SimpsonHaugh’s ‘bulky’ east London skyscrapers rejected

The scheme would have seen the demolition of two 1990s office blocks at the former East India Dock and their replacement by a 36-storey tower and a 30-storey tower. The taller tower would provide 716 student homes while the other would have comprised 150 build to rent homes.

The hybrid planning application, which is backed by developer EID (General Partner), also included outlines designs for a new data centre, as well as a building with flexible workspace, community space and possibly a swimming pool.

The 1.39ha site is across the road from Alison and Peter Smithson’s part-demolished Robin Hood Gardens. One of the office blocks currently on site is home to Tower Hamlets Council – the authority will move to the former Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel once AHMM has finished refurbishing it.

The scheme was blocked by Tower Hamlet’s Strategic Development Committee, which voted five to two to reject the application – despite council officers’ recommendation to approve the scheme.

Planners at Tower Hamlets Council had said the scheme ‘had the potential to knit the townscape together’ through improved public realm and pedestrian links – adding that it would ‘be an improvement to the character, appearance and function of the area’.

But councillors disagreed, saying the towers did not fit with the scale and character of the local area and would have a detrimental impact on the conservation area, which includes a Grade II-listed dock wall and the Grade II*-listed East India Dock House by the site.

Councillor Abdul Wahid of political party Aspire, which governs Tower Hamlets Council, explained: ‘The design does not fit in with the character of the local area, and the building design is bulky and is exceptionally dense and it looks out of place within conservation area and the [nearby] Grade II-listings.’

Councillors also flagged issues with the mix of the homes. The build-to-rent tower would have had 37.5 per cent affordable homes, with the student tower featuring 35 per cent affordable. The towers also had 60 per cent dual or triple-aspect homes; only the one-bed flats were single-aspect.

However, the committee members objected to the mix of affordable housing, which was set to be 67 per cent affordable rent and 33 per cent intermediate housing – just short of the 70/30 split recommended in the council’s planning policy.

Councillors also said that in the ‘intermediate tenure’ the project would deliver too many one-bed and two-bed units (by three per cent and one per cent respectively), and not enough three or more bedrooms homes (an underprovision of 4 per cent).

Tower Hamlets officers had suggested these were only ‘marginally’ off council targets, adding that scheme’s tenure mix was ‘broadly in compliance with the requirements of the local plan’.

After councillors explained their reasons for refusal, a Tower Hamlets council officer said: ‘Obviously we will do everything we can to support [this decision] if [the application] goes to appeal. However we do believe that it would be a difficult fight, to be honest.’

SimpsonHaugh has been contacted for comment.

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