Inspector John Dowsett has dismissed a developer’s appeal against LB of Islington’s refusal of planning permission for the demolition of the 1930’s Archway Methodist Central Hall, the last central hall to be built in London, and its redevelopment as offices. The building was originally financed by the movie mogul J Arthur Rank as part of a complex of sacred and secular buildings. The significance of the central hall lies in its design. Historically it contained a 1000 seater cinema and stage; the purpose of this was to attract mainly working class worshippers into a place with a secular feel and then expose those audiences to the church’s religious message.
The main issues in the appeal concerned (1) the effect of the loss of Class D1 (non-residential institution) floorspace and (2) the heritage impacts on the locally listed building hall and the St John’s Grove Conservation Area.
- The Central Hall was historically a place of worship. In the early 2000s, the Methodists sold the build and consolidated into the smaller neighbouring church leaving the central hall vacant. The Inspector found that despite this period of vacancy the D1 use of the site persists and the use should be regarded as a “redundant” form of social infrastructure. The development plan, which protects social infrastructure, requires demand for alternative social infrastructure uses to be considered before redevelopment or a change of use is considered. The Inspector found, on the evidence, there was a strong latent demand for use as a site for a range of social uses (eg. as a theatre, cultural centre, place of worship). The building’s poor state of repair and the restrictive covenants (including a covenant imposed by the previous Methodist owners preventing the sale of liquor) were not insuperable barriers to the future D1 use of the site. On that basis, the Inspector concluded the proposed development would result in an unacceptable loss of Class D1 in conflict with London Plan Policy 3.16 and Islington Policy DM4.12 of the DMP.
- In respect of heritage, the Inspector found the appellant had underestimated the significance of the Central Hall and therefore the impact of its loss on the wider complex of Methodist buildings. He found that the proposal would cause clear harm to the locally listed heritage asset contrary to the development plan. Moreover, the Inspector found that given the building’s prominent position on the Archway “island” and its contribution to the social history of the locality meant that less than substantial harm to the conservation area would arise as a result of both the demolition of the Central Hall and the proposed new office building design which was out of keeping with the CA. He concluded that harm was not outweighed, on the para. 196 NPPF balance, by the moderate economic benefits of the scheme.
Sarah Sackman was instructed by Laura Avery on behalf of the successful Local Planning Authority.