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Historic Bunhill Fields burial ground set for skyscraper neighbour

Planners due to approve tower overlooking poet Blake’s last resting place

28 April, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

Artist’s impression of tower next to burial ground

PLANNING chiefs were last night (Thursday) expected to approve plans for a new skyscraper on the fringes of historic Grade I-listed burial ground Bunhill Fields.

US Firm CIT Group has applied for permission to add 16 storeys to Finsbury Tower, in Bunhill Row, which overlooks the cemetery, raising the tower to a height of 124 metres.

It also wants to demolish a number of single-storey structures and build a six-storey block to provide 25 homes for social rent.

The planning report before councillors said the proposals would result in “less than substantial harm” to Bunhill Fields and adjacent Honourable Artillery Company grounds, and to the character of two nearby conservation areas. Writers John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe and poet and artist William Blake are buried at the Fields.

The harm would be outweighed by “substantial public benefits”, including new and upgraded office floorspace, affordable housing and affordable workspace, the report said.

Built in the 1960s, the 16-storey Finsbury Tower, designed by architect Rich­ard Seifert, is largely vacant. Its tenants have included Thomson Financial News and the Care Quality Commission.

Previously owned by Hermes Investment Management, it was bought last year by private equity investor group CIT, reportedly for around £107m. The firm wants the new building to appeal to the influx of hi-tech businesses in the immediate area around Old Street, dubbed Silicon Roundabout.

The sale of the tower represented a massive profit for Hermes, which bought the building in 2013 for £67.3m from Middle Eastern owner HNS Group.

The skyrocketing value reflects the level of demand for office space around Old Street, which is popular with tech and creative occupiers. A lack of office space has seen rents soar. If given approval, Finsbury Tower will become the latest in a series of massive office developments around the roundabout.

A new £76m, 237,000sq ft office block, known as White Collar Factory, at the junction of Old Street and City Road, is nearing completion.

Last February, the then London Mayor Boris Johnson overruled the Town Hall and granted planning permission for four office blocks – including one 11 storeys high – overlooking Bunhill Fields.

Islington Council argued that demolishing the 1960s office block Monmouth House, in City Road, and putting up the new buildings would cause “significant harm” to the park, classed as a “garden of special historic interest”.But Mr Johnson said they would provide much-needed space for the growing tech sector in the area.

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