SAVE Britain's Heritage's legal battle to prevent the Baltic Exchange from being demolished and Foster and Partners 'erotic gherkin' built in its place collapsed last week after deputy prime minister John Prescott intervened at the very last minute.
SAVE secretary Richard Pollard told the AJ that the group was all set to contest the case in the High Court last Friday but received a crucial response from the Government Office for London (GOL) on Thursday evening in answer to repeated questions from SAVE over why Prescott had avoided holding a public inquiry on the issue. SAVE, under pressure from Swiss Re/Kvaerner, which it said was spending 'hundreds of thousands of pounds a week' in legal costs, decided to call it a day after getting advice from its own counsel.
The crucial 18-page statement from GOL joint director Joyce Bridges explained that Prescott recognised that the Swiss Re building proposed on the Grade II*-listed former Baltic Exchange site 'could be regarded as falling within the scope of his policy of call in'. But Prescott also adjudged that the planning authority, the Corporation of London, 'considered all material issues in reaching its decision' and that the 'particular circumstances' of the case lead him to conclude that a public inquiry was unnecessary. Prescott was successful in urging the court to dismiss SAVE's application for permission to seek a judicial review.
'Obviously we're disappointed, ' said Pollard.'We had a reasonable case but now it's the end for the Baltic Exchange.Nothing else can prevent it from being demolished.'
Pollard said he was still 'very disappointed'with English Heritage's role in the whole saga, pointing to the crucial period in 1996 when it changed its tune to accept that a replacement building could be allowed following bomb damage by the IRA four years previously. 'There's still no strategic plan for tall buildings and London needs one, ' he said.
Nevertheless, London mayor Ken Livingstone was quick to support the Foster building as being of the 'type and quantity of high quality office floorspace that the City needs to maintain and enhance its position as a world city, ' fearing that any delays would mean Swiss Re would look elsewhere.
Livingstone wrote to Prescott on 17 July to say that benefits of restoration of the building were 'far outweighed' by those of Foster's proposal, whose 'quality of design was of the highest order'.