Residents in luxury apartments in a Southwark street have complained that their glass walled apartments are overlooked by a new viewing gallery at the recently completed Tate Modern extension. And they have appointed a specialist planning lawyer to pursue their case, citing privacy and public nuisance concerns.
The tenth floor viewing platform is a key part of the newly opened Boiler House extension to the Tate, on the South Bank. Residents in the Neo Bankside blocks, which sit directly across the road from the new block, complain they are now on show for up to 12 hours a day.
Some have insisted they are being made to feel like exhibits, while others suggest there are child protection issues from the overlooking. And their cause has been taken up by local councillor Adele Morris, who has called the situation “exceptional and unusual”.
One resident told the Daily Mail newspaper: “It’s terribly intrusive – I bought this apartment because of the view but now I have to keep my blinds down whenever the platform is open, otherwise you get people waving at you. If I had known what it would be like, I would never have bought a flat here. Now I think I would struggle to sell it.”
The row has been running through the summer, with residents demanding the Tate management screen off the area of the viewing deck that looks across to their flats. The Tate has installed notices asking visitors to behave respectfully, but has said it will not do more.
Councillor Morris commented: “Either the Tate or Native Land or both must try and solve this, but despite several weeks of negotiation with all parties little has changed. I don’t think this is fair on the residents, and will keep the pressure on Tate and Native Land until they do something to properly deal with this.”
The Neo Bankside blocks of apartments won planning approval in mid 2007, while the Tate Modern extension was approved the following year. Initially, it had a roof terrace, but this was amended in a 2009 permission to a viewing gallery at a lower level.
Both developers insist they hid nothing from potential buyers of the apartments. A Tate Modern spokesman commented: “The viewing level is an intrinsic part of the free public offer of the new building, providing a 360 degree experience that is virtually unique to London. Since the very first plans were drawn up in 2006 we have been through an extensive consultation and planning process, and have maintained an ongoing dialogue with local residents.”
“During the development of the project, we were also approached by a number of those considering buying properties in the Neo Bankside complex, and shared information fully. At no point during this process were any concerns raised regarding the viewing terrace. There is signage encouraging the public and visitors to use it respectfully and responsibly.”
A spokesman for Native Land added: “While development of Neo Bankside had already begun when plans for the new gallery were submitted to the local authorities, potential buyers had access to marketing material which showed the location of the planned viewing gallery. A model showing the planned Tate extension in context to Neo Bankside was also available.”
LPA Perspective: In a dynamic world city, nobody can expect their view to be sacrosanct, nor their light to be unhindered for ever, unless their building is next to a site that cannot be built on, or they have a protected view.
As the urban conurbation densifies, ever taller buildings are designed, often replacing those of a lower level. Negotiations over rights to light, and loss of light, frequently ensue – notably in the City of London, where such losses are frequently calculated, and compensation paid.
In this instance, it appears owners of the apartments simply did not pay attention to the local environment, or question what might happen on nearby sites. Those that complain they were not told, are simply expecting too much of the planning and consultation process – though there are regular complaints that consultation and the informing of neighbours comes up short, when new developments are proposed.
The situation the residents find themselves in is not unique – from the Barbican to many other city blocks, at far lower levels, London’s residents find themselves overlooked when new blocks are built. This is a city, and that’s what happens.
With no party apparently trying to obscure what was proposed, it is now down to the residents to decide how they would like to ensure their privacy. In the old days, it was net curtains. Nowadays, there is frosting or mirroring of glass.
The issue is also a salutory tale for those dazzled by the architectural purity of fully glazed walls. For most of us in the real world, they are not a sensible way of cladding the exterior of living rooms – however high above the ground.