At its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008), the World Heritage Committee noted that the State Party had demonstrated its commitment to comply with the requests of the World Heritage Committee (Decision 31 COM 7B.91) to protect the property, its setting and related vistas, but that the following issues still need to be addressed: the buffer zone with adequate protection; the specific skyline study of the property, its setting and views, to allow rapid in-depth assessments of the impact of development proposals in the immediate vicinity of the property, and lack of clarity on the management system set out in the management plan for addressing conflicts between conservation and development, particularly in the setting of the property. The State Party submitted a progress report on the issues raised by the World Heritage Committee on 25 February 2009 highlighting the following:
a) Buffer zone
With regard to the buffer zone and adequate protection, the State Party notes paragraphs 103 and 106 of the Operational Guidelines and indicates that it does not believe that buffer zones are necessary in every case, particularly where adequate layers of protection already exist. Noting that this has been endorsed by the World Heritage Committee, in the case of Westminster the State Party will be considering the establishment of a buffer zone in the light of discussions following on from the emerging Dynamic Visual Impact Study (DVIS), and further analysis of the five selected views. The State Party notes that any proposal to establish a buffer zone would be considered as part of the broader spatial planning process, and, if necessary could be supported by the statutory planning framework.
b) Skyline study/Dynamic Visual Impact Study
The State Party provided an update on work being undertaken on a methodology for assessing development in World Heritage views. It notes that a publication "Seeing the History in the View: a method for Assessing Heritage Significance within Views" was published for consultation by English Heritage in April 2008. The final publication is expected by mid-2009, and aims to explain how English Heritage intends to assess the historical significance of views in a replicable, consistent and systematic way – not only for World Heritage properties. This method of assessment is intended to help clarify the heritage aspect of the planning process, and promote national consistency.
The State Party also indicates that an explanation of how a DVIS fits within the United Kingdom planning system is currently being considered. This has the aim of articulating the process for assessing the potential visual impact of a development proposal on London World Heritage property within the context of other studies affecting relevant planning applications, so that they avoid duplication and maintain clarity.
The Westminster World Heritage Site DVIS steering group selected five views considered to best encapsulate the Outstanding Universal Value of the property for assessment using the draft methodology set out in "Seeing the History in the View". Public consultation helped to refine the methodology and five baseline view assessments are currently being considered by the steering group. Work is continuing on the next step to review the existing protection of the Westminster World Heritage property to determine if this needs to be enhanced to sustain and protect the Outstanding Universal Value.
The report states that they believe that there is some confusion about the skyline study for the property. They indicate that this has long been overtaken by the work currently being taken forward as part of the London View Management Framework,(see below) and on a dynamic visual impact study, which will include an assessment of the skyline of the property. The State Party notes that they had not made any commitment to undertake such a skyline study for Westminster although it subsequently undertook to carry out a dynamic visual assessment study to facilitate thorough and rapid assessment of future planning applications for the property. The State Party therefore requests that any reference to “Skyline Study" be omitted from future draft Decisions.
The London Views Management Framework is being reviewed to enhance protection of views of the Palace of Westminster (and one for the Tower of London). The review will seek to strengthen and protect two views towards the Palace of Westminster and will provide clearer guidance about what type of development should or should not occur in these views.
c) Management system
The report notes that all United Kingdom World Heritage properties have management plans, many of which are going through their revisions. It states that the current Westminster World Heritage Site management plan has been agreed and endorsed by all relevant stakeholders. The Westminster World Heritage Site Liaison Steering Group provides a mechanism to identify and address conflicts arising that affect the protection and management of the property, although ultimately they need to be resolved through the formal planning framework.
The State Party previously informed of the publication of a draft Heritage Protection Bill but notes that, whilst the Government remains committed to introducing this legislation, it has been delayed until a legislative slot becomes available. In the meantime a number of reforms to the system are being pursued without the need for legislation including:
- From 1 October 2008, World Heritage properties have been included in Article 1(5) land designation in the General Permitted Development Order. This means that certain permitted development rights are withdrawn to give more control over small-scale changes which could incrementally have an adverse effect on Outstanding Universal Value;
- In Spring 2009 specific notification and call-in requirements for significant development affecting properties will be introduced where English Heritage have objected on the grounds that a proposed development could have an adverse impact on the Outstanding Universal Value and significance of a property and has been unable to withdraw that objection following discussions;
- A new planning circular on World Heritage with an accompanying English Heritage guidance note is due to be published in Spring 2009. These documents will emphasise the key role planning authorities have in protecting World Heritage properties through policies in regional and local level Plans.
e) Continued approval of development projects with tall buildings
The State Party recognises the need to protect the setting from inappropriate development, but notes that they are aware that not all tall buildings are inadequate. The State Party notes that the policy of the Spatial Development Strategy for London requires Borough’s development documents to "contain policies that protect [World Heritage properties] significance and safeguard, where appropriate, and their settings", and requires all development proposals to take account of World Heritage Site management plans. Furthermore it notes that the policy has been reinforced by the London View Management Framework. The report also notes that Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square Conservation Area Audit, adopted in 2008 includes a map to show important views in the conservation area/World Heritage property and that draft supplementary planning documents for Waterloo and Vauxhall recognise the World Heritage property. In addition, the State Party indicates adopted conservation area appraisals designed to assist with the management and enhancement of the conservation areas to demonstrate the Local authorities' commitment to taking account of the Outstanding Universal Value for South Bank, Waterloo, Roupell Street, Lower Marsh, Mitre Road and Ufford Street. The State Party notes that London Borough's are important players in protecting World Heritage properties through Local Development Frameworks and, previously, through Unitary Development Plans they have policies to protect the integrity of such sites. In reaching a decision the Secretary of State takes a balance approach to all development proposals, including consideration of whether there is a good case for growth and development which need not be at the cost of the heritage.
f) The London Plan
The reports states that the new Mayor of London has since 2008 indicated his commitment to World Heritage properties and that tall buildings will be required to respect the context of the area in which they are to be located, protect and enhance the environment, meet sustainable design standards and be of outstanding architectural quality. Furthermore, the Mayor is reviewing the 2004 London Plan to ensure that all new buildings are of highest standard of design, relevant to their context and sensitive to heritage, archaeology and local character. A draft of the revised London Plan will be published for public consultation in autumn 2009.
The report also covers the following specific development proposals:
Doon Street Tower, Lambeth: The original 48 storey residential tower was revised in an application received by Lambeth in early June 2007 when the tower was reduced to 43 storeys. The application was approved in August 2007 and submitted to the Government Office London. In September 2008 English Heritage and Westminster City Council issued a joint legal challenge to that decision, and a Court hearing is likely to take place later in 2009.
Beetham Tower proposal, 1 Blackfriars Road, Southwark: The planning application for amixed-use scheme including a 68 storey tower block was submitted in 2005, followed by a new application in 2006 which included a reduced height tower of 180m. This was approved by the Council in 2006 and submitted to the Government Office London (GOL) as a departure. Following discussions a revised application reducing the tower height by one story, to 170m, was submitted to the GOL in February 2008. This was called in with an inquiry running during September/October 2008. The Inspector's report has been submitted to the Secretary of State who is currently considering it.
20 Blackfriars, London SE1: Proposals include a 148m and 109m tower, separated by a piazza. The application was submitted to Southwark Council in 2007, and was called in during May 2008. An inquiry ran in September/October 2008, and the Inspector's report has been submitted to the Secretary of State who is currently considering it.
Regeneration proposals for land north of Victoria Station, City of Westminster: The Victoria area is designated as an Opportunity Area in the London Plan. An initial planning application was submitted in July 2007 and, following concerns about the height, a revised proposal was submitted in October 2008. The proposals comprise three planning applications with demolition of buildings, and mixed-use redevelopment with six new buildings, up to 16 storeys. Constraints were imposed by works associated with the Victoria Station London Underground upgrade. Westminster Council considers that the building heights and massing have been significantly reduced from the previous scheme, and resolve to approve the application in February 2009. The Council has advised that, in their view, the scheme has no impact on views of the World Heritage property.
Sky Gardens, Vauxhall: Permission was granted in November 2008 for a scheme comprising a 35 storey tower rising to 120m, with an attached three to six storey tall podium.
Redevelopment of Elizabeth House (adjacent to Waterloo station), Lambeth : Two office towers and one residential tower, “the Three Sisters", has been redesigned with a 33 storey residential tower of 117m, and office towers of 27 and 22 storeys. English Heritage and Westminster City Council has requested call-in, partly because of the potential impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the Westminster World Heritage property and its setting. The application was called in during October 2008, and an inquiry is due to open on 15 April 2009.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS note the progress that has been made to begin to develop a methodology on views which will lead to a DVIS based on five selected views.
However they note that no progress has been made yet with a buffer zone, but that it is stated that this could follow on from the DVIS. The State Party considers that the request for a skyline study is not necessary as they have not committed themselves to this and also that this has been overtaken by the London Views Management Framework. The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS do not consider that these two instruments are the same: the skyline study would consider the overall profile of the landscape around the property, while the London Views Management Framework considers a small number of selected views.
The State Party reports that the Westminster World Heritage Liaison Steering Group provides a mechanism to identify and address conflicts arising in relation to protection and management of the property which have to be resolved through the planning process. The number of outstanding planning issues seem to demonstrate that process does not appear to deliver satisfactory solutions, and the status of the setting of the property remains uncertain.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Body consider, notwithstanding the reiteration of the role of London boroughs in protecting the property and the future strengthening of protection for all World Heritage properties outlined in the report that the lack of a buffer zone and of a completed DVIS is working against the protection of the property. Several of the building projects appear to have been approved although they impact negatively on the property.