Your article on the 20-storey tower proposed on the doorstep of Tate Modern (AJ 8.5.03) questioned the need for a public inquiry and asked whether the scheme is really a 'gross overdevelopment' or the victim of a 'planning lottery' and emotional opposition.
As I understand it, a key purpose of the planning system is to enable consultation on development proposals with the community and, especially, neighbours. Although the developers have undertaken 'expensive consultation' they have failed to allay concerns and resolve the outstanding objections of Tate, the Bankside Residents for Appropriate Development (BROAD) and other local residents.
The Southwark unitary development plan (UDP) contains a policy to protect the amenities of local residents and occupiers. The current proposal is clearly contrary to this policy.
Southwark council rejected the application because it failed to satisfy this policy and because there was an obviously high level of objection and concern in the community. In these circumstances, a public inquiry would appear entirely appropriate.
The developers have referred to our objections on massing and over-development as 'poppycock', countering that four of the proposed buildings would fit inside the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern and that the scheme is one-tenth of the size of the 'shard of glass'. These comparisons are meaningless. What must be considered is the impact of this particular scheme on this particular location.
The issues that are at stake, and which I hope will be thoroughly addressed at the public inquiry, are what weight should be given to protecting amenity and creating high-quality urban spaces within the capital, and how this should be balanced against the objective of maximising density. Clearly there will be locations in London which could accommodate a 20storey building of this type.
However, this is not one of them.
Some 5,000 visitors a day use the western entrances to Tate Modern and the 'quality' of the Western Forecourt, therefore, makes an important contribution to the visitor experience. It is a space of national significance with a high footfall where Tate is seeking to achieve an environment of the highest quality.
[Developer] London Town's own environmental assessment indicates that this area will be cast into shadow for much of the afternoon during the summer months, while a 20-storey elevation cannot fail to dominate the space and create an oppressive environment. This proposal flies in the face of any attempt at 'place making' and will be extremely deleterious to the newly-formed Bankside cultural quarter, as well as the existing residential environment.
This is not simply an 'emotional' crusade. Earlier this year, Tate commissioned internationally renowned Gehl Architects, urban quality consultant, of Copenhagen, to produce a public-space plan for Tate Modern.
This study has looked at all the spaces around Tate and sets a framework for their ongoing enhancement. The findings of this study back up our own concerns about the impact of the proposed development on the Western Forecourt, and Dr Jan Gehl will be presenting his views on this matter at the inquiry.
I trust the inquiry will provide a rigorous examination of the urban design and amenity issues - London cannot afford for planning decisions on matters such as this to be either rubber-stamped simply because 'boxes have been ticked' or decided by a 'lottery'.
Sir Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate