Strongly held view of Hampton Court




Nick Curtis


London Evening Standard


Garner - Hampton Court Palace


If you arrive at Hampton Court by train, the stunning views of Henry VIII's palace, glimpsed through mature trees, are marred by the station car park.

The views will be much worse, according to architect Keith Garner, if "out of scale" and unsympathetic four-storey flats, a hotel and an ex-servicemen's home are built on the car park and on the derelict nearby site of a café called the Jolly Boatman.

So this modest 51-year-old has launched a legal challenge to the planning permission granted last year to developers Glydedale by Elmbridge Borough Council. His contention is that Elmbridge did not take sufficient account of the impact the development would have on Hampton Court Palace.
And that the plans ignore strict government guidelines by building on - and excavating into - an area of Thames flood plain that was submerged as recently as 2003.

Glydedale will be represented in court as an "interested party". So will Network Rail, which would see Hampton Court's tatty station buildings improved and its car park relocated underground (possibly underwater) if the scheme goes ahead. Unlike Glydedale, Network Rail - which receives billions in public subsidy - is seeking costs for its expensive legal representation if Garner loses the case.

Unfazed, Garner says he's doing this "in the national interest". An expert in building conservation, he grew up in Sheen and recalls childhood trips past the palace "in early light, seeing the chimneys move in parallax". His fondness for the historic structure was nurtured through "10 years, on and off" working with Historic Royal Palaces, which runs Hampton Court.

Now resident in Battersea, and an architectural consultant for Kew Gardens, he's insulated against charges of nimbyism. But his court bid is supported by HRP and by local pressure group the Hampton Court Rescue Campaign.

A petition he set up on the Downing Street website in January got 1,476 signatures before the new government shut the petition facility down. Historian David Starkey called the plans not only "a national scandal but an international scandal". Local resident and Steptoe and Son writer Ray Galton has donated to his legal fund.
For its part, Elmbridge says it wants to deal with the "substantive issues of the challenge ... as soon as possible" but that the process is being "frustrated" by Garner's attempts to restrict his liability to costs. Garner, too, is frustrated. He thinks HRP "missed a trick" by not applying for a millennium Lottery grant to turn the Jolly Boatman site and car park into open parkland. He doesn't really want to go to court and thinks all the opposing parties are hamstrung by an inability to think laterally and imaginatively about ways of relocating the scheme. He does not criticise the designs of the flats, by Allies and Morrison, or the hotel, by Quinlan & Francis Terry.

"As an architect I'm not against things being built," he says. "But Hampton Court is unique, the finest group of Tudor buildings in the UK and one of Wren's most important works, the site of countless important historical events. It has stood for 500 years in this magnificent country setting, and once that is built on, it's gone for ever."