St Paul's 'needs a square for people'

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The Independent Online

One of Britain's most architecturally sensitive sites, Paternoster Square by St Paul's Cathedral, in London, should be a place for the people, the leading architect Sir William Whitfield said yesterday after his appointment to review controversial redevelopment plans.

A bitter battle has raged for a decade over what should happen to the area which was blighted by lacklustre office blocks in post-war rebuilding work and which is currently owned by the Japanese company Mitsubishi Estate.

The most recent plans have been severely criticised by some commentators, most notably the Royal Fine Art Commission, of which Sir William is a member, which advises on architecture. The commission has condemned the scheme as bombastic pseudo-classicism while others have suggested its grand scale may not meet City office requirements. Jonathan Glancey, the Independent's architecture correspondent, argued the area deserved better than to be "smothered in cumbersome and camp office blocks".

The appointment of Sir William, one of the Prince of Wales's favourite architects and much praised for his elegant neo-classical design for the Department of Health in Whitehall, looks set to head off those criticisms.

Yesterday, he spoke of the need to combine the demands of City institutions with making the square a fitting place for people visiting St Paul's. "The City desperately needs to get this really shameful bit of the City sorted out. It is quite extraordinary that it looks like it does next to one of our greatest national monuments. It should be a place rewarding to the City but also a place people fall in love with and where they come and gather." It was not, he said, impossible to combine business with making the square friendly.

He hoped to report back within around three months, but said it was too early to say whether he would be suggesting major alterations. "I have no intention of changing for the sake of changing," he said.

But Sir William did not know whether his recommendations would be final. "If I can achieve a consensus view ... I know Mitsubishi would very much like to go forward with it," he said. "The arguments are well-rehearsed. But the various pressure groups may ... refuse to see that there might be another way to look at it."