HC Deb 09 February 1956 vol 548 cc197-201W
Mr. Nigel Nicolson

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will publish the representations that have been made by the Royal Fine Art Commission about the proposed scheme of development of Imperial College at South Kensington.

20 Mr. H. Brooke

The views of the Royal Fine Art Commission were conveyed in a letter dated 11th June, 1955, which received careful consideration by the Government and to which a reply was sent on 20th January, 1956. I understand that the Commission, since receiving it, may wish to make further representations. The text of the correspondence which has passed is as follows:

Letter datedth June, 1955, from the Secretary, Royal Fine Art Commission to the Secretary, H.M. Treasury.


1. The Royal Fine Art Commission has learned with interest of the decision taken by H.M. Government in January, 1953, that the Imperial College should be expanded to twice its present size, and has recently been consulted by the College on the proposed redevelopment of the site in South Kensington bounded by Prince Consort Road, Exhibition Road, Imperial Institute Road and Queen's Gate, for these increased requirements.

2. The Commission has seen drawings and models, prepared by the Architects, Messrs. Norman and Dawbarn, illustrating their proposals which are understood to be acceptable to the College.

3. In the opinion of the Commission, these proposals do not pay enough regard to the importance to London architecturally and historically of some of the existing buildings on the site, particularly the main block of the Imperial Institute and No. 170, Queen's Gate, which the Commission considers should be retained in any redevelopment of the site.

4. As far as No. 170, Queen's Gate is concerned, the Commission understands from informal discussion with representatives of the College and of the University that there would be no great difficulty in modifying the plans to provide for its preservation.

5. As far as the Imperial Institute is concerned, its retention raises more serious problems which have also been discussed with the authorities. In the opinion of the Commission, this great work of Colcutt, with its fine craftsmanship, is of outstanding significance not only to South Kensington but to London as a whole, and should be preserved. It is understood that although the building has not been surveyed, the College Architects, before putting forward their present proposals, studied alternative schemes that might have enabled the building to be kept, but they did not think it possible to provide the volume of accommodation required without its demolition, except at the sacrifice of certain amenities in the way of open spaces required to give an appropriate collegiate atmosphere to the new buildings.

6. It is appreciated that the buildings of the Imperial Institute are not adaptable to the teaching requirements of the College, but it is suggested that the main block, facing Imperial Institute Road, might well house the Science Library and its accessories when these are removed from their present accommodation on the opposite side of the road. Although apparently wasteful of space, a close study of modern library requirements might show that the existing building would lend itself economically to a series of subject reading rooms with adjoining stacks, and perhaps common rooms.

7. It has been suggested that if the Imperial Institute building is retained and is surrounded by new buildings of contemporary design, the result would be architecturally unsatisfactory, but the Commission believes that the Victorian grandeur of the Imperial Institute, a scholarly and carefully considered design using materials and craftsmanship unobtainable today, would provide a valuable foil to the new buildings and would contribute to a sense of historical continuity appropriate to a collegiate group.

8. The Commission believes that the development of the rest of the site could be re-designed to provide for the bulk of the teaching requirements and that if necessary additional space should be found in the neighbourhood outside this rectangular site.

9. In any case it appears to the Commission that the difficulties are being increased unnecessarily by the proposal to provide fresh accommodation for the Imperial Institute within the rectangle and that it would be to the advantage of both the College and the Institute if such provision were made elsewhere in the neighbourhood.

10. Another source of difficulty is the presence on the site of the Royal College of Music Whose building is not of special architectural or historic interest. It is understood that a general agreement has been made with the Royal College of Music that they should not be disturbed, but the Commission believes that this aspect of the matter should be re-examined since again it might be in the long-term interests of both Colleges if the Royal College of Music weer rehoused elsewhere in the neighbourhood and the site of its building incorporated in the scheme for the Imperial College

11. The authorities concerned attach importance to full provision for their teaching requirements within this rectangle, although they are intending to provide residential accommodation on sites beyond the perimeter. It seems to the Commission that the long-term teaching requirements of the College cannot be so exactly calculated in advance and that at some later date further extension outside the rectangle is likely to be required. The Government would be severely blamed for the demolition of a building of architectural and historic interest, on the grounds that it prevented essential redevelopment within a defined area, if it were found at a later date that extension beyond the area was necessary in any case.

12. It seems clear that many of the factors involved in this problem are beyond the scope of the College and of the University. The Commission therefore hopes that the whole position may be reviewed by the Government in order to arrive at a more satisfactory provision for the long-term requirements of the several institutions concerned, while at the same time preserving for posterity those buildings which are part of the architectural history of London.

13. A copy of this letter has been sent to the Rector of the Imperial College.

Letter datedth January, 1956, from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to the Chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission.

The Government's plans for the expansion of the Imperial College of Science and Technology which were announced by my predecessor to Parliament entail, as you know, the redevelopment of the rectangular island site at South Kensington. The Royal Fine Art Commission was consulted and its views, set out in a letter dated 11th June, 1955, from the Secretary of the Commission, have been the subject of long and painstaking consideration by Ministers. I am writing to let you know of the conclusions to which they have come.

On receipt of the Commission's letter the whole position was thoroughly re-examined, to see if means could be found to reconcile the development of the College (which in itself, I think, everyone agrees to be desirable) with the Commission's recommendation that the Collcutt building ought to be preserved.

In particular, very careful and detailed consideration was given, in consultation with the Imperial Institute, the Imperial College and their architects, to the Commission's suggestions that new premises for the Imperial Institute and the Royal College of Music should be provided elsewhere, that the Collcutt building should be used to house the Science Library, and that additional space for the College should if necessary be found outside the island site. The Commisssion also urged that No. 170, Queen's Gate, should be preserved; this, I am happy to say, presents no difficulty.

The Commission's suggestions would involve the acquisition of up to three additional sites elsewhere—for the Imperial Institute, for the Royal College of Music, and for part of the Imperial College itself. Although there would be some freedom of choice about the location of a new Imperial Institute building, a site to compensate the Imperial College for the space lost through retaining the Collcutt building would have to be in the neighbourhood of the main site, if the College were not to lose efficiency through dispersion; nor could the Royal College of Music reasonably be required to make a completely fresh start right away from its traditional site.

In pursuance of the Commission's ideas, there has been a thorough search of the neighbourhood, but with scant success; unfortunately the possibilities of finding new sites there are severely restricted. All known sites which might be suitable are zoned for residential purposes, and acquisition could not proceed except by the use of compulsory powers, involving legislation, which it would be hard to justify. And the demolition of the Royal College of Music (which in fact would give poor advantage in terms of floor space) would seriously delay the development scheme, in that the College's teaching activities could not be suspended, and therefore a new building would have to be completed for the Royal College of Music before the demolition of its existing premises could make any contribution towards solving the Imperial College problem.

After all the possibilities, whether suggested by the Commission or otherwise, had been considered, it appeared that a solution of the Imperial College problem could in practice be found in only one of two ways: either by adhering generally to the plan announced to Parliament for the development by the College of the whole island site, including the premises now occupied by the Imperial Institute; or by retaining the Collcutt building and making it available for the use of the Imperial College. In either case it would be necessary, as the Commission had suggested, for the Imperial Institute to be moved to a new site elsewhere; and this we accept.

In the light of these considerations, the Government have carefully reviewed the whole matter yet again. They are advised that, even if the Collcutt building were adapted for academic use or for the Science Library, the consequent loss of space would make it necessary to reduce the intended number of students at Imperial College by 360, of whom 270 would be post-graduates; that is to say, about one-quarter of the whole planned expansion would be lost.

The main loss would be in post-graduate courses of instruction designed to train technologists of the highest quality. Such a curtailment would, in the Government's view, gravely damage the Imperial College development, by far the most important of the Government's nationally conceived plans for expanding higher technological education at the University level. In all the circumstances, the Government have decided that they must adhere to the scale of development for the College which they originally announced, and have regretfully concluded that this can only be achieved if the Collcutt building is demolished and its site utilised.

I am sure you will accept my assurances that, before we reached our decision, we gave long, careful and sympathetic consideration to the Commission's views, in an attempt to discover some means of reconciling with the

Countries whence consigned 1953 1954 1955 (provisional)
cwt. £ c.i.f. cwt. £ c.i.f. cwt. £ c.i.f.
Union of South Africa 64,140 1,244,269 40,329 929,536 62,552 866,387
South West Africa 13,271 108,611 60,663 438,548 125,509 834,904
Australia 1,204 39,040 904 27,616 1,484 27,066
Canada 90,933 1,774,661 158,142 3,762,008 72,869 2,025,979
Soviet Union (including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) 41,987 945,040 28,650 533,660 78,178 2,360,151
Netherlands 272 3,137 1,606 54,326 5,589 175,503
Denmark 710 19,147 938 15,448 3,793 49,348
Norway 24,806 720,020 59,379 1,636,797 45,292 1,228,271
France 47 2,641 2,597 58,545 818 21,032
Portugal 1,742 40,617 149,125 2,080,994 133,333 1,876,242
Spain 5,124 68,612 3,539 45,223 9,730 90,809
Italy 22 839 1,052 14,734 3,839 48,548
Yugoslavia 367 8,777 3,167 27,784 95 1,283
French Morocco 34 635 8,089 111,108 94 1,378
Japan 9 91 93,683 2,420,442 36,379 1,017,150
United States of America 750 10,154 29,153 663,503 48,386 1,439,317
Peru 4,246 69,937 49,898 784,071 74,467 1,200,597
Chile 3,235 53,999 2,626 42,518 3,626 59,909
All other countries 714 14,874 3,693 65,034 3,007 48,351
TOTALS ALL SOURCES 253,613 5,125,101 697,233 13,711,895 709,040 13,372,225