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Victoria Station facing tower threat

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Westminster City Council has alarmed conservation groups with plans to demolish parts of the listed Victoria railway station in order to build a new office tower over the London rail terminus.

Schemes by Wilkinson Eyre Architects and GMW Partnership are currently being drawn up, but have not been formally submitted to Westminster council.

The notoriously anti-tower borough has not yet put a limit on the height of the new building, but will judge applications from developers 'on their own merits', Westminster planning chief Carl Powell told the AJ. Powell said the decision to sanction the tower idea, proposed by Railtrack in order to pay for station improvements, was a crucial part of a wider scheme for the 'renaissance' of Victoria Station and its surrounding area. The transport interchange was 'diabolical', he said, and was due for a redevelopment in the order of what was happening at Paddington, elsewhere in the borough.

'The tower will be set back so it won't impinge on the historic facade of the Kent or Sussex entrances. But it will be prominent. And it may involve the demolition of a small amount of the listed portion of the station, ' Powell confirmed.

'Our overriding priority is to solve the transport interchange problems. The Tube can't cope, and if you don't get run over by a bus you spend an hour waiting for one.'

Other plans include moving the bus station in front of the station and demolishing London Underground-owned buildings to make space for a second tower in order to pay for a tube upgrade.

'These are heavyweight redevelopment programmes and we expect them to act as a catalyst for a Victorian renaissance. Victoria will be the Paddington of the next decade, ' said Powell.

But conservation groups are worried by the proposals and are anxiously waiting for plans to emerge from developers. Both English Heritage and the Victorian Society recognise that serious improvements are essential for the station, but are pressing the council to ensure that a balance is struck between development and preservation.

English Heritage's Paul Velluet, assistant director for the London region, is also keen to impress upon Westminster the fact that listed status was extended throughout Victoria station just two months ago - clearing up ambiguities which he had been pressing for 'over a very, very long period of time'. However, Velluet insisted that he was still open-minded about any redevelopment. 'If they want to pursue the demolition of any part of the station we need to look at the case that's been made, ' he said. 'We have stressed our recognition of the need to enhance the operation of the station as a major public transport interchange, while encouraging the conservation and effective integration of key parts of the existing listed station complex.'

Richard Holder, senior architectural adviser at the Victorian Society, said he wants to see the station 'treated with respect'. But he admitted that some aspects of the existing complex were a 'total nightmareà Victoria has already seen a certain amount of demolition over the years, so from our point of view we'd need to see a justification for any proposal, ' said Holder. 'Obviously, the issue of a tall building is an emotive one, but it's a question of how tall is tall? That is going to be very interesting.'

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