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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’.


Readers' comments (8)

  • Flippin heck Borris - why allow ANYTHING to be called Columbus tower? We're British aren't we? Therefore it should be called Cabot Tower because as any Bristolian (and I'd like to think Englishman) knows, North America was discoverd by John Cabot and named after his sponsor Richard Amerik, Sherriff of Bristol. Why name this building in honour of someone who sailed from Spain and got lost in the Caribean?

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  • i dont understand the crossrail v affordable housing, & im wondering what the grade I & II listed buildings are and where they are in relation to this proposed tower,

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  • Presumably they are the former Warehouses and General Offices of West India Dock, now Museum in Docklands which are Grade I and the Excise Office and Guards House which are Grade II.

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  • Actually, people were already in North Amerika long before Cabot - and if you're talking discovery of the 'new world' by Europeans, then I'm fairly certain Viking types were there before him anyway! That's without even starting on what Charles Hapgood reckoned....

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  • Since when did a call-in automatically mean that the refusal will be overturned?

    I though the purpose was to examine all facets of an application in more detail, and then come to a conclusion, once all sides have been heard.

    The building sounds appaling and needs a rethink.

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  • I've just looked up the listed buildings and am left wondering about huge arch windows, the arch window seems to have old fashioned connotations and wonder what a modern version would look like,

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  • Hey......Amerigo Vespucci was the dude. Vikings stopped at Greenland, all Italians know that.

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  • Boris Johnson is hypocritical in his use of power. On one hand he pretends he has a commitment to the City of London and its role as a world class financial centre, on the other hand he and his ex-Westminster Council manipulators have made viewing corridors more onerous in a draconian move that has over night stifled the prospect for viable development on many key sites. In terms of investment and jobs, Johnson's nimbyism, fuelled by various self driven serial hangers on like kit malthouse has done a HUGE, HUGE dis-service to london.

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