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developers win City backing

The controversial 41-storey 'gherkin' tower by Foster and Partners received the backing of City of London planners on Tuesday, signalling defeat for conservationists and victory for developers who want to build tall in the Square Mile.

The Corporation of London's planning committee voted 18 to 7 to recommend consent on the tower and permission to demolish the Grade II*-listed Baltic Exchange building on the site which was damaged by a 1992 IRA bomb. The decision is due to be ratified by a full meeting of the Corporation of London council on 20 July, barring objections from the secretary of state for the environment, transport and the regions, John Prescott.

But already the support for the £150 million development is seen as a major breakthrough for those who insist the economic strength of the City is in jeopardy unless new towers are built to compete with Frankfurt and Canary Wharf.

'This new building will be a hallmark of the City's willingness to adapt to the needs of its major players, ' said planning and transportation committee chairman, Stuart Fraser. 'It's fantastic, ' said elated Foster and Partners director Grant Brooker. 'I think it is great news for the City.'

But Baltic Exchange's chief executive Jim Buckley attacked the committee for hastily dropping its concerns for the heritage value of the Exchange building.

'This decision means that it is now transparently an economic issue and no longer a heritage issue, ' he said.

'I want to see the Exchange reinstated as part of a wider redevelopment of the site.' But the chances of this now look close to zero and work could start on site at the end of October with the building complete in 2003.

The debate saw committee members differ markedly on the merits of the building. One described it as 'an appalling monstrosity' and another said it is 'a pastiche of a Dubai hotel'. A supporter said it will be 'an outstanding expression of our times'. Lord Rogers and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment each wrote last-minute letters to voice support.

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