212, 213 and 214 Piccadilly, were a mixture of baroque and Edwardian style buildings dating back to the 1860s.

 

Based in a prime position on Piccadilly Circus, all were identified as unlisted buildings of merit by the City of Westminster in 2002.

Before and after: Piccadilly facing south in 2008 (top) and 2016 (bottom).

In 2009, planning permission was sought to demolish all three as part of the St James Gateway redevelopment, a large retail revitalization project in the area.

For owners Crown Estates, differing floor heights made the buildings less valuable than a single structure able to house a large signature store.

Before and after: view from Piccadilly Circus facing south in 2008 (top) and 2016 (bottom).

But acknowledging this would be in violation of the UK Government’s Planning Statement on Built Heritage.

 

The policy states developers should “not expect consent to demolition to be given simply because redevelopment is economically more attractive... than repair and re-use of a historic building.”

Before and after: Piccadilly facing south in 2008 (top) and 2016 (bottom).

So instead Crown estates listed the ‘Enhancement of the public realm and repaving works’ as benefits that would outweigh the substantial harm to the conservation area from the demolitions.

This almost comical pitch appeared, at least initially, to fall on deaf ears.

 

Westminster council's own case officer recommend the planning committee reject permission as “no satisfactory case for the demolition of the unlisted buildings of merit has been made”.

The buildings prior to demolition in 2009 as viewed from Piccadilly.

Shockingly though, members of the planning sub committee, some of whom had received gifts and hospitality from Crown Estates ignored the advice and approved the destruction.

Defending their decision, committee members rubbished the existing buildings as of ‘limited quality’ whose loss would not adversely affect the St James’s Conservation Area.

The buildings prior to demolition in 2009 as viewed from Piccadilly.

This was a gross mischaracterization as the design merit of all 3 buildings had already been subject to public scrutiny during the 2002 Conservation Area Audit.

 

The audit identified all three as unlisted buildings of merit and every effort should have been made to preserve them.