News that the heritage brigade are objecting to tall buildings in the City of London because of their impact on the Tower of London prompted memories of what happened when Renzo Piano’s Shard design was under discussion.
A group of Cabe commissioners, led by Stuart Lipton, did a walking tour of the Tower environs to get a feeling for how the Shard might affect things, even though it was on the other side of the river, and some way from the best place to view the Tower, which is along the riverbank close to City Hall.
We couldn’t see that there would be much harm done, but we wanted to hear from the people for whom the Tower is home: the Beefeaters. We spoke to a couple and their view was quite clear: just because you would be able to see a tall building from within the Tower grounds didn’t mean the Tower itself was being diminished.
“The Tower of London Beefeaters were not concerned about the development”
At the ensuing public inquiry, I gave evidence in favour of the Shard on behalf of Cabe – or at least in support of the architecture and the proposed height, though we had concerns about the ground plane and the relationship with a neighbouring tower and transport facilities. Curiously, because we were not 100 per cent endorsers of the project, we were categorised by the Planning Inspectorate as objectors, even though there is nothing in law to say this is what should happen.
As a result of this, having been cross-examined by the English Heritage QC in respect of our general support for the project, I then received another grilling from developer Irvine Sellar’s QC over our reservations about some aspects of the proposal.
The only comfort I could draw was the opportunity, when questioned, to reference our Cabe commissioner conversation with senior Beefeaters, and the fact that they were not concerned about the development.
‘What conclusions did you draw from this conversation?’ asked the QC. I replied: ‘Since they were Beefeaters, we regarded them as serious stakeholders.’ Pun intended. I think it is reasonable to say that the room rocked with laughter, no doubt taking a lead from the inspector himself. It was probably the only light relief during the entire inquiry.