An attempt by the developer turning the former US Embassy into a hotel to restrict public access to the roof terrace has been rejected by Westminster Council.
Planning permission was granted in 2017 to convert the embassy building into a hotel, with ground floor spaces for retail, restaurant and mix use spaces facing Grosvenor Square, and through an extension on the roof, a rooftop bar with views across central London.
The developer agreed to the condition that the 7th-floor bar would be open to the general public. However, in what can only be seen as a massive oversight by the developer — there isn’t a dedicated lift from the ground floor to the rooftop, which means that the public will be mingling with hotel customers.
This does seem quite a big mistake, as other buildings in London with public access to a roof terrace or upper-floor bar have added a dedicated lift for that purpose.
The lack of a dedicated lift means that the hotel operator, the Rosewood Hotel Group has now raised issues about security and managing crowds on busy days if the bar use doesn’t require booking ahead of arrival. They’ve also rather oddly only now seem to have noticed that the restored eagle that sits at the top of the building is not designed to be seen from behind, and its placement affects the views from the roof bar.
That could be due to the design of the public part of the roof terrace being quite small rather than spanning more fo the width of the building. If the public space was larger, then people could stand on either side of the eagle instead of only behind it.
Earlier this month, the hotel applied to Westminster Council to remove the clause allowing public access to the roof bar, arguing that it would be a “non-material change”, which allows it to go through without a full application change.
The council’s planning officers recommended that the request could go through.
However, at the planning committee meeting, it turned out that the developer had changed their mind. Somehow, and that wasn’t clarified, all the problems they had raised earlier were no longer a problem — but they would like to be able to close the bar on occasions for private events.
They had now proposed to offer public access on at least 200 days a year. Although better than banning the public completely, that would allow them to close the roof bar to the public for three days each week, and it would surely be a sheer coincidence if that ended up being Fri-Sun every week.
The planning committee members in general expressed regret about the changes and concern that the design of the building didn’t take into account the requirement to offer public access to the top floor by adding a dedicated lift.
After some debate, they voted three to one to reject the application for a non-material change to the application. There was some discussion about what would be an acceptable level of change, and the developer is likely to come back with an amended application.
However, the threat to block the public from having access to a new central London roof terrace has been seen off, at least for now.
The converted hotel, the Chancery Rosewood is now due to open in 2025, having been delayed from opening in 2024.