Council Team comes out against supporting the development of the EF Language School

Cambridge City Council’s Urban Design and Conservation Team has firmly come out against supporting the proposed development of the EF Language School at 221 Hills Road. In its report, now available on the council website, the team says:

“Whilst the original house and, particularly, its more recent extensions are not of great architectural or historic merit, it does nonetheless comply with the general architectural character of the neighbourhood. There is no objection to its demolition provided that the replacement building is of appropriate design quality and appropriate to its context.

Placing of the School: The proposed new language school has a number of different elements within it, comprising of teaching spaces, residential spaces and service spaces. These functions have differing space and other requirements and should lead to specific architectural responses. The placing of the new school within the plot should relate to the existing buildings that surround the site in an appropriate manner, the scale and form of the building should work with the existing grain of the townscape rather than contrast with it. It is noticeable that most of the illustrations used in the D & A Statement are of much larger buildings in an urban setting whereas cues should be drawn from more appropriately scaled buildings in more similar, suburban settings.

Scale and Massing: Drawing 2441-P203 indicates that the height of the proposed development is similar to that of the existing Language School at 14m to the top of the proposed parapet and 15m to the top of the proposed lift overrun. The north elevation has been stepped away from the boundary (from 8m to 14m) with the St John the Evangelist Church. We are concerned that the proposed massing of the development, forming a uniform 14m, 4 storey block is considerably greater than that of the more broken form of the existing building, neighbouring residential buildings to the south and the Church to the north.

“By bringing the block forward of the church and containing all the elements of the school in a single flat-roofed box, the bulk of the scheme presents an over-emphatic flank to oblique views past the church and the height relates poorly to the nearby buildings. The proposed building is somewhat further away from the church than the existing but its form and bulk will be very dominating and over bearing.

“A much less dominant solution could be found by separating the functions into separate wings or linked separate buildings with a roofscape much more appropriate to the narrow spans and gabled, pitched roofs of the environs. This would give scope for a more varied character and less rectilinear and uniform appearance. The scheme proposed has a very institutional feel to it, which could be toned down by being of a more residential scale and type for the student accommodation but could be somewhat more emphatic for the teaching areas. The service areas should always be subordinate and lower key in character.

Existing Trees: The existing development site includes a number of mature trees surrounding the southern and western boundaries of the site, which assists in screening the existing school building from Hills Road and Cavendish Avenue. We are concerned that the proposed removal and lopping of the trees has reduced opportunities for screening the development and may unduly impact on the existing townscape along this section of Hills Road.

“The proximity and height of the existing trees adjacent to the proposed building may result in a loss of day lighting to the teaching/learning and residential rooms on the second and third floors.

Amenity space: The proposed application includes a central courtyard on the first floor and is accessed from the external staircases from the main (north) elevation and Hills Road elevations. The submitted D&A Statement (page 18-19) includes shadow studies indicating the impact of the development on the neighbouring Church to the north and Lady Jane Court to the east. Whilst these indicate a minimal impact to neighbouring properties, they do not indicate the shadowing impact on the central courtyard and the available day lighting within the basement refectory.

Refuse storage: The proposal includes a refuse store located on the south elevation and is accessed from Cavendish Avenue. We are concerned that the location of the proposed refuse store creates a poor quality outlook for the south-eastern residential units on the first, second and third floors.

Materials: The materials proposed could be acceptable in this location as there is a varied palette used (including red brick, buff brick, clay tiles & slate and so on) but they need to be used in a way that does not overemphasise or produce dominant effects in the architecture.

Conclusion: In conclusion the Urban Design and Conservation Team feel the applicant has failed to respond to the characteristics of the surrounding area, resulting in an unacceptable development proposal. We consider the applicant has failed to identify and respond to the scale and massing of the surrounding area and therefore does not accord with saved Cambridge Local Plan (2006) Policy 3/4 Responding to Context; [and] whilst the proposed materials are largely acceptable, the overall design of the building has an institutional appearance. The form does not sit comfortably in the suburban context and has the potential to have a negative impact on the prevailing townscape. The proposals do not therefore accord with saved Cambridge Policy 3/12 The Design of New Buildings.

“As proposed, we cannot support the proposed application.”

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