Archive for the ‘UKCMRI’ Category

The St Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action group website is reporting that the planning application for the UKCMRI, the planned medical lab on the land behind the British Library, was submitted to the council on September 1, and that it is expected to be formally registered by the council after a period of between one and two weeks.

After that date, the clock will be ticking, with a very short period of just 21 days for formal submissions from members of the community – hardly adequate for such a complex and hugely disruptive project. Public submissions will still be accepted after that, but will have less impact.

There’s a lot of work to be done in September!


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There’s excellent coverage in the local papers this week of the fight against the proposed UKCRI medical laboratory behind the British Library. The CNJ reports on the delegation to the full council meeting on Monday night, and runs a delightful letter that describes the second effort as a design for the site as looking like a gargantuan bluebottle.

The Ham & High also ran my letter pointing out that opposition to the plan is coming from an increasing number of directions. (Digital edition, page 16).

What’s encouraging is the sense of renewed interest in the media in the campaign, and a lessening of the sense that this is a fait accompli. The CNJ leader asks: “Why can’t the existing centre in Mill Hill be transformed? Wouldn’t it be better to build homes in Brill Place?” adding… “After a long campaign by residents these questions remain unanswered.”

Both the CNJ news report and the letter to which I’ve linked express astonishment, shared I think by pretty much everyone in the council chamber on Monday night, about the extraordinary attack from Somers Town councillor Peter Brayshaw on the delegation leader Candy Udwin. He launched into a barrage of questions against her, all hostile.

I can only imagine what might have happened had veteran local councillor Roger Robinson, who is with the huge bulk of residents in being firmly against the scheme, been in the chamber. I suspect when Roger catches up with Peter that will be an interesting meeting…

Meanwhile, while the developing consortium is sending out fancy pictures of the proposed edifice, I’ve snapped some images of the models now on display on the site, which give a much better idea of the enormous, disproportionate scale of the proposed structure. The lighting in the display is poor, but you should at least get a sense from these:

UKCMRI model

ukcrmi model

That’s local homes – council housing on Ossulston St – being towered over in the foreground of the second picture, and the historic Grade I-listed St Pancras station blotted out in the background. In the first picture it’s the Purchese Street open spaces, one of the few patches of open ground in Somers Town, and the sheltered housing of Monica Shaw Court and the council housing of Phoenix Court that will lose their sun and light.

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The UKCMRI consortium last week unveiled its rejigged plans for the outside appearance of the proposed medical lab behind the British Library.

It has not had the courtesy to provide detailed information on the web at time of writing (there’s nothing at all on its own website) – or directly to local residents in Somers Town, but rather has focused on the hard-sell with soft-focus artist impressions and sweeping videos (in which the local residents – for whom it claims it wants to be a “good neighbour” – see their homes reduced to beige blocks).

The Guardian has the video, the BBC one of the artist impressions.

What’s carefully not mentioned in any of these reports is the fact that this is the second attempt at a design; new architects were brought in to work on the outside after the first effort met with widespread disgust.

Not that this appears to be a great deal different – if anything the huge mass, so out of scale not just with the surrounding residential area, but also the British Library and St Pancras station, is even further amplified.

The most interesting press report, however, is from Nature. This highly respected industry source is clearly less than enamoured with the whole project, describing it as a “grandiose plan” that will not come cheap, adding: “The stiff price tag comes at a difficult time, as several of the project’s backers are facing a grim economic future.”

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The latest round of UKCMRI exhibition has produced a new image of how the proposed lab would look, taken from the British Library looking up Ossulston Street:


My first thought was that this is clearly a building that belongs on an industrial estate, not on top of a residential area. That was also my second thought…

I also took the chance to take another close study of the model – now adapted as promised to be more “see-through” at the point where the arms of the “Y” shape meet, a very small visual improvement, but no real reduction in the bulk of the building.

It is only too clear how much it will dominate the area. Seen below from the north…


… and here from King’s Cross station.


A local resident I was talking to later raised the interesting question about the effect on air quality of that great wall of glass facing St Pancras station, with all of the slow-moving taxis grinding their way along Midland Road.

He told me about a highly relevant upcoming meeting of the London Forum at 6pm for 6:30pm on Thursday 15th April at the Gallery, 75 Cowcross Street EC1, near to Farringdon station. The speaker will be Simon Birkett, Founder of the Campaign for Clean Air in London.

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If the planning authorities and UKCMRI are determined to run rough-shod over the need for housing and community facilities in Somers Town, perhaps they could do a little more than offer as scant recompense juice bars and the nebulous suggestion of a ‘healthy living centre’.   Could the UKCMRI building be used to heat homes in Somers Town (and no, I don’t just mean hot air!)?

The new building will need large amounts of energy to run its heating and cooling systems and it’s likely that, over the course of a year, it will need significantly more cooling than heating.  That’s because insulation standards are fairly high these days, and it’s likely to have a lot of computing equipment inside it, generating heat all year round, as well as those 1,500 workers. 

They’ve mentioned a gas-fired combined heat and power system, and a few solar panels, as a nod towards regulations which expect new buildings to generate at least 10% of their energy using on-site renewables, but, from what we’ve heard so far, it sounds as if all that heat will be going to waste, out through air conditioning units on the roof.

Instead, the UKCMRI and the council should get together to install an underground thermal energy system, storing the heat underground beneath the Purchese St Open Space and using it to feed a new district heating scheme for flats in the area. These systems have been used in Scandinavia for years, and are a good way of minimising energy use and carbon emissions.

A similar system was recently installed in Norwich, where the psychiatric hospital is now heated using ground source heat pumps, as part of the NHS’s aim to make all its buildings zero carbon by 2018.   The heat is stored under the carpark during the summer, and extracted again in winter to heat the hospital wards.

It’s a bit of a job to decide whether this could really work, and we’d need to understand the heating and cooling of the building better to be sure, but it’s certainly worth a look.   Gas prices are going to increase over the coming years, and we will need to look  at every opportunity we have to generate heat and power in a sustainable way.  It’s always easier to fit systems like this when a new building goes up, rather than later.  This is the biggest construction project likely to take place in Somers Town for years (we hope) so it’s an opportunity worth looking at.

More on the UKCRMI development.

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A letter from the developers of the proposed medical lab, the UKCMRI, behind the British Library contains a list of four exhibitions (presumably similar to that on the Coopers Lane estate just before Christmas).

These are at:

* St Pancras Library, Argyle Street (in the council complex on the Euston Road near King’s Cross station), Monday, March 8, 2-5pm

* Surma Centre, 1 Robert St (in Regent’s Park), Wednesday March 10, 2.30-5pm.

* Somers Town Community Centre, 150 Ossulston Street, Saturday March 13, 9am-1pm

* St Pancras Community Association, 30 Camden Street, Wednesday March 17, 2.30-5pm.

It is good that the consortium is providing more information opportunities, but a pity that only one of these sessions is outside working hours, and then on a Saturday morning, when many will be recovering from the week or have other commitments.

If you want to write to the consortium to suggest an evening session, or anything else, they can be reached through info@ukcmri.ac.uk or 0800 028 6731.

More on the UKCRMI development. (You’ll also find some excellent discussion arising from the development control forum on Michael Edward’s blog.

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Local resident Michael Edwards asked at this week’s development control forum why the proposed Brill Place medical lab, which is facing strong local opposition, could not be sited on the King’s Cross development, where it would not require the abandonment of the democratically approved plans for Brill Place (which call for at least 50% housing on the site).

John Cooper, acting CEO of the UKCMRI consortium, said that while he wasn’t involved with the project at that time, he understood there had been discussions with the developer, but they had felt that there was only space for one institution on the site, which was the already planned University of the Arts complex.

Mr Edwards asked if the situation hadn’t changed, given the economic crisis and fall in demand for expensive flats and new offices, and added that he felt Mr Cooper had not thus far given an adequate answer.

Mr Coooper responded that a major investment had been made in the Brill Place land, and “decisions like that aren’t easily reversible”.

(Although of cause a slightly different consortium has already made a major reverse ferret, with the site of the National Temperance Hospital on the Hampstead Road in Regents Park ward – which it bought, then – oops, discovered was too small for the purpose – a plan about which the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology had very severe doubts.)

More on the proposed UKCMRI development.

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