Michael Gove overrules Sadiq Khan to protect vital London heritage


Lambeth Council and Sadiq Khan waved through plans for the area’s largest ever office development that would devastate one of London’s most sensitive heritage hotspots. Now, Michael Gove has called a halt to the plans while he considers a full investigation.

Campaigners have praised Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) for issuing an Article 31 Direction* that prevents Lambeth Council from proceeding with the plans while Mr Gove considers whether to call them in (which would likely result in a Public Inquiry).
*Under the Town and Country Planning (General Development) (England) Order 2015.

Matthew Demwell from the Save Waterloo’s Paradise campaign said “Thank goodness Mr Gove has acted while there is still time. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, should be safeguarding London’s precious and dwindling heritage. Instead, he gave the green light to Labour Lambeth Council to go ahead with this oversized, unnecessary and needlessly harmful development plan in the face of objections from a host of respected heritage organisations and nearly 45,000 people who have signed a petition against it”.

Mr Demwell continued “We welcome sustainable development of the site in line with the January 2022 report from Lambeth’s own Planning Department. Yet the Council – following a series of secret meetings with the Developers – overruled that report and instead opted for a larger and much more damaging plan. We thought we could rely on Sadiq Khan to step in and we were deeply saddened by his willingness to see irreplaceable heritage and public assets destroyed and degraded.”

The Royal Street site is close to the Westminster World Heritage Site and the Lambeth Palace Conservation Area. Respected national and international heritage organisations have lined up to lodge formal objections to the plans. UNESCO advisers the International Council On Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) berated the “phalanx of tall buildings” which would have a “highly adverse impact on the setting of the Westminster World Heritage site”. Government heritage adviser Historic England objected to the impact on the 14th century Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, stating that the “wall-like appearance of this scheme” would “harm the significance of the Palace of Westminster and the Westminster World Heritage Site, the Lambeth Palace Conservation Area and the Palace”, noting that “the Palaces of Westminster and Lambeth are both of exceptional significance.” Other objectors include the Twentieth Century Society, London Parks & Gardens Trust, and Baroness Hoey of Lylehill and Rathlin, the former MP for the area.

As well as the impact on the Westminster WHS and Lambeth Palace, the proposed Royal Street plans would loom over and dominate the historic Archbishop’s Park [see before and after pictures below] – the only community park in Waterloo – a vital resource for local residents, most of whom don’t have their own outdoor space, as well as staff and visitors at St Thomas’ hospital.

The plans would also bulldoze Old Paradise Yard, the base of Act’In Theatre, which offers drama, improvisation and cinema workshops for all in French or in English and is run by Candice Desmet from Save Waterloo’s Paradise. Ms Desmet said “Old Paradise Yard is a unique and characterful enclave which houses small businesses in the creative, arts & crafts, design and technology sectors. It includes historic Victorian school buildings from 1847 – the oldest remaining in Lambeth – which even used to house a Tibetan Monastery.”

Ms Desmet continued “Any Inner London Borough would love to have a space like this. It inspires innovation, creativity and community engagement. The Developers say there will be alternative affordable workspace but they haven’t told us what the rent would be. In any case, no corporate modernist space could be anything like as inspirational as this special place that they intend to bulldoze. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”

The landowner is the Guy’s & St Thomas’ Foundation (a £1bn health charity, not the NHS trust). Save Waterloo’s Paradise has issued a formal complaint to the Trustees of the Foundation on the grounds that the plans contravene the Foundation’s charitable objectives as regards public health, carbon neutrality and heritage. In particular, the plans would damage people’s mental wellbeing by destroying and degrading heritage and public amenities, and would needlessly emit a huge amount of CO2. The campaigners have also questioned the setting up of a Jersey-based company to shelter profits from UK tax, thus reducing the funding available to support the NHS.

Michael Ball of the Waterloo Community Development Group, part of Save Waterloo’s Paradise, said “Existing buildings could be retrofitted but instead the Developers want to raze and re-build them, releasing a tsunami of 90,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. Meanwhile, the Developers have cooked the books by misleadingly claiming that the project is net-zero.”

Mr Ball continued “The plans represent a lost opportunity to address the area’s desperate shortage of housing. The proposed 130 flats are simply replacing existing ones which face demolition. Permission was granted in 2009 for 640 flats on the site, with 50% affordable, in a scheme designed by Terry Farrell. Although it was never built, it demonstrated the housing potential of this central London site.”

Mr Ball also drew attention to compliance breaches: “It’s hard to fathom how both Lambeth Council and Sadiq Khan could find these plans acceptable when they breach local and London planning policies: not just one or two of them but no fewer than ten! Historic England has also pointed out that the proposal “does not meet the requirements of the NPPF [the National Planning Policy Framework 2021]”. ”

Mr Demwell said “The Developers have promoted this huge office block on the basis of housing, economic benefits and Medical Technology capabilities. Yet the housing is far short of what the site could deliver; economic benefits don’t outweigh the loss of irreplaceable heritage and the negative impact on mental wellbeing; and the number of guaranteed Medical Technology laboratories is absolutely zero. We all know how Developers backtrack on grand (but not contractual) promises once development gets under way.”

Mr Demwell concluded “Lambeth Council and the Mayor of London have behaved disgracefully in ignoring the weight of concerns and objections raised by so many people and organisations, and knowingly approving plans that contravene so many planning policies. Now yet another Public Inquiry looms and who will pick up the expense? Hard-pressed individual and business Council Taxpayers. The Foundation, Lambeth and Sadiq Khan have some tough questions to answer.”