The quest to procure a headquarters building for the new Greater London Authority was back on track this week - following a bizarre withdrawal and reinstatement of one of the two rival proposals. The developer behind Will Alsop's Victoria House scheme on Bloomsbury Square, Malory Clifford, pulled out of the competition a week ago, citing a 'public and unjust' intervention by English Heritage chairman Sir Jocelyn Stevens as the main reason, along with 'other circumstances surrounding the decision-making process'.
Sir Jocelyn had roundly criticised the Alsop proposals as being in breach of government conservation guidelines, in a very public statement of support for the rival proposal by Sir Norman Foster on the south bank of the Thames, close to Tower Bridge. Clifford said the views of eh were 'completely at odds' with those of the Royal Fine Art Commission, and suggested that eh's London Advisory Committee did not share the 'intransigent views' expressed.
Following two days of frenetic phone calls involving London minister Nick Raynsford, rfac chairman Lord St John of Fawsley and the developer, Clifford announced on Monday that his company, Blackfriars Investment Trust, was back in the race, following assurances about the status of the English Heritage comments and the way the rival schemes would be assessed. Raynsford has made it clear that his request for Blackfriars to re-enter is no guarantee of success, but that the decision-making process will be scrupulously even-handed. Blackfriars had also received encouragement to re-submit from Camden Council, within which the Bloomsbury building and square lie.
English Heritage reacted to events by re-releasing its now notorious press notice praising Foster and attacking Alsop, with a further comment from Sir Jocelyn repeating the stance of the organisation, and saying that eh commissioners (which include no architect) were in support of the notice.