UN threatens to put Tower of London on danger list

Unesco is threatening to place the Tower of London on its list of endangered World Heritage Sites because of the number of skyscrapers being planned for the surrounding area.

The fortress, which William the Conqueror started building in 1078 to dominate London, would be the only building in the developed world on the endangered list.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has got until the end of the month to demonstrate to the UN agency's World Heritage Committee why the Tower of London should not be included on the list. It is expected to say that the correct planning procedures were followed for the proposed developments.

These include the 306-metre-high "Shard of Glass" tower planned for London Bridge, which will be Britain's tallest building. Although plans for a second tower, the 200-metre Minerva building, have been scaled down, two other proposed buildings, a 324-metre high Bishopsgate tower and a 209-metre building at 20 Fenchurch Street, have also raised alarm at Unesco.

The World Heritage Committee said last year that it noted "with great concern" the proposed developments which failed to respect the significance of the site and "deeply regretted" that the Government had not yet examined the impact of such developments on the Tower. It also suggested that the developments would have a wider impact, affecting other World Heritage Sites, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.

A joint team from the World Heritage Centre and the independent International Council on Monuments and Sites subsequently visited the site. The Government has been asked to respond to the criticisms by the end of this month, and give a timetable for "corrective action".

A culture department spokesman has admitted it would not be possible to "row back" on permission for the Shard of Glass. He stressed that permission for the development was granted after a public inquiry which considered the environmental impact, adding: "Our response to these criticisms will be that our planning controls are among the most sophisticated in the world. As a result we are pretty confident we will not be placed on the danger list."

Unesco will make a final decision in June.

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