Government design watchdog CABE says there is "much to admire" in Squire and Partners' designs for the Potters Fields coach park site, but warns that it has a "fundamental concern" about the cultural component of the scheme.
The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment this week wrote to Southwark Council to set out its response to proposals by Berkeley Homes and the council to redevelop the Potters Fields coach park site with 356 homes for sale and 46 'affordable' homes in a separate block on Tower Bridge Road.
The 'One Tower Bridge' development also includes a cultural element which could be used as a performance space, museum or gallery but the final occupant has yet to be determined.
The letter from CABE says: "We do not believe that, in views across the river, the scheme will present a powerful enough presence that can hold its own in the string of major cultural buildings along the south bank.
"We feel that the 'campanile' is detrimental to the site layout and appearance in views and would suggest that it is omitted."
CABE recommends that the design be reworked once the occupant of the cultural space has been chosen in order to "reinforce its public identity" and "signal its presence from a distance".
The commission warns that the high volume of housing on the site and the arrangement of windows and balconies on the riverfront make the building look like a residential block rather than a cultural destination.
The letter continues: "As an example, the Barbican Centre, which is embedded within a residential development, is not easy to find and has struggled to attract visitors as a result.
"We strongly feel that the cultural use should be articulated with a presence of its own that transcends the residential use."
The letter concludes: "We are nervous that the cultural space might become, for example, commercial floor space, and hope that the cultural use will be safeguarded."
Planning applications for the development were submitted in July just before Southwark Council's cabinet confirmed that it would enter a joint venture with Berkeley Homes to redevelop the prime site alongside Tower Bridge.
More than four and a half years have passed since John Prescott ruled that the controversial scheme for 8 'Dalek-like' towers designed by Ian Ritchie could go ahead.
Eventually Berkeley Homes agreed to work together with Southwark Council, which owned much of the land, to come up with new proposals.
Dozens of objections to the latest plans have been received by Southwark Council, including one from the Potters Fields Park Management Trust who are concerned that the layout of the development will damage the green space as visitors to the cultural space will cross the lawns of the park rather than using the path network.
Riverside Parents' & Carers' Association also accuses the council of "squandering an opportunity to do something wonderful for Southwark and London" by ignoring the needs of children and families for freely accessible open-air recreation space in central London.
Transport for London, in its response to the planning applications, asks the developer to provide a toilet facility for drivers on the 343 bus route which terminates in Tooley Street and £195,000 for a Barclays Cycle Hire docking station with approximately 25 docking points.