Planners set to decide on Woods Bagot’s 32-storey office scheme this morning

The Victorian Society has become the latest heritage group to lay into Woods Bagot’s plans to build a 32-storey office above Leadenhall Market.

The campaign group said the designs for developer Hertshten Group to partially demolish a 1930s building at 85 Gracechurch Street and replace it with a 35,000 sq m tower would contradict the City’s newly adopted planning guidance on building reuse.

The City Corporation is set to make a decision this morning on the scheme, which has been recommended for approval by the council’s planning officers despite objections from Historic England on heritage grounds.

The Victorian Society’s intervention comes a week after the City voted to introduce guidance requiring developers and their design teams to consider refurbishing existing buildings rather than demolishing and replacing them.

Woods Bagot tower 1

Woods Bagot’s proposals for a 32-storey tower above the grade II*-listed Leadenhall Market are to be decided by the City Corporation this morning

Under the rules, developers will be expected to carry out a detailed review of the carbon impact of development options before submitting an application.

The Victorian Society said: “The City of London Corporation claims to be the first planning authority in the country to expect a detailed review of new development’s carbon impact.

“Currently the existing handsome 1930s building would be demolished apart from its façade. Refurbishing it would be much less carbon intensive.”

The group added that the scheme’s public benefits, including a new route into Leadenhall Market, could be provided without demolition or harming the market and the local conservation area.

The Victorian Society also objected to the plans on heritage grounds, saying the tower would “comically dominate” the listed market, which was built in 1880.

“Combined with towers outside the conservation area it would plunge the light filled market space into shadow,” the group’s conservation adviser Guy Newton said.

“What is the purpose of the City’s conservation areas if what is special and important about them is not actively protected?  

“Allowing such towers in conservation areas, will, over time, irreversibly harm the City’s historic character that still makes it stand out from its financial rivals worldwide. 

“There is a danger the City will become a monoculture of glass towers, its conservation areas and heritage assets diminished and disrespected.”

Historic England said the proposals would result in “pronounced harm” to the historic environment. It categorised the harm as in the “low to moderate range” of “less than substantial”, in the language of the National Planning Policy Framework.

The heritage advisor also flagged that although 85 Gracechurch Street is within the City of London’s Eastern Tall Buildings Cluster – which contains RSHP’s 122 Leadenhall Street and PLP’s 22 Bishopsgate, its location within a conservation area should trump that status under local planning policy.

In their report to members of the City of London’s Planning Applications Sub-Committee, City planning officers acknowledged “a tension” between the wording of different planning policies. 

They said the site’s location within the tall-buildings cluster suggested “in principle support” while Local Plan Policy CS14 identified the site as “inappropriate” for a tall building because of its conservation-area status.

However, recommending the scheme for approval officers said Woods Bagot’s proposals were “a high-quality design” and included “a number of attractive features”, such as greening and vehicle lifts that integrate into the landscaping.