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Green light for Berkeley Homes' Potters Fields coach park scheme

A long-running planning saga moved closer to resolution this week when Southwark's planning committee unanimously resolved to grant planning permission for Berkeley Homes' One Tower Bridge development on the Potters Fields coach park site.

Green light for Berkeley Homes' Potters Fields coach park scheme
The cultural space will have its frontage facing the park
Green light for Berkeley Homes' Potters Fields coach park scheme
Social housing will be developed on the Tower Bridge Road frontage, alongside the bridge master's house
Green light for Berkeley Homes' Potters Fields coach park scheme
The empty former coach park site seen from the top floor of City Hall

The scheme brings together three parcels of land on the southern side of Tower Bridge currently owned by Southwark Council, Berkeley Homes and the City of London Corporation.

The planning application is the culmination of nearly three years of work since an agreement was signed between Berkeley Homes and Southwark Council in spring 2008, bringing to an end several years of tortuous argument about the future of the high-profile site.

The development will provide 356 homes for private sale, as well as new shops and a still-to-be-defined cultural centre which could be a concert hall, gallery or museum.

43 flats for social rent will be built on land owned by the City of London Corporation fronting Tower Bridge Road – but the Square Mile's local authority will have nomination rights for two-thirds of these units, leaving Southwark Council with nomination rights to just 14 homes.

Berkeley Homes will also pay just over 10 million towards the provision of further affordable housing away from the development site.

Southwark has also agreed to allow Berkeley Homes to treat the provision of the cultural space, estimated at 13.5 million, as a payment in lieu of the normal affordable housing requirement.

No objectors appeared in person to address the planning committee. Those who had submitted written objections include Greenwich Council who say that the development will damage the protected view of St Paul's Cathedral from Blackheath Point.

The low-key planning committee meeting on Tuesday night was a far cry from the controversy created five years ago by the previous scheme for the site which led to demonstrations and public burning of models of the proposed towers.

Architect Michael Squire told the planning committee that the site has "a slightly chequered history" and that the previous scheme, designed by Ian Ritchie, was "not much loved locally".

He explained that the aim of his competition-winning proposal for the site "was to try to keep something like the same amount of accommodation on the site but greatly reduce the mass".

He explained the features of the development, which include a new 10-metre-wide pedestrian street between Queen Elizabeth Street and the south-western corner of Tower Bridge. The Bubble Cafe at the foot of Tower Bridge will be removed as part of the creation of the new street.

The development includes a slender 20-storey tower, dubbed the 'campanile', which has been criticised by some objectors.

Mr Squire said that the tower would "signal the unusualness [sic] of this development – it's not just another housing estate".

He said that the building fronting the park had been designed to make reference to the Amano cafe building designed by Deborah Saunt.

Concluding his remarks to the committee, he said: "We think this is a fantastic development and the time has come for it to happen."

Cllr Nick Stanton, addressing the committee in his capacity as Riverside ward councillor and chair of the Potters Fields Park Management Trust, likened the previous Ian Ritchie design to eight upturned plastic cups.

"I have always taken the view that this is the last development site in central London by the River Thames and in Southwark terms what we should be seeking to do is to bookend the cultural offer that we've developed along the south bank," he said.

He explained that with Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe at the western end of Southwark's riverside, there should be "something of equal significance" on the Potters Fields site to form part of the "panoply" of cultural attractions along the southern bank of the Thames.

"The previous scheme had cultural spaces at the bottom of each of the eight towers but not in one significant space that was likely to attract a significant user.

"The other problem with the scheme in my view was that it took the architecture of the More London development – that very glass and steel office environment – all the way up to Tower Bridge, rather than bringing that warehouse-y, canyon, Shad Thames feel over towards More London."

Cllr Stanton went on to explain the process that had led to the design of the scheme now before the committee: "In my 13 years as a ward councillor I have not seen any application consulted on as extensively as this, or an application that has changed in response to the consultation as much," he said.

"It's a model for the way planning applications should be dealt with," he added.

The development also involves a land swap with Potters Fields Park which will see the park's boundaries adjusted.

"The park becomes slightly bigger," said Cllr Stanton. "We're straightening out a kinky boundary.

"The planning history is byzantine. At some stage someone will write a book about it and it will come in at over 800 pages.

"Quite why there is a zig-zag boundary no-one understands. We are satisfied that the park gets bigger and there is no loss of green space."

The committee unanimously endorsed the planning applications which are subject to referral to the Mayor of London.

Because the scheme involves development of designated metropolitan open land, communities secretary Eric Pickles must also give his approval.

"I am pleased that planning approval has been granted that will transform this wasteland that has blighted the most historic part of the borough for so many years," says Cllr Fiona Colley, Southwark's cabinet member for regeneration.

"This is good news not only for the north of the borough, but the ten million pounds that we have secured to bring forward other affordable housing schemes will potentially bring benefits to all communities in Southwark."

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