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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.


Readers' comments (2)

  • J C Muirhead

    The South Bank, as well as Bankside and Elephant & Castle all the way along to Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea truly are becoming the equivalent of the eastern bank of the Huangpu River to the Embankment's 'Bund'.

    Who would have thought the developers of London needed such an extreme and disparate inspiration for their latest physical incarnations and development. At the same time politicians insist on peddling the nineteenth century, low rise Garden City idea... disconnect anyone?

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  • The rise of the tower block continues unabated it seems - the protection of lines of site and the key buildings which until now characterised London, are in danger of being subsumed in a forest of glass and concrete.
    Add the South Bank to the list of proposed scars to the skyline

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