Conservation Heritage United Kingdom

Cancer centre at Barts wins planning approval despite heritage objections

Critics of Steven Holl-designed Maggie's centre wanted it moved to safeguard great hall

Rendering of the Maggie's centre

Plans for a new cancer centre in historic St Bartholomew’s Hospital (Barts) in London are raising awkward questions about heritage versus health care. The hospital administration wants to proceed with a Maggie’s centre for cancer patients, which would be built at one end of the hospital’s 18th-century great hall. But this would make it difficult for the Friends of the Great Hall & Archives to restore the historic building and provide greater public access. The issue came to a head last Thursday, 17 July, when a planning application for the cancer charity's centre won narrow approval from the City of London.

Maggie’s is a charity set up by the architect Charles Jencks in memory of his wife Maggie, providing support for cancer patients at 17 centres around the UK. It commissioned New York-based architect Steven Holl to design a centre at Barts. Its proposal has the support of Barts Health, the National Health Service trust that runs the hospital, which is now due to make the final decision, following the planning application approval. Maggie’s has already raised the necessary £5m, and the project is likely to go ahead with the opening scheduled for early 2016. The hospital would also restore the hall.

The Friends of the Great Hall claims that the 18th-century north block is “on the brink of irreversible disrepair due to a lack of maintenance”. It not only wants to restore the hall, but add an extension for services and access. The hospital’s small museum would be moved to the basement, alongside the archives. This scheme, designed by Hopkins Architects, was granted planning permission in April. Total costs are estimated at £10m to £15m, and a heritage trust would be set up to raise the money.

Barts, founded in 1123, is one of the world’s oldest hospitals and has remained on the same site in Smithfield. The great hall, designed by James Gibbs and completed in 1738, was built for governors’ meetings. Set on the upper floor of the hospital’s north block, it is lined with plaques inscribed with the names of benefactors. The building’s staircase is decorated with two large murals by Hogarth, who was born in the hospital grounds.

The Friends of the Great Hall has suggested that the Maggie’s centre could be relocated 20 yards away, within the hospital complex. But Maggie’s and the hospital administration say that this would offer insufficient space and create other problems. A Barts Health statement says that it is “fully committed to the future of the Great Hall”, but it cannot support the plans of the Friends of the Great Hall as this “prevents the development of a much-needed Maggie’s centre”.

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