Plans for the Tulip, as the Foster-designed tower is known, were backed by the City of London Corporation in 2019 but it was overruled by the mayor London. In January 2020 the developers lodged an appeal. This has now been rejected, in line with the recommendation of the planning inspector who led the inquiry.
The Tulip was promoted by Joseph Saphra, the late Lebanese-Brazilian banking magnate whose company also owns the neighbouring Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe). The Tulip, design by architect Foster & Partners, which also designed the Gherkin, was conceived as a 305.3m-high tower with no function other than an highly-specified observation platform. Its backers claimed the crowds would throng to London to see it and spend lots of money while they were there.
However, secretary of state Michael Gove agreed with planning inspector David Nicholson that the architecture, the location and the very concept were all flawed.
The reasoning is set out in a letter from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, signed by housing minister Chris Pincher on behalf of his secretary of state, to J Safra Group’s planning consultant, DP9.
It says that the heritage harm would not be outweighed by the public benefits.
It criticises the sustainability credentials of the proposals and expresses fears that it would end up as a white elephant. “The secretary of state agrees with the inspector that little if any thought has been given to how the building would function over its extended lifetime. He notes that there are no plans for its re-use when it has served its purpose as a viewing tower, or for its demolition. He agrees that if the owner were disinclined with little incentive, it would leave either an unmaintained eyesore or a large public liability, and this counts heavily against its design quality.”
The design itself also come in for substantial criticism. “In terms of symmetry, the secretary of state agrees with the inspector that while there have obviously been considerable effort and architectural dexterity employed in modelling the top of the building, the way the gondolas, slide and skywalk have been incorporated into the viewing areas has produced a compromised design that is neither a flamboyant expression nor a consistent elegance.”
The letter goes on to say: “The quality of design would not be nearly high enough as to negate its harm to the settings of heritage assets.”
It concludes: “The proposal is not in accordance with aspects of the National Design Guide, in particular those elements of the guide dealing with context and resources… that design as a whole carries significant weight against the proposal.”