“Councillors allow buildings to go ahead because they are dazzled by attractive computer-generated images created by developers, a heritage charity has warned.
The images look like photographs and are used to seduce planning committees into giving developments the green light, Marcus Binney of Save Britain’s Heritage said.
He said that in most cases, planning officers use developers’ own imagery with no input from opponents to the plans.
“They lavish large amounts of money on producing these images, and they’re very persuasive.
“People have got to be suspicious of images of people drinking espressos under nice awnings,” he said.
Previously planners often used hand-drawn artists’ impressions to show what the development would look like when completed, but CGI images are increasingly used.
Campaigners highlighted tricks such as using images which show the development in summer to make it look more attractive.
Mr Binney highlighted one image, of Paddington’s £775 million ‘Cube’ development, which received assent from Westminster City Council last week.
The computer-generated image shows sunlight streaming through the building – in areas which Mr Binney says will be not be transparent, because of lifts and a fire escape. Other promotional images show the building looking more opaque.
The development, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, is controversial. Campaigners say that the 72-metre high building is out of step with the rest of the area.
Westminster City Council’s cabinet member for planning and public realm, Cllr Daniel Astaire, said: “Council planning decisions are judged on each development’s individual merits, taking account of all the benefits a proposal brings to the city, its people and economy.
“We do not grant permission based on computer generated concepts.”
Pictures tend to show buildings in summer, opponents said.
Henrietta Billings, director of Save Britain’s Heritage, pointed to two other examples where CGI images had been used in promotional material for new buildings which were then criticised for being unattractive.
The Saffron Tower, in Croydon, and Lincoln Plaza, on the Isle of Dogs, east London, were both shortlisted for the Carbuncle Cup, an award for the UK’s ugliest building, last year.
Both had been promoted with attractive-looking CGI images.
Neutral images, known as “verified views”, are occasionally requested, especially where there is a public enquiry about the plans.
These are commissioned to an independent artist and represent an unbiased representation of what a proposed development will look like.
London-based architect Barbara Weiss said that her firm has begun using 3D imagery instead of static shots to make the images more representative.
“The 3D model is much more reliable. The problem with the CGI images is that they are taken from a fixed point, and if you step five metres away, you get a completely different view,” she said.”