Two recently approved health projects point out substantially different approaches to developing hubs of expertise in the UK’s medical sector.
In Harley Street, central London, Westminster planners have approved the installation of a new cancer treatment centre, which will see landlord Howard de Walden convert existing buildings at 141 and 143 Harley Street, and the mews properties behind them, extensively remodelled. The scheme, with four basement levels, won approval despite running counter to the borough’s new policy which seeks to prevent deep basement excavations.
Meanwhile in the southern borough of Sutton, plans for a 20ha cancer research and treatment hub have been granted approval. A development framework for the massive project will sit alongside the local plan, envisaging a 20 year project to grow a campus for researchers, clinicians and patients built on a Scandinavian model.
The grade II listed buildings on Harley Street currently have residential use on three levels, with medical use on ground and first floors. The scheme would hollow out the site, creating a basement down four levels to accommodate a proton beam therapy unit, turning existing flats into office. The rear mews buildings would need to be knocked down to carry out the work, and would then be rebuilt in a similar style to existing.
A previous application gained approval for residential use of 126 Harley Street, which would convert to four flats, effectively generating a use swap arrangement.
The council’s Harley Street Special Policy seeks to encourage private medical facilities, making the change of use suitable. However, the major excavation runs counter to Westminster’s basement policy, established in 2016 to limit the scale of basement development. While counter to the policy, officers left it to planning committee members to decide whether exceptional circumstances were sufficiently strong to allow the exemption.
Objectors expressed worries about the safety of the radiating equipment, though this would be managed by the Environment Agency. They also suggested a better site might be found elsewhere, something the applicants insisted was not practical.
Council leader Robert Davis commented: “I can think of few better reasons to approve a development than creating a centre of excellence where people receive high quality medical care and attention, particularly for the treatment of an illness that affects so many of us.”
The Sutton scheme involves the Institute of Cancer Research, Mayor of London, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals. It will build on the existing Royal Marsden and ICR facilities at the site, growing to what will be the secondd biggest facility of its kind globally. Architects at Haptic and Nordic.
Sutton council leader Ruth Dombey commented: “The London Cancer Hub will create thousands of employment and training opportunities for local people. It will be a tremendous boost for our local economy by providing new business opportunities and drawing visitors to the borough.”
LPA Perspective: Two schemes to provide cancer treatment centres, two completely different solutions. One, in an entirely urban setting, benefits from a joint desire by landlord Howard de Walden, and Westminster Council, to trade on the Harley Street brand and ensure it remains strongly associated with leading medical treatment. The other, also building on established expertise, will use new buildings in an expansive, leafy suburb.
In urban planning terms, surely it has to be more sensible to construct buildings to suit, on an uplifting campus, than shoehorning equipment into historic buildings on congested streets.
The planning commmittee’s willingness to bend the rules for the Harley Street project also point up other planning issues. While remodelled, these buildings are inherently ill-suited to the purpose of holding expensive, and large, equipment. And by converting them and permitting a densification of medical use, Westminster is, bit by bit, allowing the face of key West End streets to change for the worse. A mix of uses, which helps to animate the streetscape, is diminishing as land use swaps corral residential use in one cluster, with streets of medical centres – which close at evenings and weekends – are gathered in another.