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Tall buildings and helicopters a lethal mix Inquest reveals

October 21, 2016 5:15 PM

In January 2013 a helicopter hit St George's Tower in Vauxhall sadly killing the pilot and a pedestrian on the Wandsworth Road. Many concluded that it could all have been so much worse.

Since then tower blocks have been springing up in the same area like mushrooms on a dewy morning and more are planned. So you might think that all of this vertiginous living had been approved so as to make the future potential conflict with low-flying helicopters impossible.

But you'd be wrong.

In 2014 the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) concluded its enquiry into the crash and noted that the manager of the nearby Battersea Heliport had expressed concerns about the Tower, when it was being planned, suggesting that it would make flying in poor visibility more difficult. There is a certain amount of fog around, too, as to whether these concerns were ever responded to or seriously noted by the planning authority.

The AAIB also suggested that the Civil Aviation Authority should have the ability to scrutinise planning applications on tall buildings before the granting of planning permission. Indeed, the senior inspector of air accidents suggested that if this recommendation was not implemented that lives could be put at risk.

An Inquest concluded in December 2015 that, sadly, this key recommendation from the AAIB has never been enacted - indeed the coroner was so concerned that they then wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport with copies going to the Lambeth and Wandsworth Planning Authorities.

His letter said, "It is not clear that helicopter aviation considerations for the heliport, or more widely for flights along the Thames are adequately considered by the planning process for tall buildings"

George Turner of blog OurCity.London recently asked the relevant planning authorities Lambeth, Wandsworth and The London Mayor's Office to comment on the worrying lack of urgency in enacting the AAIB's findings. Wandsworth and The Mayor's Office seemed to put the onus on developers although the Mayor's Office hinted that a future update on its overall London Plan might specifically address this issue.

From Lambeth there was no official reply.

Such a lax concern by officialdom to matters of serious public safety in the wake of such a tragedy is surely irresponsible. As Lambeth gives permission for ever more tall buildings, safety during their construction and for their occupants afterwards should be of paramount concern.