When Railtrack was put into administration it was thought that work on the goods yard would be put on hold. The news of the competition will be a shot in the arm for the Corporation of London, which is desperate to create new office space on the edge of the Square Mile. Its Canary Wharf rival in the east is attracting thousands of tenants, including HSBC which is vacating its buildings in the City ready for the opening of its Canary Wharf tower in May.
While the Canary Wharf Group builds offices unimpeded in the east, large-scale commercial development in the City fringes is fiercely opposed by conservation and community groups. The Prince's Foundation and English Heritage both want to preserve the Victorian arches and the social mix of the area.
Prince Charles has even summoned the Lord Mayor of the City of London Michael Oliver to St James Palace to voice his concerns over Bishopsgate, and on 13 December English Heritage proposed the listing of the railway arches. A decision from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport is expected within two weeks.
As well as jeopardising large-scale development, the listing could also threaten plans to extend the East London Line from Croydon to Hackney. The proposal involves the clearance of at least 30% of the Goods Yard according to a City planning officer, who adds that the scheme could fail if the arches remain.
The East London Line Group, which is chaired by the London Corporation and includes the boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets, remains hopeful that a listing will be avoided. The line first received approval in 1997 and a 1995 inquiry into the scheme found there was nothing of architectural or historical value on the site.
With such a sensitive site, Railtrack appears keen to placate the community and has asked architects to consider local sensibilities. But the news last week that Railtrack has called on Foster and Partners to draw up a plan for a 30-storey tower next door to the Goods Yard suggests that the concerns of Eastenders may yet be overshadowed by big business.