English Heritage, CABE and the Greater London Authority are thrashing out an interim 'protocol' on tall buildings for architects, developers and local authorities, to fill what may be the long void before the capital is equipped with the GLA's Spatial Development Strategy (SDS).
English Heritage London director Philip Davies was set to meet up with CABE officials as the AJ went to press this week to try and agree an approach on the 'succinct' document, which will pave the way for the SDS, which Davies said was still likely to be up to 18 months away.
'It's really a series of sifts that schemes should go through, such as a proper environmental impact assessment, how the proposal relates to the historic environment and how location criteria are met before architectural quality, ' said Davies.
'It's perfectly possible to have a superb new building but in the wrong place and trying to set a broad guidance on location before design is vital.'
In the context of the document, a tall building is defined as any building 'significantly higher than its neighbours', added Davies. The guidance, which is likely to be just three to four pages long, will fall short of proactively suggesting specific sites for tower development but will be launched in February to act as a material consideration in planning applications.
But the different remits and approaches of the three bodies preparing the protocol towards high structures - mayor Ken Livingstone is a wellknown enthusiast - was illustrated this week when English Heritage expressed its grave concerns about the £300 million, 222m tall KPF-designed Heron Bishopsgate Tower. With its mast, the offices and retail Heron Tower building for Gerald Ronson at 110 Bishopsgate will be the tallest building in the City. Davies complained that the scheme was 'immensely damaging' to views of St Paul's Cathedral from Waterloo Bridge, which it 'loomed up behind', a panorama recognised in existing guidance.
English Heritage asked deputy prime minister John Prescott to call the scheme in for a public inquiry for also disturbing views from the newlyopened River Terrace at Somerset House, but both the CABE's design review panel and the GLA supported the proposal.
On Tuesday, however, the planning committee accepted the City planners' recommendation of approval, so the scheme will now go to the City's extra tier in these cases, the Court of Common Council. But Prescott will be notified of the scheme as a departure from the development plan for the City and Livingstone has 14 days in which to direct the council to refuse planning permission.
English Heritage felt that the City's decision to determine the planning application was 'premature' in the context both of the review of the City's UDP - the front cover of which uses the panorama from Waterloo Bridge - and the new protocol on tall buildings, which it could 'prejudge'.