Shell Centre development approved by Eric Pickles faces legal challenge


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The Independent Online

The Government’s decision to allow the construction of eight new skyscrapers opposite London’s historic Palace of Westminster could be challenged in the courts.

Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, gave the green light to the £1.3 billion redevelopment of the Shell Centre on the South Bank of the Thames on Friday after a public inquiry.

But angry local residents have described it as a “Doha lookalike” arranged around a “shitty dark hole” and have launched a fundraising campaign to cover the legal fees for a judicial review.

George Turner, a member of the Riverside Communities coalition of local residents, told The Independent that Mr Pickles had made a decision without seeing all the evidence, as the developer had been allowed to withhold its report on the viability of affordable housing for commercial reasons.

“I don’t think the Secretary of State’s made a legally sound decision...I think we really need to challenge this in the courts because it sets quite a bad precedent for London. If the decision is allowed to stand we can basically say goodbye to a lot of affordable housing,” he said.

He added that most of the new public square due to be created in the middle of the buildings would get less than two hours of direct sunlight a day. “The South Bank has 18 million tourists visiting it a year, and we’re building this shitty dark hole in the middle of it. That’s just not good enough for what is one of the UK’s premier tourist destinations.”

Giving evidence to the public inquiry last year, Riverside Communities’ director Marina Thaine described the scheme as a “Doha lookalike facing the World Heritage Site of Westminster”. Campaigners now have six weeks to lodge a judicial review application.

The site is located in a prominent position between County Hall and the string of buildings including the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre and Hayward Gallery.

More than 230 skyscrapers are currently in the pipeline across the capital. Tuesday the Planning Committee of the London Assembly will question architects, officials and academics on why the number of proposed tall buildings is on the rise, whether they can actually meet London’s housing need and whether current planning policies are up to the task of regulating them.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Having considered the criteria and other relevant matters, ministers agree with the Independent Planning Inspector that planning permission should be granted for development of the Shell Centre at South Bank.

“They agree that the proposals will deliver high quality design, provide accessible jobs and homes, and enhance the character of the South Bank area. The scheme is also supported by both the local council and Mayor.”

A spokesperson for developers Braeburn Estates Ltd said: “This is a fantastic development, which will deliver substantial benefits to the local community and London as a whole.

"We have been happy to participate in a very rigorous review process which, following decisions from Lambeth Council and the Mayor of London that the development should proceed, has concluded with an independent judgement by the Secretary of State. We have received extensive support for our proposals and look forward to starting work.”