Published: 6 January, 2012
• THE news that Islington Boat Club is not going to be rebuilt is one of several impending changes to the development plans for City Road Basin (Move is off – no plans to relocate boat club, December 22).
As the architect responsible for the original plans I hope I can raise some concerns for wider public debate.
The masterplan for City Road Basin was commissioned around 10 years ago by Islington Council and the other landowners, so that low-quality, piecemeal development could be avoided and both the public and private benefits could be maximised.
Contrary to recent suggestions, it involved an exhaustive and transparent consultation process, with two exhibitions, at least 20 public meetings and around 7,000 leaflets to households.
As a result of the comments received, the masterplan was revised and the final version was approved in 2003, not by the planning committee but by the full Islington Council executive.
The consultation process revealed that a clear majority of the public was prepared to support the principle of two tall residential buildings located by City Road, provided they were elegant and striking.
However, far stronger opinions were expressed about the quantity and quality of public open space, so the size of the park on the west side of the basin was increased as a result.
The final plans envisaged City Road Basin being the setting for about 900 new homes, with a range of pathways and public spaces along its edges.
Progress since then has been quite slow, but a private residential block has been built facing Graham Street, an “affordable” housing block has been built by Wharf Road and the basin itself has been opened up to public use through a new piazza in City Road.
Clearly, the recession has begun to take its toll with the decision not to relocate the boat club, which greatly reduces the size of the proposed park and is likely to impede public access to the water’s edge.
In addition, the sites for the two residential towers have changed hands and new architects have submitted an application to make some significant alterations.
Much of this is happening without the same degree of public information as before, so local people may be surprised by what is finally constructed.
Regeneration of large urban sites is complex and difficult, not least because their timetable spans changing economic circumstances and political leadership.
While one group of elected members may wish to distance themselves from the earlier decisions of others, the initial planning consents ensure that development will take place eventually, so there is still a need to achieve the best possible outcome.
It is worth remembering that the basin is in fact the second largest public open space in Islington, so I trust that the current council can resist ad-hoc changes and can help to deliver the benefits of the scheme in full over the next few years.