This atrocity is Berkeley Group’s ‘One Blackfriars’; a development of 274 luxury homes in a 50 storey glass tower with a 110-space multilevel parking basement below. The total development value is approximately £700m.

Planning application documents for One Blackfriars claim that the unique design of the building “is inspired by both the sculptures of Brancussi, Henry Moore and 1950s Finnish glassware design”. (page 48)

The scheme was originally given planning consent in 2009 which included a public ‘sky deck’ on the top floors, allowing public access to some of London’s best views. However, this was axed three years later after the development changed hands. Berkeley claimed that there would be competition with the public sky deck at the Shard and that it would no longer be viable.

CGI of the original plans for a public sky deck

There will be no affordable housing on-site or off-site. This was deemed to be unviable according to a viability assessment undertaken by Savills and submitted to Southwark Council. Instead the developer will pay £29m (4% of total value) in a series of staged payments to the council, towards its council house building programme.

A local resident made an FOI request to the Council for the viability assessment, which the Council fulfilled but with all of the figures redacted. The Council’s response makes a mockery of FOI regulations.

Extract from the (completely) redacted viability assessment.

As consolation for loss of the public sky deck, Berkeley’s planning application said that there would be a ‘public viewing lounge on level 32’.

Extract from Berkeley’s planning application

Berkeley’s planning application statement puts forward the viewing lounge as a material consideration that should be offset against other aspects of the development, which don’t comply with policy.

Extract from Berkeley’s planning application statement

The One Blackfriars planning committee report explains that the £29m in-lieu payment was lower than the £35m minimum policy requirement, on the grounds that the development will be providing a “viewing lounge on the 32nd level, which would be made available to the public by prior arrangement”. (para. 45)

CGI of the ‘public’ viewing lounge submitted to Southwark’s planning committee

However, the small print in the planning application documents show that the public viewing lounge won’t be so public. It says the viewing lounge will be accessible only to companies, organisations and residents in Southwark’s SE1 (riverside) postcode, who will need to book in advance and pay a fee of £50 plus £30 per hour. This is good news for the Council and its corporate events and good news for Council leader Peter John who lives in a neighbouring riverside development, but not much use to the rest of us elsewhere in the borough.

Extract from the planning application documents

Berkeley’s most recent brochure for One Blackfriars is now advertising the public viewing lounge as a ‘private executive lounge’, an ‘exclusive private club’ for residents.. (page 45)

Extract from Berkeley’s sales brochure for One Blackfriars

Well advised

If you are wondering how Berkeley manage to run such finely-managed rings around Southwark’s planning office the answer is that they are well advised. Berkeley employed Four Communications to help with its planning application. Four Communications is founded and run by former Southwark (Labour) Council leader Jeremy Fraser and employs Southwark’s former Cabinet member for Regeneration; yet another example of Southwark’s well-oiled revolving doors.

50 shades of grotesque

The development came under fire in January 2015, when its promoters produced a bizzare promotional film showing a macho city type taking his wife househunting in a helicopter and being served by a butler in their luxury One Blackfriars apartment.

Underground parking

Planning consent was given for a 110-space, three-storey car park in the basement complete with car stacker and valet service. Despite being in a car-free planning zone where planning policy restricts any parking in new developments whatsover, Berkeley was able to convince the Council that if it didn’t provide the basement parking then it wouldn’t be able to sell the flats.

Extract from the planning committee report

Snow cabins & jungle showers

While One Blackfriars couldn’t afford to provide any on-site affordable housing, it can afford to provide: a “snow cabin”, where residents can unwind from the rigours of the capital’s social scene among artificial white drifts of snow; a gym, swimming pool, a sauna accompanied by a ‘jungle shower’ providing a “rainforest shower experience” involving a dousing to the sounds of the jungle, a virtual golf course with a whisky bar, a wine cellar with tasting room, a hot stone massage parlour and a 20-seat cinema.

One Blackfriars residents’ gym

One Blackfriars residents’ cinema

One Blackfriars wine cellar

One Blackfriars massage parlour

One Blackfriars swimming pool

Penthouses at One Blackfriars are currently on sale for £23m.

Berkeley’s brochures for One Blackfriars can be downloaded in Russian, Chinese and Arabic.