Embattled Plan for New London Chinese Embassy Site Falls Through

Embattled Plan for New London Chinese Embassy Site Falls Through - Beijing's plan to build a large embassy in London has fallen through as the deadline passed on Thursday to appeal against the local council's decision to block their planning permission. Six months ago, London Mayor Sadiq Khan upheld Tower Hamlets Council's rejection of the planning application to build a new Chinese embassy compound at the site of the old Royal Mint.

Embattled Plan for New London Chinese Embassy Site Falls Through

Embattled Plan for New London Chinese Embassy Site Falls Through

Beijing's plan to build a large embassy in London has fallen through as the deadline passed on Thursday to appeal against the local council's decision to block their planning permission.

Six months ago, London Mayor Sadiq Khan upheld Tower Hamlets Council's rejection of the planning application to build a new Chinese embassy compound at the site of the old Royal Mint.

Just before the deadline for appeals lapsed, the embassy blamed the UK government for failing to intervene.

The embassy told Bloomberg in a statement that it's"the international obligation of the host country to provide facilitations and support for the construction of diplomatic premises" and urged the UK government to "fulfill its relevant international obligations.”

The Tower Hamlets Council said the embassy never submitted an appeal.

In an email to The Epoch Times, a spokesperson for the council said: “The time limit for the Chinese embassy or those acting on its behalf to make an appeal is six months from the decision date. The decision was issued on [Feb. 10] and so the deadline for an appeal was [Aug. 10]."

"If the applicant wanted to appeal through the public inquiry procedure then they would have already needed to have given notice to us as the local planning authority. We haven’t received any such notification from the applicant,” the spokesperson added.

A UK government spokesperson told Reuters, "Planning matters are routinely decided by local councils and applicants have the option to appeal decisions if they wish to do so."

Police seek to remove protesters lying under a model tank outside the Chinese Embassy during the 33rd Tiananmen Square massacre remembrance event in London on June 4, 2022. (Peter Simpson/The Epoch Times)
Police seek to remove protesters lying under a model tank outside the Chinese Embassy during the 33rd Tiananmen Square massacre remembrance event in London on June 4, 2022. (Peter Simpson/The Epoch Times)

The Chinese regime purchased the site of the old Royal Mint, which is a short walk from the Tower Bridge, for £255 million ($310 million) in 2018.

The building, designed by David Chipperfield Architects, would be 10 times the size of China’s current embassy at Portland Place in central London.

But councillors of Tower Hamlets unanimously rejected the plan on Dec. 1 last year despite recommendations from advisers for the new diplomatic hub to be approved.

Following the vote, a spokesperson for the Tower Hamlets Council said that its Strategic Development Committee had “resolved to reject the application due to concerns over the impact on resident and tourist safety, heritage, police resources, and the congested nature of the area.”

The rejection followed a public consultation, in which a total of 51 objections were received, mainly concerning China’s human rights record and the proposed new embassy’s impact on local heritage sites and local communities.

Some residents were worried that the massive embassy compound could be used by the communist regime as a “secret police station.” There were also concerns a high-profile embassy of the Chinese regime would become a regular protest site.

Weeks before councillors rejected the Chinese embassy's planning permission, Human rights NGO Safeguard Defenders revealed that China had set up Chinese police “service stations” around the globe without the knowledge or consent of local governments, including two in London and one in Glasgow. It has since been reported there may have been a fourth one in Belfast.

Chinese students protest outside the Chinese embassy in London on Nov. 27, 2022. (Courtesy of Steven Leung)
Chinese students protest outside the Chinese embassy in London on Nov. 27, 2022. (Courtesy of Steven Leung)

The rejection also came just days after a large number of Chinese students gathered at the embassy at Portland Place and other sites across the UK to show solidarity with the widespread protests in China against the regime’s zero-COVID policies and censorship.

The rare scenes of mass protests, reminiscent of the democracy movement of 1989, were triggered by a fatal apartment fire in Xinjiang where victims were reportedly locked in the building under China’s extreme COVID restrictions, and fire engines were said to be delayed by lockdown barriers and stranded cars in the streets.

The Chinese embassy at Portland Place has also been a constant site of protests against China’s human rights violations targeting the Falun Gong spiritual movement, Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, as well as Tibetans and Uyghurs.

The council's decision could have been overturned by Mr. Khan if Greater London Authority (GLA) found there were grounds to do so, but the GLA said in February that they found "no sound planning reasons for the mayor to intervene."

Alexander Zhang contributed to this report.