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Campaigner launches Shell Centre legal challenge

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An opponent of the Squire and Partners’ £1.3billion Shell Centre redevelopment has launched a high court claim against the decision to give the project the green-light

Writer and activist George Turner called secretary of state Eric Pickles’ decision to award the scheme planning ‘flawed’ and said it left him with no choice but to ‘challenge it in the courts’.

He has served the legal notice on Pickles, the Mayor of London and the Borough of Lambeth, and the scheme’s developers in an attempt to halt the project.

Turner, who previously represented Southbank residents at the hearing on the Shell Centre last year, hopes the move will quash Pickles’ decision.

In a statement, Turner, said: ‘The secretary of state is under a duty to pay regard to the development plan, a statutory document which sets out how London can develop to meet the needs of Londoners. The development plan is generated through a democratic process where members of the public can contribute. If for any reason the development cannot meet that plan the secretary of state must give an adequate explanation as to why, after having respectfully listened to the arguments of objectors.

He added: ‘Unfortunately in the Shell decision the secretary of state did none of these things leading to a decision which is flawed in so many ways I felt I had to challenge it in the courts. In order to get good planning resulting in successful, sustainable development we need to have respect for the rule of law and due process. It is not too much to ask.’

The 134,700m2 mixed-use scheme was controversially approved by communities secretary Eric Pickles last month (6 June), despite being strongly opposed by local residents, English Heritage, the Twentieth Century Society and Westminster Council.

The proposals will see a cluster of eight new buildings for shops, office space, restaurants and homes around the original 1961 Shell Centre tower.

Braeburn Estates, the developer behind the scheme said they were ‘disappointed’ by the challenge. A spokesperson for the developer – a joint venture between developers Canary Wharf Group and Qatari Diar, said: ‘We are disappointed by this application to the High Court to challenge the secretary of state’s decision. Our planning application has already been through an extensive process. This started in January 2012 with a year-long public consultation, resulting in approval by Lambeth Council in May 2013, and it shortly thereafter received the full backing of the Mayor of London.

‘The subsequent three week public inquiry led to the secretary of state granting planning permission for the development in June 2014 in accordance with the inspector’s recommendations. This support followed our demonstration of the many regeneration benefits it would deliver to the local area, London and the UK as a whole.’

The scheme – which features buildings designed by Squire and Partners, KPF, GRID, Patel Taylor and Stanton Williams – replaces most of Howard Robertson’s 1961 Shell Centre complex apart from the landmark 27-storey, river-facing skyscraper.

The proposals will see a cluster of eight new buildings for shops, office space, restaurants and homes around the original 1961 Shell Centre tower.

A spokesperson for Lambeth Council confirmed it was taking legal advice and considering its response to the challenge.

Previous story (AJ 09.06.14)

Opponents threaten legal action over Shell Centre

Opponents of the controversial £1.3billion Shell Centre redevelopment on the South Bank have threatened judicial review proceedings after the project was given the green-light by communities secretary Eric Pickles

The 134,700m² mixed-use scheme designed by Squire & Partners was approved by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on Friday (6 June).

However it has been strongly opposed by local residents, English Heritage, the Twentieth Century Society and Westminster Council.

The redevelopment, which includes buildings designed by both Squire & Partners as well as KPF, GRID, Patel Taylor and Stanton Williams, would see eight new towers built around the 27-storey Shell Centre Tower.

Speaking today George Turner from the local residents group Riverside Communities said: ‘In my opinion the viability of the project has gone out of the window. This is a luxury housing scheme masquerading as a corporate headquarters.

‘For them to say that they can build eight towers across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament and behind Royal Festival Hall and for them not to make an impact is ludicrous. It feels like they are saying that the buildings simply do not exist.’

Developers Canary Wharf Group and Qatari Diar plan to redevelop the area by demolishing two wings of Howard Robertson’s 1961 Shell Centre complex while retaining the existing tower. When finished it is expected to provide around 134,700m2 of space for offices, restaurants and apartments. Around 798 homes are expected to be provided by the scheme, including 20 per cent which are marked as affordable housing.

Turner added that the case could set a precedent because the developers were allowed to keep details of a report on the viability of affordable housing private and instead submit an independent review of the report by BNP Paribas.

‘They have to respect the context of the tower the south bank conservation. The area is defined by open spaces and you can’t just fill them with towers,’ Turner added. ‘The towers are so close together that one third of the flats will not even get the minimum daylight allowance. It is simply bad architecture to build towers with that much lack of light. The scheme started to fail by loading too much into that area of space for it to be a sustainable building.’

Riverside Communities director Marina Thaines added: ‘Only time will tell whether this Doha lookalike facing the World Heritage Site of Westminster will spoil forever the character and heritage of the heart of our capital.’

Opponents claim that the new development damages views of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Westminster Palace from Green Park.

The scheme was called in by the DCLG last September due to concerns over the visual impact the new towers would have of the famous heritage site. The project was initially given planning permission by Lambeth Council in May 2013.

Henrietta Billings, senior conservation officer at the Twentieth Century Society said: ‘The amount of analysis given over to heritage issues in the Inspector’s report shows how important such matters have become. Although the Public Inquiry has not gone the way we wanted it to, it is very important that cases like these are debated in public, and we would like to see more large scale developments subject to equal levels of scrutiny.

‘This site lies in the heart of the South Bank Conservation Area, home to a collection of some of the finest post war buildings in Britain. As we have said from the beginning, we remain concerned about the impact of the eight tower cluster on the character of one of the most iconic and sensitive twentieth century parts of London.’

A spokesperson for the DCLG said: ‘Having considered the criteria and other relevant matters, ministers agree with the Independent Planning Inspector that planning permission should be granted for development of the Shell Centre at South Bank.

‘They agree that the proposals will deliver high quality design, provide accessible jobs and homes, and enhance the character of the South Bank area. The scheme is also supported by both the local council and Mayor.’

The scheme, which was initially expected to start in late 2013 is now scheduled to complete in 2019.

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