Plans to redesign one of London’s largest and most illustrious public squares have been given the go-ahead by Westminster Council, paving the way for greater bio-diversity and accessibility enhancing its gardens.
New features of the Grade II-listed Grosvenor Square in Mayfair, which was founded nearly 300 years ago, will include a new shaded garden area, a reversion to the original 1720s oval design in the centre, and elements conducive to capturing and storing rainwater for re-use, including wetlands and waterfall canopies, along with play spaces and a building for educational purposes.
The plans, unveiled in December, were unanimously approved at the first meeting of Westminster Council’s major schemes planning sub-committee since the local elections last month and will go ahead subject to a referral to Michael Gove about the proposed removal of commemorative gates at the south entrance to the square. Work is expected to start in 2024.
Applicant Grosvenor Investments say the garden redesign will “drive a biodiversity net gain of 15.5 per cent, with a five-fold increase in the number of plant species” along with more trees, “increasing habitats for wildlife and improving air quality and access to nature in the West End”.
The proposals, designed by architects Tonkin Liu, in conjunction with horticulturalist Nigel Dunnett, ecologist Gary Grant and heritage expert Cordula Zeidler, were described in the officer report to councillors as “a radical makeover of the gardens” but also as complying with existing planning policies to “provide an enhanced open space which will deliver substantial increases in amenity and recreational value for visitors and the local community” while preserving “the open nature and environmental and heritage aspects of the gardens”.
While acknowledging points raised in five letters of objection, including arguments that the layout of the square should be left as it is, officers considered “that the proposals achieve an acceptable balance between the competing needs and aspirations for how the gardens are used”.
The square, the centrepiece of the Duke of Westminster’s property estate, was built amid grand and fashionable residences and later became the home of the United States embassy, making it the focus of a famous and sometimes violent demonstration against the Vietnam War in 1968. The former embassy building is undergoing conversion into a hotel. In recent times, the square has hosted free film, music and themed events.
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