Mortar Nova exhibit some of their plans for Kings House at Cornerstone

27.1.18…..The new owners of Kings House, on the corner of Grand Avenue and the Kingsway, sent out 1,000 invitations to residents around Kings House to view massing plans on Friday from 6-9pm and today, Saturday, until 4pm at the Cornerstone Community Centre attached to St. Johns Church at Palmeira Square.
The plans on show are not heavily detailed or comprehensive.  There are no internal floor plans and the elevation drawing for the proposed newbuild to sit behind Kings House itself and replace the 1980’s extension in Grand Avenue is not easy to read.  Many think it looks a bit grim.  Something similar, but smaller is planned for the current car park space on Second Avenue.   Pre-planning advice has been extensively taken and the Design Panel have also had their say about the architecture designs.
It was a convivial exhibition meeting that I attended Friday evening with a friendly and chatty team there to answer questions.  The room filled up with residents eager to see the plans and leave comments and suggestions.

The Grand Avenue Lawn

The developers’ expectation is that their s106 contribution will be over £1m.  And they would like quite a bit of it to go on the strip of lawn that runs the length of Grand Avenue in front of the eastern side properties.   A very special opportunity is presenting itself…but it must be seized, BHCC must be on board, and there needs to be public commitment.  Sadly, Parks & Gardens tell them they have no budget to maintain what the developers would like to put on that lawn.  From 2020 there is no further central Govt grant for local authorities which have suffered from progressive reductions year on year ahead of that deadline.  It has meant a HUGE loss of council staff, and, indeed the sale of Kings House ! 

The time has come to consider how best to deal with the council’s loss of capacity and to look at the various green spaces they somehow inherited and maintain, but which were originally created for private local use (much of it railed around too).  Would people be willing to consider creating a Community Trust to take back ownership of these lawned spaces, re-rail their perimeters, plant them up and pay gardeners or maintain them – something like the way  housing around squares was originally produced.  A look at original plans, old photos are helpful here when considering what the best way forward is.

Note the low brick wall with piers and railings along the Esplanade end of the lawn which you can see in the photo on the left.  That exact same detail once edged the lawn between Medina Terrace and the Courtneys along the esplanade edge.  Long gone.  Let’s get ’em back!  Note the edging detail around the lawn in the photo on the right.  Chains on poles?  Bollards?  A rough guess from one of the developers says £100,000 would pay for the area to get cast iron railings reinstated.  By the by, look at the gap behind Kings House in the right hand photo.  Apparently this was kept for many years as a croquet lawn!

The developers engaged Charles Wagner last July – formerly of English Heritage before it was split up.  He now works as a heritage consultant.  I look forward to reading the Heritage Statement in the planning application but these few details were provided in the exhibition and inspired my thinking about that lawn issue.
Apparently James T Knowles did the London Masterplan for the area from Victoria down to Clapham Junction – some of which actually got built – Charles Wagner tells me!  This scheme here was, of course, intended to be Belgravia on Sea.
A bomb hit the eastern-most end of the companion building to the east of Kings House and it was demolished – Kingsway Court was built in its place.  The way Grand Avenue was designed the lawns made sense.  But when the tall blocks were built on the western side in the middle of the 20th century this symmetry was lost and the eastern lawn became a strange orphan.  It is time it was sorted out.  And this moment in time presents that opportunity if BHCC, the public and money allow.
I was told the planning application will be submitted in March.  So lets look at some details…
Housing…..The scheme contains mostly one and two bed flats with a few 3 bed flats.  Kings House itself is to be broken up into 70 flats, the Grand Avenue-facing 10 storey block behind it is to have 70 flats and 28 flats are planned to go into the six storey block which will front Second Avenue, behind Kings House.  The 168 total means one parking place per flat, even though the likelihood is that over 300 people may  live in these three buildings.
The design of this building has not been greeted with great joy it has to be said.  And I questioned the grey railings on the juliettes outside the building that front the internal balconies.  They are there for “texture” to the design.  But being mostly internal, the balconies will be discreet, unlike the vile bolt-ons we are used to seeing.  I would like balconies to become more useful, more room-sized – proper terraces.  These are standard 3 foot deep only.  Cramped.  On the plus side, the design of the building is not a bells and whistles horror. It is intended to play second fiddle to Kings House itself.  The companion building would be similar.

Replacement 10 storey newbuild fronting Grand Avenue

There are detail issues which need to be looked at carefully when this becomes a planning application.  From the colour of the railings on these balconies to the building regs issue Victorian stair treatments raise.  The gap between cast iron details is too wide and there will need to be a way of making the gap smaller by adding something.
Kings House restoration….A lot of reinstatement is planned, including the original front doors facing the sea which led to the terraced houses behind them.  The chunk facing Grand Avenue was the bit that became the Princes Hotel.What I am NOT keen on is the hard standing planned for the grounds between each of the three buildings.  To my eye it will just be walk-through-worthy.  Not a place to linger and treat as communal outdoor amenity.
Affordable Housing…..Aware that lack of affordable housing is a hot issue, it was to be my first question. Normally a battle royal about affordable housing does not even begin until a registered planning application offering NO affordable housing is challenged by BHCC and the Planning Department demands referral to the District Valuer.  VERY interestingly, these people have been in discussion with the District Valuer since the start of the year – in the interests of “transparency” I was told.  This is a first.  You read it here first!  It means either no planning application in March and more haggling or an application with an agreed amount of affordable housing already agreed with the District Valuer.
Parking…..The existing parking provision is for 140 vehicles and the scheme plans to include 170 parking places which will be underground, beneath the two new buildings behind Kings House.  Nothing can go under Kings House itself.  Only a single level of basement parking is considered feasible due to the tidal groundwater conditions – they have done bore holes!  Given how far from the sea this is, questions DID come to mind about how the King Alfred redevelopment would be able to cope with basement parking or indeed how well the Medina House replacement on Kings Esplanade will similarly be able to block flooding.
Rooftop Garden…..No.  BHCC has been adamant this would not be suitable here.  They asked!

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