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Council set to refuse 'alien' rocket-shaped flats

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Planners have panned a rocket-shaped tower proposed for a site in Southwark by Russian practice Studio 44, saying it would be a ‘wilfully insensitive insertion on the skyline’

A report has delivered a damning verdict on the design of the proposed 30-storey Gagarin Place building by developer Don Riley, owner of the neighbouring listed Menier Chocolate Company building.

Riley faces an uphill battle to get councillors on the council’s planning committee to approve the mixed use scheme, which is backed by Russian investors and inspired by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight in 1961.

The committee report said: ‘The rocket reference is completely alien to the character and identity of Southwark, and indeed London as a whole.’

It went on to say that the design of the building is ‘crude and literal’ and fails to respond sensitively to its context.

Pulling no punches, the planning report said: ‘Furthermore, it appears that this overriding design concept has been pursued at the expense of any architectural quality, and as such it results in compromises such as uncomfortable circular apartment layouts, inappropriate use of materials and a wilfully insensitive insertion on the skyline.

The design concept has been pursued at the expense of any architectural quality

‘Although strong architectural concepts are encouraged, this requires sensitivity and skilled manipulation to result in the high architectural standards expected. This has not been employed here, where the inappropriate design concept has been allowed to dominate the proposals to a harmful degree.’

The scheme proposes the demolition of an existing building at 55 Southwark Street and its replacement with a tower containing offices, a theatre, a bar, a museum and nine large flats.

No provision for affordable housing was made in the application, despite planning policy requiring it on sites with the capacity provide more than 10 homes.

Planners said that the floorspace taken up by the flats could ‘reasonably accommodate 30 flats’.

According to the planning report, a pre-application submission was made in 2010/2011 for a scheme of a similar scale, height and design and officers gave clear advice that the form of development would not be acceptable.

‘Since that pre-application advice, the applicant has not engaged in any discussions with the local planning authority and this application has not addressed the concerns raised,’ it said.

A section on the official Gagarin Square website, published before the planning report was compiled, attacks the council and suggests that planning should be taken out of the hands of local authorities.
It reads: ‘In the hands of private developers and their far-reaching, on-the-ground knowledge banks, the future of Southwark development and regeneration could be one of openness and consideration for the local community, servicing their needs rather than ignoring their pleas.’

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