The $1.6 billion project is on hold after the government intervened to consider issues including the effect any new scheme would have on views of the Houses of Parliament and its clock tower nicknamed Big Ben – a UNESCO world heritage site on the opposite side of the city’s river Thames.
“Ministers are very selective about calling in planning applications and only take this step if planning issues of more than local importance are involved,” a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government told Reuters.
The Qatari-backed project plans to redevelop the riverside site into a 1.45-million square foot complex including the existing 27-storey Shell Centre and eight new buildings with shops, offices and 877 homes.
The developers also plan to create walkways connecting Waterloo Station with the South Bank and to provide a central square to create more open space in the area.
Lambeth Council approved the $1.6 billion scheme, which is being developed by Qatari Diar and Canary Wharf Group, in May. Construction was due to start at the end of this year, with a completion date of 2019.
Wednesday’s decision was described by Lambeth council as “bitterly disappointing” and also came under fire from London Mayor Boris Johnson.
“This project will bring hundreds of new homes and thousands of new jobs,” he said. “It’s vital that this is resolved quickly and any delay is minimised to avoid compromising the redevelopment of one of our pre-eminent cultural quarters.”
Shell said in a brief statement: “We look forward to taking part in the process and hope for a positive outcome from it so we can continue to contribute to the regeneration of the South Bank.”
Canary Wharf Group, which is majority owned by Songbird Estates, and Qatari Diar were not immediately available for comment.
Shell’s joint headquarters along with The Hague, London’s Shell Centre has been a prominent feature of the South Bank since it was built in 1961 and particularly since 1999 when it became the backdrop for the London Eye monument.