Waterloo tower block plans upheld by High Court

Artist impression of Elizabeth House Image copyright Press release
Image caption Elizabeth House will have two towers, including a north building, part of which will be 29 storeys

Plans for a 29-storey tower block near Waterloo station have been upheld by the High Court.

Westminster Council and English Heritage had objected to the plans for the Elizabeth House development near Waterloo railway station, warning it was "risking the nation's heritage".

Mr Justice Collins refused to rule that the government's decision not to call in the £600m project was "irrational".

The plan had previously been approved by Lambeth Council.

'Substantial harm'

English Heritage and Westminster Council had argued that a public inquiry should be held into the development, as they believed it would endanger the World Heritage Site, which includes Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster.

The court heard the groups believed it would cause "substantial harm" to world-famous views of the capital and affect the dominance of the palace's clock tower - which houses the famous Big Ben bell - as "an internationally-recognised symbol of London".

However, the judge said the present scheme was a modification to try to alleviate previous objections and the impact on the World Heritage Site listed by Unesco, the UN's cultural agency, was "not so apparent".

Image copyright Press Release
Image caption Elizabeth House had been approved by Lambeth Council

Mr Justice Collins said: "There is a view which could reasonably be taken that, despite Unesco's and the claimants' concerns, the impact is not such as would damage the Westminster World Heritage Site, other listed buildings and conservation areas."

The plan, proposed by the Elizabeth House Ltd Partnership, includes the building of two towers, including a north building, part of it 29 storeys high, and an 11-storey south building.

However, the proposed buildings, in the London Borough of Lambeth, will have an impact on the Waterloo and Roupell Street Conservation Area and the Grade I-listed Festival Hall.

In March 2013, Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said that the scheme did not merit a call-in and could be decided at local level because it did not raise issues of "a wider strategic nature".

'Endangered list'

Dismissing the claim, the judge said that letters written in connection with the refusal were "thoroughly poor".

He said it had been agreed that Westminster Council and English Heritage would pay £10,000 in legal costs, with each paying half of that amount.

English Heritage said it was disappointed by the judgement and stressed that if the reasoning of the decision by Mr Pickles had been clearer they would not have had to pursue a judicial review.

In a statement, it said the planning permission for the site had not yet been granted.

It added: "In light of the Unesco concerns about the proposals - and their indication that they will consider placing the Westminster World Heritage Site on the endangered list if this proposal goes ahead, which was given after the original planning decision - the judge himself has suggested that there could be further consideration of the proposal by Lambeth Council."

English Heritage said it would raise the issue with Lambeth Council.

A spokesman from the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "Only a very few planning applications are 'called in' each year, as this involves the planning decision being taken away from the local council.

"Today's judgment upholds the approach that the powers are used selectively and rarely."

Sir Edward Lister, London's deputy mayor for planning, said he "warmly welcomed" the decision to uphold the plans.

He added: "The area around Waterloo is in desperate need of regeneration and this scheme will radically transform one of the capital's busiest transport interchanges and deliver almost 2,000 new homes and 9,000 new jobs."

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