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National Portrait Gallery to be transformed

National Portrait Gallery to be transformed

Lauren Ayers & Heather Marshall 24 Apr 2019
A culmination of an intensive and exciting period of work for Lichfields proved fruitful at Westminster City Council’s Planning (Major Applications) Sub-Committee, when planning permission and listed building consent were granted for the ‘Inspiring People’ project at the National Portrait Gallery.
This £35.5m project, designed by Jamie Fobert Architects working alongside conservation architects Purcell, will transform the Grade I listed Gallery, making it more accessible and welcoming to the public as well as restoring historic features. At its core is a comprehensive redisplay and re-interpretation of the Gallery’s permanent Collection across 40 refurbished galleries, presenting a greater and more diverse selection of portraits; the return of the Gallery’s East Wing to public use as the new Weston Wing, including restoring the original gallery spaces and the creation of new retail and catering facilities; and a new Learning Centre for visitors of all ages with studios, breakout spaces and high quality practical facilities.
Externally a new public forecourt is to be created on the northern side of the building leading to a new fully-accessible entrance in the north façade which is more open and welcoming to all and will create a step-change in the quality of the townscape at the southern end of Charing Cross Road.

Image credit: Jamie Fobert Architects + Purcell

For a high-profile central London site, the application ran particularly smoothly with not a single objection to the project received. The success of the project, while down to the Gallery’s vision and clearly articulated need for the alterations to take place together with the sensitive and inspired response of the architects, also lay in the strong consultative approach the project team took to the planning and listed building consent application.
Our pre-application strategy involved working closely with Westminster City Council, neighbours, stakeholders and relevant consultees to ensure any concerns were taken on board and addressed in the design of the scheme. As part of the integrated design team, Lichfields led early engagement with Westminster City Council to establish a positive working relationship with the Council from the outset.
In co-ordination with the Gallery and wider design team, we also carried out pre-application public consultation and engaged with statutory consultees including Historic England, the Victorian Society and the 20th Century Society, as well as local consultees such as the Westminster Society and the Irving Society. A series of design workshops were held jointly with Historic England and Westminster City Council to develop the scheme to a design that was supported in principal by all parties prior to the submission of the applications.
We entered into a Planning Performance Agreement with the Council which covered the determination period. The committee date of 23rd April was agreed upon by all parties and a collaborative working relationship was established between the applicant team and the Council to ensure that the applications were submitted on time and any concerns and issues were dealt with speedily to enable the applications to be heard on the identified date.
We look forward to continuing to work closely with the Council over the coming months to discharge the planning conditions and sign the legal agreement.


The London Cultural Infrastructure Plan: A call for planners
The Mayor of London published his new Cultural Infrastructure Plan, last month (March, 2019); as noted in Lichfields’ planning news, it focuses on cultural spaces and how the Capital should best plan to meet its cultural needs. The report makes clear that these spaces are at risk from land pressures, increasing business rates and permitted development rights. A call for action from planners is at the centre of this Plan, not least because the NPPF regards ‘cultural wellbeing’ as a crucial component of sustainable development[1].
The Plan delves into how we can better understand our cultural infrastructure, from cultural ‘consumption’ (which includes spaces such as art galleries, museums and libraries) to the increasingly broad nature of cultural ‘production’ (including but not limited to artist studios, design workshops and creative co-working spaces). It coincides with the Mayor publishing a Cultural Infrastructure Toolbox, the first of its kind, which also includes an interactive map. By understanding the differing cultural venues which make up London’s world class cultural infrastructure, only then can we start to take action.
Planning effectively for cultural spaces in London has become increasingly complex. Unsurprisingly, cultural uses are experiencing much of the same pressures to that of industrial and office uses: rising land prices, increasing business rates and pressure from higher value residential uses.
In response, the Cultural Infrastructure Plan is intended to sustain and enhance the cultural spaces within London by advocating collaborative solutions on a site-specific basis, whereby planners work alongside, developers, local authorities and cultural organisations. The Mayor’s Plan proses a call to action to 1) map where cultural spaces are within each Borough and 2) consider how we can enhance these spaces. The following questions addressed within the Plan are particularly crucial for our sector:

What is cultural infrastructure?

Cultural infrastructure, whilst critical to London’s economy, is often ill-defined. The Plan states this infrastructure encompasses the buildings, structures and places where culture is either consumed or produced. With the recent announcement of the Creative Enterprise Zones – the first ones being designated in December 2018 we are seeing an increasing emphasis placed upon the creative economy; a sector which generates ‘£52bn for London each year, is the reason most tourists visit, [and] employs one in six Londoners’.[2] Our cultural spaces, beyond contributing to ‘cultural wellbeing’, are critical in terms of job creation, sector growth and maintaining London’s position as a world leader in cultural capital.

The Mayor’s Plan stresses the need to map this cultural infrastructure across the Capital to plan effectively. The cultural infrastructure map allows users to choose from 36 indicators (spanning from artists workspaces, community centres, dance halls, heritage at risk, pubs and theatres) to explore different locations across the Capital. The map (see extract, below), allows cultural spaces to be viewed at both Borough and Ward level. This can then be combined with context layers such as transport, planning policy, audience and demographics, and open spaces. For instance, the map below shows the results of combining the museums indicator with the Opportunity Zone context layer. Developers, planners and architects proposing new developments are encouraged to consider cultural spaces, particularly those deemed to be at risk, and seek to incorporate these spaces within their proposals.

Source: The Cultural Infrastructure Map (2019)

Planning for cultural infrastructure

The Cultural Infrastructure Plan outlines how we can better plan for cultural infrastructure, in accordance with the Draft London Plan policies, towards a ‘roadmap to 2030’[3]. It identifies a ‘seven-point action plan’[4] centred around mapping, sustaining and enhancing cultural spaces. Action 2 explicitly calls for planners to ‘plan for and create cultural infrastructure’[5]. This includes reference to the role that Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levey can play with regards to cultural infrastructure. Alongside funding, the plan calls for intensification of sites, re-purposing buildings and developing new sites to provide cultural spaces. It also highlights the potential role of meanwhile uses, a topic covered by Lichfields through our work for U+I (for more, read our recent blog).
As well as creating new sites however, the Mayor calls for a more collaborative approach to planning such spaces. This involves the co-operation of local authorities, cultural organisations, architects and planning organisations. For example, Hackney Borough Council, the London Legacy Development Corporation and creative co-working spaces are safeguarding cultural production sites by introducing planning policies which ensure rent is below market value. This is intended to safeguard 8,500 sqm of creative working spaces within new developments in Hackney.

Whilst we are already seeing a number of co-operative solutions being implemented across the Capital, more is needed to sustain our world class cultural assets which are vital to both London’s economy and our sense of cultural wellbeing. The Mayor seems resolute that planners must play a key role in delivering future cultural spaces to enable our creative economy to thrive and for all of London to enjoy. As the Cultural Infrastructure Plan states, a first step must be for planners to answer this call to action.


[1] National Planning Policy Framework, (2019), paragraph 8[2] The Cultural Infrastructure Plan, Greater London Authority, (2019) p.7[3] The Cultural Infrastructure Plan, GLA, (2019), p.35[4] The Cultural Infrastructure Plan, GLA, (2019), p.38[5] The Cultural Infrastructure Plan, GLA, (2019), p.40