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George Turner on his Shell Centre defeat: ‘I did what I could’

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George Turner on his Shell Centre defeat: ‘I did what I could’

11 June 2015 | By Elizabeth Hopkirk

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Image of Stanton Williams’ Building 5 next to the existing Shell Centre tower

Michael Squire explains Shell Centre model to planning inspector John Braithwaite watched by George Turner for residents (far left) and Robert Ayton for Westminster (far right)

George Turner told BD today’s defeat was “totally crushing” and admitted it was probably the end of the road for his efforts to halt the Shell Centre redevelopment.

Speaking at the Royal Courts of Justice straight after the judgement, he warned the public would come to question how the £1.2bn Squire & Partners scheme was built.

But he said: “I did what I could.”

He also predicted the judgement would make the public think twice before getting involved in the planning system.

Nothing now stands in the way of construction beginning on eight buildings of up to 37 storeys with offices, retail, leisure and nearly 900 homes beside the London Eye.

Turner, a South Bank resident and writer who fought the case almost single-handedly, said: “I really cared about the wider issue of the built environment which is so important to people’s lives. It shapes our culture and society and it’s fundamentally important that the public are fully engaged in that process of change to the built environment.

“This judgement completely exonerates the inspector [John Braithwaite, who presided over the public inquiry in 2013] for some outstandingly bad behaviour which was found by a High Court judge to be unacceptable.

“And you wonder why anyone is going to think engaging in the planning process is a worthwhile thing if they can be treated in this way.”

He added: “There was such a massive disparity of resources. You couldn’t get a sharper example of inequality of arms. The royal family of one of the richest countries in the world, Europe’s largest company and one of London’s largest developers were lined up with the mayor of London and the council against a small community group.

“You really have to wonder how anything that would tip that balance further in favour of the developers is an acceptable thing to do and yet that’s what the inspector did on several occasions.”

Planning inspector Braithwaite was accused of being discourteous and of allowing some witnesses to over-run while interrupting others.

In a previous case brought by Turner, Justice Collins took Braithwaite to task, saying: “I have no doubt that the inspector’s conduct was such as to give rise to a real concern that he was unfair to the objectors. He seriously mismanaged his conduct of the inquiry. It may be well that the individual decisions he made were justifiable but the way in which he made them was unacceptable.”

However, today’s judgement ruled that not only was no actual bias shown by Braithwaite but that there was no appearance of bias either – and that Braithwaite conducted the inquiry in a reasonable way.

Turner said: “It’s beyond belief. If you have a completely unbalanced situation, the court should be extra sensitive to that and yet they explain these constant infractions of the process as either being a mistake or inconsequential.

“In years to come when they have built it, people will be completely bewildered by how it happened.

“In the process that has been laid bare by the courts proceedings it will be seen to be unacceptable.”

His objections include the design, the damage the buildings would do to important heritage assets, and the poor levels of affordable housing in a poor part of the building.

“A third of the building won’t have adequate daylight and 99.3% of the new public square won’t have direct sunlight,” he said. “I don’t think people will find it a pleasant place to inhabit. The only reason they can get away with building architecture of poor quality is because much of it won’t be inhabited but will be a place for foreign investors to park their money.”

The scheme, centred on the 1954 Shell tower, was masterplanned by Squires with individual buildings designed by KPF, Patel Taylor, Grid, Stanton Williams and Squires for developer Braeburn Estates, a joint venture between Qatari Diar and Canary Wharf Group.

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