Planning guidance issued by mayor’s office to protect London monuments could restrict size of new buildings

Detailed guidance from the office of the Mayor of London on protecting views of St Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben and other monuments could lead to planning permission being refused for new schemes including the Elephant & Castle redevelopment and a proposed landmark tower near Centre Point.

The guidance, called the London View Management Framework, an annexe to the London Plan adopted by mayor Ken Livingstone in February last year, was this week published for consultation. It identifies 34 views in front of, behind and to the side of major monuments, plotted from 26 places identified in the London Plan, including Parliament Hill, Greenwich Park and the Millennium Bridge.

As well as defining protected areas in front of and to the side of monuments, the draft introduces the idea of a “backdrop advisory line” behind monuments.

Any proposal above the line would only be granted permission if it brought “significant benefits to the environment and the quality of the viewing experience”.

Had it been in place at the time, the guidance could have led to the rejection of the plans for Heron Tower, the 42-storey high-rise under construction in the City, because of its impact on the view of St Paul’s Cathedral from Waterloo Bridge.

Protecting the backdrop of the Palace of Westminster from the Serpentine Bridge in Hyde Park could restrict the height and bulk of new buildings in the Elephant & Castle area, one of the mayor’s growth, housing and employment “opportunity areas”.

Whitechapel, another opportunity area, is in the backdrop to views of the Tower of London from the mayor’s own Greater London Assembly building, as is part of the Bishopsgate Goods Yard site.

The guide is not a catch-all, but protects what matters from one viewpoint

Richard Coleman

The proposed tower near Centre Point, where Foster and Partners is in the running, could interfere with the backdrop to the view of the Houses of Parliament from Lambeth Bridge.

The guidance was written for the mayor by the Richard Coleman Consultancy, in consultation with English Heritage and other groups. Coleman said: “It’s not a catch-all, so much as protecting what matters from a single viewing point.”

The consultation closes on 15 July. Once approved, the guidance will replace Regional Planning Guidance 3A, which gave wider definitions of 10 panoramas.

Huw Moseley, of planning consultant Moseley and Webb, warned that the guidance was complicated and “formalises constraints that had hitherto been convention rather than policy”.

But he added: “By narrowing the view corridors so that sites can be considered in their local context, it’s good news for the City and for architecture.”