Holborn Studios, 49-50 Eagle Wharf Road N1 7ED

Holborn Studios, 49-50 Eagle Wharf Road N1 7ED

2012/3923 2013/0032 - 20 March 2013

By Nick Perry

  1. 2012/3923 Full Planning Permission - Demolition of existing buildings and the erection of a mixed use building to provide 5,139sqm of Class B1 floor space, 371sqm Class A3 (restaurant) floor space and 82 residential units together with associated car parking spaces, delivery bay, cycle parking and associated amenity space and landscaping.
  2. 2013/0032 Conservation Area Consent - Demolition of existing buildings associated with the erection of a mixed use building to provide 5,139sqm of class b1 floor space, 371sqm class a3 (restaurant) floor space and 82 residential units together with associated car parking spaces, delivery bay, cycle parking and associated amenity space and landscaping.

FAO: Jillian Holford


The Hackney Society objects to the proposed demolition and redevelopment, at this time.

The current use of the site is highly sustainable, offers a high level of employment, and makes excellent use of an awkward location (in transport and environmental terms). It brings a high number of contractors and visitors to the area, continues to enrich the artistic and creative heritage of the borough and presents a welcome relief from the mediocre and poor quality developments in the immediate vicinity, particularly along the Regent's Canal.

The proposed development is appropriate in terms of scale and massing, and offers a design that, barring some minor points, is well articulated and of a good to high quality with some particularly welcome features for improving the visibility of the canal side and preserving the texture of development along the Canal. 

However, the modest and unproven benefits to the total level of employment of the new development are not sufficient, in the current economic climate, to justify demise of the existing businesses, demolition of the current undesignated heritage assets and construction of a speculative mixed use B1 & residential development. We view it as an unacceptable risk to existing jobs in a priority employment zone, that is unlikely to pay any positive dividend in the short or medium term.

In more detail:

Regrettably, due to the limited resources of our voluntary organisation, The Hackney Society was unable to engage with the developer's agents at the pre-application stage, but are grateful to them for meeting with us post-validation. The current lessee of the site, Holborn Studios, are corporate members of the Hackney Society and have previously made their own representation to the Society to outline their objections to the scheme. We submit this response having considered both representations and having a mind towards the aims of the Society which are to promote both high quality modern development and weigh that against conservation of the valuable heritage of the borough's built environment.

The proposed redevelopment of the site on Eagle Wharf Road, presents something of a dilemma for those two criteria. 

The site, principally the business premises of lessee, Holborn Studios, is poorly connected to the public transport links at Old Street, City Road and New North Road, because of its awkward location at the far end of Shepherdess Walk. Eagle Wharf Road is effectively one way as it is no entry to motor vehicles in respect of it's junction with New North Road. There is a limited, somewhat esoteric bus service on Wenlock Rd. The Regent's Canal, a single pedestrian/cyclist bridge and The Packington Estate separate the site, both literally and to a greater extent metaphorically from Islington and the other limited bus services along Provost St to the north. This unfortunate disconnection makes the applicant's suggestion that the site might capitalise on the digital economy and the so-called Silicon Roundabout, unconvincing. There is indeed a surfeit of B1 property (albeit some in need of renovation) already, much closer to the Old Street transport hub. The site is also extremely poorly served by retail and leisure and so is unlikely to attract employers (and their employees) to the area. 

A significant number of the Holborn Studios (and its sub lets) employment base are transient in so far as they are associated with the day hire of the studios. The nature of the business tends to support private hire and hackney cabs to bring hire clients and this 'transient' employment to the site. This suits the 'poor connection' model well and there are few other forms of business that would do the same. In addition the regular churn of daily hire brings creatively skilled people to the borough that might otherwise not be here, and by all accounts, on a recurring basis.

There is some physical heritage value to the former light industrial building. The extant use as photographic studios suits the building form exceptionally well and has required little physical intervention over the years of its tenure. There are few alternative uses that could be regarded as sustainable and un-impactful to the environment. Clearly demolition and re-building is highly costly and must offer a high occupancy, long term use in order to balance the environmental impact of construction.

The current Holborn Studios business is highly viable and has demonstrated a commitment to the site if this development is refused. It is a unique facility within central London and the photography and video market prizes it's unusually large studios, good availability and convenient location. Commercially it is, frankly, regarded as a 'second choice' studio complex, but one that is widely felt to be the second choice of most practitioners in the market. Similarly sized studios (for large shoots, cars, etc) are much further out of town and are less convenient for bringing the many creative trades needed, together.

Holborn Studios created this business category in the UK, and has been operating out of this, its second site for around 23 years. As a result of its position in the market it has, in this been responsible for a significant creative heritage on the site. One which continues to grow as the studios are still used on a daily basis for high profile video and stills shoots. The output of the studios is seen worldwide, almost constantly. Many award winning creative practitioners, including household names, have used the studios and continue to do so. Whilst the extant use exists, Hackney benefits from the continued generation of an identifiable cultural heritage.

The Regents Canal has suffered, perhaps in part due to the lack of a single planning authority or viable masterplan, from over development in its very recent history. Indeed the pace of development has caused large swathes of it to have been transformed in to fairly unadventurous, mediocre quality mid to high rise residential and mixed development.

The canal side landscape now represents a point in modern history and little remains of the long industrial history of the canal. As a result the few remaining buildings that do have a link to the industrial past have a greater historical interest and heritage value. They provide a clear visual connection to the past that must be protected.

Few of the modern developments can be said to preserve or enhance the Regent's Canal Conservation Area. In addition the privacy and seclusion that the previous industrial heritage lent the canal has all but disappeared as much of it is now overlooked by canal side residential developments. It is perhaps to the credit of the design of this application that it remains stepped back from the canal side and the pontoons and canal side moorings will remain. The residential components are stepped back and the party wall remains. Aside from some minor design details (in particular the balconies which will contribute to the loss of seclusion and tend to increase the sense of overlooking to canal side and mooring users), the design responds sensitively to the canal side context and its surroundings.

Along the Eagle Wharf Road elevation there has historically been some poor to mediocre quality developments over time and Holborn Studios represents the last, vestiges of its light industrial history. The exterior condition of the plain, practical facade is good and its history is easily readable. The chimney (long since out of use), has recently lost its upper extremity but is a clearly identifiable landmark that contributes positively to the streetscape and canal side landscape, and the Regent's Canal Conservation Area.

With strong built and creative heritage, existing amenity and employment value, and some industrial architectural significance, the suggestion for demolition and redevelopment of this site is unconvincing. Whilst this application design (if properly executed) is amongst the better developments along the Regent's Canal, it will destroy the built and creative heritage, and makes an unconvincing argument that it will even meet the current employment level in the medium term, let alone significantly exceed it.

With improvements to public transport links led by TfL and LBH Highways it would be possible to provide better infrastructure support for potential employment, and at such time a well designed application could be considered a positive contribution. As it stands its current, sustainable use, heritage and amenity make a more convincing case for the status quo.

This page was added on 14/04/2013.