LONDON-Today see the opening skirmishes in a six-week planning battle over Heron’s plan to build a 43-storey tower on Bishopsgate, on the eastern edge of the City of London. If approved, the building will be the tallest in the City, although still shorter than the three towers of Canary Wharf.

The plan has been approved by the Corporation of London. It has won the backing of the mayor of London. But the cumbersome and costly public inquiry process has been invoked because an objection has been raised by English Heritage, the government’s conservation watchdog.

For the past 30 years the City of London has seen no high-rise development because of the concept of ‘strategic views.’ No tall buildings are permitted in a series of strictly-designed corridors between prominent viewpoints like Waterloo Bridge and Parliament Hill Fields and major landmarks like St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London. No building can be permitted to impede the view or to interfere with the backdrop.

Heron’s Bishopsgate tower does not lie in any of these corridors. Yet English Heritage is objecting on the basis that it would damage the vista from Waterloo Bridge to St Paul’s by appearing in the gap between Tower 42 and the dome of the cathedral.

The City is amassing high-powered support for the proposal. It has already seen banks like Barclays, HSBC and Citibank depart to Canary Wharf, and it is determined that it should be able to provide the type of building needed by major international financial institutions.

Speaking at a British Council of Offices conference earlier this month Judith Mayhew, Chairman of the Corporation of London’s Policy and Resources committee said: ‘The size of buildings is rising. Only five years ago the largest users required 500,000 sf. Today it is one million. This requirement not only includes the banks but now also the larger firms of lawyers. In the Corporation we believe they should be part of a range of building types.’

Mayhew said with some high-rise development, the City could accommodate another 35 million sf of offices, although it is aware of potential demand for nearer 40 million sf. But she said excessive and bureaucratic layers in the planning process–like English Heritage’s objection to the Heron Tower–could delay or prevent the delivery of this space. ‘They encourage delay and uncertainty in the planning process,’ she said. ‘They have got to be overcome.’

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