Campaign group which opposed scheme at public inquiry meeting tonight to dicuss next steps

Campaigners are considering launching a judicial review of Michael Gove’s “cowardly” decision to approve Make’s controversial £700m ITV Studios scheme on London’s South Bank.

Michael Ball, who spoke on behalf of Save Our South Bank (SOSB) at last year’s inquiry into the 72 Upper Ground scheme, told Building that he was “amazed” by Gove’s final sign off considering the communities secretary’s previous positions on carbon and heritage.

Members of SOSB, a collective of campaign groups which joined with Coin Street Community Builders in forming the opposing side of the inquiry, are currently combing through the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ 340-page report on the scheme and will hold a meeting this evening to discuss next steps.

ITV Make 5

The Make-designed scheme has been controversial due to its impact on nearby heritage assets, including the IBM building

Campaigners have six weeks from yesterday to launch a judicial review, which normally takes around three to six months but can last up to a year for larger cases.

Unlike planning appeals, judicial reviews depend on factual errors within the report to be considered worthy of being taken forward, which is usually decided by a judge either on paper or at a preliminary hearing.

The scheme, designed for developers CO-RE and Mitsubishi Estate, would replace the site’s 24-storey riverside tower with two office blocks of 26 and 13 storeys with space for around 4,000 workers.

One of the biggest construction jobs in the capital, it was due to break ground two years ago with Lendlease appointed to the main construction contract and McGee poised to start demolition work before it was put on ice by Gove and later called in by Greg Clark.

The proposals have provoked the ire of locals and campaigners due to their scale and proximity to the site’s listed neighbours on the South Bank, including the grade II*-listed National Theatre and the grade II-listed IBM Building.

Labour MP Florence Eshalomi was among hundreds of objectors to the application, which also received fire from heritage groups including Historic England.

In yesterday’s report, Gove is said to have had “reservations” about the inspector’s conclusion that the scale of the building is an appropriate response to the site, but agreed with the inspector that it did not conflict with the local development plan.

Overall, Gove is said to disagree with the inspector that the scheme would provide a positive contribution to the townscape of the riverside site given the prominence of the location, but that this only carries moderate weight against the proposal.

Gove is also said to have disagreed that the proposed palette of materials and aesthetic appearance of the building is appropriate, and “disagrees with the inspector that an attractive development would be delivered”.

But he concluded that the public benefits of the scheme, including the generation of new jobs for Lambeth and improved public realm, carry substantial weight and outweigh the less than substantial harm which the scheme is expected to cause to the listed buildings.

Ball, who also led a judicial review against the aborted Garden Bridge plans which contributed to the downfall of the Thomas Heatherwick-designed scheme, described Gove’s positions in the report as “odd”.

“[Gove] is saying it would cause heritage harms to the national theatre, the IBM, Somerset House, which he says carries great weight, and it wouldn’t be a positive contribution to the South Bank.

“But this huge harm is outweighed simply by the fact that there’s economic benefits. That’s what’s so strange. And the economic benefits are simply this hugeness. It’s very odd”.

Ball also suggested Gove had downplayed the environmental impact of the scheme, contrasting the secretary of state’s decision with his previous ruling rejecting Marks and Spencer’s proposed redevelopment of its flagship Oxford Street store on the grounds of its impact on carbon and nearby heritage assets.

“It would be very strange from anybody, but from him, it’s weird because he presents himself as someone who sticks his neck out and says the unsayable and does the undoable,” Ball said. 

“This is a very cowardly response. He obviously doesn’t like it but he can’t bring himself to refuse it.”

David Hopkins, director of community at Coin Street Community Builders added that Gove’s decision was “hard to understand”.

“It is extremely disappointing that the secretary of state has decided to approve the Mitsubishi Estate building on 72 Upper Ground, disparagingly known as the “Slab”

“Given the reservations Mr Gove clearly has about this development, particularly the way its design will impact on the iconic skyline of London’s South Bank, it is hard to understand why he has chosen to let it go ahead.

“This decision seems to fly in the face of the secretary of state’s own position that new housing should be built on brownfield sites like this, in cities like London.

“For three years, our community campaign, led by dedicated residents, volunteers, and allies, has passionately opposed these misguided plans because of the vast bulk of the scheme and the lack of any much-needed housing. We all care deeply about our neighbourhood. 

“This monstrosity of an office development will change what it feels like to live around and visit the South Bank, robbing natural daylight from local people’s homes and casting the South Bank riverside walk into shadow.

“We will work to make sure the wellbeing of our community is considered as this development progresses and continue to fight for the soul of our neighbourhood.”

Make lead architect Frank Filskow yesterday said the scheme would be a “fantastic addition to the character of the South Bank”.

”The two buildings will bring extensive amenity in the form of a high-quality commercial and arts-led development, and give back 40% of the site to create new biodiverse public spaces, including a new route to the riverfront, and two new garden squares,” he said in his response to Gove’s ruling.

Mitsubishi Estate London chief executive Shinichi Kagitomi and CO-RE director Stephen Black added that the plans had been backed by Lambeth council, the mayor of London and local creative groups and would be “transformational” for the site.