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County Hall owners in war memorial row

A new row has broken out over the refusal of the owners of County Hall on the South Bank to allow old soldiers to lay wreaths at the war memorial inside the building, as the former GLC branch of the British Legion gathers at Southwark Cathedral.

Shirayama Shokusan, the property developers, have not replied to requests for access from the Royal British Legion.

It is the second time that the company has decided to ignore pleas by the British Legion for access to the memorial, which includes plaques to fallen heroes from the First and Second World Wars and lists the 1,036 London County Council staff who died in both conflicts.

In 1995 the firm refused to allow veterans inside the building for the VJ Day commemorations. The dispute was eventually settled by the intervention of the Japanese ambassador, who persuaded the company to allow the ceremony to go ahead.

Maurice Hudson, the chairman of the British Legion branch that includes County Hall, said that the Mayor of London's advisers had attempted to resolve the dispute.

Steven Watts, the Mayor of London's head of governance, is advising the British Legion on how to gain access. Lambeth Council have said Shirayama is obliged to allow members of the public onto its property for "cultural and religious reasons".

"After our last spat seven years ago, the Japanese promised to allow us onto the property so we could perform a short ceremony inside the hall," said Mr Hudson. "But when I asked if we could go in late last year, they refused. Now they are ignoring my requests," he said.

Since Shirayama's controversial purchase of the former home of the GLC in 1990, the site has been redeveloped to include the London Aquarium, Dali Universe, two hotels and the London Eye ticket office. The Saatchi Gallery is also moving into the main building. Other parts of the complex were rebuilt as luxury apartments.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, representatives of Shirayama refused to comment, although officials said that construction work continues inside the building and so it would be unsafe for old soldiers to enter.

The row comes on the day that the Legion branch founded in 1930 at the old LCC, later GLC, headquarters at County Hall lays up its standards at Southwark Cathedral as it takes on a new name at the invitation of the Mayor of London.

Baroness Hamwee, Chair of the London Assembly, representing the Mayor, presented them with a new Standard with the title: Royal British Legion – Greater London Authority City Hall Branch.

The Ambulance Service and the Fire Brigade will also take part. Valerie Shawcross, GLA member for Southwark and Lambeth and Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, laid a wreath at the memorial to the members of the Fire Brigade who died in the Second World War.

The Standards given into the custody of Southwark Cathedral will form the basis of a memorial to many men and women of those councils who served London for over a century. There is no other memorial to those who served as elected members or staff since the inception of the county councils in 1889.

More than thirty Standards, including those of the Fire Brigade and Ambulance Service and several regimental associations, formed a Guard of Honour at the main door of the Cathedral, where they were inspected by Ian Cannell MBE, National Chairman of the Legion; the Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London, Lt Col Michael Lowe; the Mayor of Southwark, Cllr Hilary Wines and Baroness Hamwee, Chair of the London Assembly.

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