The ‘New Barbican Committee’, as they called themselves, was not a committee of the City Corporation at all but a pressure group set up in 1953 by prominent office developers. They had become frustrated by the opposition in some quarters the City establishment to their office schemes for the Barbican site. The opposition which was in favour of a residential development of the site was led by Alderman Eric Wilkins.
The New Barbican Committee consisted mainly of private architects and it was set up under the chairmanship of Sir Gerald Barry, a newspaper editor who had been the organiser of the Festival of Britain. The committee members included Sir Harold Webb and Captain A Instone, who had in fact backed the Golden Lane estate.
The committee commissioned a scheme from Kadleigh, Whitfield & Horsbrugh. Sergei Kadleigh. was a lecturer at the Royal College of Art and had attracted considerable notoriety recently by a proposal in 1952 for a residential development with towers for 8,000 people to be built over the station and tracks at Paddington station.
Kadleigh involved Patrick Horsbrugh who had helped him with the Paddington plan. and William Whitfield, a former student. In 1954 Kadleigh, Whitfield & Horsbrugh produced the ‘Kadleigh plan’ as it became known.
The proposal took in 40 acres, most of which was to be excavated to 60 feet below ground level. The site was to be filled from the excavated base level up as follows:
- Below ground level, four floors of warehouse accommodation and car parking for approximately 3000 vehicles.
- Above ground level, three floors of warehousing and industrial space with offices round the perimeter of the site.
- Above that, four-storey maisonettes, with shops, restaurants, pubs and other services as for a self-contained neighbourhood.
- Above the residential area, five tall office blocks which would contain businesses such as a trade and commerce centre, hotels and restaurants.
The proposal was rejected by the City Corporation when the Improvements and Town Planning Committee opposed it. The committee opposed it in principle because they thought the result would be buildings of excessive density, lacking in amenities and natural daylight; and they weren’t satisfied that there would be sufficient demand for the newly created space to ensure that the scheme would be economically sound. Their technical spoke-in-the-works was to point out that the application could not be dealt with in the absence of an Industrial Development Certificate from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.
The Board of Trade issued the Industrial Development Certificate which was the necessary precondition for the grant of planning permission for the Kadleigh plan. But the Improvements and Town Planning Committee repeated their opposition to the plan in a report to the Court of Common Council. Planning permission was subsequently refused, and the refusal was upheld in a planning appeal to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.
What the proposal achieved was to knock the City out of its rather complacent slow consideration of what to do with the huge Barbican bomb site. It encouraged other interested parties to come up with their proposals. The Kadleigh plan was followed by the Martin-Mealand plan for a mainly commercial development of the site, and the report commissioned from Chamberlin Powell and Bon for a residential solution to the problem of what to do with the site.