At 306m the London Bridge Tower will be the tallest building in Europe and the sixth highest skyscraper ever built. English Heritage has heavily criticised the scale of the building and said this week that it was “disappointed” at Prescott’s decision. It said that the tower would be an inappropriate addition to the London skyline: it is particularly concerned about how it will impinge on views of St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London.
CABE’s opposition to the scheme is more complex. At the inquiry CABE deputy chairman Paul Finch acknowledged that the tower would be an “outstanding new feature for the London skyline,” and called his organisation a reluctant objector.
At the planning enquiry in May, the architectural watchdog said its prime concern was the quality and size of the public space at the tower’s base. Finch said that “the public realm benefits should match the scale and ambition of Piano’s tower” and called for the whole London Bridge station area to be masterplanned.
CABE’s view drew a stinging response from Lord Richard Rogers who called the body’s objection an “absolute mistake”. He describes Piano’s design as a “true masterpiece” and by rejecting the tower on the grounds of the public space he said that CABE was throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
The quango’s stance may have been uncompromising but it seems to have won some concessions. At the inquiry, Southwark council said it would be setting up a strategic development management group to tackle the issues surrounding the environment at the base of the tower.
CABE also said this week that it was encouraged by the work undertaken by the developer and the Greater London Authority in respect of the public realm and transport improvements. CABE has further grounds for optimism: the tower’s developers Sellar Properties and CLS Holdings have purchased the 20-storey New London Bridge House close to the tower’s site. Southwark council believes that this purchase will allow the developer to provide more public space.
Though John Prescott has given consent, CABE is still pressing for improvements – as its response to the ruling makes clear: “As the developer has now bought the adjoining site, we hope that this will enhance the prospect of further improvements to the area that we have consistently sought.”
We will know how influential CABE has been in six years time when London’s largest landmark is due for completion.