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The Quill: 31-storey student residence approved by Southwark planning committee

Plans for a 31-storey tower of student accommodation at the corner of Weston Street and St Thomas Street have been given the green light by Southwark Council's planning committee.

The Quill: 31-storey student residence approved by Southwark planning committee
The Quill seen from St Thomas Street with Beckett House in the foreground

There was standing room only at Southwark Town Hall as opponents of the scheme made their views known.

Investream's plans for the Quill – the name and design is an allusion to Southwark's literary heritage – were first revealed in Summer 2009.

Since then the design of the tower has been altered and split into two elements of 21 and 31 storeys rather than a single tower.

The tower has been designed by Spparc Architecture for the Capital House site currently occupied by King's College London.

The tower will accommodate 470 students, with priority given to those studying at KCL whose Guy's campus is adjacent.

Planning officer Gordon Adams said that the Quill, which will be one-third of the height of the Shard, will be "an appropriate third element in the emerging cluster" of tall buildings formed with Renzo Piano's skyscraper and Guy's Tower.

Objectors to the scheme include English Heritage who say that the Quill will damage views from the Tower of London.

Under questioning from planning committee member Cllr Nick Stanton, the council's design and conservation officer Michael Tsoukaris told the committee that "we are satisfied that the scheme is of exceptional quality".

Cllr Stanton said that he was "very concerned" by the verdict of Government design watchdog CABE which had concluded that it was "unable to support the planning application".

There was laughter from the public gallery when the planning officer insisted that the CABE design review did endorse the Quill scheme.

The committee was addressed by an agent for Threadneedle Property Investments, owners of the adjacent UK Borders Agency offices at Beckett House, who complained about the prospect of a 31-storey elevation of student bedroom windows within 200 mm of his client's site boundary.

He said that this "unneighbourly" and "overbearing" proposal would jeopardise plans to redevelop the next-door site.

Natalie, a resident of Weston Street, told the committee that that the Quill is "overdesigned" and "overly complicated" and was an inappropriate development for a site next to the boundary of the Bermondsey Street conservation area.

The meeting was also addressed by Russell Gray on behalf of the Bermondsey Village Action Group.

Natasha Smyth from Investream explained that the Quill is Investream's third development of student accommodation – they have two sites in Islington – and that no complaints had been received from residents near their other residences.

Rory Joyce, Investream's planning agent, told the committee that his client did not consider that the Quill would prejudice the development of the Beckett House site, as Threadneedle would be required to provide green open space to replace Melior Street Garden and this could form a buffer between the two buildings.

He said that he had seen Threadneedle's early proposals for the Beckett House site.

"If the residents knew what they were proposing, they'd be very angry," he said.

Grange ward councillor Mark Gettleson addressed the committee to urge them to refuse planning permission for the scheme.

He emphasised the importance of the conservation area which borders the Quill site: "A student throwing a teabag out of the window couldn't fail to reach the conservation area," he said.

Cllr Gettleson also pointed out that such a large development of student accommodation would not help to achieve the targets for job creation in London Bridge set by the Mayor's London Plan.

He warned that the Quill would provide "luxury homes for international students" which would not be affordable for domestic students at King's.

The committee resolved by five votes to two in favour of granting planning permission for the development.

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