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Wednesday, 23 August, 2000, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
'Erotic gherkin' for London skyline
gherkin computer image
A 'virtual' image of the gherkin on the City skyline
A new sky-scraper, nicknamed the erotic gherkin, is to be built in the City of London following a decision by John Prescott.

The deputy prime minister decided the planning application for the tower, to be built on the site of the Baltic Exchange, did not need further consideration.

The 41-storey high, round, tapered building, was designed by Lord Foster.

It will be the second tallest structure in the City, after the NatWest tower - now named Tower 42. But Canary Wharf will remain the highest building on the London skyline.

The construction will involve the levelling of the old Baltic Exchange building which was severely damaged by an IRA bomb in 1992.

IRA bomb damage
The 1992 IRA bomb devastated the Baltic Exchange area
The Exchange has expressed its disappointment at Mr Prescott's decision.

Its chief executive Jim Buckley said he could not understand the government's decision to demolish a "unique feature of the City's architectural heritage".

"This particular planning application raised many important issues relating to conservation and the environment which could only be dealt with satisfactorily and objectively by a formal public inquiry," he said.

"We have urged this consistently. It is a matter of regret that the government did not share our view."

Sky scraper fears

He also criticised English Heritage, which advises the government on the listing of buildings.

English Heritage's recommended that: "the old Baltic Exchange could not be properly preserved and that it could, in the unique circumstances of this case, be replaced by a new high quality building".

But Mr Buckley dismissed that argument as a "nonsense".

The insurance company Swiss Re, which will occupy the new building, welcomed the decision.

John Coomber, a member of the executive board, said: "This headquarters building is evidence of Swiss Re's long-term commitment to London and confidence in its future as a leading financial centre."

Artist's impression of new tower
An artist's impression of Lord Foster's design
The Corporation of London granted the building planning permission last month.

The tower will be the first tall structure allowed to be built in the City since the 1970s.

Peter Wynne Rees, City planning officer at the Corporation of London, dismissed fears that the application would mean more sky scrapers will get the go-ahead in the City.

"The issue that was being determined here was not whether or not to a have a high building, it was whether to rebuild the Baltic Exchange," he said.

"It is not a precedent for not looking after listed buildings or for having high buildings in the City."

English Heritage said it would authorise the Corporation of London to grant listed building consent for demolition of the old Baltic Exchange.

It said it regretted that it could not justify replacing the bomb-damaged site, saying that if the Exchange were to be reconstructed, it would involve a "substantial degree of replication".

English Heritage said it had "considered very carefully the potential impact of the proposed new building on surrounding listed buildings, conservation areas and the Tower of London world heritage site".

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