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Row over 'wine terrace" on roof of Southwark Council’s Tooley Street HQ

Councillors have turned down a proposal to allow the use of an "exclusive" roof terrace on Southwark Council's office building in Tooley Street.

Row over 'wine terrace
The controversial terrace pictured in 2008 before council staff moved into the building. The railings don't comply with building regulations so the space can't be used.

The fifth floor roof terrace at 160 Tooley Street was part of the award-winning design of the building by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris architects but the space has been out of bounds since the council moved into the building because the balustrade does not comply with building regulations.

The council had proposed replacing the existing galvanized steel balustrading with stainless steel and glass as well as the installation of new lighting.

However, when the planning application came before Bermondsey Community Council, meeting in the building on Wednesday evening, there was consternation expressed at the cost of the works.

In reply to a question from Cllr Nick Stanton it was revealed that the expenditure required to bring the terrace up to standard would be 120,000.

"Local residents will pay 120,000 for an exclusive executive wine terrace which they won't be able to use," exclaimed Cllr Mark Gettleson who also wondered about noise from "corporate jamborees".

The council argues that opening up the roof terrace will enable it to save money it would otherwise spend on hiring other venues for special events.

The terrace, with its views of the Tower of London, could also generate income for the council if it were hired out by other organisations.

Two written objections were received from residents concerned about noise, light pollution and impacts on privacy.

"It sends the wrong message," claimed Liberal Democrat opposition leader Anood Al-Samerai who appeared in her capacity as Riverside ward councillor to address the hearing. When asked what else the money could be spent on she highlighted older people's day centres and the community council's greener cleaner safer programme which have been facing cuts.

The roof terrace refurbishment plan was unanimously rejected by the five councillors present, all Liberal Democrats, on grounds of loss of amenity and overlooking neighbouring residents of Lion Court and Devon Mansions.

The meeting was chaired by Cllr Graham Neale who said: "I am pleased that the planning committee may save locals over 100,000. This is not the time to be spending money on such vanity projects. The thought of spending money on an Evita-style balcony appalls me."

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Anood Al-Samerai said: "I am delighted that Liberal Democrat councillors in Bermondsey stood up for the residents of our borough and refused this outrageous Labour plan.

"This shows why it is so important that elected local councillors make planning decisions at local community councils rather than the centralised decision making which Labour wants. Liberal Democrats will continue to campaign against Labour waste and hypocrisy."

The Labour administration has tasked the borough's cross-party Democracy Commission with considering reforms to the borough's eight community councils. One proposal under consideration would see the power to determine small-scale planning applications taken away from the devolved local committees with all decisions being taken by a pool of councillors drawn from across the borough.

This month the Tooley Street building has become the official civic home of Southwark Council with the closure of the town hall in Peckham Road. Nearly all council committee meetings are now held in the new office building.

Planning permission was recently granted for three new cantilevered flag poles which will overhang the front of the building and highlight its status as the borough's civic centre. These flagpoles will be used to fly the flags previously used at the town hall. The St George's flag, the European flag and a flag bearing the Southwark crest are usually flown, with the Union flag also displayed on special occasions.

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