HC Deb 21 June 1956 vol 554 cc123-5W
Sir P. Spens

asked the Secretary to the Treasury whether he is yet in a position to give any further information about the plans for the development of Imperial College.

Mr. H. Brooke

Yes. When I last informed the House of the position, the plans prepared by the Imperial College for the development of the rectangle between Prince Consort Road and Imperial Institute Road had just been formally submitted by the College to the London County Council as planning authority. The Council gave its outline approval to the plans for the east and west blocks of the proposed buildings, and work can now proceed on these with the concurrence of the Royal Fine Art Commission.

As regards the central part of the scheme. I understand that, quite apart from the wish of the Royal Fine Art Commission to preserve the Collcutt Building, the Council regarded the plans submitted by the College as somewhat overbuilding the site, and thought that a reduction in density might also enable the retention of at least the tower to be considered. The situation will, however, be eased as a result of the acquisition by the College of all the north, east and south sides of Princes Gardens, lying immediately to the east of the rectangle. Of this area, the east side and most of the south side are available for immediate development. These sites in Princes Gardens are reserved for residential development, and are being acquired primarily to enable the College to provide much needed residence for some of its students. They are not, therefore, in any sense a substitute for the rectangle. But the plans prepared by the College for the development of the rectangle provided there for certain facilities (common rooms and refectories) which the planning authority would be prepared to accept on the new sites. This will make it possible to transfer a portion of these facilities to Princes Gardens, and thus to reduce the density of the development of the rectangular site.

The College has also considered with great care, in consultation with the L.C.C. and the Royal Fine Art Commission, whether, in the light of this ruling it would be possible to meet the Commission's wishes in regard to the Collcutt Building. The conclusion is that it is still not possible to meet its wishes in full without reducing the scale of the expansion at the Imperial College on which the Government have decided, and to which they attach great importance; but a revised plan has been prepared which not only gives a lower density of development, but would also enable the central tower of the Collcutt Building to be preserved by the College as a free standing campanile. Before a definite decision can be taken it will be necessary for expert advice to be obtained on the stability of the tower as a separate unit. The Royal Fine Art Commission has given its views on this proposal in a letter the text of which is as follows: SIR. I am directed by the Royal Fine Art Commission to refer to the meeting on 23rd March with the Financial Secretary and representatives of the University Grants Committee. London University and the Imperial College of Science and Technology, at which the proposed expansion of the College at South Kensington was further considered in the light of suggestions made by the London County Council. The whole position was reviewed by the Commission on the II th April, when it was agreed that a start should be made on the new buildings facing Exhibition Road and Queen's Gate while the future of the rest of the site was further discussed. Representatives of the Commission subsequently met the Rector and his architect, and a revised scheme for the central area was seen by the Commission on 9th May. This latest scheme retains the tower of the Imperial Institute, leaving an open space between it and the Royal College of Music, the new buildings being reduced in volume, limited to a height of about 160 ft. maximum and re-arranged asymmetrically. The Commission welcomes the initiative taken by the County Council in this matter, and appreciates the efforts that have been made by the College authorities and their architect to meet the criticisms of the earlier scheme. It is now more than ever convinced, however. that much of the difficulty has arisen from the original requirement to construct a larger volume of building on this site than is suitable either to this part of London or to the collegiate character of the institution. It considers that this will become increasingly apparent at the time when demands for the expansion of particular departments have to be met. The Commission cannot approve any development which involves the demolition of the main Collcutt building in view of its architectural value and historical importance. But the decision to do this has been taken, and in these circumstances the Commission prefers the latest scheme which retains the tower to the original scheme which involved a total destruction of the building. The Commission agrees with the College authorities that the latest revised design provides the best basis so far suggested for a scheme on these lines. There are a number of points that will require further consideration, including the treatment of the base of the tower, both structurally and aesthetically, if the rest of the building is removed. The Commission would welcome opportunities to consider these and other details as the scheme develops. Copies of this letter have been sent to the College, the University, the University Grants Committee and the London County Council. I am. Sir, Your obedient Servant, (Sgd.) GODFREY SAMUEL.