13 Jun, 2009

Prince Charles victorious over Chelsea Barracks

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Project Blue has withdrawn its planning application for a glass-and-steel redevelopment. Charles has got his way

Has the Prince of Wales had his way at Chelsea Barracks? Has his personal letter to Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, ruler of Qatar, persuaded his fellow royal to back off? Anything’s possible in the curious world of British planning and property development.

Whatever the truth, Project Blue (Guernsey) Ltd, which was set up by the Qatar royal family, announced today that it has withdrawn its planning application for a set of sleek, hi-tech towers designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour, a firm that, however impressive on a good day (think Lloyd’s of London Building or the Welsh Assembly), does everything Prince Charles and his train of classical revivalists believe shouldn’t be done.

The timing is, it has to be said, intriguing. City of Westminster politicians were to have voted in a matter of days on whether or not not to give planning permission. By withdrawing ahead of the vote, Project Blue is avoiding confrontation and, if it had sought an appeal after being rejected, more costs. The word on the Chelsea streets is that they have already spent £30m. And although this would have been a hugely lucrative development, the recession has hit the property market hard. It may simply be a matter of economics.

The larger point made by many commentators, architects and planners is that it has never really mattered which firm of architects ultimately gets the job; the project is simply wrong. Building a cluster of residential towers for the very rich close to Sir Christopher Wren’s gentlemanly Royal Hospital – the home of Chelsea pensioners – was never a good idea. Local residents had asked Quinlan and Francis Terry, father and son classicists and favourites of Charles, to offer an alternative to the Rogers proposal, but they had found it equally difficult to cram so many homes on to the site.

Now it looks as if Project Blue is going back to the drawing board. The developers say they have already teamed up with The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, and hope to work with a number of architects from Britain and abroad, which sounds as if they’ve come around to the idea of a plan composed of streets and low(ish)-rise buildings, rather than a modern development that would always have felt a bit remote from the city around it. Whatever happens, though, it’s hard not to feel Charles’s hand on the developers’ shoulders.

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