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UNESCO renews calls for rejection of Chipperfield's Elizabeth House

UNESCO has reiterated its call for David Chipperfield’s Elizabeth House plans to be rejected over concerns the scheme damages views of the Houses of Parliament

In notes released from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Cambodia in June, the body demanded the ‘proposal [was] not approved in its current form and that it be revised in line with the concerns raised by expert bodies, including English Heritage (EH)’.

The objections come as the controversial scheme is set to be resubmitted for planning by Lambeth Council, in line with a High Court judgment earlier this year.

Plans for the Elizabeth House scheme were originally approved by Lambeth Council by four votes to two in November 2012 and, despite heavy objections by both Westminster Council and EH, the decision was upheld by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Eric Pickles.

An application for a judicial review was rejected by Judge Collins who said that Pickles’ had been entitled to uphold the decision - but that the scheme needed to be reconsidered by Lambeth for final ratification.

The 132,000m² Elizabeth House scheme involves demolishing the existing 1960s office block and replacing it with two new buildings including a 29-storey mixed-use tower.

In the latest report UNESCO has reiterated a call it originally made in June 2013 which recommended halting the development of Elizabeth House and also stated that in future ‘any larger-scale projects in the immediate and wider setting of the Palace of Westminster should be submitted to the World Heritage Centre as soon as possible, with adequate time for thorough review’.

However despite the objections UNESCO declined to place the Houses of Parliament on the endangered list of World Heritage Sites, instead it has given the UK government until February 2015 to submit an updated report on the state of the heritage site.

Lambeth Council is resubmitting Elizabeth House for planning to abide by the decision by High Court judge Justin Collins, who noted that as the decision-maker Lambeth Council was ‘bound to consider any material which it did not consider in reaching its decision which could change its view’.

In a letter to English Heritage and the Twentieth Century Society in June, Lambeth Council stated: ‘The Council has given careful consideration to the judgment of the High Court and the representations received asking that the application is taken back to the Planning Applications Committee.

‘I am now able to let you know that the Authority intends to return the application to the Planning Applications Committee’

A date has not yet been set for the relevant committee meeting, though it is expected to be towards the end of 2014.

Previous story (AJ 13.06.2014) Westminster’s World Heritage status under threat

Three sites in the UK, including Westminster, face losing their World Heritage status

It is expected that UNESCO’s World Heritage committee will recommend three UK sites, including Westminster, are put on their heritage in danger list, when they meet in Cambodia next week. Being placed on the list signals the first step in losing a site’s World Heritage status.

Alongside Westminster, the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and Hayle Harbour in Cornwall are also facing inclusion on the ‘endangered’ list.

Westminster’s World Heritage status has come under threat from office and residential tower developments in Waterloo and Vauxhall.

The specialist agency of the United Nations is to discuss the potentially harmful impact of proposed developments including Nine Elms regeneration, the Vauxhall Island site, the Heygate Estate and, in particular, David Chipperfield’s Elizabeth House.

Chipperfield’s project next to Waterloo station, which was granted planning in November, has raised concern due to its potential impact on the view of Westminster Palace and Big Ben.

Allies and Morrison’s previous redevelopment vision for the site was thrown out by former Secretary of State John Denham following claims it could cause ‘significant harm’ to the Westminster World Heritage site.

Lib Peck, leader of Lambeth council responded: ‘Like every local planning authority Lambeth Council is obliged to determine planning applications on their merits against established planning policy. The impact of development on the setting of the World Heritage Sites is something that Lambeth takes seriously; it is a subjective matter and differences of opinion between interested parties do exist. 

‘The Elizabeth House decision and the emerging development proposals at Vauxhall have all been approved against a robust planning policy context and with the support of the Mayor of London who holds strategic planning responsibilities for the city. 

Peck added: ‘There are established mechanisms for the scrutiny of contentious planning decisions and, as we saw with Elizabeth House, the Secretary of State has the power to ‘call in’ such decisions – in that case he decided not to and thus supported Lambeth’s decision to grant permission. 

‘This UK government scrutiny role is essential in highly sensitive cases such as those affecting World heritage Sites.  The current system is robust and further strengthening of policy or legislation is, in Lambeth’s view, unnecessary’

Liverpool’s waterfront has already been placed on the list and looks set to lose its World Heritage status after planning permission was granted for Liverpool Waters.

The committee said: ‘If Liverpool Waters development is implemented as currently planned, it would irreversibly damage the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value and the conditions of integrity that warranted inscription, and could lead to the potential deletion of the property from the World Heritage List’.

The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland could also be placed on the list, not for their recent new Heneghan Peng-designed visitor centre, but because of plans for a golf course nearby.

While, Hayle Harbour in Cornwall is threatened by the development of a new supermarket.

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