Public Inquiry verdict: Gove approves highly damaging South Bank scheme
C20 Society is extremely disappointed by the outcome of the South Bank public inquiry, the verdict of which was announced this week. The Secretary of State, Michael Gove MP, has approved the controversial 72 Upper Ground development, on the site of the former London Television Centre / ITV Studios.
The Society strongly objected to the proposals and successfully lobbied the previous Secretary of State (Greg Clarke MP) to call-in the application for a planning inquiry, which was granted in September 2022. Backed by the hard work of our Senior Caseworker Coco Whittaker, the Society was represented at the inquiry (held in December 2022 – January 2023) by Patrick Dillon – architect, long-term members of our casework committee, and noted authority on the National Theatre. We provided evidence as expert witnesses, on the significant damage that would be caused by the development to the ‘string of pearls’ of nationally and locally significant heritage assets on the South Bank.
The National Theatre – Denys Lasdun (1969-76 – Grade II)
IBM Building – Denys Lasdun (1979-84 – Grade II*)
Waterloo Bridge – Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1939-45 – Grade II*)
Royal Festival Hall – LCC Architect’s Department (1949-51 – Grade I)
In addition, the development site is within the designated South Bank Conservation Area (CA38)
The decision – delayed on 3 previous occasions – gives the go-ahead to a universally derided development, that will cause irreversible damage to the unique setting, heritage and dynamism of London’s Southbank. It will overshadow the most important collection of modernist buildings in the country, and sets a dangerous precedent for overdevelopment in sensitive sites. Once again, the Thames has been sold down the river.
The fact the Secretary of State delayed the decision on three occasions (finally arriving more than 12 months after the inquiry was held), and has stated that his views are closer to ours and other objectors than that of the Inspector in several key areas, shows just how finely balanced this case is. However, he concludes that all of these factors are ultimately outweighed by the ‘economic benefits’ of the scheme.
The point has been made elsewhere, that the construction of this one speculative office building will produce more carbon than powering and heating all of Lambeth’s 70 schools and public buildings for 6 years. In fact, the very word ‘carbon’ is completely absent from the DLUHC Final Decision letter.
These economic benefits could arguably have been achieved without any of these harms, either with a more considered and appropriate design, or with the previously consented scheme for the site by Hopkins Architects (2018), which C20 Society did not object to.
Despite the disappointing outcome of the inquiry, we believe vociferously stating our arguments in this forum remains of paramount importance, and it’s the right thing for C20 Society to continue making the case for our modern heritage in such high profile planning inquiries.
Key points from the Secretary of State’s verdict:
“The Secretary of State notes the Inspector’s assessment of scale and mass at IR14.93- IR14.97, including that the scale and massing are larger than the existing buildings on the site as well as the previous permission for the site (IR14.93). With particular respect to the scale and massing of the north building, he has reservations about the Inspector’s conclusion at IR14.93 that the scale of the building and the proposed massing provides an appropriate response to the site.” (page 4, paragraph 20)
“The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that notwithstanding that the proposal would preserve the civic, cultural and overall significance of the Grade II* Listed Royal National Theatre (RNT) and the Grade II Listed IBM buildings (IR14.25), there would be a harmful impact on the setting and thereby the significance of the RNT and IBM buildings as a result of the proposal, and that this harm would be both individually to the designated heritage assets as well as collectively as a coherent group (IR14.23).
“The Secretary of State has noted the Inspector’s conclusions at IR14.55-14.58 in respect of the Roupell Street CA, as well as her comments on Historic England (HE)’s views at IR14.65-14.66. The Secretary of State agrees in this respect with HE, the Council and the Rule 6 parties that there would be harm to the character and appearance of the CA (IR8.138, IR9.80-9.81). He considers there would be a low level of harm to the CA, within the overall less than substantial spectrum of harm.
“The Secretary of State notes the Inspector’s assessment of townscape at IR14.98- IR14.112. Taking into account his concerns at paragraph 20 above on the appropriateness of the scale and massing of the north building, he has very carefully considered the Inspector’s conclusion at IR14.103 that in views from the Embankment, the proposal would present an appropriate design response to this site, and that in views from Blackfriars Bridge (River Prospect View 14), the scale, form and massing of both buildings would not dominate the relationship to the river (IR14.110). He considers that in both these views, the proposal would have some negative impact rather than be neutral, as the Inspector concludes (IR14.110). Overall, the Secretary of State disagrees with the Inspector’s conclusion that the proposal would provide a positive contribution to the townscape of the South Bank (IR14.112), particularly given the significance of this location and the prominence of the development’s setting on the river” (page 4, paragraph 21)
“The Secretary of State notes the Inspector’s assessment of architectural quality and materials at IR14.113-14.116. Unlike the Inspector at IR14.116, he does not consider that the proposed palette of materials and the aesthetic appearance of the building is appropriate for what is a very prominent and sensitive site. He disagrees with the Inspector that an attractive development would be delivered” (page 4, paragraph 22)
”Weighing against the proposal is the less than substantial harm to the significance of the designated heritage assets of the RNT, the IBM building, Somerset House, the South Bank CA and the Roupell Street CA, which carries great weight. The Secretary of State has also found that the proposal would not provide a positive contribution to the townscape of the South Bank, which carries moderate weight” (page 7, paragraph 36)
“The Secretary of State has considered the heritage balance set out at paragraph 208 of the Framework (formerly paragraph 202). He has noted public benefits deriving from the public realm strategy, as well as the other public benefits identified in paragraph 35 above. However, he has also identified less than substantial harm to the significance of the RNT, the IBM building and Somerset House, and to the South Bank CA and Roupell Street CA. Having carefully weighed up the relevant factors, he has concluded that the public benefits of the proposal do outweigh the harm to designated heritage assets. Therefore, in his judgement, the balancing exercise under paragraph 208 of the Framework (formerly paragraph 202) is favourable to the proposal.”