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English Heritage puts a spanner in London works

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Whoever wins the battle to create the new Greater London Authority building could face months of delay, judging by a scarcely noticed announcement from English Heritage before Christmas. And it appears that eh chairman Sir Jocelyn Stevens has cast himself in the role of arbiter of the proposals, by Foster & Partners and Alsop & Stormer.

'The new gla must have a landmark building, says heritage chairman,' screamed a headline on the press notice, which quotes Sir Jocelyn as commending the Foster scheme for its location on the south side of the Thames opposite the Tower of London. He says it could provide 'a superb opportunity not only for the building for which the government is correctly [sic] looking, but for the regeneration of the area'.

Sir Jocelyn says nothing directly about the Alsop & Stormer proposals to alter and extend the Grade II-listed Victoria House in Bloomsbury Square, but says his commissioners are 'concerned' and 'need to know more about the repercussions that these might have on the character and appearance of the building and on Bloomsbury Square'.

However, praise for the Foster scheme was qualified by similar concerns. While the commissioners thought it was an 'excellent response', they could not support the scheme until they knew more about the developer's plans for the whole site, in order to assess impact on strategic views up and down the Thames, and across the river to the Tower of London, a World Heritage site.

The eh opinions will disappoint both development teams. The Foster team, spearheaded by project manager Stuart Lipton, had hoped that a previous planning permission, granted for Ian Ritchie's abortive temporary opera house scheme on an adjacent site, would have resolved heritage matters. Alsop will be disappointed that there has not been a warmer welcome for detailed designs which keep the integrity of the existing building and bring the little-used square into public use.

Were eh to dig in its heels, the DoE could be in the embarrassing position of calling in a scheme which it is itself promoting. A decision on the winner is expected this month, and completion hoped for by the end of 2000, following election of the mayor in May of that year. Nick Raynsford, responsible for procuring the building, is expected also to take note of advice from the Royal Fine Art Commission, which has seen both designs but has so far declined to make its comments public.

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