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Betty Boothroyd attacks 'building frenzy' on South Bank

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Former House of Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd has accused the Government of failing to protect the heritage of the Palace of Westminster.

In June 2013, world heritage body UNESCO expressed fears over a series of schemes proposed for the South Bank of the river Thames in central London and their potential impact on the Houses of Parliament.

Last week, in a House of Lords debate, Boothroyd said the UK risked being embarrassed on the international stage if the government did not intervene and halt the development of a ‘wall high-rise high-density tower blocks stretching in a jagged line from Waterloo to Vauxhall’.

She said: ‘If this place [Parliament] is confronted by citadels of glass, steel and concrete on the other side, UNESCO has no choice but to tell the world that we are failing to meet our obligations.

“It would be a shameful blow to this country’s reputation, a dereliction of the Government’s responsibilities and a betrayal of future generations. Nothing like this has happened in continental Europe and it must not be allowed to happen here.’

In March last year, communities secretary Eric Pickles decided not to intervene when Lambeth Council gave its backing to David Chipperfield Architects’ contentious plans for the redevelopment of Elizabeth House in Waterloo. Councillors approved the 132,000m2 scheme, featuring a 29 storey tower, by four votes to two in the face of strong objections from Westminster Council and English Heritage.

In June this year, a UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Cambodia demanded the ‘proposal [was] not approved in its current form and that it be revised in line with the concerns raised by expert bodies, including English Heritage (EH)’.

Although UNESCO last year opted against registering the Palace of Westminster on its List of World Heritage in Danger, the body has given the UK Government until next February to submit an update on the status of the heritage site.

In her speech, Boothroyd went on to attack Mayor of London Boris Johnson for failing to stop the towers.

She said: ‘It is a far cry from when he defended Westminster’s heritage before he became Mayor of London. He changed his tune when he was elected; he should do so again before he resumes his parliamentary career.’

Also speaking in the debate, Labour peer Denis Tunnicliffe questioned the Pickles’ conclusion that the Elizabeth House scheme ‘[did] not involve a conflict with national policies, have significant effects beyond the immediate locality, give rise to substantial cross boundary or national controversy or raise significant architectural or urban design issues’.

Tunnicliffe said: ‘How could the Secretary of State possibly have come to that conclusion?

‘I find it impossible to see how he did. He has, essentially, abdicated his responsibility to make a national decision about a national issue and given it to the London Borough of Lambeth.’


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Readers' comments (1)

  • Eric Pickles' behaviour is surely surprising, so soon after he'd shown his independence of mind by putting a stop to the Smithfield Market over-development.
    Thank goodness for the greed-free common sense of Betty Boothroyd, in the face of a populist mayor who appears increasingly to have his eye only on the main chance.

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