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Rocket-shaped London theatre building rejected by council

Artist's impression of Gagarin Square. Photo: Lees Associates Artist's impression of Gagarin Square. Photo: Lees Associates
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Plans for a new theatre in a 30-storey, rocket-shaped tower in south London have been rejected by Southwark Council.

The application included a seven-storey building and a larger, 105-metre tower, to include a 350-seat theatre, rehearsal rooms, a restaurant, museum space and nine luxury flats.

The site of the development on Southwark Street is adjacent to the Menier Chocolate Factory and is owned by the same Russian proprietors as the building that houses the Menier.

Plans for the development, called Gagarin Square, sought to “complement and expand the arts and culture offer in Bankside and the South Bank” as well as provide rehearsal space for existing theatres in the area.

A report drawn up for the council’s planning committee said the proposals’ cultural provision would be valuable to the area, but that the development’s benefits were “substantially outweighed by the harm caused to the townscape and heritage assets”.

The report assessed the application on a number of issues, including the building’s height and design, its appropriateness for the site, affordable housing allocation, transport, planning obligations and sustainability.

It described the tower as an “isolated and incongruous” feature on the landscape, which constituted a “totally inappropriate form of development”.

Mark Williams, cabinet member for regeneration and new homes, said the committee had agreed with planning officers that the proposal failed to either “enhance or support” the surrounding area or community.

“Its design was completely out of keeping for the surrounding streets and buildings. We have a duty to maintain high standards of development in our borough and this application failed to meet many of our policies to do that,” he said.

The plans initially stated that the commercial and residential space within the development would fund the running of the theatre, which would be unsubsidised. However, the council’s report said no evidence had been provided to support this and therefore it would be given little weight when determining the application.

Don Riley, the London representative for the development’s backers, said the plans were to create something “a bit idiosyncratic, a bit iconic and a bit wonderful” in the rocket-shaped structure.

“It would signal there is something going on that is magical on the South Bank,” he said.

Riley said that the building would have an “astonishing enhancement of the arts” and urged Southwark council to “switch their thinking on”.

Plans for a development on the site were first put forward in 2010, however earlier proposals were withdrawn and the architecture designs revised.

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