Lendlease gets green light for controversial £700m Southbank scheme

Housing secretary Michael Gove has approved a controversial mixed-use tower in central London, set to be delivered by Lendlease.

The 72 Upper Ground building, nicknamed ‘the Slab’, will stand 100 metres tall on a 2.5 acre site on the South Bank.

Lendlease will replace the existing 24-storey London Studios, where many ITV shows were filmed before the studios closed in 2018, with a 25-storey office building connected to two buildings of 14 and six storeys.

The scheme is being developed by Mitsubishi Estate London Ltd, the developer of 8 Bishopsgate, with CO-RE as development manager.

In a letter yesterday setting out his approval decision, Gove praised the jobs created in constructing and operating the building, the provision of affordable creative workspace and the benefits to the public realm.

However, he noted he did not consider the building’s aesthetic appearance to be appropriate for a “very prominent and sensitive site”.

In a joint statement, Mitsubishi Estate London managing director and chief executive Shinichi Kagitomi and CO-RE director Stephen Black said the “transformational” project represented a £700m investment in the UK and will create 4,000 jobs.

They added: “Local young creative groups, Lambeth Council, the GLA [Greater London Authority] and now DLUHC [the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities] have all backed our proposals for a high-quality commercial and arts-led development.”

Lambeth Council initially approved the scheme in March 2022, but Gove issued an Article 31 direction two months later, stopping demolition work, which was due to be undertaken by McGee.

A public inquiry began in December 2022 and ended in January 2023, with a decision expected from Gove last August.

Opponents, including local Labour MP Florence Eshalomi and Historic England, pointed to the building’s size and appearance, the carbon emissions generated in construction, and the impact on light to neighbouring spaces.

Michael Ball from campaign group Save Our South Bank called the design “fat and overbearing and shouty loud” in his December 2022 evidence to the inquiry.

The developers promise to open up 40 per cent of the site to the public realm, adding two new public squares, several walkways and a public rooftop restaurant and terrace.

The basement, ground and first floors will provide 40,000 square feet of net affordable workspace for the creative industry, including rehearsal space, galleries, sound-proofed studios and education space for non-profit organisations.

Creative organisations will be able to use the space at a discount of up to 90 per cent on open-market rents, with the highest discounts ring-fenced for non-profit organisations supporting disadvantaged young people in the creative and tech sectors.

ITV scrapped its own development plans for the site in 2018. The site was sold to Mitsubishi Estate London a year later.

David Hopkins, director of community at campaign group Coin Street Community Builders, said: “Given the reservations Mr Gove clearly has about this development, particularly the way its design will impact on the iconic skyline of London’s South Bank, it is hard to understand why he has chosen to let it go ahead.

“This monstrosity of an office development will change what it feels like to live around and visit the South Bank, robbing natural daylight from local people’s homes and casting the South Bank riverside walk into shadow.”

Lendlease, DLUHC and Lambeth Council have been contacted for comment.

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