Tulip tower: why Sadiq Khan has rejected plans for London skyscraper

The 1,000ft building in the heart of the Square Mile would have been the second-tallest in western Europe

(Image credit: DBOX for Foster + Partners)

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called off plans to build the second-tallest building in western Europe in the heart of the City.

Designs for the tower, known as the Tulip, had been given the green light by the City of London Corporation planning committee in April, but yesterday the mayor’s office rejected the proposal.

A spokesperson for the project told City A.M. that “the Tulip Project team are disappointed by the Mayor of London’s decision to direct refusal of planning permission, particularly as the Tulip will generate immediate and long-term socio-economic benefits to London and the UK as a whole”.

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The project representatives claimed the tower, designed by British architectural firm Foster + Partners, had the potential to bring in 1.2 million people each year, boosting the number of visitors to the Square Mile at weekends in particular.

Why has the Tulip been called off?

Khan had a “number of serious concerns” over the plans, according to his spokesperson.

“In particular, he believes that the design is of insufficient quality for such a prominent location, and that the tower would result in harm to London’s skyline and impact views of the nearby Tower of London World Heritage Site,” the representative said. “The proposal would also result in an unwelcoming, poorly-designed public space at street level.”

The mayor added in a letter that the “pedestrian environment” was “potentially unsafe”.

Khan’s rejection echoes that of heritage groups like Historic England, who said the building would cause “irreversible damage to the setting of the Tower of London”.

Despite project representatives touting the supposed economic boost and tourism potential of the Tulip, Khan ultimately concluded that the tower would have “very limited public benefit”.

What would it have looked like?

Named for its distinctive viewing platform at the top, which is meant to resemble a flower bud, the Tulip - which was to be built next to 30 St Mary Axe, commonly known as the Gherkin - would have been 1,000ft (305 metres) tall, just a few feet shorter than the Shard.

However, Historic England CEO Duncan Wilson was among those unimpressed by the design, commenting in April that the tower would look like “a lift shaft with a bulge at the top”.

Purely intended as a tourist attraction, with no office space included in the plans, the Tulip was to feature “internal slides and moving transparent pods running outside the building for visitors to ride in”, the BBC reports.

The upper 12 storeys open to visitors would have hosted a restaurant, sky bar, viewing platform with rotating pods, and a floor entirely dedicated to education facilities, reports the Evening Standard.

Brazilian banking billionaire Joseph Safra, who purchased the Gherkin for £700 million in 2014, was to fund the development through his Bury Street Properties firm, the Evening Standard reports.

In April, the City of London Corporation’s planning committee gave the plans the go-head, with construction due to start next year for a projected opening in 2025.

“It was our judgement that the Tulip would play an important role in further realising a vision for the Square Mile as a vibrant 24/7 world-class destination and that this building would send a powerful message that London remains open to all,” a corporation spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for the project has said the group will now “take time to consider potential next steps for the Tulip Project”.

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