Islington councillors have expressed their concern over relations between City University of London and its neighbours during a debate over whether to add an oval library and reading room to the roof of its Northampton Square building.
The library, which councillors resolved to grant approval at a planning committee meeting on 4 June, had sparked resident ire, with some complaining that the additional space would be a forerunner to an increase in the number of students, and potentially a resulting increase in Uber drivers delivering late night food.
Members of the 20th Century Society also present at the meeting objected on the grounds of the historical value of the building, which was designed by Sheppard Robson architects, who also designed the listed buildings of Churchill College, Cambridge.
Cllr Tricia Clarke said: “I’m quite disturbed about the relationship between the residents and the university. Is the university doing everything it can that it sits in harmony with the residents of the square?”
City responded that their students bring a lot of “energy and enthusiasm” to the borough, that the student union had put together ‘Hush’ campaigns to develop a greater sense of responsibility to the student body, as well as organising litter picks and tending to the square’s gardens.
Cllr Martin Klute, however, pointed out that from the objectors’ speeches at the meeting that there was “a very different view abroad” at how successful City was at interacting with its neighbours.
One objector said: “I have been trying to get the management plan for City’s Sebastian Street site and they cannot give it to me. You can’t have these are people with massive salaries at the top terrorising working people with lights and all that sort of stuff. It impacts our lives, and will shorten our lives.”
Planning officers had recommended the additional floors to the building for approval by councillors, pointing out that the new design will hide the unsightly plant equipment currently on show on the roof.
Objector and former Islington councillor Paul Jackson said: “My concern is that we might be bounced into a decision by a rather poor report and a dreadful introduction by the planning officer.
“When you set the minimum of 30 metres for a building’s height, it’s a bit like when you set the 20mph speed limit. It doesn’t mean on some streets we’ll make it 24mph, it means 20mph. So to hear an officer say, ‘Actually it doesn’t matter because it’s only five metres over’, it’s just plain daft.
“Refuse this on the grounds of poor design. This was a diamond-shaped square with the a round park – it’s the diamond that’s the important part, and this oval design completely destroys that.”
Kevin Gibbons, director of properties and facilities at City University of London strove to underline how important the scheme was for the student body.
Gibbons said: “I want to emphasise how important the scheme is for the university and for our students. It addresses a significant shortfall in quiet study spaces for our existing students, which is the primary driver for this.
“We have taken some time in developing a scheme, and have spent a lot of time with the council’s planning officers and design review panel. It’s overdue in many ways.
“The university focuses on employability for students, and the library offers us a chance to impart to them the thinking skills and intellectual skills they will require to enter meaningful employment.”
The scheme saw 17 formal objections, of which seven were duplicates or submissions from the same individual.