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Row rages over new Ritchie towers

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Secret plans by Ian Ritchie Architects for a tower cluster on a 'hugely prominent' London site have sparked a row between London mayor Ken Livingstone and Southwark council.

Ritchie has designed a series of slender cylindrical towers, up to 18 storeys tall, for developer Berkeley Homes.While the scheme is largely residential, it will include other uses at ground level.

The mayor has thrown his weight behind the plans, and CABE is understood to be supportive.

However, Southwark is threatening to force an international design competition and to insist on a major cultural building on the site.

The 1.1ha site at Potters' Fields faces the Tower of London across the river and neighbours Tower Bridge and Foster and Partners' new GLA building. It has a chequered history of failed development, with an earlier Ritchie-designed opera house and Will Alsop housing scheme coming to nothing.

The GLA's planning decisions manager, Giles Dolphin, told the AJ the mayor had written to Southwark responding to its draft planning brief for the area, and is urging the council to abandon its 'perverse' plans for a competition. 'The mayor is keen to see something on the site, ' he said, 'and a competition could hold up development by a year.

If Southwark want a cultural building it could delay things indefinitely.'

Southwark's head of regeneration and strategy, Chris Horn, denied the borough was trying to block the Ritchie towers and said a competition was 'inevitable' for a major development opportunity in a world heritage location. 'Sites like that come up once in a generation. A competition is a useful means of testing markets, establishing the best solution and including the public.'

Deputy mayor Nicky Gavron told the AJ that Ritchie's scheme was an excellent example of a building responding to its context - unlike the neighbouring GLA building, a 'straightjacket', with no connection to its surroundings.

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