China’s plans for a giant new embassy opposite the Tower of London have been unanimously rejected by local councilors on the grounds they pose a security risk to local residents, in a surprise decision that comes amid growing concerns over Beijing’s diplomatic activity in the United Kingdom.
The London Borough of Tower Hamlets had indicated it was preparing to wave through the proposals drafted by the embassy’s architect, David Chipperfield, as recently as Wednesday, telling CNN then that the proposed initiative was “generally in accordance” with the area’s development plan and that “on this basis officers have recommended that planning permission and listed building consent are granted.”
Yet at a marathon meeting that continued late into the night on Thursday, the council was persuaded to block the proposals on the basis that they presented a risk to locals’ safety and would impede traffic in this densely populated part of east London, close to the capital’s financial district and a block from Tower Bridge.
A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson told CNN: “The committee resolved to reject the application due to concerns over the impact on resident and tourist safety, heritage, police resources and the congested nature of the area. The application will now be referred to the Mayor of London before the final decision is issued.”
The council’s decision puts the British government in a difficult position. It could use its powers to “call in” the plans and overrule the local council’s decision, which could be politically controversial; or refrain from intervening and risk antagonizing Beijing.