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Battle of the bulge: heritage bodies in final bid to halt Fosters’ Tulip tower

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Historic England and Historic Royal Palaces have made a final attempt to thwart the construction of Foster + Partners’ proposed Tulip tourist tower, which is set to be approved next week

City of London planning officers have recommended approval for the 305m-tall building next to the Gherkin at its forthcoming planning and transportation meeting on 2 April, despite numerous objections.

Now both heritage groups are urging the Corporation’s councillors to go against the officers’ advice and reject the proposal, primarily on grounds of its potentially damaging impact on the nearby Tower of London World Heritage Site.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: ’This building – a lift shaft with a bulge on top – would damage the very thing its developers claim they will deliver – tourism and views of London’s extraordinary heritage.

’The setting of the Tower of London, a symbol of the city not just to millions of Londoners but to the whole world and one of our most visited places, will be harmed. It has already been damaged by the Walkie Talkie and it would be a great shame if that mistake was repeated.’

 A ’disappointed’ John Barnes, chief executive of Historic Royal Palaces, went further: ‘If this proposal is approved, it would go against every previous agreement made by the City of London Corporation to protect views of the Tower of London by restricting the height of new developments in the city.

’We remain very concerned that the eye-catching design of the building will overshadow and distract from views of the Tower. We strongly contest the suggestion that the claimed public benefits of the proposal outweigh the substantial visual damage it would do to the setting of the Tower, which is itself an international symbol of London and major tourist attraction, bringing 3 million visitors to the City each year.’

To approve this development would be a fundamental and irreversible mistake

He added: ’[The] planning authorities are at a crossroads – if permission for this scheme is granted it is difficult to see how the City Corporation will resist the inevitable follow-up proposal to develop other sites to the same height. We strongly urge them to act to protect views of one of London’s most significant landmarks. To approve this development would be a fundamental and irreversible mistake that could put the status of the World Heritage Site at risk.’

While the City’s planning officers admitted the design would detract from the setting and the significance of the Tower of London’s World Heritage Site, they argued that ‘due to its height and form’, the scheme would cause ‘less than substantial harm’ and was therefore acceptable. 

The 152-page report reads: ‘Virtually no major development proposal is in complete compliance with all policies and, in arriving at a decision, it is necessary to assess all the policies and proposals in the plan and to come to a view as to whether in the light of the whole plan the proposal does or does not accord with it.’ 

It adds: ‘This case is very finely balanced. The development is significant in terms of its local and wider impacts and in particular its less than substantial harm to the World Heritage Site.

‘Taking all material matters into consideration [and] … giving very considerable importance and weight to the desirability of preserving the setting of the Tower of London as a heritage asset of the highest significance, the public benefits of the proposal nevertheless outweigh the priority given to the development plan and other material considerations against the proposals.’

The officers claim Fosters’ tower had ’the potential to become an architectural icon for the City, London and the UK’. The report adds: ’[Its] proposed architectural approach is bold and striking. Its aesthetic inspiration derives from the Gherkin and the proposal seeks to achieve a familial synergy with the Gherkin.

’Among the more orthodox and conventional new architecture in the City and in wider London, history has shown that there is occasional radical and visually striking new architecture which challenges convention and the norm and provokes a polarised debate as to their appropriateness to the London skyline.’

The City’s planners went on: ’London is inherently an innovative and ever-changing City. The Tulip as an architectural expression could continue this tradition of accommodating unconventional and eye-catching landmarks on the skyline, although this needs to be balanced against its impact on other historical landmarks.’

The Tulip could continue the City’s tradition of accommodating unconventional and eye-catching landmarks on the skyline

If approved the tower would be the tallest building in the City, edging above Eric Parry’s proposed 1 Undershaft. It would feature glazed observation levels supported by a huge concrete shaft to create ‘a new state-of-the-art cultural and educational resource for Londoners and tourists’.

An online survey of 1,011 Londoners, run between the 13 and 18 December, suggested that two thirds (65 per cent) believed the skyscraper would be ‘an attractive addition to the London skyline’. 

The independent poll by ComRes was commissioned by the team behind The Tulip, which includes banker and Gherkin owner the J Safra Group. It also showed that 69 per cent of respondents think the Tulip would have ‘a positive impact on the City of London’s attractiveness as a visitor and cultural destination’.

The project is scheduled to start on site as early as 2020 with completion scheduled for 2025.

Dbox foster + partners the tulip skyline

Dbox foster + partners the tulip skyline

Extracts from the report’s conclusions

The impact on neighbouring residential occupiers and nearby buildings and spaces has been considered. The scheme would not result in unacceptable environmental impacts in terms of noise, air quality, wind and daylight and sunlight and overshadowing. The impact on daylight and sunlight has been thoroughly tested and has been independently reviewed. It is not considered that the impacts would cause unacceptable harm such as to warrant a refusal of planning permission. The proposal would be in compliance with [Local Plan policies]

The scheme would make optimal use of the capacity of a site with high levels of public transport accessibility and would be car free except for two disabled parking spaces. The proposal would require deliveries to both the Gherkin and the Tulip to be consolidated and would reduce the number of service deliveries to no more than 81 deliveries per day (for both the Tulip and the Gherkin) and would reflect servicing measures sought for other major developments in the City. The servicing logistics strategy would be incorporated in the Delivery and Servicing Management Plan.

Eighty-four bicycle spaces would be provided for the Tulip and the number of bicycle spaces for the Gherkin building would be increased from 114 spaces (existing) to 314 spaces in total which would include 12 spaces for adaptable cycles. The total number of cycle parking spaces for the Tulip would not be compliant with the requirements of [Local Plan policy] however the shortfall of spaces for the Tulip has been provided as additional spaces for use by tenants of the Gherkin and the total number of cycle parking spaces for the Gherkin has been increased, which is considered to be a significant improvement for the tenants of the Gherkin.

The impact on vehicles and pedestrians would not prejudice the operation of the business City or limit the development of the cluster

The characteristics of the proposal and those visiting it and the impact on the servicing arrangements for the Gherkin will mean that it will have some impact on local vehicular and pedestrian movement in the most densely developed part of the City as set out in the report. However, it is not at a level where it prejudices the operation of the business City or would limit the development of the City cluster.

It is a shared view with Historic England, Historic Palaces and the Mayor of London along with other objectors that the proposal results in harm to the setting (and to the significance) of the World Heritage Site of the Tower of London. The assessment of the degree of that harm is what is at variance. It is considered that the Tulip due to its height and form results in less than substantial harm to the significance of the Tower of London World Heritage Site.

Planning of the Eastern cluster has sought to safeguard the immediate setting of the Tower of London in accordance with guidance and to step the height of development away from the Tower so that it rises to a peak some way from the Tower. The Tulip does create a tall element adjacent to the Tower contrary to that approach. The form and nature of the Tulip mitigates that impact when compared to a more conventional accommodation building due to the amount of sky it retains around it.
In relation to other designated and non-designated heritage assets, it is considered that the proposed development would not harm their significance or setting.

Model foster tulip

Virtually no major development proposal is in complete compliance with all policies and in arriving at a decision it is necessary to assess all the policies and proposals in the plan and to come to a view as to whether in the light of the whole plan the proposal does or does not accord with it.

While the proposals are in compliance with a number of policies, they are not considered to be in compliance with the development plan as a whole due to non-compliance with the heritage policies identified above. [We as] the Local Planning Authority must determine the application in accordance with the development plan unless other material considerations indicate otherwise.

Paragraph 8 of the NPPF sets out that there is a presumption in favour of sustainable development [while] paragraph 131 of the NPPF sets out that great weight should be given to outstanding and innovative designs which help raise the standard of design more generally in the area.

As set out in paragraph 193 of the NPPF, great weight should be given to the designated heritage asset’s conservation, and at paragraph 194, that any harm should require clear and convincing justification. The world heritage site status and the Grade I listing places the Tower of London at the very highest level and as a result greater weight should be given to the asset’s conservation.

Paragraph 196 of the NPPF sets out that where development proposals will lead to less than substantial harm to the significance of a heritage asset, this harm should be weighed against the public benefits of the proposal.

The proposed development provides the City and London with a new iconic building

Additional material considerations are as follows: The proposed development provides the City and London with a new iconic building. It provides a new and significant visitor attraction in London, and would help to boost London’s tourist offer and economy and would draw people into the City who would not otherwise be drawn to it and thereby benefits the wider UK economy. It adds to and diversifies the City’s visitor offer and both directly and indirectly supports the City’s aspirations to be a 24/7 City. It is anticipated that it would be particularly busy at weekends which is of particular benefit in this regard. It provides a restaurant and bar and facilities that may support local businesses enabling longer opening hours such as Leadenhall Market. The new facilities it provides may be attractive to local workers and residents.

The provision of an educational facility for 40,000 of London’s state school children free of charge each year is a significant benefit of the proposal enabling each London school child to visit once in their school life time. It is welcomed as a significant resource for key subjects in the school curriculum and has the potential to introduce the City to many children who may not otherwise visit the City or consider it as a place that they may one day wish to work. These benefits would be secured by S106 agreement. The educational space would also be available for community and educational use between 1500-1900 hours, the arrangements and details of this benefit would be secured by S106 obligation. Consolidated delivery arrangements would be secured for the Gherkin as well as the Tulip, including the prohibition of peak time servicing.

The scheme would provide benefits through CIL for improvements to the public realm, housing and other local facilities and measures. That payment of CIL is a local finance consideration which weighs in favour of the scheme. In addition to the general planning obligations, there would be site-specific measures secured in the S106 Agreement. Together these would go some way to mitigate the impact of the proposal.

It is for the LPA to weigh the other material considerations and decide whether those that support the development outweigh the priority statute has given to the development plan and the other material considerations which do not support the proposal.

In carrying out that balancing exercise considerable importance and weight must be given to preserving the settings of listed buildings. As set out in paragraph 193 of the NPPF, great weight should be given to the designated heritage asset’s conservation, and at paragraph 194, that any harm should require clear and convincing justification. The world heritage site status and the Grade I listing places the Tower of London at the very highest heritage level.

Dbox foster + partners the tulip education kids

Dbox foster + partners the tulip education kids

However, the cumulative weight attributable to the identified benefits, particularly those relating to tourism and education is also considered to be very significant.

This case is very finely balanced

This case is very finely balanced. The development is significant in terms of its local and wider impacts and in particular its less than substantial harm to the World Heritage Site. Taking all material matters into consideration, I am of the view that, giving very considerable importance and weight to the desirability of preserving the setting of the Tower of London as a heritage asset of the highest significance, the public benefits of the proposal nevertheless outweigh the priority given to the development plan and other material considerations against the proposals. As such that the application should be recommended to you subject to all the relevant conditions being applied and section 106 obligations being entered into in order to secure the public benefits and minimise the impact of the proposal.

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