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Foster + Partners’ Tulip tourist tower approved

  • 7 Comments

The City of London’s planning committee has approved Foster + Partners’ controversial Tulip tower next to the Gherkin despite significant opposition from heritage campaigners

Following officers’ recommendations, councillors voted 18 votes to seven in favour of the 305m-tall tourist attraction at 20 Bury Street in London’s Square Mile earlier today (2 April).

The proposals had been heavily opposed by Historic England and Historic Royal Palaces. Both had objected to its impact on the views of the Tower of London, as well as the Greater London Authority which said it had ’significant concerns’ about its design.

In the days running up to the meeting, Historic England chief executive Duncan Wilson described the building as ‘a lift shaft with a bulge on top’, while Historic Royal Palaces chief executive John Barnes had previously said approval ‘would be a fundamental and irreversible mistake’.

But though the 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 submitted to the City’s planning and transport committee last month read: ‘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 concluded: ‘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.’

It was a stance repeated by chief planning officer Annie Hampson who spelt out that the proposal ‘would boost the City’s desire to widen its economy and deliver a 24/7 city’.

During the meeting Foster + Partners’ senior executive partner Grant Brooker read a note out from Norman Foster, who didn’t attend. Foster said: ’Like the Gherkin nearly 20 years ago, [this scheme] is inevitably controversial. Like the Gherkin it has the possibility of being a symbol beyond its host city.’

The tower is set to become the tallest building in the City, edging above Eric Parry’s proposed 1 Undershaft. It will 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’.

It understood most visitors to the attraction, which is backed by banker giants the J Safra Group and owner of the neighbouring 30 St Mary Axe tower, would be charged for entry.

Due to its height, the proposals will automatically be referred to London mayor Sadiq Khan. Khan had previously expressed concern that the tower could breach the London plan so it is unlikely he will simply rubberstamp the City’s decision.

Once the plans land on Khan’s desk - which could take weeks - he will have 14 days to decide whether to direct the City to overturn the decision or ‘call in’ the application which would lead to a full public hearing at City Hall.

The project could begin 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 planning officers’ pre-meeting report

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.

  • 7 Comments

Readers' comments (7)

  • It's neither a tulip nor a bulbous penis extension, but a unicorn's horn sans unicorn - such a fitting epitaph to these ends of days, bringing the logic of thirteenth century san gimignano to twenty-first century Britain

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  • 'Paragraph 8 of the NPPF sets out that there is a presumption in favour of sustainable development'

    THIS IS NOT SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT.

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  • What a shame we have to put up with such low-grade inappropriate designs and buildings. It would be more appropriate sited on Canary Wharf rather than out on a limb as it seems to be now. Or pop it in Abu Dhabi, where it would be more at home...

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  • Tragic...

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  • Another one for the London menagerie.

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  • Frances Maria

    Completely pointless and a waste of money. This is purely a vanity project and a statement of arrogance to those who propose and back it. I am in favour of innovation, but this oversteps the mark. If you want a panoramic view of London, visit the Shard or the London Eye instead. Then of course there is the impact upon nearby historic buildings, which these days seem to take second place to projects like this in big cities. It seems that the rules and guidelines allow for too much flexibility which can be manipulated and adjusted to achieve a desired outcome.

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  • The tulip bubble has to be stopped...

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