Bid to revive HOK’s supertall Spire skyscraper by axing affordable homes

The 67-storey tower proposal for east London, which would be the tallest residential building in western Europe if built and was previously known as Hertsmere House, has been on hold since 2018.

But Chinese backer Greenland Group has now applied to remove all 96 affordable homes from the tower in a bid to ‘unlock the viability’ of the scheme.

An additional 60 affordable homes it had promised to build at nearby Limehouse will still go ahead, according to an application lodged with Tower Hamlets council.

Greenland paused construction in 2018 and decided to review the scheme following turbulence in the London property market due to Brexit and later the pandemic.

There was also controversy over the fire safety of the design, which only had one escape stair to its upper floors, despite its height of 240m.

A report submitted by the developer to the council argues the tower is ‘undeliverable in current market conditions’, presents a ‘very significant commercial risk’ and would only provide a return of £8.8 million.

It reveals how Greenland has been trying to find a way of developing the site, including working up an alternative plan by KPF in 2019.

But this too ended in deadlock, after the council expressed a desire to see an ‘iconic’ building with a ‘wow factor’ on the site.

In a bid to resurrect the Spire, the developer attempted to renegotiate the affordable housing contributions with planning officers but its proposal was turned down, the report says.

Now Greenland has submitted a formal application to Tower Hamlets proposing to alter its existing agreement by removing all 96 affordable units from the main tower, a change which would push its return on the scheme from £8.8 million to more than £50 million.

‘The return metrics are still materially below a commercially acceptable return threshold but are at a level where the applicant would be able to progress with bringing forward the scheme,’ the report says.

Single-stair high-rise apartment blocks have been under renewed scrutiny this month over fire safety concerns and two projects have been sent back to the drawing board.

London Fire Brigade raised concerns over the safety of Ballymore’s 52-storey tower on Cuba Street, designed by Morris + Company, and Glenn Howells’ 35-storey scheme for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) in west London.

Greenland confirmed there were no plans to alter its building’s design and that the scheme had not been reviewed with respect to its fire safety.

A spokesperson for Greenland UK described the project as an ‘exciting landmark development for Tower Hamlets and the London skyline’.

They continued: ‘Spire London is a highly complex and ambitious project. Completion of the tower will be undertaken in a single phase, requiring significant upfront investment by Greenland and careful monitoring of construction market conditions to maintain the build programme.

‘Since the project was originally conceived, these conditions have changed significantly, affected by factors such as Brexit and the pandemic.

‘We are working closely with the council to progress discussions and find a solution which delivers for the local area while reflecting Greenland’s investment to date and the construction requirements of a project of this scale.’

The site, near Grade I-listed docks buildings by George Gwilt the Younger, formerly housed a low-rise 1980s office development.

In addition to its new homes and 941m2 of commercial space, the building will feature communal amenity pavilions for residents that will be connected to the tower by glass winter gardens, landscaped roof terraces, public open spaces, and both internal and outdoor children’s play areas.

Permission also still stands for the 2009 scheme by Mark Weintraub for a 63-storey mixed-use office, hotel and residential block on the site,  a development then dubbed Columbus Tower.

Two years later Squire and Partners was brought in by developer Commercial Estates Group to ‘design review’ the original 242m-tall skyscraper (see AJ 11.03.11). The plot was sold on to Greenland in 2014.

Tower Hamlets Council said it could not comment on live planning applications.

HOK’s Spire, formerly known as Hertsmere House

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