Griff Rhys Jones has denounced plans for a £1.5bn redevelopment of London's Liverpool Street station, amid a growing row over plans to build a a 16-storey tower block above the Victorian station.
The comedian and television presenter sided with conservationists opposing the “grotesque” proposals, conceding he is likely to be tarred as a member of what Liz Truss’ has dubbed the “anti-growth coalition” as a result.
He told The Telegraph: “I know, we live in a world of growth, growth and growth. But this is sort of slightly assuming that this is a station, which has been through all manner of boom and bust in its history, and needs to respond to the current emergency circumstances.”
Sellar, which developed the Shard skyscraper, said its redevelopment will deliver a “cost-free” upgrade to the capital's third-busiest train station.
Conservationists fear the redesign could risk the glass roof of the Grade II listed station — which dates back to 1874 — and neighbouring Andaz hotel, formerly known as Great Eastern railway hotel.
Liverpool Street, in the City of London, is closed to traffic other than taxis. Sellar’s plans include the road being pedestrianised and parts of the gothic buildings on the street demolished.
Some £450m would be set aside to improve the train terminus as part of the development works over and around the station. Changes include a two-storey concourse as well as step-free access for the London Underground.
It will also help ease congestion as the final stages of Crossrail, or the Elizabeth Line, are completed. The line has a station at Liverpool Street.
James Sellar, chief executive at Sellar, said: “Our vision to significantly upgrade Liverpool Street station will alleviate its chronic overcapacity issues and future-proof it for generations at zero cost to the tax or fare payer.”
But a row is already brewing as plans are officially released on Thursday. A formal planning application will be made next year with works scheduled to start at the beginning of 2024.
“There's a huge amount of concern,” Mr Rhys Jones added, saying developers had presented the redevelopment as a “fait accompli”.
“We are a statutory body, there to be consulted on major changes to Victorian buildings. And this is a major Victorian building.
“It was the Victorian Society that prevented it being knocked down entirely in 1975.
“We owe the survival of these great, great train stations like St Pancras and Liverpool Street and Paddington, to the involvement of conservation bodies.”
Developers say they will “sensitively restore” the listed facade of the Andaz hotel.
The Victorian Society has appealed to Historic England, which is giving “pre-application advice” to the developer, to upgrade the station’s listed status to provide greater protection from being altered.
Victorian Society Director Joe O’Donnell said: "It is extremely disappointing that a proposed redevelopment of a major Victorian station has got this far without speaking to the Victorian Society - especially where a public body such as Network Rail is involved.
"It is unclear how much of the listed building will be lost or how many stories will be built on top of the concourse. Given Sellar’s previous developments of the Paddington Cube and the Shard, this development is likely to overwhelm the listed building.
"The few images provided hint at the sky above the concourse being totally blocked out by a view of a new tower. If, as seems likely, that this scheme will be extremely harmful to the listed building and surrounding conservation area, we will fight it.
"We successfully supported a public inquiry in 1975 against the station’s demolition which resulted in the sensitive scheme that we have today. We are launching a fund to fight this at public inquiry again, if need be."
Robin Dobson, group property director at Network Rail, the public body that owns Liverpool Street station, said: “The plans would transform Liverpool Street station into an exciting mixed-use destination in its own right, whilst sensitively restoring and showcasing the station’s heritage architecture.”