A public inquiry into Helical Bar's plans for a 17-storey development of student accommodation at the northern end of Great Dover Street has opened at Southwark Town Hall.
It is nearly a year since Southwark's planning committee unanimously resolved to refuse planning permission for the redevelopment at 200 Great Dover Street.
Developer Helical Bar lodged an appeal against the council's decision and the final verdict is now in the hands of planning inspector John Papworth who is presiding over the inquiry at Southwark Town Hall.
The current building on the site, formerly known as Conoco House, now accommodates a range of tenants including the London School of Accountancy and the Anglican mission charity USPG.
The proposed development, designed by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, includes 237 student bed spaces as well as like-for-like replacement of the office space in the existing building.
In his opening statement, Andrew Fraser-Urquhart, for Helical Bar, said that his client "proposes the replacement of a non-descript, economically exhausted office building of no architectural merit whatever" with a new development "of outstanding quality".
Addressing the council's reasons for rejecting the development, which included the effect on nearby historic buildings, Mr Fraser-Urquhart said: "Central to the design considerations has been the existing grade II star listed church of St George the Martyr. The appellant's evidence will demonstrate how the scheme responds entirely to the listed building and how limited the impact actually is."
He went on to explain that the site is entirely suitable for a tall building. "The proposals would make a positive contribution to the landscape, located at a point of landmark significance and would contribute positively to the London skyline as a whole," he told the inquiry.
Daniel Kolinsky, for Southwark Council, told the inquiry that the proposed development was contrary to the borough's policy on tall buildings and "will have an adverse impact on the setting of the grade II star listed St George the Martyr church and the setting of and views from the Trinity Church Square and Borough High Street conservation areas".
He said: "The appellant's analysis wrongly treats the site (and by implication very large parts of Southwark) as an available canvas for a tall building. It appears that this analysis is based primarily on the fact that the site (in common with large parts of Southwark) is a highly accessible location."
Mr Kolinsky insisted that the Southwark Plan requires a "much more discerning approach" and that the 200 Great Dover Street site could not be considered as "a point of landmark significance" or part of a cluster of tall buildings.
He went on to explain that the proposed development would "compete with and detract from the landmark role" played by St George the Martyr church.
He concluded: "The council's concerns about the appeal scheme are fundamental and point decisively in favour of refusal of planning permission for the scheme. This is not the right scheme for the site and the justifications for a tall building (and the particular scheme proposed) put forward in the appellant's evidence are very unconvincing."
The public gallery was packed with local residents, several of whom will address the inquiry next week. Chaucer ward councillor Claire Hickson told the inquiry that she was "very concerned" about the development's "negative impact" on St George the Martyr.
Cllr Tim McNally, who has previously described the proposal as "ugly, slab-like, monolithic and overbearing", is also due to give evidence at the inquiry.
The inspector will also give consideration to 71 letters from local residents in making his decision.
The inquiry is expected to last for more than a week.
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