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Mayor 'won't intervene' over Gagarin Square refusal

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London Mayor Boris Johnson will not use his call-in powers to overturn Southwark Council’s refusal of a 30-storey rocket-shaped development by Russian practice Studio 44.

The AJ has learned that City Hall will not to intervene in the authority’s decision to reject the Gagarin Square development - inspired by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight in 1961.

The contentious scheme would have seen the demolition of an existing building at 55 Southwark Street and its replacement with a tower containing offices, a theatre, rehearsal space a bar, a museum and nine large flats.

Backed by Russian investors, the scheme was designed for developer Don Riley, who owns the neighbouring listed Menier Chocolate Company building, which houses a theatre, rehearsal space and a restaurant.

The Menier produces shows that often transfer to the West End and New York’s Broadway. It’s musical production of the Alice Walker novel The Color Purple is due to begin a Broadway run next month. Riley said the new development would have used private funding to create a new 350-seat venue to add to the Chocolate Factory’s 200-seat theatre.  

But planners had branded the scheme a ‘wilfully insensitive insertion on the skyline’ adding that the ‘design concept had been pursued at the expense of any architectural quality’.

A report to the 6 October planning committee meeting said: ‘The rocket reference is completely alien to the character and identity of Southwark, and indeed London as a whole.’

‘Although strong architectural concepts are encouraged, this requires sensitivity and skilled manipulation to result in the high architectural standards expected. This has not been employed here, where the inappropriate design concept has been allowed to dominate the proposals to a harmful degree.’

Riley told The AJ that the project team was considering contesting Southwark’s decision at a planning appeal, and was dismissive of planning-officer criticism that the scheme contained no affordable housing.

‘We produce all our own shows here at the existing Menier Chocolate Factory but transfer and export them,’ he said. ‘[There is] huge demand from writers and showbiz for more of our successful formula in a second theatre The Gagarin, a 350-seater [venue] with a 300 seat restaurant to eat in before every show.’

Riley questioned where leading theatre groups would be able to rehearse if affordable housing was always given preference over proposals for new space.



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