(Bloomberg) -- China’s controversial plan to build a new embassy near the Tower of London has been rejected in a council meeting on Thursday evening.
Beijing wants to build its biggest European embassy on Royal Mint Court, the former home of Britain’s state-owned coin producer. China originally bought the site for £255 million ($311 million) in May 2018, with the view of replacing its current embassy in the Marylebone neighborhood.
Tower Hamlets Council unanimously refused to grant planning permission after a heated public consultation that stretched deep into the night. Councilors cited concerns about residents’ safety, the impact on police resources and a threat to the heritage of the area as some of the reasons behind the decision.
The plans -- drawn up by David Chipperfield Architects -- have been subject to protests and debate around privacy and security concerns for residents living near the site. The council has received 51 written complaints, according to a document published before the meeting, with concern among residents that the area will become a target for terrorists and a camera surveillance hotspot.
The council said last year it was considering renaming the streets around Royal Mint Court to Tiananmen Square, Uyghur Court and Hong Kong Road, to protest against China’s treatment of minority groups -- particularly its policies against Uyghur people in the Xinjiang region. China is accused of detaining a million Uyghurs and subjecting them to forced labor.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak this week used his first major foreign policy speech to signal a cooling of UK-China relations and the end of the so-called “golden-era.” Still, Sunak has softened the UK’s approach to China during his first five weeks in power, backing away from prior government plans to label the Asian country as a “threat” to Britain.
--With assistance from Kitty Donaldson and Julius Domoney.
(Updates with details of the council’s reasoning for refusing the scheme in third paragraph.)
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