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City approves ‘comical’ tower over Leadenhall Market

Woods Bagot’s design for 85 Gracechurch Street

City of London planners reckon that the new tower block at 85 Gracechurch Street, designed by Woods Bagot for the Hershten Group, will “rejuvenate Leadenhall Market, create major new public spaces and showcase the City’s 2,000-year history”.

The Victorian Society says the tower will “comically dominate one of the city’s architectural jewels”. It also says that demolishing the existing building at 85 Gracechurch Street runs counter to the City’s supposed new policy of promoting refurbishment over demolition and reconstruction.

The City of London Corporation’s planning applications sub-committee yesterday approved plans for a new tower at 85 Gracechurch Street, creating more than 27,000 sq m of new office space.

The plans will retain and restore the 1930s facade of the existing nine-storey building, with the new structure around three times as high built behind. The development will reopen an old pedestrian route between Gracechurch Street and Lime Street Passage, increasing footfall into the market, it is suggested.

City of London Corporation planning applications sub-committee chairman Shravan Joshi said: “Developments such as this are a vote of confidence in the City as a global business hub and will helps us meet the continued demand for high-quality office space in the Square Mile.

“We worked closely with Historic England to ensure preserving and showcasing the archaeology of the location – in situ in the event of any significant remains found – was at the heart of these plans. This development will create new jobs, boost the economy of the Square Mile and drive significantly increased footfall to Leadenhall Market, helping to boost the market’s appeal as a major visitor destination in its own right.”

The developer is working with the Museum of London to create a display on the fifth-floor ‘cultural space’ with a virtual reality experience of life in Roman London.

Other objections to the plans were received from Historic England on the grounds of: overshadowing to the Leadenhall Market; the mannered and heavy materiality and form; and more generally creating a different scale of development within the Leadenhall Market Conservation Area.

Victorian Society conservation adviser Guy Newton said: “The Leadenhall Market Conservation area is meant to protect the wonderful grade II* Leadenhall Market’s setting. Historic England describe Grade II* buildings as particularly important of more than special interest with only 5.8% of listed buildings being Grade II*. The sheer scale and bulk of the proposed tower would comically dominate Leadenhall Market. Combined with towers outside the conservation area it would plunge the light filled market space into shadow. What is the purpose of the City’s conservation areas if what is special and important about them is not actively protected? Allowing such towers in conservation areas, will, over time, irreversibly harm the City’s historic character that still makes it stand out from its financial rivals worldwide. There is a danger the City will become a monoculture of glass towers, its conservation areas and heritage assets diminished and disrespected.”

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