Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, describes why proposed plans to develop Liverpool Street station — including building a 20-storey tower above part of the concourse — risk harming a Victorian icon.
London's historic railway stations are part of this city's essential character.
Their appearance is part of the heritage which belongs to Londoners, and to all those who visit London by train. That character belongs mainly to the great railway age of the 19th century, and is often bound up in the ideal of the lofty train shed with its soaring iron roof, and its imposing and well-detailed brick façades.
The most successful stations in London are in my mind those which still have that deep sense of history in ways that are reinforced by complementary new works of the highest architectural quality.
London Bridge, King's Cross and St Pancras are all great examples of Victorian stations where we supported significant changes and improvements to the public realm. Such improvements accentuate the best of the original buildings while adding thoughtful and sensitive changes that provide much-needed modern facilities. Although the fusion of old and relatively new is also a characteristic of Liverpool Street station, and is something I also enjoy there, it is often overcrowded.
I can see that there is a need for further upgrades.
I am very concerned however, about the plans recently outlined by Network Rail and their developer. They go too far and would alter the historic heart of the City, whilst delivering seemingly disproportionately small benefits.
The oversized and incongruous development put forward is misconceived, and misses the opportunity to unlock real public benefits while enhancing the station's heritage. It would impact on the existing Victorian station structure and the former Great Eastern hotel next door, while introducing a very tall building within a Conservation Area.
If this development was to proceed, based on what we know of it, Liverpool Street would lose its distinctive character with minimal gain.
At Historic England, we are deeply concerned by the direction this proposal is taking. And we are not alone. Many other individuals, heritage and conservation bodies have shared their dismay at the scale and scope of these plans. Our voices need to be listened to, and changes made.
As expert advisors on the historic environment, we would make a very strong objection if this scheme went forward to a planning application. We will continue discussions with Network Rail and partners in the hope that together we can achieve a better future for the station and the millions of people that pass through its doors.
At Liverpool Street Station, we can grasp the opportunity to learn from our previous successes seen in London's cherished Victorian stations. Let's enhance its historic character rather than degrading it.