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Piccadilly Circus

Volume 886: debated on Thursday 20 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he intends to call in the application for the proposed redevelopment of the Criterion site, Piccadilly Circus, for his own determination.

Trust Houses Forte Ltd. has applied to Westminster City Council, the local planning authority, for outline planning permission and listed building consent for a scheme of redevelopment. This provides for the retention of the Lillywhite building, and the front part of the Verity building. The Criterion Theatre is to be retained with new backstage accommodation. There is a minimal increase in office space, shopping facilities are improved, and new pedestrian arcades are planned.I have had representations that because of the importance of the site I should call in the planning application and hold a public inquiry. Theatre interests have expressed concern about the effect of the scheme on the Criterion Theatre, particularly during the period of rebuilding.I entirely share the public concern that the Criterion Theatre should continue in use as a live theatre. I have been advised that it is the intention of the local planning authority to conclude a formal agreement with the developers which will ensure that this use is fully guaranteed. I have been given a similar assurance by the Crown Estate Commissioners, who are the freeholders. In addition Sir Charles Forte, on behalf of the developers, has made it publicly known that it is his intention that the theatre use should continue in its present form. Sir Charles has given an assurance that, with the co-operation of all concerned, disturbance will be kept to an absolute minimum.Sir Charles has also undertaken to give the existing lessees, Wyndham Theatres Ltd., the first opportunity to negotiate terms for a new lease, with provision for independent arbitration in case of disagreement as to the rentals to be charged. He has welcomed the proposal by the planning authority to use its available powers to secure the future of the theatre.

Prima facie these assurances ought to meet the public concern about the Criterion Theatre.

Improvement in the present state of Piccadilly Circus has been needed for a long time. The present scheme retains the scale of the existing buildings and generally conforms to a planning brief approved by Westminster City Council setting out guidelines for the piecemeal and gradual rehabilitation of the Piccadilly Circus area as a whole.

Having carefully considered the matter, I am satisfied that, in all the circumstances, it is not necessary for me to intervene in the determination by the local planning authorities of the current planning application. In my view, these proposals mark the end of the era of grandiose and gigantic plans for the wholesale demolition and comprehensive redevelopment of historic metropolitan sites such as Piccadilly Circus. They maintain the present shape and scale of buildings and reflect a broadly conservationist approach. They involve no road proposals or traffic consequentials. They generate little or no increase in office employment in Central London. They should not displace existing small office users; and they should discourage any brutalist solution on the other parts of the Circus, as and when planning application is made.

I therefore take the view that the present application should go forward in the normal way and fall to be decided by the local planning authorities concerned, the Greater London Council and Westminster City Council.