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London South Bank plans threaten Unesco World Heritage Site status

Government ministers at loggerheads after public enquiry refused for 29-storey tower designed by David Chipperfield

The view of Victory Arch Square shows the gallery space running along York Road

Plans for a £600m redevelopment next to Waterloo train station by the south bank of the Thames in London have moved forward after the UK Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles decided not to order a public enquiry into the project. The 132,000 sq. m David Chipperfield-designed space is due to link the South Bank Centre—Europe’s largest cultural quarter—and Waterloo, which has 90 million passengers passing through it annually. Plans for the overhaul of the Elizabeth House site include offices and residential flats, as well as a double-height, glass-fronted gallery space that will host public exhibitions.

The redevelopment of Elizabeth House will tie in with the £100m regeneration of the nearby Southbank Centre, which includes the Hayward Gallery, the Royal Festival Hall and the Purcell Room. Mike McCart, the director of partnerships and policy at the Southbank Centre, says it would be willing to help organise contemporary art exhibitions in the proposed gallery space. “We are open to discussion about how this area might become an appropriate extension of our programme,” McCart says.

Chelsfield Partners, the co-owners of the scheme, aims to attract tenants from the creative sector. “The regeneration of the site will be a pivotal moment in a pivotal location for the arts world, for the local community and for Londoners,” the company says in a statement.

The decision not to hold a public enquiry has, however, sparked criticism, including from Pickles’s government colleague, the culture minister Ed Vaizey, as well as from English Heritage and Westminster council who say that the plans, which include a 29-storey tower, risk Westminster's World Heritage status. The planning application has yet to be approved, but will now be dealt with at a local level.

“This news is very disappointing because Unesco has threatened to put the Westminster World Heritage Site on their ‘in danger’ list if the setting is not protected from insensitive development,” says Robert Davis, the deputy leader of Westminster council, which is considering whether to appeal the decision. “It looks like the government has failed to do this and we will await news from Unesco. Loss of World Heritage Site status would signal that we are failing in our duty to protect our heritage.”

Davis says Westminster council is not opposed to the regeneration at Waterloo “provided that it is designed with sensitivity. But there is an obsession with building tall buildings, without proper regard to the impacts of such buildings on our heritage.”

A spokesman for Unesco says: “Experts will be assessing the potential impact of Elizabeth House on the World Heritage Site and the need to bring the matter before the World Heritage Committee.”

The view of Victory Arch Square shows the gallery space running along York Road
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16 Aug 13
19:18 CET


Another completely inappropriate scheme of glass and steel boxes, predicable in its blatant imitation of Dubai, and other soulless modern cities. When are planners and architects going to realise London is a City of Stone and brick. It will completely ruin the aspect of buildings nearby, and dwarf the frontage of Waterloo Station. I presume it will house the usual suspects, Starbucks et al, which is what's happened to the Festival Hall and the South Bank generally. I despair I really do.

26 Apr 13
19:11 CET


It's a sad time that we will lose a couple of creative spaces here. The Vic tunnels for one which had one of the most forward facing programmes. Also leak street a hotbed for young urban contemporary artists is too go which is very sad. Some of the biggest names in the scene have made it starting out here. South London urban contemporary artists will really lose out. And does London really need another white wall gallery? Well I suppose only time will tell.

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