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'Westferry scheme ignoring skyscraper limits spells end of Isle of Dogs community' planning inspector is told

PUBLISHED: 17:00 21 August 2019 | UPDATED: 01:22 22 August 2019

What Mace developers want to replace Millwall's Westferry printworks. Picture: Mace

What Mace developers want to replace Millwall's Westferry printworks. Picture: Mace

Mace Developers

Throwing up skyscrapers and ignoring the "step down" rule of gradually decreasing heights coming away from Canary Wharf could spell the end of the Isle of Dogs as a community.

Model of the Westferry towers right on the quayside waterfront of Millwall Docks. Picture: Mike BrookeModel of the Westferry towers right on the quayside waterfront of Millwall Docks. Picture: Mike Brooke

That's the stark warning a government-appointed planning inspector has been told at a special public hearing into the proposed 15-acre development of Millwall's former Westferry printworks.

The "step down" rule enshrined in Tower Hamlets planning convention limits heights as developers creep down to the tip of the Isle of Dogs facing Royal Greenwich.

The Westferry revised plans go against the convention, which would encourage more skyscrapers and an end to local community life, say critics.

Mace Developments wants to double the size of the scheme — originally passed in 2016 by Boris Johnson in his last week as London Mayor — with 1,500 homes in six tower blocks, one soaring up 46 floors instead of 30.

Tory Cllr Andrew Wood and Labour Cllr Mufeedah Bustin plough through boxes of planning documents at the  town hall's Westferry scheme public hearing. Picture: Mike BrookeTory Cllr Andrew Wood and Labour Cllr Mufeedah Bustin plough through boxes of planning documents at the town hall's Westferry scheme public hearing. Picture: Mike Brooke

It is appealing to the Secretary of State against Tower Hamlets Council's rejection. The appeal running for two weeks is hearing evidence for and against.

A special evening session for the people was unanimously against the scale of the revised scheme which they fear would encourage skyscrapers right down to the waterfront facing Greenwich, as well as overwhelming public transport and mains gas and water supplies.

"The model shows the Isle of Dogs being turned into the Manhatten of London," Tower Hamlets Cllr Andrew Wood told the session. "You have to follow the 'step down' rule on heights as you move away from Canada Square, a principal dating back 20 years."

Cllr Wood, who represents Canary Wharf at the town hall, later told the East London Advertiser: "The future is at stake if the island becomes a 'Manhatten'. It's game over if we lose the principal which would send a signal to other developers.

Model shows how Westferry towers would overshadow surrounding streets. Picture: Mike BrookeModel shows how Westferry towers would overshadow surrounding streets. Picture: Mike Brooke

"The only control is that we're under the flight path to London City Airport, the one good thing that restricts height, although it seems you can still build tall."

Ruth Bravery, who runs a charity for east London's destitute, presented a dossier of photographs showing the impact of skyscrapers crammed cheek-by-jowl into her neighbourhood that cast shadow all day across streets like Westferry Road where she lives.

She explained: "The council hasn't been savvy to realise that what they've approved in the past, one block after another right next to each other, ends up with this big mass where you just can't see the sky on some street corners.

"The area is tightly restricted by the Thames and the Millwall Docks forming natural barriers.

New complex envisaged for Millwall's 15-acre Westferry printworks site on the docks waterfront now proposed to double in size, Picture: Mace DevelopersNew complex envisaged for Millwall's 15-acre Westferry printworks site on the docks waterfront now proposed to double in size, Picture: Mace Developers

"The 'step down' rule avoids a cliff edge when you get to the perimeter dropping like a stone at the waterfront."

But the council has actually drawn the line on the Westferry scheme and twice rejected it.

This led to Mace Developments' planning appeal to the Secretary of State who appointed independent inspector David Prentis to decide.

The scheme includes a quayside promenade with shops, cafés and bars, two parks and a school for 1,200 pupils.

Little Lalentine Desmond ready with his hammer when demolition began at the old Westferry printworks in 2016 owned by his media tycoon dad Richard Desmond. Picture: Mark MoodyLittle Lalentine Desmond ready with his hammer when demolition began at the old Westferry printworks in 2016 owned by his media tycoon dad Richard Desmond. Picture: Mark Moody

But objectors like Gary O'Keef spoke of the "dogs' dinner madness" and a "mishmash" of such schemes.

"Many developments are dross," he added. "Architects are all trying to outdo each other for size and density, but people here are fed up with 'statement' architecture."

The over population from so many developments means regular "lock outs" at Canary Wharf Underground station to stop crowds getting down to platforms that are already crammed to capacity.

"That's even before the Westferry scheme gets off the ground," he pointed out. "Allowing unrestricted high towers gives a green flag to any developer to get a foot in, then we lose everything. It's about quality of life."

The mayor of Tower Hamlets has called for "a need to be sensitive" after decades of Isle of Dogs population expanding which is set to rise by 40,000 more in the next 10 years, with fears that mains, drainage and public transport won't cope.

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