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Potters Fields: council calls for cultural use

Southwark Council has approved a planning brief outlining its ambition to create a major cultural attraction on the Potters Fields coach park site next to Tower Bridge, in spite of Berkeley Homes' plan for eight high-rise residential towers.

The council is now inviting arts and cultural organisations to discuss how they could deliver such a facility.

The brief, agreed by Southwark's planning committee last week, explains how this 1.5 hectare plot could become the site of a building of outstanding architectural merit siting a major cultural facility such as an art gallery, museum, theatre or themed attraction. The councils says that such a development would complete the Thames-side strip of tourist attractions that includes Tate Modern, the London Eye, Shakespeare's Globe and Tower Bridge.

The brief also specifies that the grade II listed Lambeth College building on Tooley Street should be retained as a community facility, a designation that could see it developed in future years as a library, arts centre or for an educational use such as a school.

The council claims that there is a powerful precedent for its plan. In 1994 a planning inquiry granted permission for the Royal Opera House to develop a 2,300 seater auditorium, on what the inspector dubbed a "trophy site" suited to a "major public building".

"As the last remaining developable site along the central belt of the Thames, Potter's Field has huge potential" says Riverside ward councillor and council leader Nick Stanton. "It stands opposite the Tower of London World Heritage Site and any future development should befit such a stunning location. This planning brief will ensure that Potter's Field serves as the location for an outstanding building, benefiting local people, Londoners and overseas visitors. We would encourage local, national and international arts organisations to come forward and talk to us about how they might deliver this ambition."

Last year Southwark Council turned down a planning application from Berkeley Homes for a major development of eight cylindrical towers on the site. The developer is appealing against the decision and an inquiry will open in April at Bankside House near Tate Modern. Berkeley Homes' plans are vigorously opposed by many local residents.

The site is currently designated for housing in Southwark's Unitary Development Plan. However, this new planning brief, backed by policies in Southwark's draft UDP, will act as key material consideration in any future development and should underpin forthcoming architectural or development briefs. At the Royal Opera House inquiry, the planning inspector commented that housing should not be sought for the site irrespective of other planning considerations.

The planning brief covers a site made up of three areas: the Lambeth College campus, owned by Berkeley Homes, the coach park (two-thirds of which is owned by Southwark Council and one-third by Berkeley Homes) and the ramp and parking area for Tower Bridge owned by the Corporation of London.

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