Duke's plan for offices looks down on Royals

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The Independent Online
REBECCA FOWLER

It is a neighbourly dispute being waged over the most regal garden fence in the country. On one side is the Duke of Westminster's estate, planning a limestone and glass edifice of offices and shops. On the other is Buckingham Palace, expressing concern that it will be intrusive and overlook the royal home.

The Grosvenor Estate, which manages the duke's property interests, is preparing to unveil plans for a development, including 20,000 sq ft of offices, and space for restaurants and shops.

However, the Royal Family was worried the design would encourage snooping, when they were shown plans for the six-storey building, which included large glass windows that overlooked the palace. A pair of standard binoculars would have afforded any curious onlooker a detailed view.

Dick de Broekert, the estate's development director, said it had taken measures to lessen any impact on the palace. The designers had set the top storey back to make it more discreet, and the original full-height windows had been reduced in size to limit the view. Further talks were expected to take place with representatives of Prince Charles and Buckingham Palace.

Mr de Broekert said: "The Duke of Westminster has personally taken an interest in this, and the last thing we would want to do is anything regarded as obtrusive or unfriendly to the palace. We wouldn't want to do that to any neighbour."

He added: "Buckingham Palace always has concerns in that location about security and privacy, and they will want to look at the designs carefully to see we haven't worsened the impact... We've addressed a number of their concerns, and I would hope at the end of the day they will be happy."

The new building would replace Hobart House in Grosvenor Place, which was formerly the headquarters of British Coal. It was designed by the American architects Obata and Kassabaum and, according to the estate, it would "echo" the Georgian and Regency terraces of Belgravia.

The plans, which will be submitted to Westminster City Council this week, were also criticised by the Royal Fine Art Commission, which reviews prominent architectural plans. Although it has no formal powers, it is an influential body, which says the design is inappropriate for the area.

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