Appeal decision: demolition of
unlisted historic buildings in a
conservation area relected
Edmund Bird reports on a victory in Clapham Common.
A Public Inquiry was held in February
following an appeal by Tesco Stores
plc against refusal by Lambeth Bor-
ough Council of planning permission
and conservation area consent for the
demolition of the former South Lon-
don Hospital for Women on Clapham
Common Southside and its redevelop-
ment as a 2,499 square metre supermar-
ket with 112 flats above (including an 11
storey tower) and parking for 257 cars.
The former hospital consists of a
Regency villa and a Victorian property
which formed the original Women’s
Hospital founded in 1912, an imposing
Wrenaissance’ frontage block designed
by Sir Edwin Cooper with tall ward
blocks to the rear dating from the
1910s-1950s. The historic buildings
(particularly the Cooper building) form
a commanding landmark presence on
a prominent site at the south eastern
corner of Clapham Common. The build-
ings are unlisted but were included
within the Clapham Conservation Area
soon after the hospital’s closure in 1984.
The Inspector concluded that not-
withstanding the acceptability of the
scheme in terms of general planning
issues (retail impact, traffic and the
effect on neighbouring residents)
“the failure of the proposed develop-
ment to preserve or enhance the ap-
pearance and character of the Conser-
vation Area is of such seriousness” that
all these considerations were out-
weighed and both appeals should be
dismissed. The applicants had sought
to denigrate the importance of the
Cooper building, which the Council,
local residents and The Twentieth
Century Society felt was a most im-
pressive landmark building. and a good
example of neo-classical 1920s archi-
tecture by one of the leading architects
of the inter-war years. However, the
Inspector dismissed the appellants at-
tempts to rubbish the qualities of this
edifice, concluding that it formed part
of “the familiar and cherished skyline
against which the Common is seen”
and that it did make a positive contri-
bution to the character and appear-
ance of the Conservation Area.
Despite attempts by the appellant’s
witnesses to argue that it would be
inappropriate to apply the same se-
quential test for listed buildings con-
tainedwithinPPG l5 because the build-
ings were unlisted, the Inspector ruled
that “the PPG 15 broad approach was
clearly one that should he followed”.
He went on to observe that “insuffi-
cient effort had been made to market
the site” (Tesco bought the site in 1994
after it had been on the market for only
one month) and that the appellant had
failed to make reasonable efforts to
find viable new uses for the building.
At the inquiry, a useful statement of
interest from one of the leading com-
panies in the field of conversion of
institutional buildings to flats (Sapcote)
was produced by a residents’ group.
Turning to the proposed new de-
velopment, the Inspector again agreed
with the Council’s view that the design
of the tower block and medium rise
block would harm the appearance and
character of the Conservation Area.
Even the appellant’s leading design
witness was forced to concede that the
new development would have at best
a neutral impact on this character! The
Inspector added that “in contrast to the
Cooper building, the relationship of
the proposed building to the adjacent
parades would emphasise rather than
diminish, the degree to which it ex-
ceeds them in scale” and ruled that an
1 1-storey tower would be “without
visual precedent” in this part of the
Common and would “aggressively
dominate the surrounding buildings
and the Common”, further noting that
the proposed barrel vaulted roof de-
sign and clerestorey glazing would be
“alien to the roofscape and architectural
detailing surrounding the Common”.
In summary, this case provided a
useful example of a success by a plan-
fling authority to defend its decision to
seek to protect unlisted historic build-
ings which make a positive contribu-
tion to the character and appearance
of a conservation area and an impor-
tant area of Metropolitan Open Land
and which were capable of retention,
conversion and re-use rather than de-
struction. The decision was also an
unequivocal endorsement of the rel-
evance of the tests laid down in PPG
15 for unlisted historic properties as
well as listed buildings. The role of
conservation is perhaps strengthened
by the Inspector’s conclusion that the
adverse impact of the proposed new
development on the conservation area
was “sufficient reason by itself” to
dismiss the proposals, notwithstand-
ing the fact that all of the Council’s
other reasons for refusal were rejected
at the inquiry. What members may find
particularly heartening is that whilst
the Inspector agreed there was an
urgent need to develop the inner city
site after being vacant for 14 years, this
urgency in the interests of regenera-
tion should not be allowed to sanction
proposals which have an adverse im-
pact on the character and appearance
of a Conservation Area.
Edmund Bird is Gonservation Officer for the
London Borough of Lambeth

Inspector Douglas Macbin BSc DipTP MRTPI.
Appeal Ref T/APP/N5660/A/97/281472/P4& T/
Context 59 September 1998