It is never too early to talk about the millennium, if you are an historian, and never too late to talk about the "face" of London, if you care about this historic city. Already, controversy has arisen over what London will look like in the year 2000, with particular attention being paid to what could be Europe’s tallest building, the proposed 400 million pound, 92-storey London Millennium Tower. Guaranteed to dominate London’s skyline, the Tower has stirred debate between conservationists and developers.
Sir Jocelyn Stevens, Chairman of English Heritage, has called for a new planning policy for London, with his organization playing a leading role. Quoted in The Telegraph with regard to the Millennium Tower, he said, "London doesn’t need a macho building to prove itself." He disagreed with developers that the Tower would be an important landmark and good for London’s image. Saying "London is entering one of the most dramatic periods of development in its history," Sir Jocelyn is gearing up for a fight.
The Tower’s proposed site at the Baltic Exchange, a listed building severely damaged by the 1992 IRA bomb, would have to be put to a public inquiry if there is to be any chance of it being built. Even though the Corporation of London, the City’s local authority, has given planning permission, English Heritage will direct that the ruins cannot be demolished to make way for the Tower. The organization claims that the Tower would "overwhelm the quintessential character of the Capital."
According to The Telegraph, the Corporation of London takes the view that the Tower will satisfy the demand for large areas of space in a single building, caused by successive mergers of the City’s banks. The question here is whether London needs a massive tower in order to maintain its position as a financial centre.
It is important that we not lose sight of the fact that the tourism business itself is an important part of the Capital’s future. Who wants to come and visit a city that looks like all the others? Isn’t it better to plan around the city’s character? Surely planners cannot go wrong when a city’s history is not neglected? Progress and competitive spirit can be beneficial, but not at the cost of appreciation for a city’s unique and rich past.
Thanks, Sir Jocelyn, for standing up and stopping the unseemly rush to build Europe’s tallest building, and bringing up the idea of proper planning throughout the city. I wish someone had thought of this back in the 1960s but it is better late than never!
Gail R. Huganir, Editor & Publisher, British Heritage