The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

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.

These include:

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.

‘Economic benefits’

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.

Make Architects proposed development at 72 Upper Ground, nicknamed ‘the slab’ for its overbearing presence on the neighbouring National Theatre and IBM Building.

Image: Make Architects

Key points from the Secretary of State’s verdict:

The 72 Upper Ground development squeezes in nearly 1 million sqft of commercial space, with a building 225% larger than that currently on the site – the former ITV / London Weekend Television studios

Image: Make Architects