Early works at Vauxhall site now underway to save planning consent which expires this Sunday

Zaha Hadid Architects has been forced to start work on its huge twin tower scheme in Vauxhall despite Transport for London still not committing to an essential land swap agreement.

Enabling works for the £600m scheme, which is being developed for VCI Property Holding, got underway late last month just three weeks before the planning consent’s expiry deadline on 9 April. 

The 185m and 151m-tall towers, Zaha Hadid’s largest ever project in the UK, were originally approved by Lambeth council in 2018 before being called in by former housing secretary James Brokenshire following objections from Wandsworth council and local campaign groups. 

The scheme was eventually given the all clear in April 2020 by Brokenshire’s successor Robert Jenrick and given a three year planning window in which to start construction.

But the completion of the towers, which would be partially built on land currently occupied by the A3036 road and Vauxhall’s Arup-designed bus station, is dependent on a land swap with Transport for London (TfL) which has still not been finalised.

It is understood that VCI Property has stepped in to prevent the planning consent from expiring by starting minor works on the existing site, a vacant plot of land between the road and the bus station.

An amendment to the planning application submitted to Lambeth in December last year and approved last month changed the phasing of the scheme to allow construction to start with the demolition of an advertising rig and a small brick structure, works which are currently underway.

The move will buy time for the scheme while talks over the land swap deal are decided. A spokesperson for TfL said: “TfL is in active discussions with the Vauxhall Cross Island (VCI) developers about the practicalities of the land swap. The date of the land swap is subject to the conclusion of these discussions.”

The transport body did not comment on the cause of the delay, although its budget is well known to have been put under pressure by the drop in public transport passenger numbers during and after the covid pandemic. 

A line on TfL’s web page on the redevelopment stating that works would start in 2023 was recently removed. The sentence was still up on the web page as recently as January but the page now gives no scheduled start date for the scheme.

The two towers form the centrepiece of a major redevelopment of the area outside Vauxhall station which will see the controversial demolition of Arup’s 2005 bus station, the construction of a new bus station designed by 5th Studio and the conversion of the area’s much maligned one-way gyratory to a two-way system.

If built, the taller 53-storey tower would house a 619-room hotel and office space, while its shorter 42-storey twin would contain 257 apartments, including 23 affordable homes. A section 106 payment of £30m would equate to a further 54 homes off site, making a total of 30% “affordable”.

The pair will be linked by a 10-storey podium building creating more defined street edges, with ground-level retail, while the wider redevelopment will greatly expand the public realm area outside the, tube, bus and national rail stations.

Zaha Hadid Architects has been approached for comment.