Court fight for public inquiry over tower block plan

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A legal challenge has been launched over plans for a new development involving two tower blocks – one 29 storeys high – which critics say will cause “substantial harm” to views of the World Heritage site of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Council and English Heritage have both objected to the Elizabeth House development planned for a run-down area near Waterloo station in the neighbouring borough of Lambeth.

They are asking a High Court judge in London to quash Communities Secretary Eric Pickles’s refusal to call in the £600m project and hold a public inquiry.

Mr Pickles, acting through planning minister Nick Boles, decided in March 2013 that the controversial scheme did not merit a call-in and could be decided at local level because it did not raise issues of “a wider strategic nature” or issues of national policy.

Neil Cameron QC, acting for both Westminster and English Heritage, told Mr Justice Collins yesterday that Mr Pickles had acted “contrary to advice he has received” and asked for court orders forcing the case to be reconsidered.

Lawyers for the Communities Secretary argue he has “a wide discretion” on whether to call in and his decision involves no error of law.

Unesco, the UN’s cultural agency, has in the past raised concerns about the “visual setting” of the Tower of London, the Palace of Westminster and the Abbey, and warned they could be placed on the UN’s Heritage in Danger list.

The plan proposed by the Elizabeth House Ltd Partnership, and approved by Lambeth Council, includes the erection of two towers – a north building, part of it 29 storeys high and part 14, and an 11-storey south building.

Lambeth Council has said it is “extremely disappointed” that the legal battle is delaying a scheme, which is supported by the Mayor of London and could result in the capital gaining 1,900 new homes.