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17-storey Borough tower would cause "real and serious" harm says inspector

Plans for a 17-storey tower of student accommodation close to St George the Martyr church in Borough have been rejected by a planning inspector.

17-storey Borough tower would cause
Planning inspector John Papworth found that the development would cause "substantial harm" to the setting of St George the Martyr church

Southwark Council's planning committee refused planning permission for Helical Bar's redevelopment of the 200 Great Dover Street site in February 2010.

Helical Bar appealed the decision and a public inquiry was held last month at Southwark Town Hall.

The developer argued that the "high quality modern development" of student accommodation and offices designed by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands would "enhance the setting of the church".

On Friday planning inspector John Papworth dismissed the appeal and upheld the unanimous decision of Southwark's planning committee to withhold planning permission.

Mr Papworth concluded that "the harm to the setting of the listed Grade II star church and the character and appearance of the immediate area caused by the taller block is real and serious and such a building here is not supported by policies designed to inform decisions on the location of tall buildings".

The inspector accepted the council's argument that the townscape value of St George the Martyr church derived from the whole building and not just from the tower as Helical Bar contended.

"Whether or not the church was designed to be seen as it presently is, the setting does now extend right around the building and the nave and its roof are important parts of its significance," wrote Mr Papworth. "The higher part of the appeal building would cause substantial harm to the setting of the highly graded listed church."

The inspector also rejected Helical Bar's argument that the 200 Great Dover Street site is a "point of landmark significance" where planning policy would encourage tall buildings.

"In the appeal case the point of landmark significance is clearly occupied by the church, but does not extend greatly away from a line of view along Borough High Street," wrote Mr Papworth. "It does not appear to be essential to 'landmark' the appeal area further than it already is, by way of the church, as an aid to navigation..."

Writing about Empire Square, which predates current council policy on tall buildings, the inspector warned that "a proliferation of such isolated tall buildings could harm the legibility of the city".

Mr Papworth's decision has been warmly welcomed by Chaucer ward councillors. Liberal Democrat Tim McNally described it as "an excellent victory for local people".

He said: "The inspector's decision to dismiss the appeal is a victory for the hundreds of residents who worked with councillors of both parties and Southwark's officers to fight against an unwanted and ugly development that would have negatively impacted on our local community and our beautiful St George the Martyr church.

"I would particularly like to thank Patrick O'Keefe of the Empire Square Residents' Association who attended through both weeks of the appeal, Helen Holden of Trinity Newington Residents' Association and my ward colleagues Poddy Clark and Claire Hickson who supported me in leading the opposition to this.

"I would also like to thank Southwark's excellent planning and design team who fought this against much larger and better resourced appellants, and the planning inspector Mr Papworth for the balanced and fair way he conducted the hearings."

Labour's Cllr Claire Hickson added: "This is very welcome news and is down to the hard work of local residents who opposed the original proposal and fought against the appeal.

"As I said at the inquiry, the proposed building would have had a detrimental effect on the surrounding area – particularly on St George the Martyr church – so it is a relief that it won't be going ahead."

The inspector's conclusions about the value of the setting of St George the Martyr will be watched closely by the developers of the Brandon House site opposite the church.

Read the inspector's decision in full [PDF]

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