Anyone troubled by the housing crisis can take comfort from One Blackfriars looming over the Thames like a wonky ice lolly on the former site of the Blackfriars Rotunda. Berkeley Group’s 50 storey glass tower will have 274 luxury homes, a 110-space multi-level car parking basement, a 152 room hotel, a gym, cinema, wine cellar, massage parlour, swimming pool and much else.

Planning application documents for One Blackfriars claim that the fatuous design of the building “is inspired by both the sculptures of Brancussi, Henry Moore and 1950s Finnish glassware design” and the arty pretentions continue with interiors ‘inspired’ by Thomas Gainsborough, JMW Turner and Barbara Hepworth.

The scheme was originally given planning consent in 2009, and to include a public ‘sky deck’ on the top floors, giving public access to some of London’s best views, but this was axed three years later, after Berkeley group purchased the site and claimed that competition from the Shard’s sky deck would render One Blackfriar’s sky deck unviable.

CGI of the original plans for a public sky deck

As consolation for the loss, Berkeley’s planning application proposed a ‘public viewing lounge on level 32’.

Extract from Berkeley’s planning application

The 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

Car parking was one area of non-compliance. Despite the site having the highest level of transport accessibility and a policy requirement to minimises car use, Southwark was persuaded that Berkeley simply would not be able to sell the apartments at ‘viable’ prices without a three storey 110 space basement car-park, complete with car stacker and valet service.

Extract from the planning committee report

Inevitably, affordable housing was also non-compliant. There will be no affordable housing on-site or off-site. Instead Berkeley are making a payment towards Southwark’s floundering council home delivery programme, but after paying to build a snow cabin and ice fountain, a ‘gym with private Zen garden’, a virtual golf course with whisky bar, a swimming pool, a sauna with jungle shower, a wine cellar with tasting room, a hot stone massage parlour and a cinema, Berkeley found it did not have enough money to meet the full in lieu payment of £35m, so offered £29m instead - 4% of an estimated total scheme value of £700m - which Southwark gratefully accepted. Penthouses at One Blackfriars are currently on sale for £23m.

This was all justified by a viability assessment, drafted by Savills for Berkeley and submitted to Southwark. Southwark disclosed the viability assessment to a local resident, in response to an FOI request, but with all the figures redacted. We therefore have to rely on the One Blackfriars planning committee report to explain why the £29m in lieu payment was lower than the £35m minimum policy requirement.

Extract from the (completely) redacted viability assessment.

While the report depends upon the viability assessment to justify the loss of money to the council, it does not relay to the planning committe any of the critical value assumptions needed to judge its veracity, such as profit rate, land value and benchmark value. Instead it cites the high build cost of the tower’s ‘distinctive…curved glass facade’ (which it thought to be ‘not necessarily unreasonable’) and the ‘notable benefit’ to the scheme of the aforementioned public viewing lounge, which, while costing Berkeley £5.5m, ‘would be available to the community at a low charge’ (para 149,150).

Leaving aside whatever sense sacrificing homes for viewing lounges makes, the small print in the planning application documents show that the public viewing lounge won’t be so public. It will only be accessible 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. Berkeley’s most recent brochure for One Blackfriars is now advertising the public viewing lounge as a ‘private executive lounge’, and an ‘exclusive private club’ for residents (page 45) and a comparison of the image presented to the planning committee and the image in the latest brochure shows the difference. Berkeley’s brochures for One Blackfriars can be downloaded in Russian, Chinese and Arabic.

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

Extract from Berkeley’s sales brochure describing the public viewing lounge as an ‘executive lounge - an exclusive private club’

Revolving doors

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 (Labour) Cabinet member for Regeneration, Steve Lancashire. Berkeley also employed Southwark’s former Lib/Dem Cabinet member for Regeneration Catherine Bowman before she set up shop with former Tory deputy leader Kim Humphries. Yet another example of Southwark’s well-oiled and well-used revolving door between the Council and the development industry.

Three former Council chiefs on Berkeley’s payroll

Crass marketing

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.

Berkeley’s CGI of the residents’ cinema at One Blackfriars

Berkeley’s CGI of the residents’ gym at One Blackfriars

Berkeley’s CGI of the residents’ wine cellar at One Blackfriars

Berkeley’s CGI of the residents’ massage parlour at One Blackfriars

Berkeley’s CGI of the swimming pool at One Blackfriars