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Outrage over SOM skyscraper that ‘destroys’ view of St Paul’s


London mayor Sadiq Khan has been urged to halt the construction of a 42-storey tower designed by SOM which critics say has ‘destroyed’ a historic view of St Paul’s Cathedral that planning rules should have protected

Conservation charity the Friends of Richmond Park has written to the mayor to voice its outrage that the ‘cherished’ protected view from the park’s King Henry’s Mound to St Paul’s – a view that has existed for 300 years – has been severely damaged by the Manhattan Loft Gardens building in Stratford, currently being built.

Historic England has also strongly protested, telling the AJ that the tower does ‘serious and irrevocable harm’ to the view.

Under the capital’s overarching planning document the London Plan, the London View Management Framework (LVMF) states that any development in the background of this view ‘is subordinate to the cathedral and that the clear sky background profile of the upper part of the dome remains’.

It is a tragedy that such a wonderful and iconic protected view…should be destroyed

However, photographs released by the charity show the emerging skyscraper in Stratford clearly visible behind Sir Christopher Wren’s landmark. The Friends of Richmond Park say that this has substantially compromised the profile of the building and has ‘obliterated’ the clear sky background.

The charity’s chairman Ron Crompton said: ‘It is a tragedy that such a wonderful and iconic protected view, between two of London’s most historic landmarks and created over 300 years ago, should be destroyed not just for today but for many years to come.

‘We call on the GLA and the developer to temporarily halt construction while an investigation of what happened takes place and ways are found of mitigating this impact of the building on the protected view.’

A spokesman for the mayor of London said that they were investigating the situation but made no further comment.

The double-cantilevered Manhattan Loft Gardens scheme is described on its website as Europe’s most ambitious residential tower. It features landscape design by Martha Schwartz, three extensive ‘sky gardens’, a 145-bedroom hotel, almost 250 residential units plus retail and restaurant space.

The AJ understands that the planning application for the tower was referred to the GLA in 2010 by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), which was acting as the planning authority in the run up to the London Olympics.

In the wrong places, tall buildings can do serious, irrevocable harm

A spokesperson for the Friends of Richmond Park added that the charity had written to the mayor calling for an ‘urgent investigation’ into how GLA officers allowed the proposal to win planning in contravention of the LVMF and has also written to housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell to protest.

The UK’s statutory adviser on heritage, Historic England, said it was not consulted on the Manhattan Loft Gardens building and would have ‘objected strongly’ had it been. Amid an ongoing consultation by the mayor of London on a new London Plan, the organisation also reiterated calls for a ‘pan-London tall buildings strategy’ including a 3D digital model to allow proposals to be properly tested. This was also one of the five key demands of the AJ’s and Observer newspaper’s Skyline Campaign in 2014.

Emily Gee, London planning director at Historic England, said: ‘It appears that the wider impacts of this tall building were not considered by the ODA planning committee. This is contrary to Historic England’s tall buildings guidance.

‘In the wrong places, tall buildings can do serious, irrevocable harm to important views and the special character of London. We are very concerned that this has happened and see it as a failing of the current approach to the planning for tall buildings.

‘London is home to some of the most precious and cherished views on earth. They have developed from layers of history as the city has evolved. People have enjoyed these views for hundreds of years and they must be treated with care and respect.’

Gee added that a 3D model would mean that buildings that harm the historic environment could be removed at a touch of a button ‘unlike the Manhattan Lofts building which is now here to stay’.

We would recommend that the King Henry VIII’s Mound also be illustrated as seen from the naked eye

SOM declined to comment but a spokesperson for the Manhattan Loft Corporation said the developer went through a ‘transparent and public process’ to gain planning permission for the tower. The spokesperson added that maps of the LVMF protected view indicated that the background area to be protected beyond St Paul’s was 3km long whereas its tower is 7km beyond.

The spokesperson added: ‘Throughout the planning process we found the GLA and all the other planning bodies to be very supportive for such an aspirational residential project. As planning approval was achieved [on] 18 July 2011, we were never asked about the LVMF background view impact.

‘However SOM has a long history of working with the St Paul’s view corridors and the more recent London Plan LVMF document.

‘We would recommend that the King Henry VIII’s Mound also be illustrated as seen from the naked eye where the distance to St Paul’s Cathedral is 15.5km (and Manhattan Loft Gardens is an additional 7km beyond).’


Barbara Weiss

Barbara Weiss, architect and Skyline Campaign activist 

‘This is the latest incident to highlight just how inappropriate it is to build so tall in London; inevitably tall buildings are hugely impactful for a radius of miles and miles, destroying many unblemished and cherished views of historic monuments and neighbourhoods.  

‘London owes its unique character to much of its architectural heritage; future generations will not thank us for having allowed greedy developers to build the extra 20 floors that destroy our skyline. The Skyline Campaign once again urges the mayor, all boroughs and Historic England to make use of the now available 3D virtual map that could ensure that mistakes such as this one do not ever occur again.’


Peter Murray

Peter Murray, chair of New London Architecture

‘Someone was sleeping on the job when the new tower was permitted! It reinforces the need for the mayor to have a functioning 3D computer model of the whole of London to help him manage the location of tall building and to have a much more sophisticated view management strategy.’




Readers' comments (2)

  • In the report that was presented to the ODA Planning Committee when the scheme was approved, English Heritage was listed as a consultee who had not responded.

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  • The impact of the new tower in the before and after photos is drastic, but so is the impact of the telephoto camera in drastically shrinking the relative distances. So what's the view from Richmond Park really like?

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