Air crash fears threaten £260m Canary Wharf skyscraper plan

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The Independent Online

London City Airport is demanding that a new skyscraper that has been given planning permission be cut down to size because it is directly in the airport's flight path.

London City Airport is demanding that a new skyscraper that has been given planning permission be cut down to size because it is directly in the airport's flight path.

The proposed building, Columbus Tower, sited next to the Canary Wharf estate in Docklands, would be the second tallest building in the UK at just under 240 metres, or 63 stories. It would be only five metres shorter than the nearby existing tower at One Canada Square, the country's highest building.

The project's developer, SKMC, is a private company backed by the royal family of Abu Dhabi. Paul Webster, SKMC's legal adviser, rejected reports that suggested the developer had tried to buy London City Airport to get around the objections to the scheme.

Columbus Tower will provide a massive 1 million sq ft of accommodation, including office space, a hotel and serviced apartments. The scheme, which has the backing of the Mayor of London, has an estimated construction cost of £260m.

Despite the objections of London City Airport, Tower Hamlets council gave the proposed design planning permission last month. But the consent was conditional on agreement from the Civil Aviation Authority, which will take its lead from City Airport. The CAA has the authority to recommend a public inquiry to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Richard Gooding, the managing director of London City Airport, said his concerns were unrelated to terrorism fears. He said he was in favour of the development in principle, as the more people living and working in the Docklands area, the more potential customers for his airport, which is three miles east of the Canary Wharf estate. However, he said the new tower lay in the airport's flight path, for take-offs and landings, and the current design was just too tall to be safe.

He said that under normal flight operations, the tower posed no risk. However, his concern was about emergencies in which planes, particularly those taking off, may not be able to gain enough height to clear the skyscraper or have the time or power to steer around it. The main risk came from an engine failing directly after take-off.

"I must plan for the unusual, not the usual. In abnormal circumstances, it could pose a risk," Mr Gooding said.

But SKMC's Mr Webster said the existing three towers at Canary Wharf were even closer to the airport than the proposed new building. "We're as concerned as everybody else about the safety of tall buildings. We've used aviation specialists and the fact is that planes don't fly that low," he said.

SKMC bought the land on which the tower would be built, at West India Quay, 10 years ago. It currently houses a small office building.

Mr Gooding said the problem lay in the fact that Columbus Tower was situated a couple of hundred yards north of the existing cluster of skyscrapers at Canary Wharf, which meant it fell in the airport's flight path. He said the building must be "somewhat" shorter.

"Instead of making mega billions, the developers will just have to make a few billion from the scheme," Mr Gooding said.

Columbus Tower would feature a spectacular bar and restaurant at the top that will be open to the public. Mr Webster said: "It's a lovely, slender, elegant building. It's not just a square block, as some other developers have built. We're going to produce a beautiful landmark building."

Sultan Khalifa al-Nahyan, son of the ruler of Abu Dhabi, sits on the board of SKMC. The family already has extensive property interests in the UK, including the ownership of most of Berkeley Square in Mayfair.