London County Council

The Planning Department of the London County Council was extremely active in the years after the war. At the peak the department employed over 1,500 architects – it was the largest architecture ‘firm’ in the world.

The City of London was one local authority among the others in the London County and so the LCC had a legitimate interest in the City as a component in its overall plans for London.

The Abercrombie plan of 1943-4 was the LCC’s first attempt to create a strategy for developing London after the war. The plan made recommendations for the whole of London, not specifically for the City; but later proposals specifically for the City and the Barbican area took it into account.

The local councils were under pressure from the LCC and from the Government to produce their own local plans. The City responded with the Forty plan. This was derided as being little more than a stitch up by vested interests in the City to retain the status quo and to rebuild the City much as it had been before the war.

Pressure from the LCC and the Government forced the City Corporation to commission Charles Holden and William Holford to study the situation and make recommendations. Their plan – the Holden and Holford plan – succeeded in satisfying City business interests, while also fulfilling some of the requirements of the progressive planners in the London County Council at the time. The report was incorporated into the City Development Plan of 1951.

The planners of the LCC were chafing to get something done about the devastated northern part of the City where most of the buildings had been destroyed by German bombing. In the 1950s this area still lay unchanged and there were no City of London plans to do anything major about it.

So, in 1954-5 the London County Council planning department put forward there own scheme for the redevelopment of the Barbican area. This was prepared by Dr Leslie Martin, then the deputy head of the planning department. The Martin plan proposed mainly office blocks for the Barbican area although it also included a few terraces of six-storey maisonettes (with shops at ground floor level) clustered around St Giles’s church.

The head of the planning department at the time was Anthony Mealand. He also proposed a similar plan, in conjunction with William Holford.

But the LCC continued to be the driving force behind the future development of the Barbican area. In 1954 Leslie Martin, who was by now the chief architect of the London County Council, and Anthony Mealand collaborated on a combined plan, known as the Martin-Mealand plan which they unveiled in September 1955. The Martin-Mealand plan was named after the respective heads of department, but in reality this was mainly an LCC-inspired proposal and most of the work on it was done by the LCC planning department. The Martin-Mealand plan was based around the concept of a series of office towers along both sides of Route 11 (London Wall).

This was the moment at which forces within the City government in favour of a residential development for the Barbican area came to the fore and Chamberlin Powell and Bon were commissioned to produce their first report on the viability of a housing development there. They produced their report in 1955. This quickly took over as the main contender for the development of the Barbican.

The London County Council now became involved again because legislative changes had made the LCC the planning authority to which the City of London had to apply for planning permission for any major development. Chamberlin Powell and Bon produced a more detailed scheme and the City used it as the basis for an exploratory planning application to the LCC. In June 1958 the LCC turned it down in its current form! The City and Chamberlin Powell and Bon had been trying it on a bit in their application. To generated a decent profit from the development – this was always of prime importance to the City – there needed to be as many flats as possible on the land. So Chamberlin Powell and Bon had come up with a scheme which involved a population density of 300 persons per acre. The Greater London Plan of 1944 set a limit of 200 persons per acre for this part of London. The LCC insisted that the Barbican proposal be re-written to accommodate no more than 230 persons per acre.

The LCC also made it a condition of any planning permission for a Barbican residential estate that it must incorporate a podium with a system of high walks extending into the London Wall area which was being developed as blocks of offices on a podium at the time.

The LCC imposed other important conditions. The railway cutting had to be covered over  – this was the line from Barbican to Moorgate. Satisfactory provision for car parking had to be provided.

The north Barbican area (north of Beech Street) was zoned for commercial development, not residential, so the Corporation had also applied for outline planning permission for conversion of that area to residential use, and that was granted.

When the Barbican development was finally getting under way in the early 1960s the City Corporation found that they had run into another problem with the London County Council planning department. The internal kitchens of the proposed Barbican flats did not comply with LCC building regulations because they had no windows. This potentially huge problem, which might have led to a vast redesign of the flats and buildings, was solved by declaring that the ‘kitchens’ were not kitchens at all; they were cooking areas within the living area. The designs were then passed by the LCC.