London’s often awkward relationship with the US Embassy seems unlikely to improve anytime soon after Boris Johnson raised a number of wide ranging objections to plans for a ‘super embassy’ in Battersea.
The US plans to move from its current Grosvenor Square building into a purpose built, £500m complex near the River Thames. In a letter to Wandsworth Council’s planning team, Greater London Authority planning officers say Johnson considers “that the application does not comply with the London Plan”, the planning framework which sets out the Mayor’s guidance for developments within the capital.
A detailed report on the project, which is available on the GLA website, says “further detailed work and commitments are required” to meet the London Plan’s inclusive access requirements and London Plan transport policies.
City Hall officials have raised concerns that current proposals may not deliver a new public plaza adjacent to site as the area is outside the project’s boundary and have called for it to be relocate within, requiring a reduction in the size of the embassy building.
Officials have also raised objections to a earth mound to be placed between Nine Elms Lane and the embassy building on the grounds that it “undermines the relationship between the landscape setting of the building and the open aspect of the River Thames to the north.” City Hall instead wants any boundary wall to be ‘”visually permeable”.
City Hall has also made clear its expectations that the embassy project will contribute financially either to Crossrail or to other large scale transport projects in the local area. Under the Crossrail Supplementary Planning Guidance the embassy is liable for a contribution of more than £2.5m.
The demand comes as City Hall’s latest figures shows the embassy has amassed £3,339,720 in outstanding Penalty Charge Notices relating to non-payment of the Congestion Charge. As of 1st July embassy vehicles had made more than 30,000 unpaid trips into and within the charging area and tops the list of outstanding fines.
Although embassy officials initially paid the charge between, this policy was reversed with the arrival of then Ambassador Robert Tuttle in 2005. That policy change prompted former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone to brand Tuttle a “chiseling little crook”.
Earlier this year Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon called on new Ambassador Louis B. Susman to show to Londoners that things really have changed under Barack Obama’s new US administration” by paying all outstanding PCNs and agreeing to pay the charge.
Today’s Evening Standard reports the Mayor “is also under pressure to force the US to pay £3million in congestion charge fines before agreeing to the embassy” however it’s unclear whether planning law would allow the Mayor to link approval to payment of the outstanding sums.
In a letter sent to Ms Pidgeon in April Johnson said a decision by the new American Ambassador to pay the charge “would, a stroke, enhance the reputation of the new administration with many Londoners.”
Privately senior Johnson administration figures express frustration that the US has been unwilling to repair relations with the capital. Currently more than 70% of Diplomatic missions within the capital pay the charge.