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City defers Walkie Talkie's Sky Garden decision

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The City of London has put back a decision on whether to approve modifications to Sky Garden at Rafael Viñoly-designed building at 20 Fenchurch Street to allow councillors time to visit the tower

The Corporation’s planning committee had been due to decide today (31 July) whether to allow alterations, drawn up by landscape architects Gillespies, in response to claims the layout of the public space at the top of the Walkie Talkie was inconsistent with designs approved in 2011.

Although the decision was deferred, the City of London hasn’t ruled out taking legal action against the Walkie Talkie’s owners - developers Canary Wharf and Land Securities - to ensure the built Sky Garden matched the original plans.

A spokesperson for the City of London said: ‘The committee made the decision to adjourn the report into 20 Fenchurch Street pending a site visit, which will take place in September. 

‘This is so they can better understand the difference of opinions and what solution would be in the public interest.’

The committee would have the option to look into legal action

In a statement the City of London added: ‘The planning committee has the option whether to agree the changes to the layout and new measures, or whether to reject them.  If they were rejected, the committee would have the option to look into the possibility of legal action to ensure the Sky Garden was changed back to the exact planning specifications.

‘However, this is something that is too far away to speculate on. Whether or not this would be in the public interest, as changes could require closure to the public for months, would also need to be considered.’

The statement continued: ‘Free public access to high spaces in private buildings in the City is still a new idea. Ensuring that we get it right for the public and the building owner has taken time and detailed consideration.’

The planning report which was drawn up by the City’s chief planning officer Annie Hampson lists a number of inconsistencies with the original illustrations, including a missing terrace, staircase and servery, as well as a terrace and servery being built larger than on the original plan.

A document before the committee read: ‘The owner is of the view that since the requirement is to provide access to the Sky Garden ‘as illustrated’ on the Sky Garden drawing, the changes were permissible because the drawing is illustrative, as long as the minimum areas of publicly accessible space are retained.

‘[However] the City is of the view that these changes are not consistent with the requirement to ‘provide and retain the Sky Garden as illustrated on the Sky Garden drawings’ as they were to illustrate the areas to which non-diners could access.’

Gillespies’ proposed changes will add additional planters, seating and a servery to floor 36 - the middle of the three floors taken up by the garden.

These alterations, the report continues, would not fully reflect the initial illustrations, with officers conceding replicating the consented plans would result in closing the garden ‘for a significant period of time and at considerable cost’.

Last year, the building was fitted with a sun shade after complaints that the reflection of the sun was melting cars parked nearby. In recent weeks concern has also been raised about high winds around the base of the tower.

How the built Sky Garden differs to the plans - report extract (page 186)

• The servery at Level 35 is larger than was shown on the plan
• At level 36 terraces were to be provided at either side of the restaurant area to provide equivalent views for non-diners as diners. That to the west has not been provided and that to the east provides more limited access
• At Level 36 a servery was to be provided
• Between Levels 36 and 37 a staircase was to be provided on both the west and the east sides to provide a circular route. The staircase on the west side was provided although differently configured and the staircase to the east was not provided meaning that the space has to be entered and left via the same staircase
• The Level 37 terrace is larger than previously shown.

Sky Garden at top of Walkie Talkie tower as planned (RVA)

Sky Garden at top of Walkie Talkie tower as planned (Rafael Viñoly Architects)

 

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