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English Heritage leader slams planning approval for Elizabeth House

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Lambeth Council’s decision to grant planning approval for David Chipperfield’s Elizabeth House has been slammed by the leader of English Heritage.

Speaking at the Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) conference last week, Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage said: ‘There is no way that Westminster [council] or for that matter, English Heritage, can feel remotely convinced that the planning minister did indeed take into account the fact that it is a protected view and a world heritage site.’

Chipperfield’s £600million Elizabeth House project next to Waterloo Station would be visible from Parliament Square and English Heritage, Westminster Council and UNESCO have all raised concerns over the impact the development could have on views from the Westminster World Heritage Site.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee is currently meeting in Cambodia and it is feared that Westminster, together with the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and Hayle Harbour in Cornwall could lose their World Heritage status (see AJ 11.06.13).

Thurley added: ‘We have a system [of protected views] and surely the system is intended to protect things that people have, through the democratic system, identified as important and treasured by the public, and views in and out of Parliament Square must be amongst those.’

‘It is astonishing that everybody has tossed to one side their own regulations and said it should go ahead.’

Robert Tavernor, professor at the London School of Economics, was also speaking at a panel discussion entitled Tall Buildings vs Heritage, and said: ‘There are very important views that need to be protect. [But] I don’t think the views out of Parliament Square… particularly that view, is a particularly powerful one. The real pleasure is in moving onto Westminster Bridge and enjoying the whole expanse.’

Paul Finch, deputy chair of the Design Council, said: ‘I hope we don’t end up with a public enquiry over Elizabeth House, as we will re-run all the slightly tired arguments that we had about the Heron and the Shard. If somebody finds that spot where people will be offended by the view, then for God’s sake plant a tree – problem solved. More seriously, if you walk six feet [Elizabeth House] will vanish.’

Thurley commented that the design of Elizabeth House did make some concessions to nearby views, but that it still had an impact on protected views. He said: ‘The developer has tried very hard to minimise the impact of that building. The difficulty is, if you try and put Europe’s largest office block in that spot, it is very difficult to make it go away.’

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