You remember this picture? This iconic photograph, taken in 1940 during the Blitz, stood as a symbol for British resistance to Hitler and Nazism. For 400 years, Wren's masterpiece was the highest building on the London skyline. My Dad used to tell me that it mattered to him that the tallest building in our capital was one which pointed people to Jesus.
But then came the skyscrapers, and rather lax policies implemented by the chap who is now our Foreign Secretary - and the appearance of London started changing drastically. Two and a half years ago, a campaign was started to fight this. People have been concerned that some developments could actually threaten the Unesco "World Heritage Site" Status granted to Westminster.
Much of the problem revolves round the issue of protected views;
A protected view or protected vista is the legal requirement within urban planning to preserve the view of a specific place or historic building from another location. The effect of a protected view is to limit the height of new buildings within or adjacent to the sightline between the two places so as to preserve the ability to see the landmark as a focus of the view. The protection may also cover the area behind the place or building concerned.
The vistas protected by the London View Management Framework are as follows:
· from Alexandra Palace to St Paul’s Cathedral
· from the summit of Parliament Hill to St Paul’s Cathedral
· from the summit of Parliament Hill to the Palace of Westminster
· from Parliament Hill, at the prominent oak tree east of the summit, to Palace of Westminster
· from the viewing gazebo at Kenwood House to St Paul’s Cathedral
· from the summit of Primrose Hill to St Paul’s Cathedral
· from the summit of Primrose Hill to the Palace of Westminster
· from Greenwich Park, north east of the General Wolfe statue, to St Paul’s Cathedral
· from Blackheath Point, near the orientation board, to St Paul’s Cathedral
· from Westminster Pier to St Paul’s Cathedral
· from the centre of the bridge over the Serpentine to the Palace of Westminster
· from the The Queen’s Walk at City Hall to the White Tower
· The views of St Paul's Cathedral from Waterloo Bridge and Hungerford are not specifically mentioned although these views are protected in practice by the views from Richmond Park and from Westminster Pier respectively as these bridges are on the path of the protected vistas.
finally from King Henry VIII’s Mound in Richmond Park to St Paul’s Cathedral a distance of over 10 miles (16 km) and created in 1710, this view frames the cathedral through a special gap in holly hedging, down a specially maintained clear avenue in Sidmouth Wood and then all the way across London. This protected view has limited development around Liverpool Street Station as a tall structure there would form an unacceptable backdrop to the view of St Paul's.
You may not recognise any or all of these locations - but you have probably seen them, as they are frequently used in films and TV programmes. I remember often standing at Wolfe's Statue with my two daughters, pointing out landmarks of our great city, over twenty years ago. Here is the protected view across ten miles from Richmond Park
But look now!!
The construction of Manhattan Loft Gardens, designed by SOM and described on its website as “Europe’s most ambitious residential tower” comprises three extensive sky gardens, a 145-bedroom hotel, almost 250 residential units, and retail and restaurant space.
The capital’s overarching planning document, The London Plan, states that any development in the background of St Paul’s should be “subordinate to the cathedral
and that the clear sky background profile of the upper part of the dome remains”
Photographs released by Friends of Richmond Park show that the emerging skyscraper in Stratford is clearly visible behind the cathedral. The charity has said “The new development clearly and substantially compromises the profile of the whole of the dome of St Paul’s and, for almost the entire east side of the building, the clear sky background is obliterated.
The new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is being petitioned to call a halt to this construction, because it is clearly in contravention of the planning regs.
My favourite Belgian loves to tell me that when you visit La Grande Place in Brussels, another Unesco WHS, you cannot see any skyscrapers - and that the Rogier Tower had to be redesigned to be 40 metres shorter, so it would not be visible.
If the Belgians can stop such things, why can't we??
Oh, maybe this is a rant against big business and consumerism after all. But if we are more concerned about building bigger and better hotels and homes for the rich, rather than maintaining an attractive environment and building homes for the poor, then perhaps this truly is a Black Friday.