Columbus Tower approved: London Mayor overides council with new 'call in' power
The 63-storey Columbus Tower by Mark Weintraub Architecture & Design has been given the green light by London Mayor Boris Johnson
Back in August Tower Hamlets Borough Council refused planning application for 237m-tall skyscraper, but Johnson called in the proposals and, using new planning powers for the first time, has now decided to grant its permission.
Speaking about his decision to allow the scheme, which will house office space, shops, a 192-room hotel and 70 apartments, Johnson said: ‘The application will not only strengthen the success story of the Isle of Dogs, but will be hugely beneficial to the whole of London.’
The move has been condemned by the Labour Party which branded the decision ‘muddled’. Local Labour Assembly Member, John Biggs, said: ‘This is another policy u-turn from the Mayor. He was opposed to tall buildings now he approves them, and he said he wouldn’t meddle in local decisions but here has overruled the will of local people.’
Biggs added: ‘[Johnson] needs to be sure to avoid any accusations of developers buying planning permissions. Of course Crossrail is hugely important but the Mayor should not use decisions that will impact massively on East London as part of a trade-off. Will he be approving enormous tower blocks in Kensington & Chelsea or his other favourite boroughs? I doubt it. More and more we are seeing how little he cares for East London.’
It is understood developers Commercial Estates will have to contribute £4 million pounds towards Crossrail and a further £1 million pounds for affordable housing.
Previous story (28.08.09)
Boris to set historic precedent with Columbus Tower decision
The Mayor of London has ‘called in’ a planning application for a 63-storey skyscraper, in a landmark move which could overturn Tower Hamlets’s decision to reject the tower earlier this month
It is the first time the new power for intervening in local planning decisions, which only came into force at the beginning of Boris Johnson’s office, has been used.
If the Mayor approves the Columbus Tower scheme in the city’s Docklands, it could raise up to £5 million for the pan-London rail link, Crossrail.
‘This is a decision I have not taken lightly, however the Columbus Tower proposal clearly meets the test of a planning application of major significance to the whole of London,’ said Johnson.
The 63-storey Columbus Tower by Mark Weintraub Architecture & Design (pictured left) – featuring offices, a hotel and apartments – would occupy a prominent position in the Docklands and, at 244.5m tall, would be marginally shorter than nearby One Canada Square (commonly known as Canary Wharf).
Tower Hamlets Councillors went against the advice of their planning officers and rejected Columbus Tower on 4 August despite having approved a ‘virtually identical scheme’ in March 2005, according to a statement by the developer Commercial Estates Group.
But Johnson, who hopes to pay part of the £16 billion bill for Crossrail by raising £600million from new developments across London, considers Canary Wharf to be a suitable location for tall buildings, and will now scrutinise the proposal before making a final decision on the tower.
‘There is already a planning consent for a tall building on this site and the development itself would deliver a significant contribution to Crossrail, the most important new infrastructure project London has seen since the first tube tunnels were dug by the Victorians,’ said the Mayor.
Letters sent between City Hall and Tower Hamlets show the Mayor wanted £5 million for Crossrail from the project and was willing to accept the reallocation of money earmarked for affordable housing in order to meet this target.
Changes to the Mayor’s London Plan, currently in draft consultation, would in effect allow planning officers to prioritise Crossrail over affordable housing in their discussions with developers over infrastructure subsidies on planning applications.
Johnson’s actions appear to be in keeping with his strong-armed approach to raising funds for Crossrail. Less than a month ago the mayor went into battle against the US Department of State – demanding a £2.5million Crossrail subsidy in exchange for planning permission to build the new US embassy in Nine Elms.
Tower Hamlets rejected Columbus Tower because of concerns over the impact to Grade I- and Grade II-listed buildings in the West India Quay Conservation Area.
English Heritage had also raised concerns over the proposal, stating: ‘the form and design of the podium building is overburdened with dubious historical and architectural references and poorly integrated with its surroundings’.