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UNESCO in bid to stop South Bank skyscraper explosion

World heritage body UNESCO is seeking greater control over the planning of tall buildings close to the Tower of London and Westminster

The organisation – which has conferred World Heritage Site protection on close to 1,000 locations worldwide – has requested sign-off on ‘any major proposed development’ close to the Tower of London before ‘any irreversible commitment’ is made.

The demands follow a monitoring mission in December last year which inspected the impact of Renzo Piano’s Shard on the Tower of London and the proposed redevelopment of Elizabeth House on sight lines from Parliament Square.

Other requests include further regulation by government of development around the Shard to ensure ‘approved heights do not exceed a height whereby they would become visible above the on-site historic buildings’ and specific measures to minimize the Tower of London’s vulnerability to potential threats to its ‘outstanding universal value’.

Upstream on the South Bank, UNESCO has also requested David Chipperfield Architects’ Elizabeth House redevelopment and ‘any other major proposals’ be submitted for review ‘before any irreversible commitment is made’.

The demands were published in a report by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee following a meeting in St Petersburg last month.

While the Paris-based organisation has no statutory role in UK planning, any decision to withdraw World Heritage Site designation could cause adverse publicity and have a major impact on the high-profile tourist destinations.

In 2009, a previous attempt to redevelop Elizabeth House by Allies and Morrison was criticised by English Heritage which claimed it would cause ‘significant harm’ to the Westminster World Heritage site. The £1 billion project was rejected by Secretary of State John Denham following a public inquiry.

In April this year, David Chipperfield Architects revealed revised plans for its Elizabeth House redevelopment scheme which had been reworked following feedback from English Heritage and DC CABE.

Across the road, Squire and Partners’ masterplan for the redevelopment of the Shell Centre features a 122 metre-tall tower and is visible from protected views in St James’ Park and Parliament Square.

Approved schemes in the South Bank area include Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands’ 43-storey Doon Street tower and Ian Simpson’s 52-storey One Blackfriars skyscraper.

In a statement Braeburn Estates, the joint venture behind the project to redevelop the Shell Centre, said: ‘We have welcomed the opportunity to engage with a range of organisations with an interest in London’s development; the insight provided by the local community, English Heritage, CABE and others during our extensive public consultation has been invaluable to our development of a masterplan for the Shell Centre site. This master plan reflects our desire to ensure that redevelopment is as far as possible sympathetic to the heritage of the area and makes a positive contribution to London as a whole.’

 

Extracts from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee report

 

91. Tower of London (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island) (C 488)

Decision: 36 COM 7B.91

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-12/36.COM/7B.Add,

2. Recalling Decision 35 COM 7B.114 adopted at its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011),

3. Acknowledges the information provided by the State Party on the protection of the visual integrity of the property and in respect to major developments in the area and urges it to continue to develop the National Planning Policy Framework to consolidate existing planning policies;

4. Notes the results of the December 2011 reactive monitoring mission to the property and encourages the State Party to implement its recommendations, in particular:

a) Further define the immediate and wider setting of the property in relation to its Outstanding Universal Value and embed these in the policies of all relevant planning authorities,

b) Define specific measures, based on the definition of the setting of the property, to ensure the protection of the property and minimize its vulnerability to potentialthreats to its Outstanding Universal Value,

c) Regulate further build-up of the area surrounding the Shard of Glass building, ensuring that approved heights do not exceed a height whereby they would become visible above the on-site historic buildings;

5. Requests the State Party, in accordance to Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, to submit to the World Heritage Centre, for review by the Advisory Bodies, any major proposed development project before any irreversible commitment is made;

6. Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2014, a report on the state of conservation of the property and on the steps taken to implement the recommendations set out above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 38th session in 2014.

 

92. Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret’s Church (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island) (C 426 bis)

Decision: 36 COM 7B.92

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-12/36.COM/7B.Add,

2. Recalling Decision 35 COM 7B.115, adopted at its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011), Decisions report – 36th session of the World Heritage Committee (Saint-Petersburg, 2012) page 132

3. Acknowledges the information provided by the State Party on the protection of the visual integrity of the property and in respect to major developments in the area;

4. Notes the results of the December 2011 joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission to the property and encourages the State Party to implement its recommendations, in particular:

a) Further define the immediate and wider setting of the property in relation to its Outstanding Universal Value and embed these in the policies of all the relevant planning authorities,

b) Define specific measures, based on the definition of the immediate and the wider setting of the property, and ensure that adequate mechanisms are in place toprotect the property and minimize its vulnerability to potential threats to its Outstanding Universal Value;

5. Requests the State Party, in accordance to Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, to submit to the World Heritage Centre, for review by the Advisory Bodies, the proposed development project at Elizabeth House and any other major proposals, before any irreversible commitment is made;

6. Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2014, a report on the state of conservation of the property and on the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 38th session in 2014.

 

Read the full UNESCO report

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