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Competition: Mount Pleasant community masterplan, London

The Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood Forum (MPNF) has announced an open call for teams to remasterplan the contentious Royal Mail site in Clerkenwell, north London (Deadline: 26 May)

The competition seeks ‘creative and innovative’ proposals for a series of blocks on a rectangular portion of the complex overlooking Gough Street. The project is the second phase of a community-led masterplan for the 4.7ha site, drawn up by Neoclassical architect Francis Terry.

Backed by social enterprise Create Streets, the masterplan is part of MPNF’s bid to purchase development land surrounding the historic sorting office, which is currently being marketed by site owner Royal Mail.

Royal Mail's Mount Pleasant regeneration vision by Wilkinson Eyre, Allies & Morrison, AHMM and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant regeneration vision by Wilkinson Eyre, Allies & Morrison, AHMM and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant regeneration vision by Wilkinson Eyre, Allies & Morrison, AHMM and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

In 2014, then London mayor Boris Johnson controversially approved proposals by Wilkinson Eyre, Allies & Morrison, AHMM and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, despite opposition from local residents and Camden and Islington councils over scale and affordable housing.

Edward Denison, MPNF member and director of the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture’s masters in architecture and historic urban environments, said: ‘The MPNF has always championed the widest possible public and professional engagement in the future of this important site.

‘We are therefore delighted to now be in a position to concentrate on the second phase of our scheme, and welcome submissions from across the architectural profession that imaginatively interpret the site’s context, creatively challenge the masterplanning principles, and value the importance of community engagement.’

The Mount Pleasant complex was constructed on the site of the former Coldbath Fields Prison in 1889, and hosts London’s principal mail centre, which was at one time the largest sorting office in the world. The disused London Post Office Railway formerly connected the facility to other post offices and railways in the capital.

The 2014 scheme, commissioned by Royal Mail, proposed developing underused land surrounding the mail centre with 681 apartments in a number of 15-storey towers. It was rejected by both Camden and Islington councils, whose borders it straddles, largely because of the low proportion of affordable housing. But the scheme was called in by Johnson who then approved it.

At the time, James Murray, Islington Council’s then executive member for housing and now deputy mayor of London for housing and residential development, said: ‘A vital opportunity to build hundreds of genuinely affordable homes for local people has been bulldozed by Boris.’ He described the decision as ‘wrong for London’.

Mount Pleasant phase one masterplan by Francis Terry

Mount Pleasant phase one masterplan by Francis Terry

Source: Francis Terry and Associates

Mount Pleasant phase one masterplan by Francis Terry

In October last year, the MPNF and Terry, working alongside Create Streets, Calfordseaden, Urban Engineering Studio, Maddox Associates and Alexandra Steed Urban, submitted rival plans for the scheme under the Community Right to Build rules.

These featured 125 homes, up to half of which could be affordable, plus 1,200m² of commercial space. If these are approved, Create Streets intends to submit more plans for the rest of the 4.7ha site.

According to The Guardian, the MPNF hopes to provide 40 more affordable homes than Royal Mail’s favoured scheme. In 2015, the association won £150,000 from the mayor’s Community Right to Build fund to lodge its own planning application for the site.

Before being elected as London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan praised the MPNF scheme, saying: ‘This is a great example of how big developments should work – working with local communities to design real neighbourhoods that work for the existing community.’

Terry is not the only architect to have drawn up alternative proposals for the plot. In 2015 Peter Barber came up with a speculative, high-density, low-rise social housing scheme, the model for which won him the £10,000 Turkishceramics Grand Award for Architecture at the Royal Academy summer show. Farrells also produced an earlier regeneration scheme in collaboration with FAT which was supported by both local authorities and the MPNF.

The latest contest seeks sketch proposals for three blocks which respond to the alternative masterplan’s design statement and are ‘sensitive to the surrounding area and streetscape’. Submissions may cover all three buildings or just one. The judging panel will include local residents and the winner or winners will work with the MPNF in its bid to purchase the site.

How to apply

Deadline

The deadline for applications is 6pm, 26 May

Contact details

Email: contact@createstreets.com

Visit the competition website for more information

Mount Pleasant phase 1 masterplan case study: Q&A with Francis Terry

The director of Francis Terry and Associates discusses lessons learned designing the first phase of the community-led alternative masterplan for Mount Pleasant, London

Francis Terry

Francis Terry

Francis Terry

How did your phase one masterplan deliver a viable alternative for the Mount Pleasant site?

This community-led design has taken over three years to develop, and involved seven public meetings and workshops and the input of thousands of people locally and across London. The community recognised that the location and context required density, but also realised that this needn’t preclude good design. The initial plans were worked up in early-2014 with myself and small group of professionals sitting down with local residents who were reflecting conversations they had had with many of their neighbours. In the following years, the team of myself, Calfordseaden, Urban Engineering Studio, Alexandra Steed Urban, Maddox Associates and Create Streets worked together with the community to bring forward a Community Right to Build Order submission.

Phase one is part of an overall masterplan which offers more housing (and therefore more affordable housing) than the Royal Mail Group scheme, as well as (we believe) better quality public spaces. The masterplan is street-based and knits the site back into the complex urban fabric. As well as its popularity with the community, this increased density and place value means the scheme has been independently proved to be more economically attractive to investors.

Mount Pleasant phase one masterplan by Francis Terry

Mount Pleasant phase one masterplan by Francis Terry

Source: Francis Terry and Associates

Mount Pleasant phase one masterplan by Francis Terry

Which architectural, material, façade and other methods did you harness in your design?

The buildings are of the low- to mid-rise high-density mansion block type. The design echoes but does not mir­ror the surrounding character areas, particularly the streets and squares of Bloomsbury and Islington and the brick commercial and former industrial buildings of Clerk­enwell. Unlike the Royal Mail’s scheme, multiple front doors look out onto the well-designed public spaces.

What advice would you have to contest participants on designing the next phase of the alternative masterplan?

This is very much a community-led project, and has been from the very start. Whilst the community are not necessarily looking for an architectural style that is a direct repeat of phase one, participants should keep in mind that the same principles apply. They’re looking for entries that bring a stronger sense of place than the Royal Mail proposals, and imaginatively interpret the site’s context, from built environment practitioners who want to help create a new and truly inspirational piece of London that serves the needs of all Londoners.

Mount Pleasant rival masterplan by Francis Terry

Mount Pleasant rival masterplan by Francis Terry

Source: Francis Terry and Associates

Mount Pleasant rival masterplan by Francis Terry

Q&A with Nicholas Boys Smith

The founding director of Create Streets discusses his ambitions for the contest

Nicholas Boys Smith

Nicholas Boys Smith

Nicholas Boys Smith

Why are your holding an open call for the next phase of your Mount Pleasant masterplan?

The overall masterplan began as a reaction to the Royal Mail Group’s proposals for the Mount Pleasant sorting office site in Clerkenwell, London, which were opposed by the community and both local councils (Islington and Camden) but controversially approved by then mayor Boris Johnson following a call-in. Residents disliked what they termed the Royal Mail’s ‘fortress-like design’, which was felt to cut the neighbourhood off from the surrounding streets, had insufficient affordable housing, and wasted the one-off opportunity to develop this central London site in a way which could make it the heart of the local area.

Contest site aerial view

Contest site aerial view

Contest site aerial view

The Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood Forum (MPNF) is a community group made up of people who live and work around the proposed development. Working with Create Streets and a team of architects, planning consultants and surveyors, they have over the last few years developed a masterplan for the whole of the Mount Pleasant site based on local knowledge. This led to the submission of a Community Right to Build Order. This is currently being considered by the Independent Examiner. If approved, it will be the largest in the country.

The community has always considered that the site should be redeveloped as a whole. The intention is to work up more detailed plans for the rest of the site, with the aim of bringing forward a Neighbourhood Development Order. The community has always been open to collaboration and co-operation from practitioners across the built environment world and it is in this spirit that the competition has been launched.

This is an unusual way of challenging planning consents. But it is, we hope, a constructive and pragmatic one. It shows that the community is not against development, but rather want to see it done in the right way, a way that creates a place that local residents can be proud of. Other communities across London, including in Oval, Norton Folgate and in Earl’s Court are coming to similar conclusions and have created their own alternative masterplans in recent years.

What is your vision for Mount Pleasant as a future community-led development?

The overall approach is for the new development to be at the heart of the community, a place that residents and non-residents alike will flock to. It is mixed use with active frontages, with more accessible green space than the Royal Mail proposals. It will be sustainable in the long term, both architecturally and with the ongoing supply of affordable housing. The whole scheme goes to show that new development can be popular, attractive and community-led, whilst remaining at a scale that meets London’s needs and is realistically implementable.

Gough Street looking south

Gough Street looking south

Gough Street looking south

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We’re very much open to all kinds of practice applying. One of the beauties of our scheme to date is how it has brought a community group together with a wide range of sympathetic professionals, from practices of different sizes and specialisms. We hope to receive applicants from across the UK and the world. While there’s no cash prize, the community’s plans involve taking forward the designs to a Neighbourhood Development Order and attempting to purchase the site. The Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood Forum will be working with the winner of this competition as the proposals move forward.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon, and how will the architects be procured?

Design-wise, the community’s aim is to work up its high-level masterplan for the entire Mount Pleasant site into a Neighbourhood Development Order. At present, there are no specific plans for further design contests, but the community has always, and will continue to, welcome help, assistance and advice from anyone who has an interest in the scheme and shares the principles of the community.

Are there any other similar community-led alternative masterplans you have been impressed by?

In terms of process, Mount Pleasant has taken inspiration from the Totnes Community Right to Build Order, which to date is the largest. (Our submission will supersede it if approved and passed at referendum.) As Community Right to Build Orders are a relatively new phenomenon, we have learned a lot from reading about how they navigated the process.

Gough Street looking north

Gough Street looking north

Gough Street looking north

 

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