English Heritage and Westminster City Council have issued a joint legal challenge to Hazel Blears's decision to grant planning permission for the Doon Street Tower on the South Bank.
In August communities secretary Hazel Blears overturned the advice of her planning inspector Philip Wilson who concluded after a public inquiry that Coin Street Community Builders' 43-storey tower with a leisure centre at its base should be rejected.
The development of 329 luxury homes would help to finance the costs of a public leisure centre at the base of the tower which would sit on the derelict car park site between Upper Ground and Doon Street.
At the public inquiry English Heritage and Westminster City Council argued that the tower would damage views from St James's Park and affect the setting of Somerset House.
"English Heritage believes that the advice of the planning inspector to the secretary of state for communities and local government, Hazel Blears, was clear," says Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage.
"This scheme would cause serious harm to London's historic environment. The secretary of state took the view that this harm was outweighed by the proposed community benefits.
"In reaching that view the secretary of state did not consider if the community benefits could be delivered in a less harmful scheme. The applicants have never sought to justify the need for the height of the tower on community benefit grounds alone.
"The secretary of state is of course entitled to disagree with her inspector's advice, but she must take into account all relevant factors, and it is highly relevant that the harm to London's historic environment could be avoided.
"We urge the secretary of state to respond positively to this challenge and to look again at the ways in which this scheme can be delivered which avoids harm to one of London's greatest assets – its heritage."
"The news that English Heritage and Westminster Council are challenging the secretary of state's decision to grant consent for our Doon Street development will not affect our decision to proceed with its detailed design," insists Iain Tuckett, group director of Coin Street Community Builders. Their challenge seems more related to their untenable position at the inquiry into two developments on Blackfriars Road than any hope of winning an appeal at Doon Street.
"The Secretary of State's decision letter clearly demonstrates that she took full account of both heritage impacts and benefits to the wider community. She decided that on Balance the proposals should be supported. That was also the view of Lambeth Council, the Greater London Authority and the locally-elected member of parliament. English Heritage is very liberal with spending taxpayers' money on legal fees: it should spend the resources we give it on restoring historic buildings rather than challenging elected authorities."
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