Developer Irvine Sellar is ready to take his £500 million London Bridge Tower project to rival cities in Europe and beyond if Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott refuses to give it the go-ahead later this year. And Sellar has turned up the heat before the public inquiry, due to start on April 15, by comparing a London without his tower to a Sydney without its opera house.
Sellar told the AJ he could not rule out building the 306m project in Frankfurt or Dubai if the Renzo Piano-designed tower fails to get the nod. 'It's not out of the question, ' he said.
The scheme could find better favour beyond the UK's planning restrictions and opposition from English Heritage and Historic Royal Palaces, who Sellar's team is gearing up to fight. But Sellar still wants to see his investment in the London Bridge proposal bear fruit.
'We're committed to the quality of our scheme and to taking it forward. We think great design and regeneration is good and the proper thing for Southwark - and good design cannot do any harm. If you saw a picture of Sydney without the Sydney Opera House, you wouldn't know where it was.'
The offices, hotel and residential project, which would be Europe's tallest building, has won the backing of London mayor Ken Livingstone and Tory mayoral candidate Steven Norris.
CABE, too, is behind the project, but has some reservations about the wider public realm. So this week Sellar pledged £2 million for improvements to the Underground, £3 million to bus facilities, along with a new station canopy roof, and £3.45 million on other public realm improvements. Sellar has also now signed a contract ensuring Piano's continued involvement and a design panel has been set up to take detailed design to completion.
However, in a statement to the inquiry obtained by the AJ, English Heritage says the tower would have an 'overwhelming' effect not only on St Paul's, the Tower of London and six of ten statutorily protected views, but on Southwark Cathedral, Guy's Hospital, and Borough High Street and Market. It will also have an 'adverse impact' on the Palace of Westminster and affect views of Tower Bridge, EH claims. Chief executive Dr Simon Thurley said the tower 'would put a spike through the heart of historic London, destroying views of two of the nation's most loved buildings, the Tower of London and St Paul's Cathedral'.
Supporting the 'shard of glass' at inquiry will be the GLA's representative, Lord Rogers, who worked with Piano on the Pompidou Centre in Paris in 1977. The inquiry will also feature pro-tower witnesses John Worthington from DEGW and Southwark's strategic director of regeneration, Paul Evans, and will be led by planning inspector John Gray - an architect. A decision is expected before the government's summer recess.