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Shell Centre redevelopment public inquiry gets under way

A public inquiry into plans to redevelop the Shell Centre on the South Bank has begun.

Shell Centre redevelopment public inquiry gets under way
The proposed redevelopment of the Shell Centre aka Southbank Place

The inquiry, which is expected to sit for a total of 12 days between now and mid-December, is being held at Hercules House near Lambeth North Station.

Planning inspector John Braithwaite has been appointed to report to communities secretary Eric Pickles on the proposed redevelopment of the Shell Centre.

Plans by developers Braeburn Estates to demolish most of the oil company's office complex apart from the main tower and build new offices, shops and nearly 900 homes on the site were approved by Lambeth councillors in May.

In September the case was 'called in' by the Department for Communities and Local Government due to concerns about the impact of the redevelopment on the setting of the Westminster world heritage site.

The inquiry heard opening submissions on Thursday.

Timothy Corner QC, representing Braeburn Estates, told the inquiry that the scheme is "of strategic importance to the UK and London economy and to the supply of housing – and affordable housing – in London and Lambeth".

Mr Corner said that the development would be of the "highest architectural quality" and would reverse three decades of decline in the number of office jobs in Waterloo.

He acknowledged that, under the proposals, some neighbouring homes would see their daylight and sunlight levels drop below those in the Building Research Establishment guidelines, but argued that the guidelines are not binding.

Douglas Edwards QC, for Lambeth Council and the Greater London Authority, said that there were "sound and compelling" grounds to allow the scheme to go ahead on "one of the borough's most important sites for redevelopment".

Mr Edwards acknowledged that the development would "plainly and inevitably" affect London heritage assets but argued that the impact would be "acceptable".

Robert Ayton of Westminster City Council argued that his authority objected to the scheme because of its impact on views from St James's Park, Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square and the view from the riverside towards the South Bank.

"It would be hard to find a more sensitive historic environment," he said.

Mr Ayton also contended that there was no evidence that the same benefits claimed for the Braeburn Estates scheme could not also be achieved by "alternative less harmful proposals".

George Turner, representing Riverside Communities Ltd, a company set up by residents of County Hall and the White House, said that the proposed development would have a "severe impact" on the physical and mental health of those living in adjacent apartment blocks.

Mr Turner said that the proposals would create "a new development of exceptionally poor quality which will make an unpleasant place to live and create health inequalities for its residents".

He was also strongly critical of the handling of the planning application by officers of Lambeth Council, claiming that the decision to approve the scheme amounted to a "gross miscarriage of justice".

The inquiry will continue this week and in the week starting 9 December, opening at 9.30am each day.

Third parties – including representatives of Southbank Centre and the South Bank Employers' Group – will address the inquiry in the final week.

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