• Tower Hamlets hamstrung as it approves new tower

The Isle of Dogs is set to be home to western Europe’s tallest residential tower, after Tower Hamlets planners approved a 67 storey block.
The tower, already nicknamed the Flower Tower due to its three petal footprint, will be 240 metres – or 771 feet – tall, and contain 861 flats.
The borough’s strategic planning committee granted permission “with a heavy heart” as they acknowledged the proposals as simply being less bad than those already consented for the site. A previous, similarly tall commercial project on the site was approved by mayor Boris Johnson in 2010, after being refused by Tower Hamlets councillors.
Committee chairman Marc Francis noted: “That was the first time the mayor had intervened to overturn a local authority’s decision, and it was a really frustrating time for us not least because that scheme delivered almost nothing for people of Tower Hamlets.”
“This scheme is, in some ways, worse for me because it takes a wider footplate and it’s a bulkier building but it makes a significant contribution to the community in Tower Hamlets and it would be a significant enhancement on what was approved by the mayor.”
“On that basis, although I don’t like the application, I feel forced to vote for this with a heavy heart.”
Unusually, the permission was granted with an associated listed building consent, that will see a grade II former entrance gate to West India Docks dismantled, then rebuilt as part of the development.
The development will be built on the site of a 1980s office block named Hertsmere House, which was knocked down in 2015, at the western end of West India Dock North. It promises to see development on a site that appeared to be left behind in the latest round of densification at Canary Wharf.
In 2005, the site was granted permission for a 63 storey 242 metres high tower containing offices, a hotel and serviced apartments, though this was never started. A subsequent similar permission was granted in 2009, for a revised scheme of the same height.
Officers said the design by architects HOK “is now considered to sit comfortably within the townscape”. However, they did note “harm to the significance of the nearby listed buildings”.
The project met the council’s target of 30% affordable housing, through a mixture of 96 units offered on site, a further 60 units built on a nearby site at Dalgleish Street, and a payment in lieu of £19.25m.
The project is being taken forward by Chinese developer Greenland Group, which is also behind the Ram Brewery redevelopment in Wandsworth. The company bought the site in 2014 for around £100 million, after it was put up for sale by Commercial Estates Group. Architects Squire & Partners had previously been drafted in, to look at the potential to amend the earlier permissions to a residential use; and it was on the basis of these talks that the site was marketed as a residential development opportunity.
The Canary Wharf area continues to see residential developer interest – and ongoing tension between the local borough and the mayor. Johnson is currently considering a major residential development on the Westferry Printworks site on the Isle of Dogs, which could deliver over 700 homes and a secondary school with a redevelopment in blocks up to 30 storeys high.

LPA Perspective: This planning decision also shows how frustrated borough planning committees feel, once the mayor has stepped in to take over their big decisions. The split vote was tipped only by those pragmatists on the committee, who could see a frustrated developer either appealing or else reworking the previous permission that the mayor had given. At least on this occasion, they will get some local benefits, and an above target contribution of affordable housing.
There is a strong pipeline of tall buildings, and residential blocks, already with permission on sites around Canary Wharf, and it is to be hoped that they don’t all arrive together, dampening the local marketplace. As more of them get built, so the skyline of the Isle of Dogs gets to look more and more like a US city, rather than a part of London.
Greenland Group, being backed by the Chinese government, is likely to plough on with this development, irrespective of the need to sell apartments off plan as so many other UK developers would need to do. And that means the project is less likely to be held up by the cold winds that are starting to blow through London’s residential market, notably in districts such as Nine Elms.

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