Historic England sets out case against Southwark development drawn up by AHMM for Great Portland Estates

Proposals for a 37-storey tower a short distance away from Renzo Piano’s Shard will cause “serious harm” to historic parts of Southwark, according to the government’s heritage adviser.

The findings come in a pre-hearing submission from Historic England to the Planning Inspectorate ahead of a planning inquiry into the AHMM-designed scheme – and a trimmed-down 26-storey version – that is due to be heard in July and August.

The practice first lodged its New City Court proposals, drawn up for Great Portland Estates, in 2018.

New City Court - AHMM-View from Southwark Cathedral

Source: AHMM

View from Southwark Cathedral

Under the plans, a grade II-listed run of terraced Georgian houses on St Thomas Street would be refurbished and 1980s office buildings on the site would be demolished.

The 144m tower proposed under the 2018 scheme included a 250-seat auditorium and terrace on its 21st and 22nd floors and a double-height public garden within the building on the fifth and sixth floors.

Great Portland Estates is appealing against Southwark Council’s failure to determine the original application in line with government guidelines on timescale and the scheduled planning inquiry will also look at the lower-rise version of the scheme submitted last year.

But in its outline argument against the proposals, Historic England says it “strongly objects” to both versions of the redevelopment.

The document, included as an appendix to a meeting of Southwark’s planning committee next week, says the “greatest harm” from both proposals would come from their “profound impact” on the special character and appearance of the Borough High Street Conservation Area, inside which the development site is located.

“This harm would result particularly from the dramatic contrast in scale between a tall building of 37 or 26 (plus mezzanine) storeys respectively, and the prevalent scale of buildings in the conservation area of mainly four storeys,” the submission says.

“That jarring juxtaposition would be particularly emphasised by the close proximity of the proposed developments set behind the largely continuous frontages of buildings on Borough High Street and St Thomas Street.”

New City Court - AHMM- View from Borough High Street

Source: AHMM

View from Southwark Street

Historic England acknowledges the height reduction in the 2021 version of the scheme but says the “contrast between it and the historic buildings along St Thomas Street would also be extremely marked”, because the development’s northern edge would be brought closer to the buildings.

Historic England said both schemes would also cause “severe harm” to a range of designated heritage assets, most notably Guy’s Hospital but also including Southwark Cathedral.

Others working on the scheme include project manager Gardiner & Theobold, QS Alinea, M&E engineer Chapmans BDSP, structural engineer AKTII and conservation consultant PAYE Stonework & Restoration.