St Paul’s Cathedral has said it was not notified or consulted about the construction of a skyscraper that mars a centuries-old view of Sir Christopher Wren’s famous landmark, and expressed concern that the development was allowed to go ahead despite it apparently breaking planning rules.
Conservationists this week called on the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, to take action against Manhattan Loft Gardens, a 42-storey tower in Stratford, east London, which they say compromises the view of St Paul’s from King Henry’s Mound in Richmond Park.
Designed by SOM and described on its website as “Europe’s most ambitious residential tower”, it comprises three extensive sky gardens, a 145-bedroom hotel, almost 250 residential units and retail and restaurant space.
The charity Friends of Richmond Park said that under the London Plan, the capital’s overarching planning document, the London view management framework (LVMF) states that any development affecting the view of St Paul’s should be “subordinate to the cathedral and that the clear sky background profile of the upper part of the dome remains”.
Oliver Caroe, surveyor to the fabric at St Paul’s, said the cathedral was not notified or consulted on the planning application for the development project in 2011 via the referral methods stipulated by the Greater London Authority and the LVMF.
“Chapter has always recognised that the protected views of strategic landmarks have been designated for the benefit for all Londoners,” he said. “We are privileged in this generation to play our part, with others who are concerned for the built environment, in safeguarding Sir Christopher Wren’s visionary landmark which contributes so enduringly to our identity as a city and society.
“In this case we observe that LVMF requires that, from the protected view from King Henry VIII’s Mound in Richmond Park, developments ‘should preserve or enhance the viewer’s ability to recognise and appreciate the dome of the cathedral … it is essential … that the clear sky background profile of the upper part of the dome remains’.
“Therefore it is reasonable for the public and statutory authorities to be concerned about the SOM Stratford development. We have been advised that the policy is expressly to safeguard the clear skyline view of the landmark and there is no limit to the distance behind the dome of the cathedral where the wider setting consultation area ceases to apply.
“We hope the experts in the field of view protection will clarify and confirm this interpretation and expectation.”
St Paul’s said it supported calls for a management and visualisation tool such as a 3D model that would assist in preserving cherished views in London.
“We would further welcome the opportunity to engage with all parties in the planning system to improve training and awareness to ensure that the heritage assets and views of strategic landmarks, which the GLA and the London mayor has designated, operate effectively,” Caroe said.
The chairman of Friends of Richmond Park, Ron Crompton, has written to Khan, calling for an urgent investigation into how GLA officers came to grant planning permission for the Manhattan Loft Gardens development in contravention of the LVMF.
Historic England, the UK’s statutory adviser on heritage, has also protested against the development and said it was not consulted.
A spokeswoman for the Manhattan Loft Corporation said the developer went through a transparent and public process to gain planning permission, adding that that maps of the LVMF protected view indicated that the background area to be protected beyond St Paul’s was 1.86 miles (3km). The new tower is 4.35 miles (7km) away.
“As planning approval was achieved [on] 18 July 2011, we were never asked about the LVMF background view impact,” she said. “However, SOM has a long history of working with the St Paul’s view corridors and the more recent London Plan LVMF document.”
A spokesman for Khan said: “We are currently looking into the issues involved with this development.”