Campaigner files papers seeking permission to take case against £1.2bn development to Court of Appeal

Stanton Williams, Shell Centre

A judicial review challenge to Qatari Diar and Canary Wharf Group’s planned £1.2bn Shell Centre development on London’s South Bank could be heading to the Court of Appeal, after local objector George Turner filed papers to the Court of Appeal to hear his case.

Turner has taken his campaign to halt the controversial development to the Court of Appeal after it was rejected by the High Court earlier this year.

Turner argues communities secretary Eric Pickles’ decision to allow the development would cause “serious harm” to the nation’s culture and heritage.

But in February High Court judge Justice Collins dismissed the legal challenge, saying he did not accept there was a strong enough case to reject the decision by the communities secretary, even though he said he was “seriously concerned” by the conduct of the planning inspector.

In a statement on his website Turner said: “I have not taken this decision lightly, but after much thought I am convinced that it is the right thing to do.

“The entire purpose of judicial review is to allow the public to hold politicians and officials to account for their decisions. It is there to ensure that decisions are made following due process and that the views of the public are properly taken into account.

“Unfortunately, the judgement of the High Court does little to reinforce public confidence in the planning process. The judgement accepts that a key part of the planning application can be kept secret, unseen even by decision makers.

“The judgement accepts that major decisions that will shape the future of our city can be made by officials who are openly hostile to the views of the public. The judgement allows serious harm to our nation’s culture and heritage without that harm being justified.”

Braeburn Estates, a joint venture between Qatari Diar and Canary Wharf Group, is planning to build eight buildings which from range in height from five to 37 storeys. It will comprise offices, retail, leisure and close to 900 homes.

Shell Centre

Michael Squire explains the Shell Centre model to planning inspector John Braithwaite watched by George Turner for residents (far left) and Robert Ayton for Westminster (far right)

In his judgement in February Justice Collins took planning inspector Braithwaite to task over the way he handled the inquiry which ran in November and December 2013.

Justice Collins said: “I have no doubt that the inspector’s conduct was such as to give rise to a real concern that he was unfair to the objectors. He seriously mismanaged his conduct of the inquiry. It may be well that the individual decisions he made were justifiable but the way in which he made them was unacceptable.

“The inspector’s attitude is said to have given rise to an appearance of bias. It is not now suggested nor could it be that he was in fact biased. No doubt, he had formed preliminary views on some matters which were in issue in the inquiry, but of course he should not have said anything which suggested a closed mind or prejudgement.

But in dismissing Turner’s claim, he added: “It must, however, be obvious that I have been seriously concerned at the inspector’s conduct at the inquiry and I hope that steps are taken to ensure that lessons are learnt.”

The battle to develop the Shell Centre has become one of the longest-running planning disputes in London of recent years. The original tower was constructed in 1961 and will be retained by Shell as one of the firm’s two main offices. Plans for a development around the tower began to surface in 2009 and in 2011 it was announced that Canary Wharf Group and Qatari Diar would redevelop the site under a 999-year lease.

A spokesperson for Canary Wharf Group said: “We are very disappointed that there has been a further appeal against our scheme which has already been through an incredibly thorough planning process including a year-long public consultation, approval by Lambeth Council and the Mayor of London and a subsequent public enquiry which led to the Secretary of State deciding to grant planning permission in accordance with the Inspector’s recommendations. An appeal against that decision was dismissed in the High Court earlier this year.

“The redevelopment of the Shell Centre will be a catalyst for regeneration of Waterloo, creating thousands of jobs and homes.We will continue to work with all parties to bring the matter to a swift conclusion.”

Of the latest developments Turner added: “The reality is that the Shell decision will affect millions of people, and will set a precedent for many other buildings throughout the country. The public interest in having a well functioning planning system is much greater than any private interest on an individual development, no matter how large.

“The planning process was designed precisely to prevent speculators from destroying our environment. It is there to make sure that buildings stand the test of time and meet the real needs of society rather than simply maximising the short term profits of developers.

“If Shell and their partners had instead proposed a building that followed the development plan for the local area, they would be well on the way to building. I have no doubt that a plan compliant scheme would have provided ample profit for Shell – a company which some might argue makes plenty of profit already.”


Developer's CGI of the Shell Centre development as it would look from Waterloo Bridge

Developer’s CGI of the Shell Centre development as it would look from Waterloo Bridge. Turner argued this was evidence that Eric Pickles’ conclusion that ‘no harm’ would be done to the setting of heritage assets was ‘unreasonable’