The GLA’s current Norman Foster designed building was opened in 2002 and is privately owned, so the GLA rents it for around £11 million a year. A break clause in the lease allows the GLA to move out, so they’ve been looking around for an alternative site.
The proposed site is The Crystal, an exhibition centre opened in the Royal Docks and had been rented out to Siemens, but they left it last year. It also happens to be owned by the GLA, and they project the move could save around £55 million over the next five years.
The Crystal does have the advantage of already existing, so just needs refurbishing for the new occupants, and is roughly a 10-minute walk from Canning Town station on the Jubilee and DLR lines. It just so happens to also be right next door to that other major public transport service – the cable car, which can expect to see a huge increase in usage if City Hall were to move here.
Apart from the cost savings, part of the argument being put forward is that the move would support regeneration in the Royal Docks area, but that horse has long since bolted. Most of the area is regenerated already, and the industrial sites that remain are in active use. If those industrial sites were to be encouraged to move elsewhere, then property developers would be all to happy to snap them up, regardless of the location of City Hall.
The arrival of the Elizabeth line next year, and the planned addition of a new DLR station at Thames Wharf are required just to cope with current demand and support the last few patches of undeveloped land that are earmarked for development into residential properties.
It’s difficult to argue that City Hall moving here would be needed to support the building of more tower blocks of residential flats, as the close proximity of Canary Wharf already supplies plenty of demand for more housing around the area.
Regardless of the architectural and financial merits of a move to a new building, the current site has always had a democratic deficit. The land outside the building is privately owned, and it’s hard for protestors to exercise a right to protest, or even for the media to use the land outside for interviews.
Wherever it is that City Hall moves to, ensuring that the land around it is public should be one of the key requirements of any headquarters of a democratic organisation.