City of London report says public space was not built according to approved plans

The Walkie Talkie Sky Garden might have to be rebuilt after the City of London determined that it wasn’t built according to the approved plans.

This could mean months of disruption for visitors to the public facility at the top of the tower and great expense for its owner.

Land Securities has instructed original landscape architect Gillespie’s to come up with proposals for amendments after the City found it was in breach of parts of its section 106 agreement.

The controversial tower was granted planning in 2011, despite the visual harm it was acknowledged it would do, largely on the basis that it had a free public garden at the top.

According to a new report by the City’s chief planning officer, Annie Hampson, the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street differs “significantly” from the approved plans and could not be remodelled to the intended configuration without Land Securities incurring “considerable cost”.

The corporation’s planning committee will decide on Friday whether to approve Gillespie’s changes, which include adding more planting to the northern side of the sky garden as well as a new servery. These would take until the end of the year to install and might be ruled impractical or not in the public interest.

Hampson’s report states: “The owner is of the view that since the requirement is to provide access to the Sky Garden ‘as illustrated’ on the Sky Garden drawing, the changes were permissible because the drawing is ‘illustrative’, as long as the minimum areas of publicly accessible space are retained.

“The City is of the view that these changes are not consistent with the requirement to ‘provide and retain the Sky Garden as illustrated on the Sky Garden drawings’ as they were to illustrate the areas which non-diners could access.

“The City has discussed with the owner what might be done to mitigate the loss of these elements which were considered significant to the amenity and experience of visitors to the Sky Garden.”

According to the report, the restaurant servery on the 35th floor is larger than the original plans; one of the terraces on floor 36 which was due to provide views for non-diners west across the City including St Paul’s Cathedral was never built; and an additional servery on floor 36 never appeared.

Staircases which would have allowed visitors to take a circular route around levels 36 and 37 of the tower were not provided. A single staircase was built but configured differently to the plans. Planners also found that the size of the terrace on floor 37 was larger than the original plans.

The revelation is the latest in a string of problems for the skyscraper which made headlines around the world when it melted part of a parked car in 2013.

Last month Building’s sister title BD revealed that the City of London has demanded independent wind assessments for all major new developments in response to complaints about unpredicted gusts around the Walkie Talkie.

The City has also made public a letter from barrister Andrew Waugh QC criticising the fact that in the evening, only paying restaurant customers are allowed in to the Sky Garden. During the day free visits can be booked online. 

Writing in a personal capacity Waugh added: “During the day, my wife bought 2 glasses of wine (small), 1/2 pint of cider, a pint of lager and 4 packets of crisps (small) for the total of £50.

“Fortunately, I can afford such a grossly inflated amount, but this is well beyond the means of most members of the public - and it is strictly forbidden to bring your own food and drink.

“Leaving legal issues aside, when planning permission is granted on one basis, and what is provided falls short, the authority of the planning authority is called into question and its authority greatly diminished.”

A spokesperson for 20 Fenchurch Street said: “Over 200,000 people have made a free visit to the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street since we opened to the public in January. We’re incredibly pleased with the positive feedback we’ve received to date and we look forward to welcoming many more visitors in the future.

“Our visitor management plan, which reflects the section 106 public access requirements, has been developed with the input of the City of London and fine-tuned during the first few months of opening in response to footfall and visitor trends.

“We’re committed to ensuring that anyone making a free visit to the Sky Garden continues to have as enjoyable an experience as possible and, like other visitor attractions, we will continually review new ways of achieving this.”