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UK rejects plans to build Tulip tower in the City of London

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The UK government has rejected plans for a towering tourist attraction in the City of London, bringing to a close a bitter and protracted battle over the future skyline and purpose of the capital’s main financial district.

Proposals for a 305-metre shaft topped by a glass bulb, christened The Tulip by its developers but nicknamed less flatteringly by critics, have been rebuffed by the secretary of state for housing, Michael Gove.

Permission was refused on the basis that the tower, which would have been the tallest in the City, would disrupt the character of an area with important heritage buildings, including the nearby Tower of London.

The Tulip’s Brazilian developer, J Safra Group, and architects, Foster + Partners, had insisted the tower — which would have had a viewing gallery, restaurant and a “classroom in the sky” — would bring much needed life to the City post-pandemic.

But in dismissing the developer’s appeal, Gove cited the juxtaposition of the tower with its surroundings, notably the Square Mile’s offices and historic buildings.

Thursday’s decision brings the curtain down on a lengthy tussle over the fate of the tower.

The City of London Corporation, the local authority, granted permission for The Tulip in April 2019, but were directed to reverse their decision months later by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who complained at the time that it “would not constitute the very highest quality of design required for a tall building in this location”.

J Safra Group appealed against that decision, which led to it being referred to the secretary of state for housing. Khan welcomed Gove’s decision to reject the appeal.

“Sadiq has long argued that the proposed tower would be little more than a concrete lift shaft with a viewing gallery at the top, offering very little in terms of benefits for Londoners, with no new office space or housing,” the mayor’s office said.

But the housing secretary’s rebuff marks a frustrating conclusion for the billionaire Safra family, who had planned The Tulip as a neighbour to the “Gherkin” office building at 30 St Mary Axe, which they purchased in 2014 for £726m.

The 180m-high Gherkin, also designed by Norman Foster, was among the tallest buildings in the City when it was completed in 2003 but has since been crowded out by office blocks such as the 225m-high Leadenhall Building, or the “Cheesegrater” and 20 Fenchurch Street, nicknamed “the Walkie Talkie”.

According to people familiar with the proposals, the new owners were partly motivated by irritation that views of the Gherkin had been obscured.

The Tulip would have solved that problem in two ways: providing a view directly on to the roof of the Gherkin and — designed in the same convex style — effectively putting a Gherkin-like design on stilts.

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