Central Foundation School

More comments on the Central Foundation Girls School planning applications

Further to my previous letter of 18 January 2011, I now wish to comment on the letter of 18 January 2011 from Catherine Widdowson of Nathanial Lichfield and Partners. I do not believe that the proposed ‘glazed link’ is needed to “link the two buildings so they can be used as a connected space”. Granted that both blocks T and D are to be used by a new Art Design & Technology Department (ADT). However, “Art” in block D (Drama) appears to be performing arts and drama; and “Design & Technology” would occupy most of block T (Technology). As these subjects are not related, there is no real need for these ‘sub-departments’ to be connected at first-floor level.

St Anthony's - to be demoshised

The floor plans do not allow two ground-floor rooms and two first-floor rooms in block T to be ascribed to any particular subject. However, should there be any movement of teachers between the two first-floor rooms in block T and adjacent block D, surely it could be by stair and at ground level. And any movement of teachers between block T and other blocks would be normal on a campus.

Apart from one lift being used to provide disabled access to the first floors in both buildings, it is obvious that the only other possible purpose for the proposed ‘glazed link’ is to accommodate the staff workroom in what I called the “elevated room” in my previous letter of 18 January 2011. But, it is clear from the proposed ground- and first-floor plans that staff workroom and related needs are to be fully met in the separate buildings. Block D is to have two staff workrooms and a Head of Department office on the ground floor; and a staff office on the first floor. Whilst block T is to have a large staff office and workroom with a smaller adjacent meeting room on the ground floor. As to why there should be an ADT staff workroom on the proposed ‘glazed link’ is not explained, probably because there is no need for drama teachers to work with teachers of design & technology.

As there is no real need for connection and no need for an ADT staff workroom (especially one which would be very expensive to build and keep warm in the winter months), the only valid purpose for the ‘glazed link’ would be disabled first-floor access to both buildings from one lift shaft. But disabled access could and should be provided at less cost and without serious visual and physical damage to both buildings.

Catherine Widdowson states that the proposed ‘glazed link’ would have “transparent curtain walling” and this would “allow views of the existing external walls”. But the floor of the proposed ‘glazed link’ would prevent any views of the upper-storey walls from underneath or nearby. Furthermore, views from further away would be wholly or partially prevented by the metal-cladded walls of the staff workroom in the middle of the proposed ‘glazed link’; and the lower-storey walls would be difficult to see in the shadow cast by the floor of the proposed ‘glazed link’. And from any viewpoint the north wall of the eastern stair tower could be completely concealed by the proposed cladded lift shaft.

It is good to know that the portacabins near block T are to be removed, but the staff workroom on the proposed ‘glazed ink’ would look like a portacabin at first-floor level and would be more widely seen than an existing portacabin at ground-floor level. Consequently, it would have a far greater negative impact on both blocks T and D.

I am also shocked to learn that the flat roof of the proposed ‘glazed link’ would “run across the existing tall (first-floor) windows of T block” And that far from being “overhauled”, their window frames are actually going to be replaced by new upper and lower window frames. Also, to learn that the new flat roof “abuts the old and some making good would be required”. This is totally unacceptable destruction of the neo-Georgian sprocketed eaves with original lath and plaster soffits. Especially in the case of the pyramidal-looking roof on the eastern stair tower, the good proportions of which would be lost in an act of sheer vandalism.

And yet, Catherine Widdowson can state in her letter of 18 January that the “impact of the link is considered acceptable in design terms” because the “symmetrical building does not face onto the street”. Apart from demonstrating a complete lack of respect for this exceptionally fine building (and its positive contribution to the character and appearance of the Tredegar Square Conservation Area), this statement ignores the fact that both sides of block T are at right angles to Coborn Street. And that the upper storey of the northern side (and the western end of block D) are particularly well seen from the western side of Coborn Street; and that the entire northern sides of both blocks T and D are seen from Malmesbury Primary School, where reasonably sympathetic alterations and additions are being carried out.

Catherine Widdowson refers to an “updated” elevational drawing but I was unable to find it during my visit to Anchorage House. In addition to the comments made in my previous letter, may I also point out that the proposed lift shaft is not shown on STAGE1 D + T BLOCK PROPOSED ELEVATIONS. Nor do any of the drawings show the “stair” mentioned in the Design and Access Statement (4.01.6).

I am also deeply concerned to learn that block D (1900 SCIENCE ROOMS) is to be “refurbished”, and that there appears to be no information about this proposal. And that there are no proposals whatsoever for essential repairs to the original window frames in either block D or block T. Nor indeed, proposals for other minor repairs to original fabric. Also, that a number of relatively minor internal alterations appear to be planned for block T, but are not indicated, explained or described.

Having failed to provide a sound justification and proper details for the proposed ‘glazed link’ and associated structures (and other works to blocks T and D), Catherine Widdowson ends her submission by stating that “it is therefore imperative that planning permission is obtained (in February) … to secure the funding and obtain financial close before the end of March”. In other words, nothing must stand in the way of these ill-considered, unnecessary and damaging proposals from being inflicted on blocks T and D, the staff and students at Central Foundation Girls’ School, the staff and pupils at Malmesbury Primary school, the residents of the Tredegar Square Conservation Area, and the residents of the entire London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Clearly, there is an overwhelming need for a more sympathetic approach to the provision of disabled access; and a new set of properly considered and presented proposals for blocks T and D must be prepared by the applicants. Obviously at this late stage, the only way for this to happen is for you and your colleagues to stand firm and recommend that the present T and D proposals are refused by the Development Committee.

Tom Ridge

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