Barbican residents square up for planning battle

A record number of objections have been lodged against a planned new office development on London Wall in the City of London. The proposed scheme, by developer Hammerson, comes up for decision on Monday 27 June, but a report in architectural weekly Building Design suggests it might have a rough ride at the planning committee meeting.

So, which way will the decision go?

Hammerson will be hoping it’s second time lucky. The last proposal for this site was to build a one million sq ft headquarters block for JP Morgan. They went through all the grief of engaging with the Barbican residents, a very vociferous bunch, and trying to accommodate their needs, only to have the financial crisis rob them of their potential tenant. In the fallout from the crisis, JP Morgan ended up buying an empty office block in Canary Wharf, and will be moving there before too long.

The JP Morgan building was criticised for being too big and bulky. The current proposal is much less so. But still, the residents of the Barbican would rather it was smaller still. Hammerson, as a commercial developer, have tried hard with architects Make to design something that doesn’t look all big and bulky, but still delivers a useful amount of new office space.

The problem is, if the residents get their way, Hammerson may well give up, and leave the current derelict 1960s tower block in place. And the City Corporation will stiffen further its resistance to Government plans that would allow offices to be converted to residential use without permission. The corporation tries to maintain the City as a global financial centre that is attractive for businesses, and has always jealously guarded the fact that it can plan new buildings without much squabbling from residents – because there simply aren’t many in the square mile.

In the last few weeks, logic prevailed when culture secretary Jeremy Hunt decided not to bow to pressure from English Heritage to list buildings at Broadgate. Let us hope it will again do so with these plans to bring London Wall into the 21st century.

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