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Norris goes for architecture vote

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Alsop and Stormer is battling with three other practices in a bid to create a new masterplan for Walthamstow Central with this colourful effort. It proposes four distinct areas; the hill (roof garden), the mall (leisure), the cut (high-density houses) and the arches (live-work units in a park) connected by the 'blue mile', a translucent canopy. The practice is working with WS Atkins and Hillier Parker and is up against Timpson Manley with Town Centres Limited and Alan Baxter Associates; Gillespies; and edaw. A winner will be chosen on 14 March.

London mayoral hopeful Steve Norris has launched an investigation into Foster & Partners 'bubble' design for the Greater London Assembly building and is considering moving the assembly's home elsewhere if he wins the 4 May election.

The move comes as the Conservative Party candidate's chance of becoming mayor was this week given a boost by Ken Livingstone's decision to stand as an independent candidate - which Norris thinks will split the Labour vote. Norris has commissioned a team of 'colleagues from the private sector', thought to be surveyors, to scrutinise Lord Foster's design for the South Bank site, and is suggesting the Victoria House building on Bloomsbury Square as an alternative. Alsop & Stormer has already produced designs for this site.

Norris described the Foster scheme as 'imaginative and cost-effective', but questioned whether it will fulfill all the assembly's needs.

'I'm happy to look at Foster's gla building, but it's not simply a home for 300 office workers. We need a room for open debate, tv, radio and a reasonable number of the public,' Norris said. 'If you could get that from the Victoria building, then it's in exactly the right place and, with its neo-Gothic pillars, its municipal enough.' Foster's London Bridge City scheme was given the nod over the Victoria House plans by a government panel last year. Its developer, Blackfriars Investments, has now sold the Bloomsbury site on to a German property company.

The comments came as Norris gave the strongest indication yet of his policies on architecture and planning. He gave firm backing to the development of more tall buildings in the capital. 'The development of a mini-Manhattan is not a retrograde step. Tall buildings brilliantly express the City's forward thinking. That's one of the functions of architecture,' he said.

He also threw his weight behind Foster & Partner's 41-storey tower on the site of the former Baltic Exchange, which was blocked last month by the secretary of state for the environment, transport and the regions, John Prescott. But Norris stressed the need to ensure that high-rise developments do not cause traffic congestion.

He also pledged to start construction on large brownfield sites at Paddington Basin and King's Cross lands in his first term in office, and said: 'There's another city of brown land waiting for new development in the east Thames corridor.'

Norris included a boost for architecture's political influence in his plans. 'I would want a hard-working standing architectural advisors committee with instant, daily access to the mayor. They would look at large projects as well as the development of the spatial development strategy,' he said. He gave a strong hint that the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment would be involved in this advisory role. He also pledged a full-time staff working on design issues in planning.

On other issues, Norris said he would like to see the ba London Eye remain in place beyond its five-year planning consent and that work on the Cross Rail initiative, to build an east to west mainline rail line under London, would start in his first term.

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