity within 20 years of gaining public access to it.

8. The Regent's Canal will celebrate its bicentenary year in 2020. By then, in certain boroughs, only the locks, bridges and waterway will remain; the surroundings will bear no resemblance to their 19th century or early 20th century form. Soon we will need to rely on photographs and paintings alone to get an appreciation for the canal in its early days.

9. It is acknowledged that 1963 was a turning point for the canal's utilisation. So it could be argued that any buildings constructed prior to 1963 have a heritage value.

10. The planning documents refer to water-borne freight in the past tense. While it is true that railways and roads have replaced the canals for the majority of freight journeys, it is untrue to suggest that water-borne transport is obsolete. The Regent's Canal still meets a high specification for water-borne freight and there is now a government policy to shift freight transport away from the roads. The Regent's Canal can deliver freight to the heart of London and can help to alleviate road congestion in areas where the waterways are underutilised and the roads are saturated with traffic.

11. The concept of a rebirth of water borne freight was promoted by Prince Charles, the Patron of the Canal and River Trust, at its launch in July 2012. There is growing public support for migrating certain materials from roads to waterways. We need to allow for this modal shift when weighing up the desirability and wisdom of lining the canal banks with uninterrupted rows of new homes.


12. The architects have noted that the canal is "slowly being gentrified and intensified to accommodate housing and other more modern B1 uses". I welcome the gentrification up to the point that it reduces crime but I would be very concerned if it pushed accommodation costs out of reasonable reach. I am concerned about the intensification because there are now very few access points along the canal that would facilitate water-borne transport. Even the waste and recycling bins in most developments are inaccessible from the canal. The intensification is not a selling point because it is closing off the canal and interfering with initiatives to revive an environmentally friendly form of transport.

13. An example of a building that interferes with the canal can be found in the apartment block at Harris Wharf. This is blocking the second lock chamber at City Road Lock. Yet the architects have cited it as a "distinctive new build modern glass building situated hard onto the canal basin edge". I agree that it is distinctive, indeed it is quite attractive, but its proximity to the basin edge is very unhelpful in the long term.

14. The architects have cited Gainsborough Studios as one of the "largest and most distinctive canalside buildings". Few people will disagree that it is a large building but I am not sure that it gives any benefit to the canal. People have commented that this building looks better from the South than from the North and I think this is partly because there is a large open space (Shoreditch Park) to the South and a relatively narrow open space (the Regent's Canal) to the North.

15. The architects have noted that the former buildings adjoining Holborn Studios were "better examples of canal side industrial buildings". This implies that their demolition was regrettable.

16. The architects have gone to great lengths to "evoke a feeling of the industrial past". For example they are offering an "asymmetric stepped massing creating a modern interpretation of the original picturesque form." They even claim that the four storey raised block will "replicate the effect of the chimney". I would be amazed if the average members of the public will ever share this interpretation of the architecture; it is more likely that they will just see it as a modern glass block that resembles an overspill from the financial district.


17. I find it disturbing that "the Development Management Local Plan and Site Allocations Local Plan ... are to be afforded less weight than the policies contained within the adopted Core Strategy and National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)". It will cause irreversible damage to this part of Hackney and Islington if the recently compiled national guidelines are interpreted too literally. Shoreditch could lose its identity forever if the canal banks are purged of established studios and workshops to make way for a constant expansion of "Silcon Roundabout". There is no guarantee that the digital revolution around Old Street will be sustainable in the long term. Do we really want to put all our eggs into one basket?

18. It is questionable whether the canalside sites are essential for car washing and storage businesses, such as the ones to the East of Holborn Studios. They make no obvious use of the canal and in theory they could be relocated relatively easily. However, there are good reasons for creative workers (e.g. artists and photographers) to make use of canal locations, because it can help to inspire their work, especially in converted industrial buildings. They have demonstrated that they can make good use of existing buildings and they do not require expensive state-of-the-art buildings.

19. The heritage consultant has stressed that the buildings are not locally listed and that this gives the green light for their destruction. It might come as a surprise to a lot of people that these buildings are unprotected; and this could trigger an appeal to ensure that they are listed before it is too late. Given that the neighbouring buildings on both sides of Holborn Studios have been demolished in the past twenty years, it is more important than ever that Eagle Wharf should be protected.

20. It is stated that "the proposal seeks to replace the existing substandard commercial buildings with a strong viable employment component that would be designed to the type and standard demanded by the current local niche media and creative market". I would want to consult some of the well established clients at Holborn Studios before passing judgement on whether the buildings are substandard. From a visitor's perspective the buildings show no signs of neglect. I find it strange that media and creative people should ever "demand" high standards, since by definition they are creative and resourceful and their key requirements are electricity and communications signals rather than luxury offices.

21. It could be a mistake to assume that web-based jobs will outnumber other types of jobs. If history repeats itself then many of these jobs could be outsourced to less expensive parts of the UK (or elsewhere on the globe) once the start-up phase is over.

22. I am not convinced that technological advancements will force the photographic industry to downsize its facilities in the manner suggested in the planning statement. I accept that companies like Jessops have been made extinct by other means of purchasing shrink-wrapped equipment; but professional models, photographers and light engineers will always need studios that can accommodate full-size humans, jeeps, furniture, etc.


23. The heritage consultant is judging these buildings and the courtyard against similar buildings elsewhere in Britain. For example, he describes the courtyard surroundings as "plainly utilitarian in common with innumerable workshop or industrial administrative buildings throughout Britain"; and the external buildings as "typical of innumerable similar buildings and compositions of similar buildings along roads and canals throughout the industrial towns and cities of Britain". This comparison is inappropriate because what really matters to local people is how these buildings compare with other buildings in the borough.

24. The heritage consultant has gone to great lengths to criticise all the buildings, internally and externally, and the way they are used. For example, he has commented on the lack of clutter in some of the rooms, without finding out why the tenants have chosen to use the available space sparsely. He has also criticised the courtyard and the buildings that surround it. To most visitors his comments will seem irrelevant because they consider the courtyard to be an interesting feature, and its irregularities are its strength. In contrast to all the surrounding buildings and streets, the courtyard offers a "countryside feel" and, in combination with the pontoons and other facilities on this site, it could make an ideal setting for a wedding reception.


25. It has been suggested that the reason for the low turnout at the exhibition in July 2012 was that the proposals were not controversial amongst the neighbours. I can accept that the neighbours to the South of the site are not too adversely affected by the plans, because they are not in the line of sight of the most striking features of the existing buildings, so they would not suffer any obvious loss. However, the neighbours to the North would be hugely affected and the pro-active members of the Arlington Association do not recall receiving any notifications; otherwise there would have been a strong presence from Islington residents.

26. It has been accurately reported that the Friends of Regent's Canal have expressed a negative response to the proposals. The speakers at the public meeting in November were unambiguously opposed to the plans. But it is worth noting that some of the speakers were impressed by the architect's design; they simply felt that the canal was the wrong location for this type of design.

27. It has been reported that the Friends of Regent's Canal preferred to "see the retention of the existing buildings at the site; a viewpoint that is consistent with what they have said about a number of proposed canal side developments". I am aware of perceptions that the Friends are a minority group that habitually opposes change, but in practice the Friends tend to oppose only changes that are deemed inappropriate. The Rosemary Works and Holborn Studios proposals have fallen into this category, and the Friends' stance has attracted widespread support from the community in both these cases. The Friends have also challenged cafe proposals at City Road Lock and Hampstead Road Locks and in both these examples we have converged with the applicant in order to reach acceptable compromises.


28. Looking at the current range of canalside buildings along Eagle Wharf Road, I feel that the best option, for the long term benefit of this area, is to retain most of the Holborn Studios buildings in their current form and to redevelop the buildings that are currently occupied by Access Storage and the car wash facility. We have already lost a good example of industrial buildings (at Angel Wharf) and we cannot afford to lose any further ones.

29. The Holborn Studios site has a lot of potential without the need to demolish anything. It is in a convenient location for its workers, suppliers and clients and its interesting features will ensure that it will always be gainfully occupied. On this basis, it will continue to provide rent for whoever owns the land well into the future.

30. The Friends of Regent's Canal will be willing to work with anybody who can explore alternative designs that retain the existing frontage and iconic chimney.


Ian Shacklock
Chair, Friends of Regent's Canal

21st March 2013

Return to Home page