A controversial £700 million office development of up to 25 storeys near the National Theatre on the South Bank has been given the go-ahead by communities secretary Michael Gove almost 18 months after it was “called in” for a public inquiry and ministerial decision.
The scheme, replacing former ITV studios dating from 1970, had been backed by Lambeth Council and City Hall, but attracted significant opposition from local people – one campaigner describing it as a “great crouching toad on the riverbank” – as well as conservation groups, including SAVE Britain’s heritage and the Twentieth Century Society.
But Gove, after delaying his decision several times, finally gave his backing to the verdict of planning inspector Christa Masters that the development, known as 72 Upper Ground, would “meet a very high quality of design and would deliver a well-designed, sustainable and distinctive building”, responding “positively” to its prominent South Bank location
The decision was welcomed by developers Mitsubishi Estate and CO-RE. “Through all stages of the planning process there has been strong recognition of the fantastic addition that 72 Upper Ground will make to the South Bank and to London…befitting of one of London’s most famous destinations,” they said in a joint statement.
“We understand and respect the responsibilities that come with building a major new development in this prominent part of central London. We are looking forward to working with our cultural neighbours and the wider community to deliver an outstanding building that makes a significant positive contribution to its place.”
The scheme would create more than 4,000 jobs, as well as providing affordable workspace and cultural venues “tailored to the needs of Lambeth’s emerging creative industries” alongside high-end offices and new public spaces with river-facing cafes and restaurants, they added.
Those public benefits, Gove concluded, outweighed the scheme’s “less than substantial” harm to the significance of neighbouring and nearby heritage sites, including the Grade II listed National Theatre and Somerset House on the other side of the Thames and his own view that it would “not provide a positive contribution to the townscape of the South Bank”.
His decision seems unlikely to end the controversy over the scheme. It “gives the go-ahead to a universally-derided development, causing irreversible damage to the unique setting, heritage and dynamism of London’s Southbank. More to follow,” the Twentieth Century Society said in an immediate response.
The full ministerial decision and inspector’s report can be read here.