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"Slab-like, monolithic and overbearing" - 17-storey tower at Borough rejected

Plans for a 17-storey tower of student accommodation at the junction of Great Dover Street and Long Lane have been unanimously rejected by Southwark's planning committee.

The existing building
The existing building

We first reported in March 2009 on Helical Bar's proposals for a 19-storey tower at 200 Great Dover Street.

The current building on the site, formerly known as Conoco House, now accommodates a range of tenants including the London School of Accountancy and the Anglican mission charity USPG.

The proposed development, designed by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, was revised at the end of last year to include a slightly shorter 17-storey tower and to retain the Carr-Gomm charity's headquarters at Duke House which had originally been intended for demolition.

The scheme included 237 student bed spaces as well as like-for-like replacement of the office space in the existing building.

The planning committee heard on Tuesday night that 80 individual objections to the proposed development had been received by the council.

Planning officer Yvonne Lewis outlined to the committee the 10 reasons for refusal of planning permission recommended to the councillors.

Patrick O'Keefe, chair of the Empire Square Residents' Association, told the committee that the proposal "shows an appalling disregard for residents' concerns".

He added: "I'm not sure that it is possible to create a design that is more ugly and out of character with the neighbourhood."

Mr O'Keefe also said that he and his neighbours had only found out about the developers' exhibitions of their proposals after the event: "We don't feel we've been consulted effectively at all."

Matthew Gibbs of planning consultants DP9, representing the applicant, said: "Naturally we are disappointed that we have not been able to reach agreement on this scheme."

He insisted that the scheme would provide improvements to the public realm around St George's church, shops at ground level and would meet a real need for new student accommodation in London and Southwark.

Mr Gibbs was challenged by Cllr Bob Skelly on the applicant's failure to carry out a full archaelogical investigation.

"You don't seem to take seriously that this was a prime Roman site," said Cllr Bob Skelly, recalling the 2000-year-old plaque found in 2002 during excavations connected with the nearby Empire Square development.

Chaucer ward councillor Tim McNally told committee members that he was addressing them on behalf of the Empire Square Residents' Association, the Trinity Newington Residents' Association and the Tabard Gardens North Tenants' & Residents' Association

Cllr McNally described the building as "ugly, slab-like, monolithic and overbearing". He argued that this was an inappropriate location for a tall building.

He pointed out that there are already around 1,000 students living in halls of residence on Great Dover Street belonging to the London School of Economics and King's College London. "The last thing we need is more students on that particular road," he said.

Cllr McNally said that he believed that a more modest development of perhaps 6 to 9 storeys would be likely to find support from the local community.

Summing up his objections, Cllr Gordon Nardell said that the development would represent "an intolerably overbearing intrusion" on the setting of St George the Martyr church and that the design is "a piece of architectural vandalism".

The committee unanimously rejected the application to applause from the public gallery.

It now remains to be seen whether Helical Bar will appeal against the committee's decision.

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