Justice Lang says campaigners have raised “arguable grounds” for legal challenge

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CGI of Make’s proposals for the former ITV Studios site

The High Court has allowed a legal challenge of Michael Gove’s decision to approve Make’s £700m redevelopment of the former ITV Studios site on London’s South Bank.

A full judicial review will be scheduled for later this year in the latest planning setback for the controversial 26-storey office scheme, one of the biggest construction projects in the capital.

It was originally approved by Lambeth council and Sadiq Khan in 2022 before it was called in by Gove’s predecessor Greg Clark and sent to a public inquiry in December that year.

Gove delayed his decision on the scheme three times before finally signing it off in February, nearly two years after it was first approved.

Claimants Save Our South Bank (SOSB), a collective of campaign groups, are arguing that Gove ignored the impact of the scheme they describe as “The Slab” on views of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The collective is also arguing he misinterpreted planning policy for the site, which had been allocated for mixed-use including housing, and did not sufficiently take into account the carbon impact of flattening the site’s existing 24-storey 72 Upper Ground tower.

Justice Lang said in the court order: “In my view, the claimant has raised arguable grounds which merit consideration at a full hearing.”

SOSB spokesperson and veteran campaigner Michael Ball, who led a judicial review against Thomas Heatherwick’s aborted Garden Bridge plans, said Lang’s decision not to query any of the group’s four main points was “a first in my experience”.

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Campaigners are arguing the proposals harm views of St Paul’s Cathedral

The scheme’s developers CO-RE and Mitsubishi Estate now have 35 days to contest the claim.

SOSB said they were “delighted” that Justice Lang had ordered a full hearing.

“From the outset, local residents and campaigners including Historic England raised strong concerns about the impact of “The Slab” on protected views of St Paul’s Cathedral and other heritage assets,” they said.

Ball added: “Millions of people enjoy walking the South Bank for the delightful views afforded by the river. These views – of some of the nation’s crown jewels – would be wrecked, and the South Bank cast into gloom by an ugly jumble of tall buildings. 

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How the scheme would look if viewed from the South Bank river walk

“Permission for these speculative office towers also undermines efforts – supported by Mr Gove – to address our city’s housing crisis and reduce needless emissions of over 100,000 tonnes of CO2. 

“It is an extraordinary act of self-harm which we hope the High Court will prevent.”

CO-RE and Mitsubishi estate declined to comment on the High Court’s order. The pair have previously said: “Through all stages of the planning process there has been strong recognition of the fantastic addition that 72 Upper Ground will make to the South Bank and to London.”

SOSB have said that the former ITV tower could  be refurbished to provide 200 homes and 500,000sq ft of offices while saving a huge amount of embodied carbon compared to Make’s full redevelopment approach.