Page last updated at 13:49 GMT, Monday, 17 August 2009 14:49 UK

Prince irritates architects again

Prince Charles
Prince Charles is known to have a big interest in architecture

Prince Charles is facing criticism again after he unsuccessfully tried to intervene over plans for a modernist building next to St Paul's Cathedral.

In 2005, the prince wrote a private letter to the developers expressing his concerns about a steel and glass complex in such a location.

Critics have said the prince must avoid intervening in individual projects.

Plans for a major housing development in London were abandoned in June after the prince became involved.

'Shine brightly'

Prince Charles's aides say he was perfectly entitled to write the private letter in 2005 about the development near St Paul's.

It was addressed to the chief executive of developer Land Securities' London about the architect they assigned to the project One New Change - a new office and shopping complex project next to the Cathedral.

The architect in question was the French modernist Jean Nouvel.

People are being influenced as to the direction a particular design should take for no other reason that the prince may object later on
Royal Institute of British Architects

According to one account, the heir to the throne wrote that what was needed was something that would allow "St Paul's to shine brightly".

Sunand Prasad, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said while the prince's general comments on the direction of architecture were welcomed, he should not interfere in individual projects.

"Our concern here is that the prince seeks to intervene in individual projects to try and impose a style, whereas in its wisdom the planning system has very strict rules about what can be built around St Paul's," he told the BBC's World at One.

He went on to say there was anecdotal evidence to prove the prince, who was "not accountable" through the democratic planning process, was having an influence.

"People are being influenced as to the direction a particular design should take for no other reason than the prince may object later on," he said.


Two months ago, the application to build luxury flats at Chelsea Barracks in south-west London was withdrawn after the prince wrote to the chairman of the developers Qatari Diar, urging him to consider alternatives to the modern design.

Critics said he had set a "very dangerous precedent" by using his contacts with the Qatari Royal Family to intervene.

"What happened at Chelsea Barracks was that two years of work was effectively wasted because of his intervention and that makes people nervous," said Mr Prasad.

"...there is a democratic process. However imperfect it is, in order to improve it, we mustn't make it less democratic."

'Unelected prince'

Robert Adam, senior fellow of the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, said the prince was not intervening directly in the planning process and it was important to remember his letter had no effect.

Artist impression of Lord Rogers' design for the former Chelsea barracks site
This was how the Chelsea Barracks site would have looked

"In Chelsea, he did not intervene in the planning process, nor did he intervene in the planning process here," he said.

"I think any intervention in the planning process would probably be quite inappropriate. He does engage, he expresses his opinion, he has a foundation for architecture which engages a wide range of architects."

He added that the prince was wrongly caricatured as preferring "classic" architecture, when he was mostly interested in "organic and harmonious" designs.

BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt says this story goes to the heart of what Prince Charles can and cannot do in a role with no job description.

"For his critics, this will be one more example of an unelected Prince trying to exert undue influence," he said.

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