Plans to wipe `blot on skyline' delayed

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The Independent Online
THE HOME Secretary and the Defence Secretary could be responsible for delaying plans to remove a blot from the London skyline until after the next general election.

Jack Straw and George Robertson have intervened in the plans to knock down the "eye sore" triple towers of the former Department of Environment and Transport.

The concrete tower blocks, occupying a prime spot in Westminster near the House of Commons, have offered Cabinet ministers and their officials one of the best views of London since they were put up in the Wilson era.

But Londoners have felt less privileged with the view of the three towers, which are universally regarded as a monument to bad building.

Michael Heseltine, who once occupied the airy offices as Secretary of State for the Environment, finally decided they had to go when the exterior began deteriorating. There are plans to replace the ugly tower blocks with a more modest mixed development of offices and flats.

Tony Blair's Government inherited well-advanced plans to knock down the multi-storey office buildings and the demolition contract was due to be signed this summer.

But the two Cabinet ministers' departments said they might be able to use the empty offices as temporary accommodation while their own headquarters were refurbished.

The civil servants handling the plans have warned the ministers that the intervention by their departments could delay the whole project to knock down the former DoE building in Marsham Street until 2002, which could be after the next general election.

John Lock, Chief Executive of the Property Advisers to the Civil Estate, said: "Government's intention was to sign a contract for its demolition this summer, with the work expected to take some 18 months to complete.

"Temporary re-occupation will have the effect of deferring demolition until autumn 2002 at the earliest."

The delay has infuriated Tory MP Edward Leigh, who has been waging a single-handed campaign to get the buildings pulled down.

He said: "It's a disaster. The buildings are sad and deteriorating, the windows are unclean and the whole building is covered in scaffolding. It is a complete eyesore."

But Mr Leigh, a former junior trade and industry minister and MP for Gainsborough, blames the civil servants.

"It is typical of the civil service. They can't bare to give up property and they are keeping hold of it. All this is because of the change of Government. The new ministers came in and I suspect the civil servants took some time before showing them the papers. The civil servants are doing a soft shoe shuffle."