Planning update on proposals for Old Brewers Yard – Guinness experience

Planning update

Old Brewers Yard (Shelton St, Langley St, Neal St & Mercer Walk) – proposals by Guinness across 4 buildings & yard.

May 2022

A large planning application has been submitted to Westminster City Council for the Guinness development around Old Brewers Yard, Shelton Street, Neal Street, Mercer Walk and Langley Street.

CGCA has some serious concerns about the proposals.  The issues fall into two categories:

  • Over-intensification, bringing thousands more people each week into a small residential area, for drink-led activities.
  • The unsympathetic design and height of the proposed 2 storey roof extension and other new elements.

There is a positive educational element, highlighting the history of brewing in the area, training young people, and restoring a little brewing activity in one of the old brewery buildings.  But these benefits do not, in our view, outweigh the issues with the proposals as they currently stand.

Following local feebdack, CGCA is planning to object to the proposals but to suggest modifications and conditions that might make them more acceptable.

All the documents for the planning application (ref. 22/02009/FULL) can be found on Westminster’s planning portal here, where people can also submit their comments (select the ‘Comments’ tab then click on ‘Login and make a comment’ to login to your Westminster account or quickly create one).  We attempt to summarise the proposals, and our take on them, below.

Please note that Licence applications for the same buildings were submitted in March.  Information can be found about those on our Licensing update page here, but Planning and Licensing are separate regimes and comments made on one will not be shared with the other.

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The uses proposed for various building areas are:

Part of development Address People seated / standing Existing use Proposal
Old Brewers Yard 28 Shelton Street 100 / 200 Service yard. Public semi open-air bar, open to all until ‘Core hours’ *.  Events with occasional live music.  Main gate on Shelton St, new passageways to Langley Street & Neal Street.
Langley Street basement 5 Langley Street 130 / 250 Bar with entertainment. Events, sports screenings, performances etc. until ‘Core hours’ *.  New entrance via passageway to Langley Street.
Restaurant building 28-32 Shelton Street 337 Offices & new 5th & 6th floor. Restaurants, bars & private events open until ‘Core hours’ *.  6th floor open terrace area open until 10pm.
Brewery building 1 Mercer Walk 220 H&M shop. Micro-brewery with tours.  Private events & sale of beer for consumption away from premises.  Open until ‘Core hours’ * but brewing from 6am.
Retail shop 15 Neal Street 15 Tea House. Sale of beer until ‘Core hours’ * for consumption away from premises.  Also acting as passageway to yard.
Total people:  802 / 1,022

 

* ‘Core hours’ are Monday to Thursday until 23.30, Friday & Saturday until Midnight, Sunday until 22.30.  However, if not restricted by Planning conditions, these can be extended to 24/7 up to 20 times a year using ‘Temporary Event Notice’ licences which local people cannot object to as long as they last a total of no more than 26 days (624 hours) each year.  This is why it is so important to have hours of use added to any Planning permission.

This map shows the layout of the buildings and their proposed capacities:

If Planning permission were granted, this summary outlines come conditions that CGCA feels might mitigate the worst potential problems and bring some community benefit:

Part of development Changes & conditions that might mitigate problems (more detail is further down page)
Old Brewers Yard Only 50 people, all seated.  Closing time 11pm.  Shelton St. gate shut at 10pm; exit later via Langley Street passage.  No sound to emanate.  No amplified music or soundtracks.  Higher gate to contain noise.
Langley Street basement Opening restricted to ‘Core hours’ by Planning condition.  Big sports screening events limited to 12 per annum, closing by 22:00 & only 130 people so all can be seated.  Complimentary slots for community events and staff time for elderly ‘day centre’ events.
Restaurant building No 2 floor roof extension; a 1-storey brick mansard could be acceptable.  Opening restricted to ‘Core hours’ by Planning condition but terrace to close by 20:00, with planting to reduce sound and overlooking.  Complimentary community office space.
Brewery building Bar for ticketed visitors only.  No noise emanating.  Open Monday to Thursday 08:00 to 21:00, Friday 08:00 to 22:00, Saturday 09:00 to 22:00, Sunday 10:00 to 21:00, with no brewing earlier.  Western door & beer shop closing at 21:00.
Retail shop Door onto Neal St. closed at 20:00.

 


Hours

We believe that ‘Core hours’ are too late to have across the entirety of the development, and would suggest a staggered approach as shown above.  Potential noise breakout would have to be managed by some serious conditions, too.

Bar in Old Brewers Yard

We think that 200 people standing drinking in the echoey space of Old Brewers Yard will be incredibly loud; even 25 people outside the Crown & Anchor cause a lot of disturbance.  Reducing the numbers and seated service will reate a more relaxed, quieter atmosphere.

We have spoken to residents living close to these buildings, and they feel strongly that as few customers as possible should be released to the North and East late in the evening.  Neal Street, to the East, is a sound canyon at that point, overlooked by family flats all along one side; the exit route from the yard at 15 Neal Street should close early at 8pm so that kids can sleep.  And people coming out onto Shelton Street, to the North, will take a long time in residential streets before reaching public transport; so the gate there should close by 10pm at the latest.  While an exit onto Langley Street is not ideal, it does have a direct line to Covent Garden Station and it is less echoey; residents there have sadly had to endure the late night bar at 5 Langley Street for decades already, and the impact of this will not be as late.

Shutting the big Shelton Street gate before closing time will also reduce the danger of people spilling out the worse-for-wear on the narrow pavement with all the busy traffic.  There will still be a lot of people coming out here from the restaurant building.  And the gate needs to be quite high to contain the noise of people even with no other sources of sound.  We don’t think that it will be feasible to play music here or have screenings without causing a nuisance.

Roof extension & restaurant building

The development is within the Covent Garden conservation area.  It overlooks the Seven Dials conservation area.  These are two of the prime conservation areas in the UK – amongst only 38 that were designated ‘outstanding’ in the days when a few were graded above the other thousands in the UK.  The design of the extra two storeys on the Shelton Street building seems a bit of a vanity project, with a metal & glass theme unsympathetic to the brick building.  We believe that it does not enhance the Conservation area.  This is a subjective view, and some people love the juxtaposition of different architectural styles – as does CGCA in some instances.  However, in this instance the consensus of our committee is that it literally doesn’t sit right with the building or with this location.

Whatever the design, the fact is that 6.6 metres in height will to create more gloom in an already dark street.  It will shade the only sunny spot in the immediate locality, which is the paved area at the junction of Neal Street and Earlham Street.  We believe that one set-back mansard storey, in brick to match the building, might be acceptable and could be used for the plant & equipment.  There is plenty of room for the restaurants etc. on the other 4 floors, where a lot of the space is quite poorly allocated in the plans.

The roof heights on this section of Shelton Street start low, with 4 storeys at the corner of Neal Street, then there are 5 storeys on this building, and the equivalent of 7 storeys on the next building (London Film School) on the corner of Langley Street. This progression looks quite natural, and we are all used to it.  If the middle building becomes 7 storeys then a) it doesn’t look like a natural progression and b) we all know that the next application will be for 7 storeys on the corner building too, based on precedent.

We believe that any restaurant terrace should close by 8pm.  There are time conditions on other terraces in the area, and hours are much earlier where al fresco activities are close to family dwellings.  There should also be measures to reduce noise and overlooking to flats, such as planting in addition to the frosted glass that has been suggested by the applicant.

Brewery building

The brewery building in Mercer Walk (currently H&M), with a tourist experience involving history and some space for training, could be an asset to the area.  But only if impeccably managed so as to limit noise, late night activity and alcohol sales.  As with the yard, though, this venue should not send people out in a direction away from public transport too late; this could be achieved by closing the Western doors earlier.

Brewing from 6am could be a problem, and any fumes should lead to a lockdown until the issue is resolved.

A green wall is poposed, which could help to absorb sound in Mercer Walk.  However it should either go on another wall, or the ‘Espalier’ sculpture should be relocated nearby – for example in Old Brewers Yard or the back of the Graphic Centre.

Langley Street basement

This space was previously a late night bar / club.  It could be preferable for this to be an events space, but only if the hours are restricted by condition so that they can’t have late-night specials.  Rowdy crowds leaving after big sports events could be particulalry dispruptive, so we believe that these should be limited in number and subject to earlier terminal hours.

The application says that this can be used as a ‘community space’, but the community they talk about mainly seems to be a Guinness one.  We are asking for a clear process by which the local community can access this space free, at times that suit us.

Deliveries & servicing

Deliveries & servicing are proposed to take place between 7am and 10am.  However, we believe that this is too early a start in such a residential area, where delivery vans are already a law unto themselves in many places – parking wherever they like and arriving early.  Some streets nearby are already chaotic well before 8am.  Interestingly, Camden’s Local Plan sets usual servicing hours at 08:00 to 20:00; we would like Westminster to commit to something similar.

For this development a whopping 30 deliveries a day are envisaged before consolidation.  We propose that all Deliveries & servicing should only take place from Old Brewers Yard and Mercer Walk, not in any surrounding streets as they cannot cope with any more.  And deliveries should not start before 8am on weekdays and 9am at weekends, with none on Sundays – not starting at 7am every day as proposed; it is unfair to expect residents to be kept up late and then hit with more noise early in the morning.  All suppliers should also sign up to the TfL code on quiet deliveries, or be dropped by Guinness.

Read CGCA’s revised comments here.

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If you are concerned, please submit your comments to Westminster council on their planning portal here (near the bottom of the page, click on ‘Login and make a comment’ to login to your Westminster account or quickly to create one).  Or you can email southplanningteam@westminster.gov.uk and give the application reference no. 22/02009/FULL – but they are not very keen on us doing it this way as it is more work for them and responses may get lost.

Even if your views are similar to those expressed by the CGCA, you should submit them to Westminster separately.  The recent change in political administration at Westminster council has said that it will listen more carefully to local opinion.

Please contact us via Planning@CoventGarden.org.uk if you have feedback on other points that you would like us to consider.  And please let us have a copy of any comments that you submit, as it will help us to prepare for the Planning Hearing.

 


Initial proposals, February 2022

Diageo want to update the image of their Guinness brand, to include a hub in central London to augment their centre in Dublin.  They have chosen a complex of buildings owned by The Mercers Company between Long Acre and Shelton Street where they propose to install a ‘brewing experience’, restaurant, bar, events space and an al fresco food & drink court.

A presentation was made to members of the CGCA Planning Subcommittee in January 2022.  We gave feedback to Guinness and to The Mercers which we outline below.  We also asked them to carry out early consultation with the local community, and information is now live at this link where they are asking for feedback by 17th February.  They are running two info sessions:

– via Zoom on Monday 7th February at 6pm.  email tom.johnson@diageo.com to register.

– drop-in on Monday 14th February, 2pm to 7pm on 2nd floor of 28-32 Shelton Street.

If you are interested, please attend one and ask questions.  We have set out some of our own questions below.  This video helps to visualise the quite complex proposals (press the play arrow, or it will not work properly).

It’s worth noting that the buildings were actually part of the Combe Woodyard brewery which operated from the 1720’s until 1905.  These images show what it looked like in the 19th century.  The first view is from the Crown & Anchor pub.  The second is up Langley Street.

CGCA’s view, in summary, is that the educational aspects of the proposal are exciting, highlighting relevant history and restoring some brewing activity to the area.  But we have serious concerns in relation to intensification; if this scheme is to work at all, it will need to be impeccably managed with tight planning / licensing conditions in what is a highly residential area.  And we have a strong objection to the design and height of the proposed roof extension.

Building by building, read our initial comments here.

 

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