Gove approves Make’s contentious South Bank tower

In a letter published today, the communities secretary said that, although he disagreed with planning inspector Christa Masters ‘on some matters’, overall he agreed with her recommendation to grant permission.

The 25-storey office project at 72 Upper Ground for developer Mitsubishi Estate London and CO—RE was approved by Lambeth Council in March 2022 despite receiving more than 260 objections, including from two local councillors and the local MP.

Kate Hoey, the former longstanding MP for Vauxhall, and the area’s current MP, Florence Eshalomi, had both lobbied the government to call in the proposal, which involves demolishing the existing ITV studios on the prominent 1ha site.

Make’s proposal, which features two towers of 14 and 25 storeys, also includes a six-storey connecting podium. The scheme will provide 79,000m2 of office and associated commercial space as well as 7,000m2 of cultural space and up to 4,000m2 of space for shops, cafés and bars.

In his decision letter Gove said that, in respect of the scale and massing of the north building, he had reservations about the inspector’s conclusion that the proposed building was ‘an appropriate response to the site’.

Gove, who had originally been expected to announce his decision in August, said he was also concerned about the proposal’s impact on ‘designated heritage assets’ including Denys Lasdun’s Grade II*-listed National Theatre and Grade II-listed IBM Building. He also feared the scheme would ‘not provide a positive contribution to the townscape of the South Bank’.

But he concluded that the public benefits, such as employment opportunities, improved public realm and the creation of affordable creative workspace, outweighed the harm to the surroundings.

Gove set up the possible call-in in April 2022, during his first stint as head of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) by means of a so-called Article 31 holding notice. Greg Clark, who served in the post between July and September 2022, officially called in the scheme before Gove’s return to the department.

While in the role, Clark’s department wrote to Lambeth Council about the heritage implications of the Make scheme and whether certain aspects, including its ‘scale and massing’, were consistent with government planning policy on conserving and enhancing the historic environment.

Source:Make Architects

View along Queen’s Walk at National Theatre

The Twentieth Century Society also contacted Clark to object to the proposal, which it said would be an ‘over-development’ of the site. It said the scheme would ‘significantly harm’ the setting of the National Theatre and IBM Building, and have ‘a profoundly detrimental effect on the special character and appearance of the riverfront site’.

Statutory consultee Historic England had concluded that the project would harm nearby listed buildings.

Its spokesperson told the AJ it was concerned about the height and bulk of the new buildings and particular harm to the Roupell Street Conservation Area, with its mainly Georgian architecture, and to important river views of the Grade II-listed IBM Building, Grade I-listed Somerset House and Grade II*-listed National Theatre.

London mayor Sadiq Khan had declined to intervene in the project and the planning decision was delegated to deputy mayor Jules Pipe. Greater London Authority (GLA) officers had praised the design quality of the Make scheme and said it had been ‘designed to be sympathetic to its historic neighbours’.

A public inquiry into the project concluded in January this year.

Responding to the news, Frank Filskow at Make Architects said: ‘The development will be a fantastic addition to the character of the South Bank.

‘Our design marries the sensitive architectural narrative of the area with modern market requirements. We’ve picked up on the horizontal layers of our Modernist neighbours, echoing their sculptural form while ensuring that wellbeing, daylight and natural ventilation is a priority for the new tenants.’

He added: ‘The two buildings will bring extensive amenity in the form of a high-quality commercial and arts-led development, and give back 40 per cent of the site to create new biodiverse public spaces, including a new route to the riverfront, and two new garden squares.’

In a joint statement, Mitsubishi Estate London chief executive and CO—RE director Stephen Black said: ‘We understand and respect the responsibilities that come with being a major investor and developer in London.

‘We see ourselves as an integral part of London’s community, with the aim to make this global city a better place to work, live and enjoy. We are looking forward to working with our cultural neighbours and the community to deliver on that ambition.’