Report of the Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director.
The Committee considered a report of the Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director regarding an application for Millennium Bridge House, 2 Lambeth Hill, London EC4V 4AG, specifically, refurbishment and extension of the existing building involving the partial demolition and partial infilling of the existing structure and the introduction of a new façade to all elevations and extension to the building at all floors, introduction of roof terraces at fifth and sixth floors, including a public viewing terrace and associated lobbies at second and sixth floors, alongside a part change of use at ground floor from Office to Retail/Café/Restaurant (Class A1/A3); a part change of use at first from Office to either Office or Retail/Restaurant (Class A1/A3/B1); second floor from Office to either Office or Retail/Restaurant (Class A1/A3/B1) and a change of use from Office to Retail/Café /Restaurant (Class A1/A3); a part change of use at sixth floor from Office (Class B1) to either Office or Restaurant/Bar (Class B1/A3/A4) and a change of use from office to restaurant/bar (Class A3/A4) use together with public realm works to Peter’s Hill (including the removal and relocation of the southern HSBC gates), Lambeth Hill, Trig Lane and Paul’s Walk (part of the Thames Path) and associated works, this part of the proposal includes the rescission of part of the City Walkway.
The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director presented the application to Members and began by stating that this application was for a difficult site in a key location in the City, situated at the head of Millennium Bridge – a hugely popular entrance to the City – and also part of a cultural gateway linking Tate Modern on one side of the river with St Paul’s Cathedral and onwards to the Culture Mile on the other. He reported that the building had an extant planning permission for Offices and a 348 bedroom hotel which could still be implemented.
The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director went on to clarify that this was not a redevelopment scheme as such as it would effectively utilise the existing building and existing structural frame, providing new extensions primarily to the South and new facades. The scheme is designed to achieve a BREEAM rating of excellent and there would be a 61% improvement on the baseline building in terms of carbon dioxide reductions which far exceeded the London Plan target of 35% reduction. A carbon offsetting contribution was therefore not required and the scheme was considered to be very good in terms of the circular economy and embedded carbon.
Members were shown an existing plan of the building at basement level which currently held 15 carparking spaces. These would be removed under the proposed scheme as would the informal, private office carparking spaces located along Trig Lane. The development would be car free with servicing utilising the existing loading bay onto High Timber Street which would be consolidated in line with policy and would be off-peak through the Section 106 agreement. There were 430 policy compliant long-stay cycle parking spaces which would be accessible from the existing ramp at Broken Wharf and 54 short-stay cycle parking spaces at Trig Lane and Lambeth Hill which, whilst not compliant with the London Plan, was considered to be acceptable and proportionate considering the number of City walkways surrounding the site where cycling is not permitted.
Existing ground floor plans depicted the recessed bays of the existing building which was dedicated entirely to office space at this level and appeared rather fortress like and did not therefore relate well to the public realm of the riverside walkway. Proposals at this level were to extend outwards along the south side of the building, onto Trig Lane and the riverside walkway and to cantilever over at higher levels, two storeys up. The footprint of the building would therefore be brought southwards and would result in a more intimate, finer grain of Trig Lane than the existing, somewhat loose combination of buildings had created. In the opinion of Officers, this would lead to it resembling a typical City street or Lane and would make it of similar proportion and width to other areas such as Bow Lane, St Andrew’s Hill, Carter Lane and Artillery Lane. The western side of the building would be dedicated to A1/A3 uses to enliven and create vibrancy along the riverside walkway in line with the City’s policies. The western half of this side of the building, directly north of the residents of Norfolk House, would be retained as office space to minimise any disturbance.
At first floor level, existing and proposed plans were shown. At the western end on this level, proposals were around flexible B1/A1 or A3 units with office use proposed once more on the eastern side, north or Norfolk House. At level 2, coinciding with Peter’s Hill’s floor levels, the existing floorplan was shown alongside proposed plans with A1 and A3 retail uses proposed for Peter’s Hill, enlivening the elevation and a central Office reception also in this location. An area to the north would feature a new public foyer to the new public roof garden with dedicated express lifts. The office floorspace proposed at this level would be a much more efficient and flexible configuration than the existing offering. At levels 3 and 4, similar office floorplates were proposed.
The proposals then depicted a stepping back of the building at high level with terraces for office occupiers. Level 6 would be a combination of lantern lights and lift overruns alongside various other pieces of plant. At the eastern end it was proposed to offer office accommodation and south facing roof gardens, a restaurant bar which would be governed by an Operational Management Plan and a condition under Section 106 stipulating that there was to be no amplified or other music in this area. Along the western end would be a free public roof terrace with dedicated lifts to access the area situated at the northern end of the building. This would exploit the exceptional views of St Paul’s Cathedral, the river and of the City generally, set back as far away from the residents of Norfolk House as possible and configured to minimise any potential overlooking. The roof garden would have 2,500 m2 of blue and green roofs to enable sustainable drainage and also to reuse the water for irrigation of the area. Members were also shown an overview of the roof level landscaping plan. Officers noted that balustrading would bet set 2m back from the edge and that there would also be a landscaping strip of 2m width installed here. The area where members of the public would be able to stand would therefore be 4m back from the parapet to avoid any overlooking issues with adjoining residential properties.
The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director remarked that Officers considered the existing building to be quite tired looking and that the proposals put forward were considered to be relatively restrained and refined. Members were shown comparisons between the height of the existing and proposed buildings with Officers noting that the crash deck (a steel and concrete platform) which spanned over three streets – one being Upper Thames Street which was an arterial TfL road – was one of the major constraints of the site and meant that the building could not be developed further downwards. Other key elements of the scheme which presented difficulties included the fact that the existing building above the crash deck was almost in breach of St Paul’s Heights meaning that it had virtually no capacity for upward extension here either. There were actual breaches of St Paul’s Heights elsewhere on the existing building but these would be remedied with the proposals where some additional breaches would occur but were considered to be more acceptable.
Officers went on to comment on the cantilevered bay on the southern side of the building which stepped out from the existing building line and, similarly, the relationship between the existing roadways beneath the building and the existing bulk of the building.
The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director reported that one of the most contentious elements of the scheme was that access to the building was absolutely compromised by the crash deck over the roadways underneath the site. He commented that there is one small breach to gain access on a level threshold to the office in the building but there are then steps to come up. It was proposed to build out a platform with a ramp onto the City walkway which would remain as City walkway and public land. Whilst it was recognised that this was contentious, it was seen as, unfortunately, unavoidable. Officers had asked that the applicant seek to provide level access within the footprint of the building but had noted that this would require quite significant and substantial demolition to the western part of the building and would cut into the structural crash deck over Castle Baynard Street, High Timber Street and Upper Thames Street. The installation of a new crash deck would involve road closures over a very prolonged period, and also limit the useable height of the roadways. The prolonged closure of the arterial roadway at Upper Thames Street would also involve substantial traffic diversions affecting a wide area of the road network at rather significant economic cost. Members were informed that the City would implement the landscaping to this area and that opportunities to provide not only a ramp and staircase in this location but also seating, benches and areas for visitors to dwell would be explored. The proposals here were therefore considered to be acceptable and justifiable given that the option of providing non-level Equality Act access to the public foyer to the roof garden, the retail offering and the office was not one that could be supported.
Members were reminded that part of the scheme involved the removal of the HSBC gates, installed as part of the Millennium Bridge project. In 2013, the Planning and Transportation Committee resolved to remove the gates from this location but subsequent proposals as to where they might be relocated had not been progressed. The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director remarked that it was important to note that the removal of the gates was not an absolute requirement of this planning application. However, the gates would create a ‘pinch point’ with the addition of the ramp although pedestrian comfort levels were still considered to be acceptable. That being said, Officers were of the view that the gates were not located in the correct place and that their removal would allow a much more generous pedestrian flow in the area. They commented that, when the Millennium Bridge was first installed, no one was able to predict, with any real accuracy, the popularity of this area and the flow of pedestrians here. The gates also constituted a visual impairment when the scheme was viewed from along Peter’s Hill.
With regard to St Paul’s Heights, the existing breaches were shown to Members with Officers reporting that they were at a much higher level than in the proposed development which would have a lesser impact on views. Members were also shown the view looking towards St Mary’s Somerset where a lift core was proposed. The lift core would take the public up to the free public viewing terrace and restaurant area and lifts would be scenic meaning that views would not therefore be considered to be compromised. The view looking west depicted the undulating and recessed nature of the existing building, with proposals showing the upper three storey of the building cantilevering over which was considered to be acceptable in terms of bulk and massing to the riverside walkway giving the area a better sense of definition and allow for a degree of shelter and shade which was an important element of new public realm in the City. The view along Trig Lane was also discussed with Officers commenting that this was considered as a rather untidy, fragmented and somewhat incoherent City street at present, lacking in the characteristics normally associated with the traditional Lanes and Alleys of the Square Mile. It was therefore felt that the replacement scheme provided a much tighter urban grain which was more in keeping with other similar spaces in the City and therefore enhanced and more tightly defined the area. Looking eastwards along Trig Lane, Members were asked to disregard the foreground of the picture as this was to be the subject of the following agenda item and a linked application. The proposals here showed, again, a tighter definition and a more coherent urban townscape where the cantilevering offer would again provide shelter and shade.
The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director went on to report that the daylight/sunlight assessment had been very thorough, employing vertical sky components, daylight distribution and annual probable sunlight hours as set out within paragraphs 117-137 of the report. It was reported that there would be a limited diminishment of daylight to a handful of windows on the northern side under these proposals but it was considered that this was acceptable given the densely developed urban nature of the site and, in accordance with the Local Plan Policy, the scheme would offer a good level of compliance for a development of this nature in the City.
The view of the eastern façade of the building cantilevering over the roadways below showed a more restrained and refined building in terms of detailing. The view looking to Lambeth Hill depicted that it was impossible to install an Equalities Act compliant ramp in this area because of constraints associated with the crash deck but the new façade featuring the entrance to the office outlined by the characteristic red oxide steel base of the building was clearly visible in this view. The view of the development from the viewing gallery of the Tate Modern was shown – both existing and proposed - as was one of the LVMF views within its context. The view along Millennium Bridge was also highlighted where the St Paul’s Heights issue was discussed with the gablets of the existing building shown to be quite intrusive in terms of the appreciation of the Cathedral. These proposals would, however, open up more of the south face of the Cathedral but also create a green framing to offset this view. Similarly, the existing, somewhat artificial framing of the Cathedral, whilst well intentioned, was not considered to be particularly convincing, would be removed and replaced to, again, reveal more of the southern front of the Cathedral.
In terms of the public roof terrace, the prominent entrance on to Peter’s Hill would lead to a foyer where security screening would be undertaken. The area would hold approximately 100 visitors at capacity with them exiting the lift to an area immediately south of the lift core to see views of St Paul’s immediately to the north. A landscaping barrier here would limit any intrusive overlooking of the City of London School. Members were shown an impression of the exceptional views from the roof terrace to the west and to the south. The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director went on to remark that Millennium Bridge was a hugely popular thoroughfare with intense pedestrian flows. It was therefore felt that this area would offer a place of contemplation and appreciation of the views from here that was not offered at street level. The roof terrace would be open to the public seven days per week from 10am – 6pm or nautical dusk, whichever was the later. The operation of this would be governed by a S106 legal agreement and it was highlighted that any overlooking into residential properties was extremely limited. As the landscaping of this area was developed, any issues that did arise would be fine tuned.
Finally, Members were informed that this scheme included the replacement of the Millennium Inclinator with an enclosed lift. Officers reported that the City Surveyor had been consulted and was happy with this as a solution to some of the ongoing issues with the existing piece of kit. It was considered to be within the envelope of the Salvation Army headquarters and not, therefore, harmful to the views of St Paul’s.
In summary, the Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director stated that this was considered to be a very good scheme in planning terms, reusing the existing building structure and therefore considered as an exemplar in circular economy terms. It was designed to achieve a BREEAM excellent rating and would far exceed carbon dioxide emission reduction targets set out within the London Plan. It would replace a tired, dated façade which offered very little interaction in terms of vibrant uses or its appearance at one of the most important gateways in the City. The proposals would enliven the river front and Peter’s Hill in line with policy, making it a place for the public not just to pass through but also to dwell. Poor office floorplates would also be replaced with flexible, open and high-quality office space. The public roof terrace, which would be free to use, would offer exceptional views of the City, the river and St Paul’s and would be an economically and socially inclusive offer to all – visitors, workers and residents. The architecture proposed was considered to be appropriately restrained and refined in its detailing in such a sensitive context. With the removal of the HSBC gates, pedestrian movements along Millennium Bridge would also be improved. The replacement of the inclinator with an enclosed lift would also improve this further. Whilst it was hard to imagine a more constrained and difficult site in the City – a building sitting on a crash deck over an arterial road with almost no scope for additional height due to view protection and the planning history of the site being testament to this – it was felt that this was a scheme which was very well crafted, of very high quality and would offer substantial wider public benefits to all.
The Chair thanked Officers for their presentation. The Town Clerk introduced three registered objectors (Michael Lowndes, a planning consultant acting on behalf of the residents of Norfolk House, Thomas See and Peter Brewer, residents of Norfolk House) and invited them each, in turn, to address the Committee.
Mr Lowndes began by stating that this scheme was not just a simple overcladding and that it involved a very significant increase in the building footprint and mass. He argued that the impact of these changes had not been properly understood and that the scheme should therefore be deferred to allow for further consideration and possible revision. He went on to speak of the major and detrimental impact of the increase upon the amenities currently enjoyed by the residents of Norfolk House and also upon the wider visual setting of this sensitive riverside location. Residents felt that the Officers report did not properly assess the cumulative impact upon residential amenity and was therefore not able to draw a balanced conclusion. The Committee were informed that Officers had not visited Norfolk House and seen for themselves the outlook from the windows of the residential properties here. Residents were also of the view that the report also ignored the dramatic change to the view as you approach the site from the south, along Millennium Bridge. What is currently configured as a vision balanced composition would be unsettled and compromised by the proposed projections, so much so that Lord Foster had now also objected to the scheme. When Lord Foster positioned the bridge, he located it in the gap between existing building lanes so as to carefully frame the view of St Paul’s – this careful framing would be lost as a consequence of these proposals.
Mr Lowndes went on to refer to some of his own images which sought to demonstrate how the projection of the proposed overcladding closed down the views and unbalanced the relationship with the Cathedral. One image depicted the view of the proposed scheme from the east and showed the infilling of Trig Lane with the proposed building move 5m closer to Norfolk House creating further loss of light in already poorly lit windows at the rear base of Norfolk House, direct overlooking into residential windows, a loss of outlook as well as increased noise disturbance from office, restaurant and roof terrace uses, all exacerbated by the canyon effect of a narrower Trig Lane. Mr Lowndes underlined that this was cumulative – with all combined severely damaging existing residential amenity, contrary to the City’s own policies which were clear that all schemes should be designed to avoid overlooking and to protect privacy and daylight/sunlight levels in adjacent homes. He added that, in this time of COVID-19, these amenities of light, air and space were more important than ever.
Mr See began by stating that the space between Norfolk House and Millennium Bridge House was entirely occupied by a roadway (he referenced his own images to depict this). Mr See stated that the main entrance to Norfolk House was shown on the right hand side of the image referred to with yellow lines marking the new boundary of Millennium Bridge House shown to the left. The foreground depicted the turning area for the roadway, joined to Trig Lane on the other side of the security barrier, which was now proposed to be built over. Mr See went on to comment that Trig Lane is a public highway from where vehicles enter and leave this roadway which was built, together with the buildings, in the late 1980s and gave residents of Norfolk House to gain access to the Norfolk House entrance. Mr See referred to the applicant’s agent who wrote, on 12 June 2020, that vehicles were currently unable to both enter and exit Trig Lane in forward gear. Mr See disputed this, highlighting that residents had been turning on the roadway and joining Trig Lane in forward gear daily for over 20 years now. Members were informed that the applicant had also asserted that Norfolk House did not have access rights in this location or its use for manoeuvring. Mr See also disputed this underlining that Norfolk House residents have a headlease that grants rights of way over the entirety of this roadway. He added that road access is not informal and that he was of the belief that the applicant did not want to provide a design for this roadway in this location because vehicles would be unable to turn once the existing building had been extended in the manner proposed.
Mr See went on to refer to the City of London Corporation’ standard Highway and Servicing requirements for developments in the City of London and highlighted that paragraph 12.4 of this underlined that all vehicles must enter and leave the site in forward gear, service or carparking bays requiring vehicle to reverse in from or out onto the street are unacceptable on road safety grounds. Drawings submitted by Mr See depicted what the remaining roadway would look like under the new proposals, meaning that turning here would be impossible. The applicant, in the opinion of Mr See, had tried to avoid breeching paragraph 12.4 by making no proposal for a roadway in this location and thereby avoiding a statutory consultee report from the City of London Highways Team. Mr See was of the view that all planning issues such as this should be resolved now and not left until later.
Mr Brewer spoke specifically on the impact of the proposals on disabled residents of Norfolk House – both current and future. Mr Brewer clarified that both his daughter and his father were physically disabled. He showed the Committee an image of five steep steps as seen from the door of Norfolk House and referred to the developers letter of the 12 June that suggested that there was step free access from the underground carpark through to the front door or Norfolk House which was clearly inaccurate given that these steps were immediately visible when arriving at the front door of this building. The ramp to be installed would require a 100m walk from the carpark to the front door including a very steep 28m ramp where there would be no safety provided from traffic also entering and exiting here. The developers further suggest that a single blue badge parking space on High Timber Street (to the rear of Millennium Bridge House) would be sufficient for the entire local area and that they had conducted surveys to clarify this. Mr Brewer highlighted that this was insufficient given that he himself would often require two spaces if his daughter and father were to visit his home at the same time and failed to understand how the developer was able to take this approach. Mr Brewer stated that the existing roadway was required to get his daughter and his father to the entrance of Norfolk House and to then turn the vehicle around and exit the area. These changes would no longer allow for this and would turn a roadway that residents had full legal rights to into a small alleyway that large, wheelchair accessible vehicles would have to reverse out of dangerously and unnecessarily. Mr Brewer concluded by urging Members to visit the site and to defer a decision today until some significant improvements around disabled access had been made.
A Member questioned Mr Brewer as to the significance of the steps in relation to the whole development and asked why these were important in terms of disabled access and how the proposals would alter this. Mr Brewer responded by stating that, currently, he arrived by vehicle into Trig Lane, parked on the roadway to load and unload his disabled daughter and her equipment, turned the vehicle around at the end of the roadway and either parked here for a period of time or drove away to park elsewhere. The developers letter of 12 June had stated that level access from the carpark in the basement to all floors would be provided to serve the needs of disabled residents. The lift from the carpark exited at the top of the steps shown which were located at the front door of Norfolk House meaning that there would be two ways to exit the carpark under these new proposals – either via the lift which would then require residents to descend the steps shown or via a 100m walk (including 28m up a very steep ramp). Removing the roadway required users to have to get up and down the steps shown which was clearly not possible for those with physical disabilities. The Member commented that the roadway would not be removed but would be made narrower. Mr Brewer remarked that images he had seen from the developer suggested that the area would be pedestrianised and permit the use of cycles with bollards in place and would take away the ability of vehicles to turn here. The developers advisor had said that new disabled access would be via the lift from the carpark.
Another Member explored the suggestion of a deferral with the objectors and questioned what the purpose of this might be. He asked if they were suggesting that there were further improvements that could be made or be subject to a condition so that the scheme was acceptable or whether they were seeking a redesign. Mr Lowndes commented that there were clearly some significant benefits to the scheme but reiterated that the disbenefits related specifically to the arrangement with Millennium Bridge and also to the impact on the amenities of nearby residents. Whilst Members could be encouraged to refuse the scheme today, it was felt that it needed some relatively modest adjustments to improve it to a point where a balance could be better struck. He added that, from his point of view as a planning consultant, the fact that no Officer had been inside Norfolk House to assess for themselves the cumulative impact of the increasing sense of enclosure, loss of light and potential for overlooking, suggested that they had no real appreciation of the fact that the proposed elevation needed to be pushed back away from the residential building. It was hoped that a deferral today would be a pragmatic solution that would allow for more consideration of this, more reporting and appropriate adjustments to the design of the scheme that did not undermine the overall characteristics of it but would seek to also protect the residential amenities in a much more sensitive way.
Another Member questioned the use of Trig Lane and whether it was publicly accessible. She also questioned how Norfolk House was serviced and whether the reduction in the width of Trig Lane would have any detrimental affect on the servicing of the residential properties in terms of rubbish collection. With regard to the suggestion that vehicles would now need to reverse in and out of this roadway, she questioned how many vehicles per day accessed this roadway. Finally, she questioned whether the roadway was used for fire access onto the riverside. Mr See responded to state that Trig Lane is a public highway, ending where the red and white security barrier was shown. The roadway began from this point up to the turning area. The roadway was not a public highway. There were, however, rules that applied where you access the roadway from a public highway – so how you leave and re-join Trig Lane were subject to these rules about having to do so in forward gear. Trig Lane had been in use by residents for over 20 years now to grant access to the Norfolk House entrance and residents of Norfolk House had a very clear clause in their head leases granting them rights of way over this roadway and allowing them multiple uses (to load and unload) in front of the Norfolk House entrance. It was therefore an essential amenity for Norfolk House residents particularly in terms of disabled access. Because it involved a public highway in the form of Trig Lane the City Corporation’s Highways Team who are statutory consultees were also involved. The proposal, however, failed to mention road access at this critical point and Mr See reiterated that he was of the view that this planning issue should be resolved now. With regard to rubbish collection, Mr See commented that there was a servicing point on Trig Lane itself so that the refuse truck did not have to access the roadway in question.
Another Member picked up on the existing rights of residents in their head lease over the area to be built upon. He questioned whether there was any legal action being taken by Mr See or any other residents in terms of these rights. If so, he questioned whether this development was actually deliverable. Mr See commented that residents had scheduled an AGM to take place very shortly after this meeting to take stock. The recommendation at the AGM would be to take legal action should planning permission be granted. Residents had also sought Counsel’s opinion on this matter and it was very clear that this would be actionable. Mr See commented that, whilst it was often argued that legal matters were not planning matters, he felt that an exception should be made in this case and that attempts should be made to try and resolve this issue.
The Chief Commoner questioned Mr Lowndes on his comments made around Officers failing to visit the site and requested more details on this. Mr Lowndes stated that he had canvassed all the residents of Norfolk House and could report that none of them had received a visit from any planning officer at any time during the consideration of this planning application.
The Town Clerk introduced Duncan Roe, a founding member of Beltane Asset Management, speaking in favour of the application, and invited him to address the Committee. Mr Roe clarified that Beltane were the development manager on this project alongside Angelo Gordon. Members were informed that Beltane was founded in 2010 and that, with a focus on the City of London, they have delivered over ten commercial buildings in the Square Mile through extensive refurbishment and extension projects. A number of these have been delivered alongside Angelo Gordon, most recently 55 Gresham Street and 24 King William Street. Mr Roe went on to state that the plans presented today, designed by award winning British architect Piercy & Company, follow many months of work by his design team. He reported that Beltane acquired Millennium Bridge House in January 2019 and, recognising the significance and importance of the site, commissioned an architectural competition. Piercy were selected following a rigorous assessment of the competition schemes. Piercy are supported by a first class team and had designed what he believed to be an award winning design commensurate with the building’s prominent location.
Mr Roe stated that these application proposals would deliver Grade A office accommodation, in addition to shops and restaurants, something that is very much lacking on the North Bank of the Thames. He added that the scheme was highly sustainable, with a large part of the original structure and substructure of the existing building being retained. This not only supported the circular economy but would minimise the build programme and short-term impacts on the locality. Members were informed that the applicant was proposing an innovative all electric building with extensive greening. The replacement facades would use high quality materials and the design draws reference to the site’s heritage, and location. The two linked applications for consideration today propose a package of public benefits, including the replacement of the City’s existing inclinator with a new enclosed passenger lift, a new free public roof terrace, active retail frontages, and new hard and soft landscaping works around the perimeter of the site. Members were informed that the scheme’s landscape architect, Andy Sturgeon, is a multi-award-winning Chelsea Flower Show entrant, and that the applicant was excited about the landscaping scheme he will deliver for the benefit of both the office occupiers and general public.
Mr Roe reported that the second, linked application to be considered at the next agenda item, would provide additional public realm benefits to the locality, and despite the layered and complex ownership of the external podium, the applicant genuinely hoped that they could work with Norfolk House residents to find a solution which is beneficial for them, Beltane and the public realm on Paul’s Walk.
In respect of Norfolk House, Mr Roe spoke to clarify that the applications before the Committee today were not changing how residents would be able to access their homes, and that vehicular access along Trig Lane, which is within their ownership and was not a public highway, would be maintained. He added that the internal spaces within Norfolk House were outside Beltane’s ownership and did not, therefore, form part of the applications. Mr Roe clarified that this scheme is deliverable and that all access was maintained as per the deed.
He went on to comment that he was aware that Millennium Bridge House had been the subject of two major planning permissions in the recent past but that neither of these had been brought forward. He confirmed that this project was fully funded and that, with a vacant possession date fast approaching later this year, Beltane were keen to deliver on these exciting proposals, despite the current issues faced by all. Members were informed that Beltane and their professional team had worked collaboratively with Officers for over a year now to develop the scheme that had been presented to ensure that it accords with all necessary planning policies.
In summary, Mr Roe stated that he believed that this exciting and unique project would not only provide a modern and environmentally-sensitive commercial building, but that it would also deliver significant public benefits for those working, living in and visiting the Square Mile. He added that he was joined by his business partner Jonathan Chenery, Stuart Piercy and Henry Humphreys at Piercy & Company, Jeremy Randall at Gerald Eve, and Nick Lane at Point 2 who would be pleased to answer any questions that Members may have.
The Chair thanked Mr Roe for his contribution and invited questions from Members.
The Chief Commoner expressed concern that this application had been presented today with objectors and the applicant still at loggerheads and asked the applicant to explain why and how residents were misunderstanding the nature of this application. He questioned whether the statement made around access being unaltered was verifiable. Mr Roe stated that he was absolutely clear that access to Norfolk House would remain unchanged. He added that the Millennium Bridge House headlease was subject to a 1993 deed of covenant which gave Norfolk House residents the right to pass and re-pass over Trig Lane with or without vehicles and to park on Trig Lane for short-term loading, unloading and deliveries. This was very specific and Norfolk House residents did not have any parking rights in Trig Lane, any longer term parking here had been totally at the discretion of Millennium Bridge House for over 20 years, as stated by Mr See – this was controlled by the onsite Management Team at Millennium Bridge House.
Another Member questioned Mr Roe on the development proposals which, as he understood it, removed the turning area currently used by Norfolk House residents as part of their access and that the impact of this removal would be that vehicles would have to reverse out of this roadway onto a public highway which is not permissible. In practice it therefore appeared that the applicant actually was altering the access that residents currently enjoy. The Member therefore asked what the significance of filling in this area was. Jonathan Chenery responded by stating that there was a need to differentiate between some of the benefits that residents had enjoyed at the discretion of the applicant as adjoining owner and the benefits they had under the terms of the 1993 deed which gave them right of access over the applicant’s land at Trig Lane. He went on to state that the deed was very specific and gave them rights to park for short periods of time outside Norfolk House for loading and unloading only. There was no reference in the deed to the right to turn and, in fact, the area being highlighted as the turning point was actually used as service carparking for the office building at present.
Another Member questioned access in terms of disabled residents/visitors in light of the images shown by objectors and the points raised on lack of level access. She questioned whether this gave rise to any equalities issues in terms of access to people’s homes and asked how much consultation the applicant had undertaken with residents of Norfolk House on this point before submitting this application to try and design out any concerns. Mr Roe reiterated that the current access into Norfolk House would not be changed. Jeremy Randall of Gerald Eve added that the demise of Norfolk House was outside of this planning application and access to the building would not be changed via steps or ramps – the opportunities or constraints here were unchanged. With regards to consultation, the applicant first engaged with residents in December 2019 and met with them after the Christmas period in early January 2020. Discussions with a number of the directors continued throughout January, February and March 2020 and they were therefore aware of the proposals as submitted.
A Member raised a point of order, underlining the importance of this discussion taking place openly since the public were attending virtually. He noted that an objector had posted a comment in relation to the application in the meeting chat bar and suggested that this was not appropriate given that the public were unable to see this material, as made clear by the Town Clerk at the beginning of the meeting. The Chair also addressed this point underlining that the chat bar was for Members to indicate that they had a question/comment only. He added that, once objectors and applicants had made their submissions and responded to questions, they would not be called upon any further to address the Committee in the interests of fairness.
A Member referred to Lord Foster’s objection which made the point that the proposed relocation of the HSBC gates was contentious as the design of Millennium Bridge was a joint venture with the gates sculptor, Anthony Carrow and that to change any part of this would therefore adversely affect the whole ensemble. Gerald Eve’s response was to state that the applicant did not consider that the relocation of the gates would affect the composition and that the gates might be relocated to a sculpture park in Yorkshire. The Member commented that Lord Foster’s point did not seem to be being taken very seriously with this response, and asked that the applicant explain how, with the gates still in situ, this application would work or how essential their relocation was. Jeremy Randall of Gerald Eve responded to state that these were gates and therefore considered to hinder pedestrian flows coming across the Bridge. They had also attracted antisocial behaviour such as graffiti and urinating in the past. Their relocation would therefore be considered beneficial and one suggestion that had been put forward to date had been a sculpture park although there would clearly be alternative locations to consider in due course. That being said, discussions with Officers had highlighted that their relocation within the Square Mile was not desirable given that they would always create a barrier effect and impact on pedestrian flows. If Members were to be opposed to the relocation of the gates they could, however, be retained in this location as part of the proposals.
Seeing no further questions of the applicants team, the Chair invited the Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director to make any further comments on what had been raised so far.
The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director commented on the issue of site visits and reported that there had been 4-5 site visits conducted to assess the building on site. Whilst none of these had been within the residential flats at Norfolk House, the daylight/sunlight modelling assessments conducted through established techniques was a hugely three dimensional, complex process. It was a quantitative device which meant that Officers knew the size of the rooms within the flats, their layout, what the rooms were used for and how many windows each flat had. This provided sufficient and robust understanding of the impact of daylight/sunlight and enabled Officers to make informed recommendations to this Committee.
The Comptroller and City Solicitor also took the opportunity to comment in terms of the access rights over Trig Lane. She commented that the Committee had obviously heard a difference of opinion as to the extent of those rights but, as private law matters, these were not planning considerations. As reported, there would be private law remedies if there were any infringements. It was not within the scope of this Committee’s remit to arbitrate on who was correct in terms of the private law rights.
The Chair asked that Members now move to any general questions they might have outstanding and to debate the application.
The Chief Commoner reported that he represented the Ward in which this proposed development could be delivered. Firstly, he reiterated his disappointment at the fact that a major disagreement between the applicant and objectors had made it all the way to this Committee and had not been dealt with prior to submission. He added that he had profound sympathy with and shared the concerns and frustrations of the objectors but stated that it was important to ascertain how many of these objections were relevant planning considerations. Living in the City and a crowded environment it was unrealistic to expect untouchable space and views to match. In this case, all of the objectors would continue to enjoy uninterrupted views of the River Thames and would have, as repeatedly stated, continued access to their building as before. On balance therefore, but with some reluctance, he stated that he supported the application. The proposed river façade would be an immense improvement and generally enhance the public realm.
A Member questioned whether, by proposing the removal of the area of roadway currently used by vehicles to turn, this would render Trig Lane an unusable street. The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director assured the Member that this would not be the case. Other Officers clarified that the basis on which this had been assessed was in line with the applicant’s position which was that the area referred to as a turning point at the end of Trig Lane was, in fact, a parking area. It had been noted that at times, when the parking area is not in use, the space did allow for vehicles to turn before exiting Trig Lane in forward gear which was highly desirable, but this was only possible on occasion and not guaranteed to Norfolk House residents. This meant that, in practice, there were already reversing movements on the public highway and, as such, there would be no change to this.
Another Member questioned whether rights of access for disable people to Norfolk House were affected at all by this application or not. The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director reiterated that they would not be affected and would be retained as per existing access rights.
Another Member stated that, ordinarily, applications that proposed to provide a public lift provided more detail on the maintenance of the lift and access but the report appeared to be silent on this point. He therefore questioned what agreements had been reached on this. He also went on to comment on the HSBC gates stating that he would be strongly opposed to their removal and would consider putting a Motion to the Committee to this effect if necessary. He commented that the gates themselves were a very distinctive part of the City enjoyed by many. Aside from this, he stated that he was supportive of the application which would be a huge improvement on the existing building.
The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director reminded Members that the Committee had agreed, in 2013, to the removal of the HSBC gates. Subsequent reports as to their appropriate relocation had, however, been delayed due to the death of the sculptor and a feeling that the timing of such proposals would therefore be inappropriate. He went on to explain that the removal of the gates could be omitted from the application through a condition if this was the will of the Committee. This would, however, diminish pedestrian comfort levels/flow in the area but not to an extent that the levels would be unacceptable. Nevertheless, Officers considered it a critical consideration point given the key location.
With regard to the public lift, Members were informed that the City Surveyor had been in close consultation with the developers on this point and an agreement as to the nature and functionality of it was being formulated. The City Surveyor added that details as to who would be responsible for the lift maintenance were yet to be finalised but this would be agreed before the lift came into operation. She went on to confirm that the City Surveyor was happy with the concept of the lift replacing the inclinator.
Another Member commented that there were a number of fire risks that had been raised as concerns by residents of Norfolk House – in the main, these related to access to fire points, water supply and the effect on the entrance to the flats. The response from Gerald Eve on these points stated that existing access was not adequate but would not be materially changed – she questioned what this actually meant and whether Officers could advise the Committee as to whether all fire risks would be assessed. The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director assured Members that fire safety matters were taken extremely seriously. He reported that the applicant’s fire engineers had assessed this but that the City Corporation had also canvassed the views of its own District Surveyors. He added that these fire safety matters were dealt with under Building Control Regulations and were very much a quantitative assessment, assessed in terms of the approved documents from building control which was a totally separate process from planning. The London Fire Brigade would be consulted throughout this process and sufficient comfort was therefore provided to be able to advise the Committee that there was an acceptable solution to this. He concluded by highlighting that the argument that the existing access was inadequate was incorrect and Officers had received sufficient assurances that these alterations would not compromise this in any way.
The Member went on to question the public roof terrace and the proposed capacity of up to 100 people. She noted that this was a very busy thoroughfare and questioned whether this public space was large enough, particularly given the measures/restrictions that were now in place around COVID-19 recovery. The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director reported that proposals were still assessed as if in ‘normal times’. He added that some similar spaces in the City such as the Sky Garden were now introducing phased re-openings and measures to enable visitors to adhere to social distancing guidelines which, as one would expect, would lead to a dramatically reduced capacity in these areas. It was thought that the proposed 100 capacity for this roof terrace was acceptable and proportionate to the scale of the scheme. A Section 106 Visitor Plan would also be introduced and Members were informed that Officers were very experienced in dealing with these given the number now in operation in the City. The plan would cover matters such as security and queuing.
Another Member commented that there was much to be welcomed about this application but that it failed to deal with a number of key concerns. One of the most welcome points was that the impairment of St Paul’s Heights was not so egregious as before. However, he underlined how important St Paul’s Heights were and the fact that billions of pounds of potential development had been foregone in the name of these. It was therefore very disappointing in his view that they would be infringed at all by this development. Secondly, he added that he would welcome the removal of the inclinator but was puzzled to recall that, when the idea of installing a vertical lift here 5 years ago was discussed, Members were told that this could not be done without impairing views. Today the Committee were informed that it could be done without impeding views. He questioned whether the images that Members had been shown today showing the public lift to be within the shadow of the Salvation Army building had been taken from certain, carefully calculated vantage points and what effect the lift would have on views from all angles. Lastly, he commented on the loss of pedestrian space on Trig Lane which was to be deplored and should be avoided at all costs. The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development responded to state that the image of the lift shown during his presentation had represented a worse case scenario, where the lift would interact with the dome of the Cathedral. He added that this had been balanced with the fact that the Inclinator was not particularly aesthetically pleasing from the river front and the fact that the simpler appearance of the lift was felt to be more befitting to the view of St Paul’s.
Another Member commented on the scheme overall and underlined that he felt it was important for Members not to lose sight of this. He went on to comment that the current frontscape to the river and the landscape behind was very unsatisfactory and this scheme would bring much more benefit than disbenefits to this crowded and difficult social area. He commented that the objections concerning access were a real red herring and that the Committee should resist any temptation to look at private law matters or to consider that access would be compromised. He added that he had recently visited the site and that flat owners had a number of private parking spaces in the building, accessible from the public highway and that this would not change under this scheme. With regard to the HSBC gates, he stated that he was not a fan of these in their current location and agreed with the view of Officers that they were more of an obstruction than an attraction here.
Another Member commented that she was not generally supportive of this application. She was very concerned about the public roof terrace which, including the café area, would only be the size of a tennis court. The vast majority of the roof space proposed would not therefore be publicly accessible. The Member went on to question the hours of operation for the public roof space commenting that it appeared to be open until quite late most evenings, including until 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays which was a concern given its proximity to residential flats and potential noise nuisance. She added that she was also concerned about the loss of pedestrian space and the overhang of the proposed building which seemed to extend the existing footprint quite considerably and shaded the city walkway below, spoiling views along the river. The Member stated that she agreed with one of the previous speakers on the infringement to St Paul’s Heights and questioned when apparently minor intrusions such as these would stop being approved within the City given that, cumulatively, they had a marked effect. On this scheme, it was almost half of the proposed roof space that would infringe upon St Paul’s Heights. She went on to speak about the encroachment on to Peter’s Hill where there would appear to be less space than required to pass two wheelchairs on the proposed main entrance, with the addition of steps here. If coming from the river front and using the public lift to travel up to street level, visitors would have to walk almost the length of the building to turn around and access the ramp which would create huge amount of obstruction to the clear flow of people. Planting and seating in this location would add to this further. The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director pointed out that the images shown of the infringements to St Paul’s Heights were possibly overstated as, in some instances, it was only a matter of centimetres but were still picked up on the grid. He added that the existing breaches were much higher than the proposed and amounted, overall, to an improvement. With regard to the roof terrace opening hours, these were set out within paragraphs 107-109 of the report. The public roof terrace would be open from 10am-6pm or nautical dusk (an hour after sunset). The other spaces were permitted to open up to 11pm as stated. It was considered that Roof Terrace Management Plans and Section 106 conditions against amplified or other types of music in these areas would provide a very robust framework to limit any disturbance to residents.
A Member commented on the Millennium Inclinator and probed the ownership and maintenance requirements of the proposed new public lift. The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director reported that what Members had been shown today was a prototype concept of a new public lift and that this would be developed in close cooperation with the City Surveyor. It was fair to say that the City Surveyor was of the view that this was a positive proposal to ensure that the regular maintenance issues experienced with the Inclinator would not continue going forward. The City Surveyor added that the replacement of the Inclinator with a ‘normal’ lift would bring it into the City’s main lift contract where it was expected that maintenance costs would go down as it would be a standard public lift that most contractors would be able to maintain, unlike the Inclinator which was a very specialist piece of kit. It was also expected that the reliability of the lift would be much improved. In response to further questions, the Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director confirmed that the removal and refit would be covered under the Section106 agreement.
A Member commented that she too had concerns as to the apparent chipping away of St Paul’s Heights which were unique and needed adequate protection. She added that she also felt that the overhang of the building would encroach on views along the riverside, an important, open public space that had been enjoyed by many during the current lockdown and create a bottleneck. She went on to highlight that there was a major flood and drainage issue in front of this building and commented that it was potentially this that had been affecting the operation of the Inclinator for many years now. She therefore requested further information on the proposed sustainable drainage system and sought assurances that this issue would be resolved as it limited the amount of usable pedestrian space during periods of heavy rainfall where 6-8 inches of water could accumulate. She added that she was also concerned about the roof terrace in terms of its capacity, opening hours, and the proposed height of the balustrades. She commented that, elsewhere, balustrades of this height had given rise to risks associated with those contemplating suicide. She called for the balustrades to be made higher, particularly given the fact that there was a public walkway below, and for reasons of public safety. The Interim Chief Planning Officer and Development Director confirmed that the height of the balustrades and any associated risks had been discussed in detail but added that this could be reviewed as part of any conditions. With regard to flooding, conditions were attached and had been agreed by the relevant agencies. An emergency evacuation had also been introduced. In terms of the overhang of the building, Members were informed that there would be some benefits to this as increasingly, and especially in the London Plan, the idea of providing shelter and shade was becoming an increasingly important element of the public realm when considering both hotter summers and inclement weather. It was hoped that the overhang would render this a more usable area of public realm throughout the year.
The Chair asked that Members now return to the specific issue of the HSBC gates and the potential motion being proposed on these.
A Member commented that his personal view was that this area could get very crowded at peak times and that the retention of the gates would exacerbate this. The Committee had already taken the view, some time ago, that these should be removed and this should now be acted on.
Another Member disagreed and commented on the great public interest that the gates attracted in this location. A second Member concurred with this and stated that she felt that they were an important part of this site and framed the view here. She added that they were always designed to be located here as Lord Foster had suggested and acted as a useful funnel being placed at an angle. She stated that she felt that the addition or a ramp and stairs at the site as well as potential seating and planters would create more of an impediment and reduce pedestrian flows along the length of Peter’s Hill.
Another Member commented that, contrary to the points made by some Members earlier in the debate about the gates attracting children to play, he did not see them as a suitable spot for this given that they were located at the top of the stairway and that there was a dedicated, recessed play area nearby. He agreed with the view that the gates were not aesthetically pleasing and that they impeded the pedestrian flow in this location. He also spoke on the overhang of the proposed building and stated that he saw this as a benefit in terms of shelter from both sun and rain.
Another Member commented on the public lift and the fact that developers who installed them as part of the S106 agreement often did so as cheaply as possible and the City Corporation were left with the maintenance costs of this going forward. He questioned whether, given the heavy use that this lift was likely to attract in this location, there was any way that Officers could add some specification to the design of it. The City Surveyor reported that there was a City lift specification which set out the minimum requirements that the City Corporation would expect for public lifts. The document had been approved by the City’s lift engineers and Officers would ensure that they worked with the developers to ensure that this was the minimum criteria of lift installed. She added that it was an open protocol system so that the lift could be maintained by the City’s contractor.
The Chief Commoner returned to the subject of the gates and spoke on the history of their installation commenting that they were originally configured to stand much higher but were cut back down after it was realised that they impeded the view from the Bridge towards St Paul’s. He reiterated that in 2013, this Committee had agreed to their removal but that this had not been acted upon out of respect to the sculptor who passed away soon after. He concluded by stating that he was of the view that the gates served no useful purpose in their current location where they impeded both the views from the bridge and also the flow of pedestrians. He would therefore support their removal and relocation to a more appropriate location such as the sculpture park previously discussed.
Another Member commented that it was important to remember that the proposed development on the one side of Peter’s Hill would change the symmetry of the area and would, as Officers had pointed out, create a pinch point. He added that he was personally of the view that the gates should be removed.
The Member who had originally proposed a motion on the retention of the gates commented that he agreed with the previous speaker that the southern gates would seem odd in the context of the new development and the change in the symmetry of the area. However, he was of the view that this was not true of the northern gates which tended to attract more public interest and it was these that he still wished to propose a motion on.
Another Member commented that the gates were an artistic installation which were part of the Millennium Bridge. She added that, as such, she would like to see them retained. They also, helpfully, slowed the flow of people in a very busy location and prevented surges on to the main road as opposed to them being an obstruction. In terms of cleanliness and vandalism, she added that the gates should be properly maintained by the City as pieces of art.
At this point, the Chairman sought approval from the Committee to continue the meeting beyond two hours from the appointed time for the start of the meeting, in accordance with Standing Order 40, and this was agreed.
A Member questioned why the removal of the gates was up for discussion today when this Committee had already previously agreed to their removal. The Comptroller and City Solicitor reported that that decision had been taken in the context of a previous public realm proposal and the removal of the gates was not then carried forward for various reasons. This decision should not, therefore, fetter the discretion of the Committee on the removal of the gates in the context of this application, given that it remained unimplemented.
MOTION – Randall Anderson proposed that the Northern HSBC gates be retained as part of the scheme. The motion was seconded by Susan Pearson. The Motion was therefore put to the vote. The vote was conducted by rollcall led by the Town Clerk.
Votes cast as follows: IN FAVOUR OF THE MOTION: 7 Members
OPPOSED TO THE MOTION: 18 Members
There were 3 abstentions.
The Motion was therefore lost.
The Committee then proceeded to vote on the recommendations before them within the report. The vote was conducted by rollcall led by the Town Clerk with those Members present and eligible to vote asked to also confirm that they had been present for and able to hear the entirety of this item.
Votes were cast as follows: IN FAVOUR – 25 votes
OPPOSED – 2 votes
There was 1 abstention.
RESOLVED – That, planning permission be granted for the above proposal in accordance with the details set out in the attached schedule subject to:
Planning obligations and other agreements being entered into under section 106 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 and Section 278 of the Highways Act 1980 in respect of those matters set out in the report, the decision notice not to be issued until the Section 106 obligations have been executed.
That your Officers be instructed to negotiate and execute obligations in respect of those matters set out in ‘Planning Obligations’ under Section 106 and any necessary agreements under Section 278 of the Highways Act 1980.