A 75-metre office block is set to be built over Southwark underground station after a planning committee approved plans on Wednesday (March 17).  

Transport for London (TfL) is planning to build a 17-storey block over the station, which sits at the corner of Blackfriars Road and The Cut.

The station was built about 20 years ago and was designed with the intention of having something built on top of it.  

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Numerous options were developed over the years, though this is the first deemed feasible. 

TfL representatives told the Southwark planning committee that the aim is to keep the station open while works are ongoing.  

The proposals were enabled by a land swap agreement between TfL and Southwark, which will allow the council to build 25 new homes beside Styles House tower.  

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The committee granted approval for the new homes last month.  

The office plans involve the demolition of a two-storey block of eight studios on the Styles House estate and the closure of part of Joan Street.  

BT, which owns the Colombo House Telephone Exchange on Joan Street, objected to the closure on flood risk, construction, and vehicle access grounds.  

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But according to the report, TfL has done various studies “that demonstrate that the servicing of these businesses can continue with the proposed new layout”.  

Affordable workspace is set to make up 10 per cent of the offices, while two new shops will be on the ground floor.  

Speaking on the scheme, Andrew Crow, senior development manager at TfL, said: “Our architect and supporting design team have designed a building that makes TfL incredibly proud. 

“A building that would deliver outstanding public realm and preserve the historic importance of the existing station. 

“That will bring over 2,000 jobs to Southwark, that will enable to delivery of genuinely affordable homes that we were pleased to see this committee grant permission for last month.” 

He added that the building will be one of the “greenest” in the UK. 

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“We have worked to ensure that it implements the industry’s highest possible standards in sustainability, minimising its environmental impact,” he said.  

However, committee members raised concerns about the more than half million-pound (£544,350) carbon offset payment TfL is set to pay.  

The payments allow organisations to invest in environmental projects in order to balance out their own carbon footprints.  

Derek Wilson, head of sustainability with TfL commercial developments, said the project is “exemplary on the sustainability front” and “incredibly efficient”. 

“The challenge is that whenever building a building, for it to be zero carbon on-site you need to generate enough power on-site to power that whole building.  

“That’s achievable if you have a single-storey home, but when you have an office building that has multiple floors, it’s impossible to get enough PV solar plans onsite to power that entire building.  

“You end up having to draw electricity from the grid to power that building and that’s where that energy demand comes from.  

“The carbon offset payment is associated with the amount of energy demand from the building. That being said, it’s possible once the product is complete to procure 100 per cent renewable energy and make it completely carbon neutral,” he said.  

At the meeting two nearby residents raised concerns about loss of light, the height of the build, and the demand for office space in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The height of the building is over the 70 metres deemed acceptable by the Blackfriars Road Supplementary Planning Document (SPD). 

According to the planning officers’ report, the impact in terms privacy, outlook and loss of daylight is “significant” on a “small number of properties”.  

“These impacts need to be balanced against the very significant benefits of delivering this scheme,” officers said. 

Speaking against the proposal, Borough & Bankside ward Cllr Adele Morris said: “There isn’t a problem with development over the station but there is a feeling that it’s out of context – it’s too tall and too chunky and too wide.  

“The feeling is that it could have been lower and could have been slimmer.” 

Committee Member Cllr Cleo Soanes echoed the concerns about office space demand after the pandemic.  

“A lot of organisations have come forward with proposals, quite publicly, in terms of changing their business models. 

“[There is] potential the office building could become redundant and not favourable to orgainsaitons,” she said.  

Mr Crow said his team felt there will be a demand for “world-class” offices in the area and “fundamentally [they] wouldn’t really change anything” in light of the pandemic.  

“We see this building as a response, as TfL helping London to recovery, as a statement to global corporates around the world to say London’s open for business. 

“We’re happy the [building] will be viable and delivered,” he said.  

The building is set to be colourful – panels will match underground lines, with the northern facades featuring the colours of the Piccadilly, Victoria, and Docklands lines, “through to the warmer greens and yellows of the Circle and District Lines as one moves round the building, to reds, yellows and purples of the Central, Overground and Metropolitan Lines on the southern facade”. 

The plans were approved six to two members.