The Tower of London could lose its world heritage status after Tower Hamlets Council approved a nine-storey hotel just 150 yards away, campaigners claim.
UNESCO officials inspected the World Heritage Site on Wednesday following a warning from the agency that new developments nearby endangered its status.
Councillors voted last Monday to allow the 937-room scheme from Dutch hotel chain CitizenM in light of new incentives from the developer.
But residents and businesses of the Trinity Square Group fear it could affect the report that this week’s mission will deliver to UNESCO’S World Heritage Committee in February, when they could opt to brand the site at risk.
A spokesman for the Trinity Square Group called the decision “an extraordinary and highly unsatisfactory result.”
The World Heritage Committee resolved in July to consider adding the Tower to their ‘in danger’ list, citing “with deep concern” that “no substantial progress” had been made to protect its surroundings.
Council officers who recommended the plans be approved wrote that they were “considered to respect, preserve and enhance the character” of the Tower.
But campaigners say the hotel’s design contrasts with nearby Trinity House and overshadows the Tower Hill Memorial, which commemorates those lost at sea in the world wars.
The group spokesman added: “It erodes the historical context of the immediate vicinity of the site.”
The council initially rejected the scheme in September, citing “excessive height” and “detrimental effects” on the area.
Peter Golds, Conservative member, called the 370-room hotel a “monstrous carbuncle”, while planning forum Creekside described it as a “horrible glass box.”
Yet a bureaucratic error meant the vote was not officially recorded, requiring it to be taken again.
Now campaigners are alarmed that the meeting saw little discussion of application itself, instead concentrating on new incentives from CitizenM in what Creekside secretary Bill Ellson described “an extraordinary farce”.
After being rejected by the council, CitizenM offered an extra £125,500 to employ and train 45 Tower Hamlets residents in the building of the hotel, and ensure 20 per cent of the final staff are local residents.
Helal Uddin Abbas, development committee chair, said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the application as it was still open to formal challenge, but noted that arguments from both sides had in his opinion been fully heard and scrutinised.
In the meantime, UNESCO’s mission will prepare a report for the World Heritage Committee, which meets annually. Local authorities recommend sites to the government to nominate for heritage status.
Ian White of the UK Commission for UNESCO – an independent advisory group – claimed the Tower was unlikely to be downgraded, let alone lose its status.
White said de-listing is “very, very rare”, adding: “It’s a fairly serious step for a site to go on the heritage site in danger list.”
He cited war and natural disaster as two common reasons – “very serious situations that affect a country’s ability to protect or maintain a site.”
A spokesman at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which recommends sites to UNESCO on behalf of local authorities, said: “We take our responsibility to protect World Heritage Sites very seriously and we welcome the mission to London.”
If locals wish to express their views on the situation, they should direct them to case officer Simon Ryan: email@example.com.