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City planners set to usher in Foster's £150m skyscraper

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Corporation of London planners were this week set to give their backing to Foster & Partners' plan for its new 'cigar-shaped' skyscraper in the City (AJ 29.07.99).

The corporation's planning and transport committee was due to meet this week and propose that the 41storey headquarters for insurance giant Swiss Re is given a green light. The £150 million building is due to be erected on the site of the IRA bomb-damaged Baltic Exchange.

City bosses are under pressure from the international financial services industry to provide more office space as rival European financial centres such as Frankfurt and Paris - and even Docklands - increase the number of tall office buildings in their financial districts.

'We have to provide space for the new mega financial institutions, otherwise they'll just go to Frankfurt or Paris. We don't want the city to become a museum,' said the corporation's committee secretary Raf Agha.

City support for Foster's tower comes in spite of attacks from the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral, the Baltic Exchange itself and City conservation groups.

A spokesman for the cathedral said that the tower's shape would invite unwelcome comparison with St Paul's and will 'present a challenge which should not go uncontested.'

The Baltic Exchange wants the skyscraper ditched in favour of a redevelopment of the existing site, while the City of London Area Advisory Committee said: 'We could find no justification for these wholly disastrous effects on the City's architectural heritage.'

The scheme has won the backing of English Heritage, the now defunct Royal Fine Arts Commission and the London Planning Advisory Committee.

The decision was due as Lord Foster's practice was appointed to design a skyscraper for Selfridges in Oxford Street. The building will be located behind the West End store and could reach as high as 20 storeys, providing a new landmark for the area. The building is planned as a mixed-use development.

Elsewhere, the practice poured cold water on suggestions that its new roof on the British Museum is higher than its models showed.

'We have measured the roof with Camden Council and it is exactly to the height of the original drawings,' said a spokeswoman. 'Reports to the contrary are completely erroneous.'

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