The Swiss bank threatened to scale back its London operations if the government allowed development of their new offices in Broadgate to be blocked by preservation groups.
UBS has been embroiled in a spat with English Heritage over whether the site was of significant historical interest and should be listed. A decision to list would mean the existing buildings could not be demolished and UBS’s proposed £850m new office block would be scuppered. The plans were eventually given the go-ahead but the Financial Times has revealed a letter from the bank’s chief executive to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt describing the ‘serious consequences’ for UBS and the City to list the 1980s buildings. The letter also said that UBS would be forced to ‘fundamentally reconsider our occupation strategy in London’.
The Twentieth Century Society, who campaigned for listed status of the Broadgate Estate, believe that Hunt was influenced in his decision by the potential financial impact of a major investment bank upping sticks and it’s hard to blame them for that conclusion under the circumstances:
‘The C20 Society believe factors other than those that should be considered in the listing process have decided the fate of an important historic building. Only “architectural or historic significance” should be taken into account.’
Obviously, the culture secretary’s spokesperson disagrees:
‘The only factors that are taken into account when considering a building for listing are architectural and historic interest, other matters are irrelevant.’
It’s certainly not the first time that a bank has threatened to depart our shores if their needs were not met; HSBC, Barclays and Standard Chartered have all offered to pack their spotted handkerchiefs in the last year. Boris Johnson went public in asking them to reconsider and he was characteristically defensive of UBS, declaring English Heritage’s plans for listing as ‘ludicrous’.
Poor old Jeremy Hunt, just as he managed to divest himself of the need to step up to the plate over the phone-hacking scandal, a fresh controversy lands in his lap.