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Planning permission has been granted on appeal for three very tall residential led buildings in Tower Hamlets.

Russell Harris QC successfully acted on all three buildings.

The first two buildings formed part of a large new urban quarter for London behind the London Hospital in Whitechapel. The taller buildings were designed by Lee Polisano (also architect of the Heron Tower). The lower rise buildings were designed by David Adjaye Associates (Lucy Tilley). A new landscape park for the capital was designed by Tom Stuart Smith. All three gave evidence to the inquiry.

The Inspector in granting permission said:

“In my view, both Building E and Building I represent accomplished solutions, in the abstract, to the design of a tall building. Building E would be highly distinctive in its stepped form, with its pattern of slightly distorted horizontal layers softened by greenery, and its striking white curved masonry elements. Building I would have a lightness of impact derived from its elegantly framed façade treatment and the vertical and horizontal disposition of the different components of the tower. The issues arise from the relationship between the two buildings and their relationship with their context, both existing and proposed.

There is no dispute that Building E would be suitably located for the landmark function sought by the WVM, and I consider that the building would amply fulfil that role, due to its distinctive treatment and its height. I accept that the 1930s buildings in the area identified by the architects do provide some precedent, albeit at a much more modest scale, for the effectiveness of a form and façade treatment in deliberate contrast to the predominant earthy brick tones and rectilinear forms of the surroundings. As proposed, the building would provide a memorable image to mark the southern limit of the pedestrianised Green Spine, which contrary to the Council’s view I consider to be a point of some significance. While it is true that a lower building might fulfil a similar role, this does not in itself provide a strong argument against the proposed design, whose proportions benefit greatly from the height proposed.

Building I is described as a more contextual building, whose primary attribute would be to mediate the bulk of the RLH building. This role was said to have emerged as a result of design analysis. In the light of evidence that no studies were carried out to explore lower density solutions, it appears that the genesis of the tower might equally lie in the need to meet the brief for maximum housing density. But that does not negate the potential benefit of placing a more elegant building next to the south side of the RLH block. I acknowledge the Council’s case that mediation of the RLH is not a requirement of the WVM or any other policy document. However, all parties recognise the dominant bulk of the RLH building, whose bland rather amorphous slab-like mass looms in views from the south. The building’s civic status and ability to influence wayfinding do not adequately justify its visual dominance. The introduction of a further building with a slender vertical proportion would provide a beneficial foil to the hospital’s mass.

In my view, the foremost public benefit would be that the proposal would deliver the transformational change to the appeal site sought by adopted planning policy and supplementary guidance, and would play a key role in the delivery of the WVM and OAPF vison for Whitechapel. The replacement of existing mediocre buildings and poorly presented public realm by carefully considered new buildings that would re-create street edges and define open spaces would be a significant benefit. In particular the establishment of a significant length of the Green Spine would be likely to provide a public space of high quality that would start to achieve the desired objective of a memorable green route through the heart of the WVM area, animated by well located retail/food uses. Access to the spine route would be reinforced by the re- opening of Walden Street as an attractive pedestrian link, would help to stitch the site back into the network of surrounding streets.”

The proposal was opposed by Historic England and LBTH which was represented by Reuben Taylor QC and Hannah Gibbs.

The third building was the 48 storey high building by MAKE architects at Marsh Wall, Isle of Dogs. The building will “bookend” a new substantial public open space along with its sister building, the Madison which is 53 stories high.

The case involved a consideration of the form of the Canary Wharf cluster of tall buildings.

The inquiry used 360 virtual reality goggles on site visits. The inspector commented in open inquiry and in the decision letter on how useful a tool the goggles were to deal with issues of perspective proximity and parallax.

In his overall conclusion, the Inspector said:

“The building has been designed to an exemplary standard by one of the country’s leading architectural practices, making a significant new place and improving the quality of the Isle of Dogs cluster. In conjunction with the Madison there would be an attractive landscaped public square, in an area bereft of such spaces.”

The proposal was opposed by LBTH which was represented by Neil Cameron QC.

Links to the decision letters can be found here – Whitechapel Estate; Marsh Wall.

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