The City must not lose out on this vital new cancer centre

THE SUCCESS of a city is reflected in its buildings and its health. The Square Mile is the proud home to much of the world’s prime real estate, and London hosts some of the world’s best hospitals. Recently, attention has focused on the architects lining up to introduce their visions for buildings reaching to the sky, but it’s vital that we don’t ignore development of a different nature but equal importance. This Thursday, the Corporation of London will consider a proposed new cancer care centre at Barts Hospital in Smithfield.

Cancer charity Maggie’s, which was inspired by cancer patient Maggie Keswick Jencks, is proposing to build a centre to provide practical and emotional support for patients, families and friends from the City and seven surrounding boroughs, including some of the most deprived and ethnically diverse communities in London. It follows in the footsteps of 16 such centres in the UK and abroad. They include a RIBA Stirling Prize winner for design, and projects led by household names from the architectural profession – Lord Rogers and Sir Norman Foster to name but two. This is some company and is indicative of the charity’s approach: the proposed centre removes patients from the clinical surroundings of the hospital, providing support in a warm and welcoming home from home.

Architect Steven Holl’s design would bring something unique and special to the City.

And yet its contemporary vision is not to the taste of all. The project has been delayed by debate with supporters of an historic building which it would neighbour. The Friends of the Great Hall have called upon the Barts Health NHS Trust for a different approach, to move the Maggie’s centre. However, the Trust says that there is no other viable location, and the alternative site proposed by the Friends would have a negative effect on vital clinical work and the safe running of the hospital.

Despite the Friends’ argument, London has always moved forward by both respecting its past and looking to the future. There are many hospitals that would welcome this initiative with open arms. Missing out would be a great loss to the City, patients and Barts itself, which makes around 5,500 cancer diagnoses yearly.

And so the Trust has stepped in to contribute its own proposal for securing the future of the Great Hall, with an arms-length heritage trust at its helm. The new scheme and facilities shows old and new living side by side. Both can play an active role in the future of the hospital and the City. And both have the support of the government’s advisory body, English Heritage – no mean feat in these days of the Walkie Talkie and Shard.

Planning disputes are notorious for their longevity and this will not be the last. However, the Corporation now needs to embrace an exciting new chapter in this part of the City and support the development of this vital new cancer centre.

Lawson Muncaster is managing director and founder of City A.M.