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Thames guidance just an excuse for greed

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Having read with interest the news item about 'spot-listing' the Thames (aj 2.7.98), I doubt that sort of political bellowing will do the poor old Father and its proud people much good.

Judging by the number of pundits who have interpreted the Strategic Guidance for the Thames as a licence to print money by slapping in proposals for ever-higher buildings and ever-denser developments, not many of them can have actually read the document. I studied it recently for a call-in public inquiry over a proposed tower block in Wandsworth, and found that the overall objectives which guide government planning policy in respect of the Thames include:

to secure a special quality for all new development . . . appropriate to its context, and to improve the existing townscape

to protect and enhance historic buildings, sites, structures, landscapes, skylines and views of importance

to enhance the vitality of the river front . . . promoting regeneration . . . discouraging development which neither contributes to nor is appropriate for, a riverside location

to improve the quality and provision of open space along the river

to respect . . . areas of ecological, conservation or landscape importance

to maintain and improve public access to, along and across the river, taking account of the needs of disabled people.

Authorities are urged (3.10) to prepare detailed appraisals, identifying:

the local character of individual stretches of the river

areas, sites, buildings, structures, landmarks, skylines, landscapes, and views of particular sensitivity and importance

development sites and regeneration opportunities

opportunities for environmental and urban design improvements

focal points of public activity.

Para 3.15 states:

'Individual buildings and structures can have a significant impact. This is particularly true alongside the Thames because of the prominence and visibility of development from the opposite bank, from bridges and from the river itself.'

Para 3.18 emphasises the place for 'challenging' designs, variations in scale and height, and that 'landmark' buildings should be of the highest quality.

Para 3.40 states in part that local authorities should:

recognise in their development plans the importance of the river as a strategic open space

where appropriate, develop proposals to protect, conserve and enhance natural landscapes along the river.

How it can be concluded from this advice that a free-for-all on high buildings or large-scale rape of the Thames-side is encouraged, is puzzling to say the least. What is called for is serious analysis of the character of the Thames and its environs, with the emphasis on detailed local guidance as to which areas might be appropriate, or inappropriate, for landmarks or anything else, and what criteria should be satisfied to achieve landmark status. There is no right expressed or implied in any guidance I have seen to line the Thames with towers, slabs, slides, ziggurats, swooping curves or any other novelty form. The bandwagon is driven by the same old motive - greed - that drives most bad things, reinforced by ill-informed and lazy professionals, journalists, and politicians. Let's get real and fight intelligently.


Conservation, Architecture and Planning, Headley, Hants

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