• Tower Hamlets tussles over Canary skyscrapers

Mayor Boris Johnson has called in a planning application for a residential and hotel scheme on the Isle of Dogs, after Tower Hamlets planners said they were minded to refuse the project.
The Alpha Square scheme proposes two towers, of 34 and 65 storeys, containing over 700 apartments and a 231 room hotel, as well as a primary school, healthcare facility and some commercial floorspace. The site is immediately south of Canary Wharf, combining plots on Marsh Wall and Manilla Street.
The mayor’s office said it will take a look because the development “would have a significant impact on the implementation of the London Plan”, and also because of other planning issues raised.
Alpha Square is designed by architects Pilbrow and Partners for the Far East Consortium, with Dorsett Hospitality already signed up as the hotel operator.
The borough is facing twin pressures. Its housing delivery as a borough is falling increasingly behind the targets set in the London plan; while it is also the borough with the largest number of skyscraper proposals, numbering 67 tower projects.
For Tower Hamlets, the move to turn down the tower comes shortly after frustrated planners in the borough reluctantly approved a 67 storey residential tower on a nearby site at the western end of West India Dock North. Each residential project has the potential to reduce a backlog of residential delivery in the borough. But planners are concerned that the towers are increasingly tall, and simply inappropriate on the south western fringes of the Canary Wharf district.
At that site, just a stone’s throw from the one currently under consideration, they had turned down a tower in 2010 – only to have the mayor overturn their decision. “With a heavy heart”, they approved a revised scheme in February, on the basis that the applicant would otherwise have a justifiable appeal position.
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.”
The local authority cited six reasons for refusing the Alpha Square application. These were a compromised public realm; negative impact on the Maritime World Heritage Site; the “overbearing” nature of the building and insensitive relationship with surrounding properties; the potential to prejudice the development of neighbouring sites; failure to provide sufficient amenity space; and poor waste management.
Among those supporting the borough’s stance is Historic England, which has concerns about the view from Greenwich, worrying also that the approval of the tower “will set a new precedent for height at this location in the Isle of Dogs”.
One issue for the mayor is that Tower Hamlets as a borough has fallen behind on housing delivery. While it was ahead of its London plan target until 2007, its net completions have been behind the target since then, with the result there is a cumulative shortfall of 6,860 units. In 2013 alone, just 684 homes were delivered against a target of 2,462. The borough does, however, have the highest housing target of any London borough.

LPA Perspective: Tower Hamlets planners are in a tight corner over sites around Canary Wharf and across the Isle of Dogs. Having set the scene with a series of tall office towers, then followed by a wave of residential towers as more offices were built, the planners clearly think enough is enough.
A masterplan for South Quay is being drawn up, and the site for Alpha Square sits right on the boundary between the development area, linking with Canary Wharf, and the currently entirely low rise existing residential space. This tall, slender apartment tower is really not in keeping with the local boozer, which it will dominate, or the existing housing. Let this one through, and the next sites to the south will be in the firing line for taller redevelopment.
The project contains some slightly cynical elements. The public square offered as an amenity will hardly, if ever, see sunlight, sandwiched as it is between the two towers in the scheme.

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