A local council in the UK has rejected China’s controversial plan to build a new embassy at a historical site near the Tower of London citing safety and security concerns of nearby residents.

The Tower Hamlets Council on Thursday dismissed an application from the Chinese Embassy UK to construct what would have been the largest embassy in Britain at Royal Mint Court, which China bought for £255 million (around HK$2.4 billion) in May 2018.

china embassy royal mint court
Proposed site frontage facing west toward Tower Hill interchange. Photo: Tower Hamlets Council.

The proposal, designed by David Chipperfield Architects, was met with objections from nearby residents who raised concerns about traffic congestion, increased surveillance and possible terrorist attacks.

The council received 51 letters from representatives of those living in adjacent neighbourhoods and building complexes, according to a council document published before Thursday’s meeting.

Some cited security concerns, saying that the premises would turn into a “fortress” and would become a “terrorist target.” Others were worried about a potential loss of privacy as a result of increased camera surveillance, as well as the “huge impact of protests” on the surrounding area.

Some people also said they were concerned that the premises would become a “secret police station,” while other made reference to the “violent assault of protesters” at the Chinese consulate in Manchester. But officers of the Strategic Development Committee – a Tower Hamlets Council board that deals with major planning matters – categorised these concerns as “non-material considerations.”

The embassy construction proposal was “well-designed” and the proposed development would be “high quality, well-integrated, inclusive and sustainable,” the Strategic Development Committee told the council on Thursday.

The committee recommended that the council grant planning permission and listed building consent subject to conditions and planning obligations. But councillors unanimously decided not to accept the recommendation and subsequently passed a vote to decline the application.

Councillor Gulam Kibria Choudhury, who proposed a motion to turn down China’s plan instead of delaying it pending further information, said he had concerns over residents’ safety and security. Other councillors who rejected the plan cited the “congested nature of the area,” impact on local police resources and worries that the area would become a tourist destination if the embassy building was constructed.

In October, a senior Chinese diplomat in Manchester was pictured pulling a Hong Kong protester’s hair during a scuffle at an anti-Beijing protest outside the consulate building. The protester was dragged into the Chinese consular grounds where he was kicked and beaten up, online footage showed.

The envoy later defended his actions, saying it was his “duty” to react after demonstrators “abused” his country.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.