Removal of public roof terraces from former BT HQ plans ‘more than compensated’

KPF Panorama St Pauls © Uniform
KPF Panorama St Pauls © Uniform

The removal of public roof terraces from the redevelopment of the former BT headquarters has been ‘more than compensated’ by contributions, including towards a new square, it has been claimed.

City of London members were told earlier this week that while they may have lost something deemed ‘nice to have’, ‘they have gained a lot more for the public good’.

The City has come under pressure for approving an application to part-demolish and part-refurbish the Central London building without putting it before its planning committee, with officers instead making the decision. Concerns have also been raised about the consultation being held over the summer last year, with Deputy Ann Holmes saying members have become ‘very cynical’ about the number of submissions going in between July and August.

Deputy Shravan Joshi however told members at a Policy and Resources Committee meeting earlier this week (March 18) that additional developer contributions, including towards the new King Edward Square and lighting improvements at the nearby St Paul’s Cathedral, have ‘more than compensated’ for the loss of the terraces.

In 2020, the Corporation granted permission to NG Devco Limited, an investment vehicle for real estate firm Orion Capital Managers, to part-demolish and part-refurbish the former BT headquarters at 81 Newgate Street. The plans involved adding a further four floors to deliver a 13-storey building with space for retail and office use, plus facilities such as a gym and swimming pool and rooftop restaurant.

However, in July 2023, a new application was submitted for the site, which included the removal of the public roof terraces. This was delegated for approval by officers instead of the Planning and Transportation Committee, a decision later queried by a number of members. At a committee meeting earlier this month, Alderwoman Sue Pearson asked the City’s Chief Planning Officer, Gwyn Richards, why it was decided appropriate for officers to approve the new submission, describing it as ‘obviously an application of ‘broad interest’’.

She added she had not been aware the approval had been granted until she read it in a local blog, and that she only subsequently realised it had been referenced in a report to the planning committee last November.

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Mr Richards responded by saying the new application failed to meet the benchmark to go before the committee, for reasons including a lack of public objections, that there were ‘no broad interests considered’, and that it constituted an amendment to a scheme already approved.

At this week’s meeting the issue was again raised by Alderman Timothy Hailes, who asked officers to explain the process involved and provide reassurance to those concerned about the ‘democratic oversight’ involved when making the decision.

Deputy Chris Hayward, Chair of the Policy and Resources Committee, read a response which reiterated the application was not deemed to be of ‘broader interest’ and constituted amendments, rather than a fresh application. He also noted the benefits of the financial contribution from the applicant to St Paul’s Cathedral, which is less than a five minute walk away from the Newgate Street site, included as part of the new submission.

According to the application, these benefits include a new café, helping with exhibits, improvements to the lighting of St Paul’s, and supporting the new King Edward Square, which is planned to transform the St Paul’s Gyratory.

Deputy Joshi, who is Chair of the Planning and Transportation Committee, told members the loss of the terrace would be ‘more than compensated’ by the additional contributions.

“We may have lost a nice to have roof terrace, but we have gained a lot more for the public good,” he said.

Common Councillor Tijs Broeke, who accused members lobbying internally of not having the ‘courtesy’ of speaking to relevant ward representatives such as himself, said: “This is a massively important redevelopment, it’s a retrofit redevelopment, and I remember when I first mooted the idea of a public square I was told by officers this would never happen.”

Deputy Holmes, who is also the Corporation’s Chief Commoner, however pointed out that a key issue for a lot of members was the consultation period being held last summer, which they believed may have contributed to the lack of objectors.

“I think many members have become very cynical about the number of planning applications and planning amendments that go in in the period mid-July to the end of August, when a great many people are away. And I think that’s something we should do some analysis of.”

Deputy Joshi said the consultation period was extended from 21 to 29 days, and that it is ‘very much in line’ with other London authorities.

As well as the public roof terraces, the amendments also removed the ground floor retail space included in the initial submission.

Once the redevelopment is complete, the former BT HQ will be occupied by HSBC. The bank, which has been situated in Canary Wharf since 2002, announced it would be relocating last year.

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